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November 1999, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 1 Nov 1999 08:55:53 -0500
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Edward O'Neill observes:

   >This is an excellent point: it's crucial not to forget that the whole
   >car/license plate/new car/stolen money thing is a red herring.

   >Thus the very fact of trying to adduce meaning to such a detail itself
   >demonstrates how well the distraction has actually worked.

 . . . and he may well be right, though i'm inclined to be mistrustful of
arguments that some detail [ANY detail] in hitchcock doesn't
mean anything . . .

in this case, though, i can't "not forget" that the "car/license plate/
new car/stolen money thing is a red herring" because that's an
argument that either i've never before encountered [or have somehow
managed already to forget] . . . so i'd appreciate it if edward o'neill
[or someone else] would recapitulate the argument for those of us
standing in the need of enlightenment . . .


mike frank

[warning: THEORETICAL post script follows: the larger issue raised by
this conversation is one that likely haunts all of us who teach introductory
film courses, courses in which we try to get students to find meaning
in features of the image [or the editing] that they tend to ignore . . . lots of
us have had the experience of getting students to notice camera angles,
for example, or the use of mirror reflections in the frame, and then trying
to show them [convince them?] that these features are intentional and
meaningful . . . all too often students, feeling empowered to READ
details that they had previously ignored, start coming up with the most
extraordinary [not to say extravagant] readings of the hero's shoes, or of
the heroine's name, or of the fact that the villain's phone number begins with
555, which in some occult system represents the devil -- and so on . . .

in principle the issue here is, of course, an enormous [and perhaps
insoluble] problem in hermeneutics . . . but i wonder if anyone out
there has come up with some helpful suggestion, some rule of thumb,
that is useful in dealing with this question in the classroom, especially
in classes where the last thing we want to do in begin a frontal
attack on the hermeneutic circle or the intentional fallacy . . .

all thoughts most welcome . . . . . . . .


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