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June 1995, Week 2


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Harry Mehlman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 8 Jun 1995 19:21:43 +1000
text/plain (60 lines)
Birgit Kellner <[log in to unmask]> asked re verisimilitude
in films:
>>The "misrepresentation" shows a certain misinformedness about the
>>intricacies of German dialects or idioms, which makes infantile know-alls
>>like myself raise their voices, but that's about all there is to it. In
>>other words: The "verisimilitude" doesn't matter in this case. Where does
To which Peter X Feng <[log in to unmask]> replied:
>I think you answer your own question: the "where does verisimilitude
>matter" question is dependent upon not just the "where" of the text but
>the "where" of the reader (aka the infantile know-all) -- stated more
>simply, verisimilitude is in the eye (and ear) of the reader, and not part
>of the text itself, no?
Well, I think where it MATTERS is where it gets to the point of not being
able to suspend disbelief any more, and as Peter says, that's in the eye of
the beholder. Most of us of course wouldn't know the difference between an
East German and an Austrian accent, so it doesn't spoil the film for us.
But I know exactly what Birgit means. Check out the Nazi concentration camp
commandant towards the end of "The Young Lions". That's a Russian-Jewish
accent if ever I heard one!!
Let me illustrate with another example from SPELLBOUND. As a teenager and
young adult, I absolutely loved this film, considering it one of
Hitchcock's very best. But the critics all panned it, and most of them said
the same thing - that it was "psychiatrically inaccurate". Now, I wasn't
surprised to hear critics say something like that. I've always felt that
MANY critics don't understand much about films and how they communicate,
i.e. *visually*, and directly to the emotions. Some critics never *see*
films, they only *hear* them, i.e. plot, acting, etc.
However, I was most surprised to see Francois Truffaut in his book on
Hitchcock criticise Spellbound for the same reason - psychiatric
inaccuracy. And Donald Spoto in "The Art of Alfred Hitchcock" says much the
same thing. You can't accuse either Truffaut or Spoto of not understanding
Well, recently I saw Spellbound again. And I have to admit that the
"psychiatric inaccuracies" are pretty serious. I'm no expert, but it seems
to me that no shrink in her right mind would try to treat a patient for
whom she was developing a strong emotional attachment, so that she could no
longer rely on her professional judgement. Especially when he might be a
mad killer! (I have a poster for this film, obviously from its first
release, and it screams "WILL HE KISS ME OR KILL ME?")
The point is that when the realism gets bruised as badly as that, then
"verisimilitude" starts to matter.
Another point. It also depends on the film. Realism is more important in
some films than others. You can have sound in outer space in films like
"Star Wars", but you can't in "2001". There too, it has to do with the
expectations of the audience for each type of film.
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