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The Philosophy of Michael Mann

The Philosophy of Michael Mann

Steven Sanders
Aeon J. Skoble
R. Barton Palmer
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Michael Mann
    Book Description:

    Known for restoring vitality and superior craftsmanship to the crime thriller, American filmmaker Michael Mann has long been regarded as a talented triple threat capable of moving effortlessly between television and feature films as a writer, director, and executive producer. His unique visual sense and thematic approach are evident in the Emmy Award-winning The Jericho Mile (1979), the cult favorite The Keep (1983), the American epic The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and the Academy Award-nominated The Insider (1999) as well as his most recent works -- Ali (2001), Miami Vice (2006), and Public Enemies (2009).

    The Philosophy of Michael Mann provides an up-to-date and comprehensive account of the work of this highly accomplished filmmaker, exploring the director's recognizable visual style and the various on-screen and philosophical elements he has tested in his thirty-five-year career. The essays in this wide-ranging book will appeal to fans of the revolutionary filmmaker and to philosophical scholars interested in the themes and conflicts that drive his movies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4473-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Michael Mann
    (pp. 1-13)
    Steven Sanders

    Michael Mann’s personal involvement as a writer, director, and producer has given him the reputation of being an unusually talented triple threat in Hollywood. He has been called “one of the most breathtaking cinematic stylists of his era” and “Hollywood’s foremost urbanist.”¹ His ability to recreate the language and visualize the circumstances of the crime cultures he so often infiltrates is as uncanny as it is illuminating. His diagnosis of the circumstances of his existential protagonists in the alienated urban space of postmodern capitalism incorporates a film noir sensibility even as it investigates the cultural dilemmas of the twenty-first century....

  4. Michael Mann and Nonplace: A Nietzschean Element in Mann’s Modern Crime Films
    (pp. 14-30)
    Robert Arnett

    Early inCollateral(2004), Vincent (Tom Cruise), a hit man beginning a job, describes Los Angeles as “too sprawled out. Disconnected. . . . Seventeen million people . . . but nobody knows each other. Too impersonal. I read about this guy. Gets on the MTA, here, and dies. Six hours he’s riding the subway before anybody notices. This corpse doing laps around LA, people on and off, sitting next to him, nobody notices.” Buildings, bridges, roads, and other geographic structures act as key elements in Michael Mann’s mise-en-scène and suggest, as Vincent alludes to, the “nonplace” of Marc Augé’s...

  5. “Awakened to Chaos”: Outsiders in The Jericho Mile and Thief
    (pp. 31-50)
    R. Barton Palmer

    Recently released movies were an indispensable staple of prime-time broadcasting in the late 1960s. But once the networks discovered it was cheaper to produce their own features rather than pay increasingly expensive rentals, telefilms became an even more forceful and enduring presence on the small screen. The popularity of such programming lasted for more than two decades, and even in the 1990s the telefilm revived, as cable companies such as Turner and HBO, rediscovering the same economic truth, began their own feature production, including a number of award-winning and very popular successes directed by experienced professionals, most notably perhaps John...

  6. Existential Mann
    (pp. 51-65)
    Steven Sanders

    Michael Mann is widely known as a cinematic stylist and visual artist of high accomplishment. This should not lead one to overlook the fact that the action, music, and conflict so prominent in his films are typically put in the service of ideas, as one can see by noting the prevalence of existential themes in his work. Mann’s protagonists are typically alienated loners who find themselves in crises that call for decisive action—a metaphor in Mann’s work for their attempts to break out of an existential impasse. As often as not, these crises are expressed through confrontations that propel...

  7. “Do You See?” Reflecting on Evil in Manhunter
    (pp. 66-73)
    Aeon J. Skoble

    Michael Mann’s 1986 filmManhunter,based on the Thomas Harris novelRed Dragon,¹ was one of the earliest cinematic explorations of the “profiling” approach to tracking serial killers. Profiling differs from traditional clue-based detective work in its focus on trying to understand the psyche of the criminal. Harris’s 1981 novel was based on interviews with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, which was at the time relatively new. The film begins as Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) tries to coax Will Graham (William Petersen) out of retirement to consult on a case. (The Crawford character is based on real-life FBI profiler John...

  8. Mann and Übermensch: Evil and Power in Manhunter
    (pp. 74-89)
    David Sterritt

    Manhunter,the 1986 film adapted by writer-director Michael Mann from Thomas Harris’s 1981 novelRed Dragon,introduced Hannibal Lecktor to the movies.¹ The cannibalistic psychiatrist—whose last name is spelled “Lecter” in other films and in the Harris novels, a detail to which we shall return—did not make his screen debut as a full-fledged antihero.² He is instead a supporting player in a saga centering primarily on Francis Dollarhyde, a similarly twisted killer, and Will Graham, a forensic investigator who consults with Lecktor during his efforts to end Dollarhyde’s murderous career. William Petersen plays the detective and Tom Noonan...

  9. “Blood in the Moonlight”: Toward an Aesthetics of Horror in The Keep and Manhunter
    (pp. 90-103)
    Ivo Ritzer

    An auteur of visionary urban crime thrillers, beyond doubt. With movies such asThief(1981),Heat(1995),The Insider(1999),Collateral(2004),Miami Vice(2006), andPublic Enemies(2009), Michael Mann is widely known quite rightly as a masterful creator of elegiac gangster and cop movies. Hence, it may not be obvious that Mann has also put his mark on other genres. This essay analyzes a central aspect of Michael Mann’s often neglected early work: the aesthetics of horror inThe Keep(1983) andManhunter(1986). Although these films create this aesthetic in different ways, they employ very similar strategies...

  10. Style, Meaning, and Myth in Public Enemies
    (pp. 104-118)
    Steven Rybin

    Michael Mann’s films combine authentic realism with distinctive cinematic stylization. Mann emotionally immerses audiences in fully realized fictional worlds, including the historical worlds ofThe Last of the Mohicans(1992),Ali(2001), and Depression-era Chicago inPublic Enemies(2009). At the same time, the style of these films always reminds the viewer that what is on the screen is not only an authentic re-creation, but also a Michael Mann film, an aesthetic object composed in a particular kind of way. This fascinating combination of emotional immersion and aesthetic exactitude has not escaped critical inquiry. As Anna Dzenis has astutely remarked,...

  11. Interiorization in Public Enemies
    (pp. 119-140)
    Murray Pomerance

    In Richard Fleischer’s remarkable 1966 sci-fi/spy thrillerFantastic Voyage,a team of American scientists nestled in a submarine is reduced by special technology to atomic size, then injected into a defected Czech scientist in order that they might travel through his body, organ system by organ system, until they can reach his brain and discover the site of a blood clot that is preventing him from revealing an important military secret. Shot at Twentieth Century-Fox in color and CinemaScope, this film proved at the time a more than remarkable achievement in special effects since instead of matting the human figures...

  12. Mannerism: Neoclassical Style in the Films of Michael Mann
    (pp. 141-159)
    Tom Paulus and Vito Adriaensens

    InThe Cinema Effect,Sean Cubitt discusses what he calls the “neoclassical film” of the postwar period as being characterized by the “spatialization of time.” This spatialization is achieved through cinematic techniques such as the freeze frame, slow motion, and camera movement. The latter, especially the Steadicam variety, is typical of a “Hollywood baroque,” in which “both narrative and stylistics have been subordinated to the exploration of the world of the film.”¹ In the Hollywood baroque, film has become a medium of movement instead of a time-based medium, replacing a focus on the exposure of story with an exploration of...

  13. The Ethics of Contracts, Conscience, and Courage in The Insider
    (pp. 160-180)
    David LaRocca

    Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) takes his wife, Liane (Diane Venora), to dinner with Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer) and Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) at an elegant Manhattan restaurant. It is the eve of Jeffrey’s taped interview with Mike Wallace for60 Minutes,but she doesn’t know that; she thinks they’re just out for a special dinner. When Jeffrey, at last, confirms the purpose of their visit to New York, Liane storms away from the table, embarrassed and alienated, and Jeffrey follows after her. With irritation and impatience, Wallace asks: “Whoarethese people?” Bergman replies sternly: “Ordinary people! Under extraordinary pressure,...

  14. The Commodification of Justice: Michael Mann and Postmodern Law
    (pp. 181-199)
    Mark Wildermuth

    The significance of the postmodern milieu for Michael Mann has been established by such studies as Steven Sanders’s “Sunshine Noir: Postmodernism andMiami Vice,” Steven Rybin’sThe Cinema of Michael Mann,and my bookBlood in the Moonlight: Michael Mann and Information Age Cinema.¹ Mann’s fascination with the contingent nature of knowledge, the breakdown of ethical norms, and the impact of information technologies on contemporary life are hallmarks of his focus on postmodernity, which lends philosophical depth and sophistication to his works in television and the cinema.

    In this essay, I focus on Mann’s interest in legalism in the postmodern...

  15. Subjectivity and the Ethics of Duty in Michael Mann’s Cinema
    (pp. 200-214)
    Aga Skrodzka

    With the release ofDrivein 2011, Nicolas Winding Refn (the young Danish director whosePushertrilogy, portraying the criminal underworld in Copenhagen, has earned him a worldwide cult following) paid tribute to the cinema of Michael Mann. Well received both in Europe, whereDrivewas praised at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and in the United States, where critics unanimously embraced it as stylish and heady, the film generated renewed interest among the younger and international audiences in the legacy of Mann, one of Hollywood’s commercial auteurs. Initially conceived as a blockbuster project but ultimately sold as an independent...

  16. Natural Man, Natural Rights, and Eros: Conflicting Visions of Nature, Society, and Love in The Last of the Mohicans
    (pp. 215-226)
    Alan Woolfolk

    Michael Mann’sThe Last of the Mohicans(1992, DVD release 1999) opens with a well-known sequence in the lush forests of upstate New York in which the last members of the Mohican Native American tribe—Chingachgook (Russell Means), his son Uncas (Eric Schweig), and his adopted Caucasian son Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis)—are engaged in a speechless, elaborately choreographed hunt for a deer, which Hawkeye proceeds to bring down with a single shot from his flintlock rifle. Set in 1757, during the third year of the seven-year French and Indian War (symptomatically described in the opening credits as “the war between...

  17. Emotion, Truth, and Space in Heat
    (pp. 227-243)
    Jonah Corne

    Returning home in the late, bright Los Angeles morning from the police detective work with which he has been consumed all night, Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) discovers his wife, Justine (Diane Venora), engaged in a serene domestic moment with another man, what appears to be a kind of replacement husband. Situated in the kitchen, Justine puts the finishing touches on a plate of food for the man, who reclines barefoot on the sofa in the living room watching television and sipping a cup of coffee, seeming more settled and at ease in the house than Vincent does at any point...

  18. Mann’s Biopics and the Methodology of Philosophy: Ali and The Insider
    (pp. 244-256)
    David Rodríguez-Ruiz

    What is it to be a people’s champion? Are there irresolvable conflicts between being a people’s champion and being an individual committed to critical thinking? What is the nature of patriotism, freedom, and brotherhood? InAli(2001), Michael Mann not only explores these decidedly philosophical questions but also provides a rich context for a discussion about the methodological difficulties involved in trying to answer them. How does one decide, for instance, what true patriotism and freedom are? Conceptions of patriotism and freedom are embedded in our laws and institutions, but that alone is not enough reason for upholding any of...

  19. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 257-258)
  20. List of Contributors
    (pp. 259-264)
  21. Index
    (pp. 265-276)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-278)