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Mike Frank comments:
"what i find so interesting and troubling about the exchange is not that i don't
believe in realtive readings but that don't think i'm prepared to believe in
absolutely relative readings . . . that is to say, there must be something
understood as being IN the text which works to contrain and delimit what we
may say in response to it . . . otherwise all texts get reduced to the status
of rohrschach blots and all responses are equally valid  . . .
 
what i was asking is whether the reproduction--either in films or for that
matter in any other text-- of the trope called "pieta" carries with it an
already present evaluative position, or whether the trope is, as it were, value
neutral, and the claim that it is sexist is merely in the eye or the ideology of
the beholder . . . and this still seems to me a crucial question"
 
 
I think the distinctions between *types* of "meaning" raised by Bordwell and
Thompson in FILM ART: AN INTRODUCTION (and further elaborated by Bordwell
in MAKING MEANING) is useful here.  B&T distinguish between Referential Meaning
(the inevitable references to people, places, events, etc. that the audience is
expected to pick up on); Explicit Meaning (meanings that are overtly stated by
the text, usually through dialogue); Implicit Meaning (this one is the real
 kicker--
what we *think* the film implies); and Sympomatic Meaning (expressions of the
film's and culture's ideological positions).
 
These distinctions are not necessarily hard and fast.  References may certainly
carry various implications, and it's not always easy to decide when an
 Implication
is really Explicit.  All of these elements may certainly be Symptomatic as well.
 
I don
t recall which film prompted this thread, but to take a fairly obvious example
of the Pieta motif, we can see Scorsese alluding to this in several shots in
RAGING BULL.  The setups of Jake LaMotta, being comforted sexually by his wife
for instance, seems--to me--to play off the Pieta motif.  I "read" this as
referential but maybe it's only Implicit.  At any rate, I think the Implication
is strong enough (and in the context of the Catholic iconography of Scorsese's
other films, reasonable enough) to assume that something is being "said" about
LaMotta this way.
 
On the other hand, the Pieta motif is a strong one in Western culture and
deeply Symptomatic of ideological assumptions about gender.  What can make
discussion of this image in RAGING BULL is to question the degree to which
Scorsese may seem to imply a critique of this very motif.  And I don't think
we'll get a single answer!
 
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
 
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