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Shocking Representation

Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Shocking Representation
    Book Description:

    In this imaginative new work, Adam Lowenstein explores the ways in which a group of groundbreaking horror films engaged the haunting social conflicts left in the wake of World War II, Hiroshima, and the Vietnam War. Lowenstein centers Shocking Representation around readings of films by Georges Franju, Michael Powell, Shindo Kaneto, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. He shows that through allegorical representations these directors' films confronted and challenged comforting historical narratives and notions of national identity intended to soothe public anxieties in the aftermath of national traumas.

    Borrowing elements from art cinema and the horror genre, these directors disrupted the boundaries between high and low cinema. Lowenstein contrasts their works, often dismissed by contemporary critics, with the films of acclaimed "New Wave" directors in France, England, Japan, and the United States. He argues that these "New Wave" films, which were embraced as both art and national cinema, often upheld conventional ideas of nation, history, gender, and class questioned by the horror films. By fusing film studies with the emerging field of trauma studies, and drawing on the work of Walter Benjamin, Adam Lowenstein offers a bold reassessment of the modern horror film and the idea of national cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50718-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Allegorical Moment
    (pp. 1-16)

    What does cinematic horror have to tell us about the horrors of history?

    To speak of history’s horrors, or historical trauma, is to recognize events as wounds. Auschwitz. Hiroshima. Vietnam. These are names associated with specific places and occurrences, but they are also wounds in the fabric of culture and history that bleed through conventional confines of time and space. To speak of representing historical trauma is to ask questions as central to today’s cultural politics as they are resistant to definitive answers. What are the limits of representation? Do such limits exist? If so, what is the relation between...

  6. CHAPTER 1: FRANCE HISTORY WITHOUT A FACE: Surrealism, Modernity, and the Holocaust in the Cinema of Georges Franju
    (pp. 17-54)

    When Georges Franju died in 1987, he felt bitterly dissatisfied with the spotty critical reception of his film career. Perhaps some of this neglect can be attributed to his allegedly volatile personality—at least one critic has described his reputation as “the Céline of conversationalists, a man of ‘torrential vehemence’ spitting out excremental expletives like a tracer-stream of olive pits.”⁴ But Franju’s shadowy presence in film history probably has more to do with a remarkably multifaceted career that resists convenient categorization into any of its individual components: cofounder (with Henri Langlois) of the Cinémathèque Française (1937), secretary-general of the Institut...

  7. CHAPTER 2: BRITAIN ʺDIRECT EMOTIONAL REALISMʺ: The People’s War, Classlessness, and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom
    (pp. 55-82)

    Isabel Quigly, film critic for the British magazine The Spectator, had disposed of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face in February 1960 with two sentences: “Eyes Without a Face gets my prize as the sickest film since I started film criticism. Sad to see Alida Valli mixed up in it; or Pierre Brasseur either, though his deadpan manner is better suited to necromancy and surgical horror than her subtle and nervous expressiveness.”¹ But in April, with the release of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, she revises her earlier judgment:

    [Peeping Tom] turns out to be the sickest and filthiest film I...

  8. CHAPTER 3: JAPAN UNMASKING HIROSHIMA: Demons, Human Beings, and Shindo Kaneto’s Onibaba
    (pp. 83-110)

    Shindo Kaneto dreams of writing and directing a feature-length film that transpires entirely during the split second of the atomic detonation over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.¹ Whether or not this ambitious project is ever completed, Shindo’s dream testifies to a remarkable artistic commitment that has already produced what is arguably the most important and undervalued body of work dealing with the atomic bomb in Japanese cinema. This chapter examines Shindo’s horror film Onibaba (1964) as a means of refiguring how cinematic representations of Hiroshima² are legislated theoretically, with particular attention to the political issues of victim consciousness, war responsibility,...

  9. CHAPTER 4: UNITED STATES ʺONLY A MOVIEʺ: Specters of Vietnam in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left
    (pp. 111-144)

    “Can a movie go too far?”

    The question appears as the banner above an advertisement for Wes Craven’s notorious independent American horror film, Last House on the Left (1972). (See fig. 4.1.) The ad’s disclaimer supplies an answer: “The movie makes a plea for an end to all the senseless violence and inhuman cruelty that has become so much a part of the times in which we live. WE DON’T THINK ANY MOVIE CAN GO TOO FAR IN MAKING THIS MESSAGE HEARD AND FELT!” According to the ad, the film’s ability to force viewers into “feeling” its “message” is so...

  10. CHAPTER 5: CANADA TRAUMA AND NATION MADE FLESH: David Cronenberg and the Foundations of the Allegorical Moment
    (pp. 145-176)

    David Cronenberg once described the purpose of his films as “to show the unshowable, to speak the unspeakable.”¹ Cronenberg’s words capture the confrontational essence of the allegorical moment, just as his films—with their shocking images, blurring of horror film–art film boundaries, and thematic preoccupations with physical and psychological trauma—constitute the most powerful, sustained manifestation of the allegorical cinematic mode analyzed in previous chapters. But if each of the preceding chapters examined the allegorical moment as the collision of film, spectator, and history where the representation of historical trauma was at stake, then what exactly is at stake...

  11. AFTERWORD: 9/11/01, 8/6/45, Ground Zero
    (pp. 177-184)

    This book began by asking how cinematic horror relates to the horrors of history, and it has now addressed that question by describing particular instances of allegorical collision between filmic texts and traumatic historical contexts—collisions that challenge the power of national narratives to regulate the meaning of collective trauma. In the book’s previous cases, the allegorical confrontation between past and present focused on traumatic events lodged in the past but whose echoes resonate in the present. But what of traumatic events located not in the past, but in the present? What happens when the allegorical moment’s “past” and “present”...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 185-220)
    (pp. 221-240)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 241-258)