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From intimate pleasures to spectacular vistas: musicality and historicity in French and American 'classical' cinema of the 1930s

By Tom Brown


This thesis considers the role of spectacle in two modes of filmmaking in the French and American 'classical' cinemas of the 1930s. I examine the relationship of spectacle to the emotions and drama of musical films, and to the `history-telling' of biopics, war films and other genres of historical cinema. One reason for the comparison is the hegemonic position of classical Hollywood cinema in film scholarship. Although I am respectful of the insights offered by the concept of a `classical' cinema, a more central motivation for this study is the failure of much criticism to account for the relationship of spectacle to a concept denoting an unobtrusive, self-effacing style.\ud An introduction is followed by a chapter surveying key literature in the field, focusing in particular on work on classical French and American cinema, cinematic spectacle and filmic, particularly generic, categories. The second chapter is divided roughly in two. The first half examines the various theatrical roots of French and American musical films of the thirties. The second half examines the `utopian' feelings (Dyer, ([1977] 1992) musical spectacle serves. This division uncovers the greater ambivalence of French musical films, and their more circuitous approach to spectacle. Chapter three examines historical films through categories inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche ([1874] 1983). I examine the prevailing `monumental' approach to historical subjects, but also two key varieties of spectacle: the `spectacular vista' and the `decor of history'. I conclude by reflecting on the possibility of a critical historiography within French and American film of the thirties.\ud Though the balance of my attention favours French examples in the chapter on musical films, my intention throughout is to compare and, where fruitful, contrast the two national cinemas. The thesis develops theoretical but, even more, practical understandings of particular kinds of spectacle; they are susceptible of the practice of close textual analysis. This is my central method of investigation. I attempt, throughout, to place the examination of films within their wider historical, industrial and critical contexts

Topics: PN1993
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:1119
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