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Classical American Film Texts. Hollywood Films between 1917 and 1960. Table of Contents. Film as Illusion Classical American Film as Realist Film The Paradox of Classical American Film. Film as Illusion.

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classical american film texts

Classical American Film Texts

Hollywood Films

between 1917 and 1960

table of contents
Table of Contents
  • Film as Illusion
  • Classical American Film as Realist Film
  • The Paradox of Classical American Film
film as illusion
Film as Illusion

‘The old experience of the movie-goer, who sees the world outside as an extension of the film he has just left (because the latter is intent upon reproducing the world of everyday perceptions), is now the producer’s guideline. The more intensely and flawlessly his techniques duplicate empirical objects, the easier it is today for the illusion to prevail that the outside world is the straightforward continuation of that presented on the screen. This purpose has been furthered by mechanical reproduction since the lighting was taken over by the sound film.’ Theodor V. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 126

film as illusion1
Film as Illusion


  • Illusion that what you are watching is ‘real’

‘… spectators experience the diagetic world as environment.’ Noël Burch

(diegesis = telling, recounting)

Film as combination of ‘imaginary signifiers’ Christian Metz

(imaginary = the state in which you cannot distinguish between real and fantasy > Lacanian psychoanalysis

(signifier = sign)

film as illusion2
Film as Illusion
  • Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
  • Extreme exposition that film could work as illusion
film as illusion3
Film as Illusion
  • Play it again, Sam
  • Film about a man who has lost the sense of difference between reality and film and try to be Humphrey Bogart, his screen hero.
film as illusion4
Film as Illusion


  • American cinema developed its techniques and styles in order to dupe the spectator to take narrative and image for reality;
  • Or in order to increase its reality and truth effects
  • The spectator is willing to accept illusion or demand it in film.
american classics as realist films
American Classics as Realist Films
  • Classical Hollywood products between 1917and 1960 are considered as a type of realist films.
  • Why 1917 and 1960?
  • By 1917 most American fiction adopted fundamentally similar narrative strategies;


american classics as realist film
American Classics as Realist Film
  • The studio mode of production had been organized around the division of labour, hierarchical managerial system, factory-like system of filmmaking

CONTINUATION of the Established Uniformity of Narrative and Visual Style

classical american film as realist film
Classical American Film as Realist Film
  • The 1960s - the end of Hollywood’s mature existence
  • Studios moved to the production of television programmes → The breakdown of studio system (stars turning free agents; producers becoming independent; the death of B-movies and decrease in demand for studio directors and staff)
american classics as realist films1
American Classics as Realist Films
  • Challenge from international art cinema, e.g. Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Italian neorealists and French directors of Nouvelle vague


american classics as realist films2
American Classics as Realist Films

A) telling a story is the basic formal concern.

B) uniformity is a basic attribute of film form.

classical american film as realist film1
Classical American Film as Realist Film

C) The Hollywood film purports to be realistic in an Aristotelian sense - true to the probable.

D) the Hollywood film strives to conceal its artifice through techniques of uniformity and 'invisible' storytelling.

E) the film should be comprehensible and unambiguous.

american classics as realist films3
American Classics as Realist Films

F) it possesses a fundamental emotional appeal which transcends class and nature.


american classics as realist films4
American Classics as Realist Films
  • Best Years of Our Lives (1946) directed by William Wyler
  • About three ex-servicemen who try to cope with their lives after returning from the WWII.
american classics as realist film1
American Classics as Realist Film
  • Story is the primary element of the film
  • Uniform film style
  • Probable story
  • Stylistic understatement
  • Unambiguous,


  • Emotional appeal to


american classics as realist films5
American Classics as Realist Films
  • Bonnie and Clyde (1967) directed by Arthur Penn
  • One of the earliest New American Cinema
  • Departure from the norms of Classical American Film
Story-telling is still the most important ingredient
  • Constant change of tone and style - from comic to serious, and from serious to comic
  • Certain improbable elements
  • Stylistic bravura and extravaganza
  • Moral ambiguity: glorificationof crimes and criminals
  • Emotional appeal not


  • Strong criticism from older


paradox of classical american film
Paradox of Classical American Film
  • Art vs. Nature / Artificial vs. Natural


  • Art is needed to make a film look artless (natural), or artificiality is necessary to make a film seem natural.
  • If you can make a film look not artificial but natural, then it is very likely that it looks realistic.