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Film Hieroglyphs

Film Hieroglyphs

Tom Conley With a New Introduction
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition, Second
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Film Hieroglyphs
    Book Description:

    At a time when traditional film theory privileged the purely visual, Film Hieroglyphs introduced a new way of watching film—examining the ways in which writing bears on cinema. Author Tom Conley gives special consideration to the points (ruptures) at which story, image, and writing appear to be at odds with one another.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9927-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Hieroglyphs Then and Now
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xxiii-xlvi)

    The “seventh art” has been a heterogeneous medium from its origins, at once narrative and pictural, “diegetic” and mimetic. Since Lumiere and Méliès, film has been a benchmark of reality and the most efficient narrative medium since the nineteenth-century novel. At the same time, its own form appears to call into question the narrative powers that have charmed billions of spectators. Wherever a film lures a viewer into its fiction, it also makes obvious how its modes of fabrication are working. In a study of narrative inspired by his reading of Proust, Gérard Genette has argued that a story (an...

  6. 1 The Filmic Icon: Boudu sauvé des eaux
    (pp. 1-19)

    In the introduction it was seen how shards of writing in a film draw attention to tensions of difference that determine the medium. The spectator is required to decipher the moving image in various ways at once; the contradictions that seem to hold among them open the medium to interpretations that can work multifariously. Sometimes these cannot be controlled by either the film or the viewer. Placed in a field of movement, pieces of writing, letters, or fragments of script arrest the eye and force it to see the film heterogeneously. Flattening the fictive depth needed for a narrative, written...

  7. 2 The Law of the Letter: Scarlet Street
    (pp. 20-45)

    In Fritz Lang’sScarlet Street(1945), Kitty March (Joan Bennett) orders a rum collins in a basement bar. Her companion, Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson), has just requested a cup of coffee. He hesitates, and then decides that he might as well have a drink with the lovely lady. “Make mine the same,” he asserts to the barkeep. They sit down at a table and, seconds later, puckering his lips around the straw and sipping his cocktail, Chris interrupts to tell Kitty of his impressions of the current art scene. Turning her head away from Chris-as if she were about...

  8. 3 Dummies Revived: Manpower
    (pp. 46-70)

    InScarlet Streetelements of writing on screen open an endless movement of meaning that collapses the mimetic frame of the film. The signifier runs through and across the work and raises issues involving cinema, writing, and the gamut of representation. The system is sustained maddeningly and endlessly, in ways that run both counter and true to prevailing styles of invisibility in the studio tradition. The letter tests its limits of illusion. It is time now to see if the same mode of analysis can work for more staunchly transparent films. In this and the following chapter, we will study...

  9. 4 The Nether Eye: Objective, Burma!
    (pp. 71-101)

    In a comparative analysis of point of view in the cinema and novel, François Jost distinguishes betweenfocalization,the ways the raw materials of a story are selected, andocularization,the diegetic relation that unifies the camera and the expressions that hold narrative cinema together.¹ At certain times, he notes, the camera relays a character’s point of view, in what he calls “secondary internal ocularization.” At others it replaces the character, in a sort of free indirect discourse or “primary internal ocularization.” The rest of the time the camera is “pure exteriority,” and its position refers to no one in...

  10. 5 Facts and FIgures of History Paisan
    (pp. 102-129)

    A review of the opening montage ofObjective,Burma!has shown that veracity is merely a pretext for strategic operations of ruptures of voice, image, and writing. The Hollywood film fractures the monument of epic history it simultaneously heralds. InScarlet StreetandManpoweras well, a break within written forms and montage seems to constitute a field of meaning. Close inspection shows how a film works heterogeneously. In this chapter I will argue that what the sacred and secret figure of YAWE revealed on the map ofObjective,Burma!can now be seen, in Roberto Rossellini’s cinema, as something...

  11. 6 The Human Alphabet: La bête humaine
    (pp. 130-153)

    In chapter 5 we saw how Rossellini envisions a universal history through a figural cinema. His “image-facts” appear to fracture its experience of war and disperse its historical intensities across a surface of images and scripture. If Rossellini aims at creating a myth from current events, he faces the paradox of making a film transcend the history that it is writing at the same time; or failing that, he must reduce to a minimum all distance in time and space between the recent events he transcribes and the time and space of the film. Rossellini’s work is grounded in a...

  12. 7 Decoding Film Noir: The Killers, High Sierra, and White Heat
    (pp. 154-189)

    In chapter 6 the human will was seen squinched into the frame of destiny announcing the coming of the Second World War.La bête humaineappears to be a vital, even precocious study of a convention that would soon develop on both sides of the Atlantic during and after the debacle. Did Renoir indeed offer a blueprint for the coding of destiny in the postwar years? The risk one runs in posing the question inheres, it seems, in the convention of film noir itself. It shares much with the plot and texture ofLa bête humaine,but it is neither...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 190-194)

    This study began withBoudu sauve des eaux(1932), in which the central character was seen as an instrument inaugurating a movement of film writing. An antagonist, Boudu passes through a world of books, lithographs, and tableaux for which he has little concern. He can read nothing more than “fat letters”(grosses lettres),but his good fate is sealed when, by chance, he asks a pedestrian on the quay Conti how to decipher the numerals 3-4-6 on the lottery ticket left in the waistcoat Lestingois bequeathed to him. The gentleman asks the tramp if the stub belongs to him and, if...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 195-216)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 217-242)
  16. Index
    (pp. 243-252)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)