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September 1998, Week 3


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
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Wed, 16 Sep 1998 19:18:45 -0700
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I find these attempts to discern the goals and impact of
_Saving Private Ryan_ very interesting and fruitful, but I
would point out that the two are often if not usually
discrete:  we may be able to point to evidence that a film
was trying to convince us of some particular perspective
(i.e., war is always an evil, war is a necessary evil, war
is unnecessary, etc.), but someone else can take the very
same details and muster them to show that a quite different
argument is being made.
Of course, Hollywood films often justify themselves by
trying to imply some such message, usually a harmless one,
whereas aesthetes will insist that good art has no business
making arguments, and Marxists will insist that some such
'ideological' message is largely unavoidable.
But even when an argument is made quite explicitly by a
film, the very making of the argument may have exactly the
opposite effect merely by virtue of being expressed.  I will
offer an example from a film I taught recently and have also
taught frequently in the past.  When we watch _Imitation of
Life_, we may feel the film urges racial tolerance or that
it is a plea for racial segregation and isolation.  The film
tries hard to frame the 'black' daughters attempts at
passing as white in negative terms, but one can hardly say
that the character's perception that society treats whites
better was entirely wrong--which the film also underwrites.
David Hare wrote a lecture on playwriting many years ago,
and in this lecture, he points out that you may write a very
fine play on why the Nazi's were evil, and nevertheless
someone may come out of the theater saying "Those fascists
really had the right idea!"  One can say the contradiction
is a failure on the part of the film's creators, or that it
is part of ideology, or that it is simply part of
communication, since we can't always count on others sharing
our code or frame of reference.
I thought these distinctions might be helpful in this
Edward R. O'Neill
General Education Program/Sociology Dept.
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.