Further Reading

Levy, Emmanuel, ed. Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic.

Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001. Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema, Directors and

Directions, 1929—1968. Revised ed. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1996.

-. Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955—1969.

New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970.

-. The Primal Screen: Essays on Film and Related

Subjects. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973.

comp. Interviews with Film Directors. Indianapolis,

IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967.

Aaron E. N. Taylo

Barthes, Christian Metz, and Jacques Lacan became seminal influences, and traditional criticism was (somewhat prematurely) pronounced dead or at least obsolete. A distinguished and widely influential instance was the meticulously detailed Marxist-Lacanian analysis of Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) produced collaboratively by the new Cahiers collective; it deserves its place in film history as one of the essential texts. British critical work swiftly followed suit, with Peter Wollen's seminal Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969, revised 1972), which remains an essential text. Whereas Movie had adopted many of the aims and positions of the original Cahiers, it was now Screen that took up the challenge of the new, instantly converted to semiotics. The magazine published the Young Mr. Lincoln

Andrew Sarris with his wife, the critic Molly Haskell.

robin platzer/time life pictures/getty images.

Andrew Sarris with his wife, the critic Molly Haskell.

robin platzer/time life pictures/getty images.

article in translation, and it was followed by much work in the same tradition. In terms of sheer ambition, one must single out Stephen Heath's two-part analysis and decon-struction of Welles's Touch of Evil (1958).

Semiotics was expected by its adherents to transform not only criticism but also the world. Its failure to do so resides largely in the fact that it has remained a daunt-ingly esoteric language. Its disciples failed to bridge the gulf between themselves and a general readership; perhaps the gulf is in fact unbridgeable. Its influence outside academia has been negligible, though within academia it continues, if not to flourish, at least to remain a presence, developing new phases, striking up a relationship with that buzzword du jour, postmodernism. Its effect on traditional critical discourse has however been devastating (which is not to deny its validity or the value of its contribution). "Humanism" became a dirty word. But what is humanism but a belief in the importance for us all of human emotions, human responses, human desires, human fears, hence of the actions, drives, and behavior appropriate to the achievement of a sense of fulfillment, understanding, reciprocation, caring? Are these no longer important, obsolete like the modes of discourse in which they expressed themselves? Semiotics is a tool, and a valuable one, but it was mistaken for a while for the ultimate goal. Criticism, loosely defined here as being built on the sense of value, was replaced by "decon-struction,'' debate by alleged "proof." It seemed the ultimate triumph of what Leavis called (after Jeremy Bentham) the "technologico-Benthamite world,'' the world of Utilitarianism that grew out of the Industrial Revolution and was so brilliantly satirized by Charles Dickens in Hard Times (1845), which in turn was brilliantly analyzed by Leavis in Dickens the Novelist. During the reign of semiotics Leavis was, of course, expelled from the curriculum, and it is high time for his restoration.

The massive claims made for semiotics have died down, and the excitement has faded. In addition to the articles mentioned above, it produced, in those heady days, texts that deserve permanent status: the seminal works of Barthes (always the most accessible of the semi-oticians), Mythologies (1957, translated into English in 1972) and S/Z (1970, translated into English in 1974), with its loving, almost sentence-by-sentence analysis of Honoré de Balzac's Sarrasine; Raymond Bellour's Hitchcock analyses (though it took most readers quite a time to realize that Bellour and Heath actually loved the films they deconstructed). And, more generally, semiotics has taught us (even those who doubt its claims to supply all the answers) to be more precise and rigorous in our examination of films.

Out of the radicalism of the 1970s there developed not only semiotics but also a new awareness of race and racism and the advent of radical feminism. Laura Mulvey's pioneering article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'' (1975) rapidly became, in its concise few pages, enormously influential, opening a veritable floodgate of feminist analysis, much of it concerned with the exposure of the inherent and structural sexism of the Hollywood cinema. It was impossible to predict, from Mulvey's dangerous oversimplification of Hawks and Hitchcock, that she would go on to produce admirable and loving analyses of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Notorious (1946); but it was the very extremeness of the original article that gave it its force. Mulvey's work opened up possibilities for a proliferation of women's voices within a field that had traditionally been dominated by men—work (as with semiotics itself) of extremely diverse quality but often of great distinction, as, for example, Tania Modleski's splendid book on Hitchcock, The Women Who Knew Too Much (1988, with a new expanded edition in 2004).

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment