Style, Narrative, and Cultural Politics in Bullitt


Peter Yates’s 1968 film Bullitt cemented the reputation of its star, Steve McQueen, as “the essence of cool” – to borrow a phrase from the title of the 2005 documentary that reflects on the star’s legacy. As the film reveals, however, and the documentary explores, Bullitt is fraught with narrative problems, its now iconic set-pieces seemingly purchased at the expense of coherent and accessible plot development. Meanwhile the film’s formal experimentation – internally motivated by the thematic preoccupation with “noise” and freeways – heightens the ecstatic presentation of actor/protagonist as image (and of the autonomization of “style” in general), which in turn can be read as an ambivalent response to the cultural politics of the late 1960s. This paper explores the ways in which various elements of style, narrative, and cultural politics interact within the context of the film, placing Bullitt at a pivotal moment in both cinematic and cultural

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