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Narrative Mortality

Narrative Mortality: Death, Closure, and New Wave Cinemas

Catherine Russell
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Narrative Mortality
    Book Description:

    What seems like closure might be something more, as Catherine Russell shows us in this book about death in narrative cinema since the 1950s. Analyzing the structural importance of death in narrative endings, as well as the thematics of loss and redemption, Russell identifies mortality as a valuable critical tool for understanding the cinema of the second half of the twentieth century. Her work includes close textual readings of films by Fritz Lang, Wim Wenders, Oshima Nagisa, Jean-Luc Godard, and Robert Altman, among others._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8608-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-30)

    Death may once have been “tamed” by social representations, but it is now indisputably “wild,” a signifier adrift in the cultural image bank. Death remains feared, denied, and hidden, and yet images of death are a staple of the mass media. As medical and health technologies continue to battle mortality with as little success as ever, news broadcasts prioritize stories according to the number of deaths involved. Such is the paradox of the absence of death from daily lived experience on the one hand and its omnipresence in the media on the other. Rather than regard this as a problem,...

  2. ONE BEYOND PLEASURE: Lang and Mortification
    (pp. 31-66)

    Death has acquired a certain authority in narrative cinema as it endows film after film with a weighty burden of meaning. However, death can endow cinematic narrative with another kind of authority, one that extends beyond representation to the historical “real” of its production and reception. When Walter Benjamin refers to the authority of death for the storyteller, he makes a distinction between novelistic and storytelling narrative forms. In the “novelistic” mode, the individual reader warms his/her “shivering life with a death that he reads about.”² For the storyteller, on the other hand, death is the sign of the transposition...

  3. TWO WIM WENDERS: Film as Death at Work
    (pp. 67-104)

    Twenty-five years after Lang’s last American film, Wim Wenders crossed the ocean from Germany to makeHammetat Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope studio in Los Angeles. Over the five years that this $10-million film was in production, Wenders made four independent films, among them the two featuresLightning Over Water(1980) andThe State of Things(1982). Both films can be read as allegories of narrative mortality, but the parameters are quite different from those discussed in chapter 1. In this case, narrative mortality is produced as an auteurist signature, an investment of subjectivity in cinematic representation that is cognizant...

  4. THREE OSHIMA NAGISA: The Limits of Nationhood
    (pp. 105-136)

    One of Oshima’s best-known films,Death by Hanging(1968), might be considered the repressed text ofBeyond a Reasonable Doubt, laying bare all the contradictions of the two institutions of cinema and capital punishment, analogizing them and mutually indicting them. The space of the imaginary is opened up by exploiting that very doubt in the believability of the image that causes so much anxiety in Lang’s film. As inBeyond a Reasonable Doubt, the body of the “guinea pig” is at first that of an automaton, and, like Garrett’s, it isgivenmemory, history, crime, and guilt, under the threat...

  5. FOUR JEAN-LUC GODARD: Allegory of the Body
    (pp. 137-172)

    In a 1965 interview, when asked about all the blood inPierrot le fou, Godard responded, “Not blood. Red.”²—indicating that for him, as for Oshima, the representation of death is a form of writing in the cinema. This treatment of death allows for a carnivalesque, ironic attitude toward mortality in which the bonds of pathos are broken with laughter. At the same time, though, in the throes of his ongoing critique of film language in the 1960s, Godard maintains an attitude of melancholy in the face of the loss of illusionism. The representation of death is always and inevitably...

  6. FIVE AMERICAN APOCALYPTICISM: The Sight of the Crisis
    (pp. 173-208)

    Violence to the body, represented in ever more vivid anatomical detail, through the use of ever more special effects, has come to signify death in contemporary American narrative film. As the substantial lived body is wrenched apart, it is anatomized through wounding and ejaculating blood, and becomes the producer of it own excess. This strategy involves a shift of emphasis from the more abstract sense of the individual to a biological, organic sense of the finite self. Moreover, it represents a very different fear of death, replacing the existential anxiety of the European “art” film with a fear of “unnatural”...

    (pp. 209-226)

    Many of the films discussed in this book end with images of sky and water, blue expanses broken only by a horizon or a cloud(Le Mépris, Pierrot le fou, Lightning Over Water, Nashville).Visibility itself is stripped to its most essential form of seeing, and yet there is nothing to be seen. If “nothing” is the threat of death, it is also the potential of narrative to create a void, a desire for meaning. In the empty image of sea, sky, or both, nature provides the background for a historiography of catastrophe in which nothing and everything happens. Natural...