American film comedy and cultural critique,
Edinburgh, GB, Edinburgh University Press, 192pp.
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Cinema mostly taught viewers how to understand cinema, constantly thematizing its addresses to and relationship to its audience: the broadcast monologue of cinema speaking to, not with, viewers. And comic cinema, perhaps consciously and perhaps knowingly, provided a self-reflexive critique of this auto-technological or auto-medial training, allowing audiences to glimpse the many ways they were being conditioned, shaped and articulated in the newly advanced mechanical era by this quintessential example of art form become industry. Comic cinema then returns us self-reflexively and through its own medium and medial relations to the kinds of questions about the construction of human perception and consciousness (or aesthetics). Comedy and Cultural Critique in American Film adds to the conversation of film comedy in three primary and interrelated ways. One is that the book argues for the centrality of comedy in film as a means for staging (or attempting) cultural criticism. Another focuses on the cultural formations emergent from cinema itself, that is the powerful and sustained shifts in visual culture emergent in the 20th century that cinema helped generate, foster, and question. As a result, comedic film often addresses technology (industrial, mechanical, visual, digital, military, etc.) and techne generally that constitute the grounds of possibility for cinema itself that fall into its purview of self-reflexive cultural criticism. The ways in which cinema further amplifies concerns that reach back to antiquity about mimesis and its simultaneous capacity for imitation and production form part of this self-reflexive or self-staging interaction with its technology and various techne. Cinema, thus, becomes an important site for producing and critiquing visual technology within US and global cultural politics, examining the status of the mechanically-produced and reproduced moving image, and the thematizing of its own power. In so doing, cinema simultaneously represents itself as a unique medium that is also part of a larger trajectory of visual and audiovisual technologies that have contributed not only to cinema’s formation but also created media environment in which it must function. The final way this work adds to the current discussions about cinema comes through the role of critical theory outside the usual bounds of Bergson or Freud for addressing comic film, though they will be considered too. Other theorists brought into play include Baudrillard, Eco, Bakhtin, Virilio, Derrida, Kittler, Hutcheon, and Elsaesser to name a few. This larger theoretical canvas provides scope for a strategic placement of comedic cinema in the critical discursive sphere while also examining cinema studies in ways that differ from phenomenological, psychoanalytic or gender-based studies while also acknowledging the import of these theoretical contributions and indeed drawing on them. The book that follows provides both genre analysis as well as cultural-historical contextualization for the areas and arguments detailed above and offers a strategically selective angle on US comedic film: neither a broad overview nor a narrow temporal/cultural focus, but something that mobilizes both simultaneously. Through these three areas of inquiry and the set of interrelated arguments in combination with one another, the book that follows hopes to contribute to the conversations about comedy and film generated by the books listed above.
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