Film and Stereotype

Film and Stereotype: A Challenge for Cinema and Theory

JÖRG SCHWEINITZ
Translated by Laura Schleussner
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/schw15148
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    Film and Stereotype
    Book Description:

    Since the early days of film, critics and theorists have contested the value of formula, cliché, conventional imagery, and recurring narrative patterns of reduced complexity in cinema. Whether it's the high-noon showdown or the last-minute rescue, a lonely woman standing in the window or two lovers saying goodbye in the rain, many films rely on scenes of stereotype, and audiences have come to expect them. Outlining a comprehensive theory of film stereotype, a device as functionally important as it is problematic to a film's narrative, Jörg Schweinitz constructs a fascinating though overlooked critical history from the 1920s to today.

    Drawing on theories of stereotype in linguistics, literary analysis, art history, and psychology, Schweinitz identifies the major facets of film stereotype and articulates the positions of theorists in response to the challenges posed by stereotype. He reviews the writing of Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Theodor W. Adorno, Rudolf Arnheim, Robert Musil, Béla Balázs, Hugo Münsterberg, and Edgar Morin, and he revives the work of less-prominent writers, such as René Fülöp-Miller and Gilbert Cohen-Séat, tracing the evolution of the discourse into a postmodern celebration of the device. Through detailed readings of specific films, Schweinitz also maps the development of models for adapting and reflecting stereotype, from early irony (Alexander Granowski) and conscious rejection (Robert Rossellini) to critical deconstruction (Robert Altman in the 1970s) and celebratory transfiguration (Sergio Leone and the Coen brothers). Altogether a provocative spectacle, Schweinitz's history reveals the role of film stereotype in shaping processes of communication and recognition, as well as its function in growing media competence in audiences beyond cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52521-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    In his film Die Koffer des Herrn O. F. (The Suitcases of Mr. O. F., Germany, 1931), Alexander Granowski presents an ironic fairy tale about the modern capitalism of the era and reflexively touches on the world of cinema. The director of a fictive film company explains his business strategy: “Problems make you go broke. Comedies bring dividends…. Why are we a world-class company? Because we produce comedies! I beg of you!” A song follows, sung from off-screen, as a coloratura in the style of an operetta aria referring to the popular film genres of the period. “Sound film comedies”...

  5. PART I. STEREOTYPE THEORY:: CONCEPTS, PERSPECTIVES, AND CONTROVERSIES
    • ONE THE STEREOTYPE IN PSYCHOLOGY AND THE HUMANITIES
      (pp. 3-41)

      The word “stereotype” is used in various theoretical disciplines. Upon closer examination, one finds that the term refers to quite heterogeneous phenomena in each respective field. In one, it signifies prejudiced and socially widespread ideas about foreigners. In another, stereotypes are associated with linguistic formulas that take the form of standardized expressions, and in still others they are considered standardized images and even naturalized recurrent patterns of narration. These kinds of semantic oscillations do not only occur along the dividing lines between disciplines. In many cases, they cut straight across specific discourses. In light of this and the tendency of...

    • TWO SOME ASPECTS AND LEVELS OF STEREOTYPIZATION IN FILM
      (pp. 42-95)

      Chapter 1 was concerned with the differentiation between and specification of various concepts of the word “stereotype” and their theoretical contexts. It also outlined the four facets that contain elements of a comprehensive understanding of the term. This should prove helpful in the more detailed elaboration of aspects and elements of stereotypization in film undertaken in this chapter, as the world of film also presents sedimented schema or patterns that are used repeatedly in long intertextual sequences. Such patterns are intersubjectively well established with the general audience and have long become conventional. They seem abbreviated, in the manner of templates...

    • THREE THE INTELLECTUAL VIEWPOINT VERSUS THE STEREOTYPE IN MASS CULTURE
      (pp. 96-120)

      Working through the concept of the stereotype against the backdrop of its highly diverse conceptualizations from an array of scholarly disciplines and schools (in chapter 1) has already called attention to two things. First, from the standpoint of pragmatic analysis stereotypes are functional entities, indispensable phenomena that ultimately shape every form of cognition and communication. Given a degree of analytical distance, one can even discern the stereotypical behind even the most subtle artistic expressions. Second, as instances of reduced complexity, (intrasubjective) stability, and (intersubjective) conventionality, they always have a “downside.” This is most apparent to the “external” observer, when contexts...

  6. PART II. A DISCOURSE HISTORY:: THE TOPIC OF THE “STEREOTYPE” THROUGHOUT FILM THEORY
    • FOUR PRELUDE: WALTHER RATHENAU’S CULTURAL CRITICISM, HUGO MÜNSTERBERG’S EUPHORIC CONCEPT OF FILM AS ART, AND THE NEGLECT OF THE STEREOTYPE
      (pp. 123-133)

      Writing in 1927 under the pseudonym Arnold Höllriegel, the Viennese author Richard A. Bermann voiced the conviction in his Hollywood Bilderbuch (Hollywood Picturebook)

      that American film cannot be considered “art,” for it is a consumer product for the prodigious masses, much like the canned meat goods which … the people strolling down Broadway eat in the thousands of “cafeterias” there, perhaps ham and beans, perhaps chicken, perhaps a magnificently extravagant turkey, always the same stuff prepared from the can in prodigious amounts for the prodigious masses

      At roughly the same time, Egon Erwin Kisch stressed the ever-same nature of the...

    • FIVE BÉLA BALÁZS’S NEW VISUAL CULTURE, THE TRADITION OF LINGUISTIC SKEPTICISM, AND ROBERT MUSIL’S NOTION OF THE “FORMULAIC”
      (pp. 134-153)

      Münsterberg had validated cinema’s potential as art, largely by celebrating the psychological power of the medium to create an intrinsically harmonic and hermetic, aesthetic world of appearances. In doing so, he had ascribed to an idea central to traditional definitions of art. However, film theory soon shifted, particularly in Germany, toward a different line of thought in high-culture aesthetic discourse:¹ an anthropomorphic perspective based on physiognomy.

      This thinking predominated in the premontage era of German film theory (until approximately 1926) and had continuing influence thereafter. Writers such as Béla Balázs² and Rudolf Harms³ advocated cinema as an artistic medium, now...

    • SIX THE READYMADE PRODUCTS OF THE FANTASY MACHINE: Rudolf Arnheim, René Fülöp-Miller, and the Discourse on the “Standardization” of Film
      (pp. 154-185)

      A marked shift toward a widespread awareness of the stereotype in cinema took place in the second half of the 1920s and was prompted by the increased interest among journalists and theorists in the topic. This primarily occurred under the aegis of fundamental critique. By this time, key theoretical positions on film as art were fully developed. Based on these positions, the film criticism in the feature pages of daily newspapers and in cultural journals was widely established. There was a powerful sense of discrepancy between the theoretical imperative—particularly pronounced in Germany—to apply the traditional romantic vision of...

    • SEVEN THE STEREOTYPE AS INTELLIGIBLE FORM: Cohen-Séat, Morin, and Semiology
      (pp. 186-209)

      The culture-critical discourse on the stereotype continued through the end of classical film theory¹ and even persists today, although it is no longer a dominant approach. In parallel with this line of thought, a fundamental shift in theoretical attitudes toward the stereotype began to emerge in the postwar period. These new ideas remained very influential, above and beyond later film semiotics, and introduced a new type of thought.

      The roots of this change lie in the 1940s and 1950s. It was largely authors from the ranks of French filmologie and its circle of influence who began to show an interest...

    • EIGHT IRONY AND TRANSFIGURATION: The Postmodern View of the Stereotype
      (pp. 210-234)

      In All That Heaven Allows (1955), director Douglas Sirk conveys the emotional nadir of his female protagonist Cary as follows: we see her standing alone at a window and looking out. The reverse angle shows a view into a cold, snowy world bathed in blue light. Daily life, the bustle of the Christmas season, which Cary is no longer part of, continues outside and carries on matter-of-factly without her. She is hermetically sealed off from this world by the cagelike lattice of the window, through which we see her in the next shot, now from the outside. The camera slowly...

  7. PART III. FILM ANALYSIS:: CRITIQUE AND TRANSFIGURATION—THREE CASE STUDIES
    • NINE MCCABE AND BUFFALO BILL: On the Critical Reflection of Stereotypes in Two Films by Robert Altman
      (pp. 237-261)

      Similar discourses to those conducted by theorists and writers on the stereotype were and are carried out—reflexively—in actual films. This was already elaborated in the section “Ways of Emancipation from the Stereotype” in chapter 3 and also in the detailed discussion of Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West in the previous chapter. In this last section of this study, two basic forms of the immediate filmic discourse on the stereotype—“critique” and transfiguring, “celebratory revelation”—will be examined more closely, together with associated techniques of narration and representation. Following the principle of pars pro toto, three...

    • TEN ENJOYING THE STEREOTYPE AND INTENSE DOUBLE-PLAY ACTING: The Performance of Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy
      (pp. 262-276)

      Within the scope of classical-realist theories of film acting, much has been written about rolling back conventional patterns and acting stereotypes. These attracted particular resentment when they became all too obvious, either because as conventional acting patterns they clearly departed from corresponding everyday patterns of behavior, or because they seemed overly accentuated or vulgarized, or because they no longer seemed “truly felt” but were rather used in a masklike, symbolic, or even mechanical manner. Often all of these aspects together became a source of criticism.

      Originating from the stage, realist theories of acting are not a novelty of film. Stanislavsky’s...

  8. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 277-280)

    The neglect of the stereotype encouraged by euphoric concepts of film as art during the initial years of film theory (from Münsterberg to Balázs), the subsequent disappointment of the late 1920s associated with a fundamental critique of popular film’s stereotypes, French filmology’s estimation of the filmic stereotype as the basis for the new “intelligibility” of cinema two decades later, and finally the reflexive transfiguration of stereotypes in postmodern thought: this “chronology” already accentuated by the organization of this book’s chapters is not to be understood as a rigid, successive progression of paradigms. There are numerous transitions, simultaneities, and reversions. However,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 281-332)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 333-356)
  11. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 357-360)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 361-373)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 374-375)