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Cinematic Mythmaking

Cinematic Mythmaking: Philosophy in Film

Irving Singer
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Cinematic Mythmaking
    Book Description:

    Film is the supreme medium for mythmaking. The gods and heroes of mythology are both larger than life and deeply human; they teach us about the world, and they tell us a good story. Similarly, our experience of film is both distant and intimate. Cinematic techniques--panning, tracking, zooming, and the other tools in the filmmaker's toolbox--create a world that is unlike reality and yet realistic at the same time. We are passive spectators, but we also have a personal relationship with the images we are seeing. In Cinematic Mythmaking, Irving Singer explores the hidden and overt use of myth in various films and, in general, the philosophical elements of a film's meaning. Mythological themes, Singer writes, perform a crucial role in cinematic art and even philosophy itself. Singer incisively disentangles the strands of different myths in the films he discusses. He finds in Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve that Barbara Stanwyck's character is not just the biblical Eve but a liberated woman of our times; Eliza Doolittle in the filmed versions of Shaw's Pygmalion is not just a statue brought to life but instead a heroic woman who must survive her own dark night of the soul. The protagonist of William Wyler's The Heiress and Anieszka Holland's Washington Square is both suffering Dido and an awakened Amazon. Singer reads Cocteau's films--including La Belle et la Bête, Orphée, and The Testament of Orpheus--as uniquely mythological cinematic poetry. He compares Kubrickean and Homeric epics and analyzes in depth the self-referential mythmaking of Federico Fellini in many of his movies, including 8½. The aesthetic and probing inventiveness in film, Singer shows us, restores and revives for audiences in the twenty-first century myths of creation, of the questing hero, and of ideals--both secular and religious--that have had enormous significance throughout the human search for love and meaning in life.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28369-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prefatory Note
    (pp. ix-x)
    I. S.
  4. Introduction: Philosophical Dimensions of Myth and Cinema
    (pp. 1-12)

    In earlier books I argued that the aesthetic value in cinematic art is a function of both the meanings and the techniques that filmmakers employ for the sake of communication to a receptive audience. In addition I drew upon my general belief that through their meaningfulness, as presented by relevant techniques, many films are capable of having what I called ʺphilosophicalʺ scope related to the problem solving of philosophy proper but in no way reducible to it.

    As illustration of my perspective, I analyzed several noteworthy films, briefly or at some length. In this book I follow a slightly different...

  5. 1 The Lady Eve
    (pp. 13-52)

    Preston SturgesʹsThe Lady Eve(1941) is a suitable starting point, if only because it reverberates with the mythology of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. The movie is up-to-date insofar as it discards any of the biblical references to the beginning of life on this planet or the early history of our species, first in the Garden of Eden and then outside. In the categories of myth, this version has no place among those that are cosmological. Instead it limits itself to the mythic dimensions of human good and evil by depicting the progress of a hero...

  6. 2 Pygmalion Variations
    (pp. 53-82)

    In Ovidʹs telling of the Pygmalion myth, we do not learn much about Galatea. She is the figurine that Pygmalion has created as a statue, and that Venus then brings to life as a woman. In a recent free rendition ofThe Metamorphoses, we read that once the maiden has attained consciousness, ʺshe blinks, blushes, opens her eyes, and gazes upon him, / her maker, her lover, her man, and behind him the light of the sky, / for which she is grateful to him and the goddess.ʺ¹ The lovers instantly consummate their union, and Venus arranges for a child...

  7. 3 The Heiress and Washington Square
    (pp. 83-138)

    It is often said that great works of literature do not lend themselves to the making of great films, either because the art modalities are too different or because the subtlety and inventiveness of the former are inevitably diminished by the visual contrivances in the latter. As a corollary, we are told, films are invariably, or generally, inferior to the novels from which they are derived. InReality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique, I argued extensively that a sharp demarcation between the literary and the visual leads to basic misconceptions about the nature of film. The other dogma, about...

  8. 4 Cocteau: The Mythological Poetry of Film
    (pp. 139-194)

    Jean Cocteau differed from other filmmakers in two respects. He approached cinema as a form of poetry, and the majority of the relatively few films he made or wrote were explicitly mythological. Many filmmakers have aspired to a poetic dimension beyond or within the realistic fabric of their movies. Yet hardly any of them was an accomplished and talented poet, as Cocteau was; and few have developed an aesthetics of filmaspoetry that is comparable to what exists in his theoretical writings. Even Welles and Renoir, both of whom were greater filmmakers than Cocteau, mention in an offhanded way...

  9. 5 Mythmaking in Kubrick and Fellini
    (pp. 195-230)

    Appearing in 1968, Stanley Kubrickʹs2001: A Space Odysseydeclares its mythic intentions in the subtitle itself. Just as we cannot mistake the fact thatOrphéeandPygmalionoriginate in the myths that have come down to us through Ovid, so too do we recognize immediately the kinship between2001and the epic that Homer wrote. At the same time, Kubrickʹs title conveys an aura of academic or documentary research, as in the contents of a nonfiction book. The works of both Homer and Kubrick consist of voyages through unknown spaces enacted by a hero and his crew; the travel...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 231-238)
  11. Index
    (pp. 239-246)