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.
Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology
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