In this article, I offer a response to Todd Berliner’s splendid book Hollywood Aesthetic. Although the book is an innovative and well-crafted contribution to the study of Hollywood cinema, I argue that it underestimates the extent to which unity and coherence contribute to the aesthetic value of a film.
A Reply to Critics
In this reply to four commentaries on my book, Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema, I address several conceptual and methodological issues raised by the respondents. Those issues include the book’s focus on aesthetic pleasure; the functions of narrative, style, ideology, and genre in Hollywood cinema; the relationship between ideology and aesthetics; the use of scientific research in the humanities; normative aesthetic evaluations; real versus hypothetical spectators; and the practices of aesthetic film analysis.
Masculinity, Maturity, and the Movies in the 1920s
Peter W. Lee
In 1927, child actor Jackie Coogan was given a makeover. Although not even in his adolescence, Hollywood’s boy king needed a new image lest he face the career-ending label of a has-been. Barely of grammar school age in 1921 when he shot to stardom
Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema investigates the Hollywood film industry’s chief artistic accomplishment: providing aesthetic pleasure to mass audiences. Grounded in film history and supported by research in psychology and philosophical aesthetics, the book explains (1) the intrinsic properties characteristic of Hollywood cinema that induce aesthetic pleasure; (2) the cognitive and affective processes, sparked by Hollywood movies, that become engaged during aesthetic pleasure; and (3) the exhilarated aesthetic experiences afforded by an array of persistently entertaining Hollywood movies. Hollywood Aesthetic addresses four fundamental components of Hollywood’s aesthetic design—narrative, style, ideology, and genre—aiming for a comprehensive appraisal of Hollywood cinema’s capacity to excite aesthetic pleasure. This article outlines the book’s main points and themes. As a précis, it is heavy on ideas and light on evidence, which is to be found in the book itself.
Austro-German Filmmaker, Bestselling Author, and Journalist Colin Ross Discovers Australia
that her image of the United States was based upon the “sugary adolescent concept of American life” found in the Hollywood films of her youth. Evenings spent in Melbourne’s “picture palaces” had taught her that the nation was composed of “dumb
Book Review of Todd Berliner, Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
Hollywood Defines the American Boy, 1930–1934
This essay examines the portrayals of boys in American film, especially Jackie Cooper, during the “pre-code” period of Hollywood sound films, roughly 1930-1934. With the Great Depression cutting movie attendance, studios explored social taboos to entice audiences. As a result, childhood concerns, including issues of adoption, strained parental (especially father-son) relationships, or failing before one’s peers, were themes that threatened boys’ identities.
Negotiating the Survival of Boys in 1990s Cinema
On the cinema screen, boyhood has often been depicted as a period of freedom, rebellion, and energy, a pre-cursor to manhood in which young boys are able to negotiate their identity and place within the world. In 1990s Hollywood, however, a wave of films turn to depicting the death of young boys on screen. As a result, boyhood becomes a site of vulnerability and weakness. This article seeks to examine the implications of these deaths, framing them within the context of a wider negotiation of masculinity and fatherhood politics. In addition, it questions the extent to which the deaths of these young boys can be read queerly, subverting the drive towards the future inherent in the figure of the child.
J. Brandon Colvin
People are bad at recognizing liars. Data culled from several psychological experiments demonstrates that even the most well trained individuals – government agents, police officers, and so on – can barely succeed at a 50 percent rate. Lying and deception, however, are fundamental narrative elements in several film genres – particularly the detective film and the female gothic, genres that peaked in popularity in 1940s Hollywood. Considering their real-life lack of proficiency, how do viewers successfully spot deception in such films? Drawing on findings from a handful of experiments, this article brings cognitive psychological concepts to bear on two 1940s films: Out of the Past (1947) and Secret Beyond the Door (1948). The article claims that filmmakers, particularly actors, exaggerate, simplify, and emphasize deception cues to selectively achieve narrative clarification or revelation. This process reveals not only how viewers recognize deception, but how actors stylize real-life behavior in service of narrative and aesthetic priorities.
The Illusion of Progress in Popular Film
Vicki L. Eaklor
The film The Kids Are All Right, centered on a lesbian couple and their two teenage children, was released in 2010 following a media blitz selling it as a groundbreaking film. Many queer viewers (like this author) eagerly awaited this supposed step forward in lesbian representation, only to be disappointed once again by mainstream stereotypes and tropes. This article takes a close look at the film against the backdrop of lesbian images and themes in “Hollywood“ films, particularly in the last twenty years, and argues that continuities, while sometimes more subtle, override the illusion of progress in portraying lesbians. Finally, there is speculation about why genuine change in mainstream film may be impossible under current societal and economic systems.