The classical cinema some cultural definitions

While Aristotle argued that the cultural function of drama is to 'purge' the emotions by evoking 'fear and pity', the Russian formalists did not specify the purpose of narratives in this way. By contrast, Lévi-Strauss and his followers, as we saw, offer a number of explanations why story-telling and dramatic narratives are such universal features of human societies. In film studies since the 1970s, these explanations have tended to be narrowed down to those indicated above, namely ideology and gender (to which have been added race, ethnicity, religion, and colonialism). The broad underlying assumption of structuralist, post-structuralist, deconstructivist, postmodernist, and postcolonial analysis has thus been that the purpose of Hollywood story-telling is to disguise the ideological contradictions of contemporary capitalist society and to enforce patriarchal values in the form of normative heterosexuality. There is, nonetheless, a certain broad consensus, from Aristotle's 'catharsis' to structuralist 'semiotic work', from cultural studies' 'ideological work' to post-structuralist 'textual work' and cognitivist 'problem-solving' routines as to the cultural purpose and use of narratives. Even where they do not agree about the 'culturalist' assumptions, the 'political interventions' or the precise 'identity polities' agenda, the competing models here introduced nevertheless provide, at the macro-level of analysis, a number of common features. If we take David Bordwell as representing one of our models and Raymond Bellour the other, we can, for instance, note that:

• They agree on the effect of (ideological) self-evidence and the means by which it is achieved: David Bordwell calls classical Hollywood an excessively obvious cinema: 'classical cinema has an underlying logic which is not apparent from our common-sense reflection upon the films or from Hollywood's own discourse about them. Armed with [concepts like norm, paradigm, stylistic alternatives, levels of systemic function] we can go on to examine how that style [called the classical] organises causality, time, and space, [so distinctly that] like Poe's purloined letter, it 'escapes observation by dint of being excessively obvious' (Bordwell et al. 1985: 11). Raymond Bellour, for his part, speaks of the obvious and the code: 'According to Rivette's famous formula, "obviousness is the mark of Howard Hawks's genius." No doubt - provided we recognize the extent to which that obviousness only comes to the fore insofar as it is coded' (Bellour 2000: 72).

• They agree on the structural importance of normative heterosexuality: Bordwell's insistence on the romance plot echoes Bellour on 'the formation of the (heterosexual) couple'.

• They are also in agreement that the classical Hollywood cinema has been a remarkably homogeneous cultural phenomenon, having remained stable over a relatively long period of time: what Bordwell et al. call the 'classical mode of representation' is given a time frame from roughly 1917 to 1960. Similarly, Bellour would date classical cinema from D.W. Griffith's The Lonedale Operator (1911) to Hitchcock's Mamie (1964) (see Bellour 2000).

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