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Screening Nostalgia

Screening Nostalgia: Populuxe Props and Technicolor Aesthetics in Contemporary American Film

Christine Sprengler
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 210
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  • Book Info
    Screening Nostalgia
    Book Description:

    "In this fascinating in-depth study of the impact of nostalgia on contemporary American cinema, Christine Sprengler unpicks the history of the concept and explores its significance in theory and practice. She offers a lucid analysis of the development of nostalgia in American society and culture, navigating a path through the key debates and aligning herself with recent attempts to recuperate its critical potential. This journey opens up the myriad permutations of nostalgia across visual and material culture and their interface with cinema, with the 1950s emerging as a privileged moment. Four case studies (Sin City,Far From Heaven,The AviatorandThe Good German) analyse the ways in which aspects of visual design such as props, costume and colour contribute to the nostalgic aesthetic, allowing for both critical distance and emotion. Written with verve, style and impressive attention to detail,Screening Nostalgia is an invaluable addition to existing scholarship. It is also essential reading for anyone interested in the ways in which we access the past through cinema."· Pam Cook, Professor Emerita in Film, University of Southampton

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-888-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    I want to open this book by making what may seem like an obvious claim: nostalgia remains a vital part of contemporary life. The nostalgia thought to have been activated by fin-de-millénnium anxieties certainly has not subsided as we head towards the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Any number of wholly unscientific experiments confirms this. As I write this sentence, ‘nostalgia’ yields over thirty-two million hits on Google’s search engine, even when limited to the past year. It also yields over sixteen million hits on Googleimagesearch engine. Academic studies continue to appear that examine...

  6. Chapter 1 Setting the Stage: The History of Nostalgia
    (pp. 11-38)

    Although a basic sense of longing for something lost in time or space remains a central component of the nostalgic experience, the meaning of nostalgia has evolved over the last three centuries. Migration of the term into new social contexts and discourses have added further dimensions. According to Edward Casey, there are three distinct stages in nostalgia’s evolution. The first involved its exteriorization and the missing of specific physical sites. Whereas pathological symptoms affecting the body defined the phenomenon during this initial medical phase, in its second phase nostalgia became a disease of the mind. This involved the deliteralization of...

  7. Chapter 2 The Fifties: Nostalgia’s Privileged Object and the Origins of its Dominant American Strain
    (pp. 39-66)

    America’s appetite for the images, sounds and artefacts of its recent past has been well satiated by the ever increasing number of films, recordings, fashions, television programs and stage productions that have served up a variety of popular historical eras, every decade since the 1890s as well as a whole range of mythic constructs from the Wild West to the urban gangster. By the 1970s one object in particular began to enjoy a privileged status in the nostalgia industry—the Fifties. Since its arrival, this object has managed to leave its mark on the concept of nostalgia, shape the features...

  8. Chapter 3 The Nostalgia Film in Practice and Theory
    (pp. 67-92)

    It is with some hesitation that I title this chapter ‘The Nostalgia Film’. This designation seems to imply that what follows is an engagement with genre, an argument for why films or sets of practices related to the production and consumption of a group of films should be circumscribed by this label. Certainly issues addressed by genre theory including the entrenchment and circulation of codes and conventions, the evolution of genre types and sub-genres, and the ways in which a specific genre might respond to sociohistoric realities seem rather pertinent to the analyses of films that follow this chapter. Indeed...

  9. Chapter 4 Sin City: Reading the Tails of a Populuxe Prop
    (pp. 93-116)

    Outside the city limits of Amarillo, Texas on land owned by helium tycoon Stanley Marsh III, ten Cadillacs are buried in a row—fins up (Figure 4.1). Known as the ‘Cadillac Ranch’, this site-specific installation was commissioned by Marsh in 1973 and completed in 1974 by Ant Farm, a collective of artists whose core members included Chip Lord, Doug Michels and Curtis Schreier.¹ These ten Cadillacs represent the evolution of the tail fin from 1949 to 1963, a sculptural catalogue of ten model changes that resulted in ever higher fins until 1959 when they gradually started to shrink.

    Cadillac Ranch...

  10. Chapter 5 Far From Heaven: Creative Agency, Social History and the Expressive Potential of Costume
    (pp. 117-138)

    WheneverSin City’s visual styles and props fall out of alignment with each other—when B-noir clashes with Populuxe—the film can be opened up and its cultural sources subject to inspection. Actively considering the implications of these visual and conceptual clashes makes possible a critical reading of the film (and of history and myth) that can reward the engaged spectator. There is a certain analytical pleasure that can be derived from reading against the grain or from attempting to follow the logic ofSin Cityuntil it folds in on itself and inadvertently demystifies the objects of its own...

  11. Chapter 6 The Aviator: Deliberate Archaism, Technicolor Aesthetics and Style as Substance
    (pp. 139-162)

    However dissimilarFar From HeavenandSin Citymay seem, both exhibit features central to contemporary understandings of the nostalgia film. They draw on the cultural significance of key props, replicate the look of past media forms and invest (wholesale or in part) in nostalgia’s dominant object—the Fifties. Both films demonstrate how such an investment has the potential to initiate critical readings that engage history rather than efface it and explore the kinds of relationships that exist between the present and the past in its mythic and mediated forms. While the Fifties remains dominant in the nostalgia economy of...

  12. Conclusion. The Good Germanand the Good of Nostalgia
    (pp. 163-174)

    I want to conclude this exploration of nostalgia and the cinema with one more example, one that not only permits us to revisit the visual strategies identified in the preceding pages as central to the nostalgia film, but also renders explicit the ways in which these strategies effect potent critiques of history and the present. Several fit the bill and, after some deliberation, I opted to enlistThe Good Germanin this effort. Set in 1945 in Berlin—and filmed as though it were made in 1945—it involves an American reporter embroiled in a doomed romance, a murder mystery...

  13. Filmography
    (pp. 175-180)
  14. References
    (pp. 181-190)
  15. Index
    (pp. 191-198)