Download Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema PDF

TitleHollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema
PublisherIntellect Ltd
ISBN 139781841501178
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size2.0 MB
Total Pages272
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema

Pat Brereton

Pat B
rereton

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Utopianism, alongside its more prevalent dystopian
opposite, together with ecological study has
become a magnet for interdisciplinary research
and is used extensively to examine the most
influential global medium of all time.

This book applies a range of interdisciplinary
strategies to trace the evolution of ecological
representations in Hollywood film from the 1950s
to the present. Such a study has not been done on
this scale before. Many popular science fiction,
Westerns, nature and road movies are extensively
analysed, while privileging particular ecological
moments of sublime expression often dramatized
in the closing moments of these films.

Contents include:

• Hollywood Utopia: Ecology and Contempoary American
• Cinema

• Nature Film and Ecology: Westerns, Landscape and Road
• Movies

• Conspiracy Thrillers and Science Fiction: 1950s to1990s

• Postmodernist Science Fiction Films and Ecology

This book offers an intriguing and ambitious prospect: an
attempt to unearth the emergence of an ecologically-based
worldview pervading at least Western consciousness. The
author adopts a Raymond Williams-style approach to this
project, engaging in deep textual analysis of the Hollywood
blockbuster with a view to identifying whether those projects
are implicitly informed by some kind of subliminal eco-
consciousness.

(Dr. Roddy Flynn, Dublin City University)

intellect
PO Box 862

Bristol BS99 1DE

United Kingdom

www.intellectbooks.com

9 781841 501178

ISBN 1-84150-117-4

DDrr.. PPaatt BBrreerreettoonn is Chair of
the B.Sc. in Multimedia,
and a Lecturer in Film and
Media Studies at Dublin
City University.

in
te

lle
c

t

“...Its clarity, its reach, its
honesty and its originality should
ensure this book a place on the
shelves of any media scholar and
many Green activists.”

Page 2

Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema

Pat Brereton

Pat B
rereton

H
ollyw

ood
U

top
ia

Utopianism, alongside its more prevalent dystopian
opposite, together with ecological study has
become a magnet for interdisciplinary research
and is used extensively to examine the most
influential global medium of all time.

This book applies a range of interdisciplinary
strategies to trace the evolution of ecological
representations in Hollywood film from the 1950s
to the present. Such a study has not been done on
this scale before. Many popular science fiction,
Westerns, nature and road movies are extensively
analysed, while privileging particular ecological
moments of sublime expression often dramatized
in the closing moments of these films.

Contents include:

• Hollywood Utopia: Ecology and Contempoary American
• Cinema

• Nature Film and Ecology: Westerns, Landscape and Road
• Movies

• Conspiracy Thrillers and Science Fiction: 1950s to1990s

• Postmodernist Science Fiction Films and Ecology

This book offers an intriguing and ambitious prospect: an
attempt to unearth the emergence of an ecologically-based
worldview pervading at least Western consciousness. The
author adopts a Raymond Williams-style approach to this
project, engaging in deep textual analysis of the Hollywood
blockbuster with a view to identifying whether those projects
are implicitly informed by some kind of subliminal eco-
consciousness.

(Dr. Roddy Flynn, Dublin City University)

intellect
PO Box 862

Bristol BS99 1DE

United Kingdom

www.intellectbooks.com

9 781841 501178

ISBN 1-84150-117-4

DDrr.. PPaatt BBrreerreettoonn is Chair of
the B.Sc. in Multimedia,
and a Lecturer in Film and
Media Studies at Dublin
City University.

in
te

lle
c

t

“...Its clarity, its reach, its
honesty and its originality should
ensure this book a place on the
shelves of any media scholar and
many Green activists.”

Page 136

diegetic narrative limitations of their spatial trajectory and become a frozen signifier for the

spectatorial pleasure of the (female-addressed) audience. The forces of violence and self-

destruction are finally transformed into a simulacrum, which for some readers becomes a

metaphor for a ‘progressive’ feminist discourse at the liminal edge of transformation.

25. Simon Schama in Landscape and Memory (1995) speaks of similar natural phenomena such as

Yosemite and their ‘spiritual potential’. However, in order to keep (them) pure we have to occupy

(them). Such magnificent sites serve less as a recipe for (ecological) action than an invitation to

reflection.

26. Initially place/space can be distinguished by affirming the commonsense notion that place

embodies the concrete, micro level of human engagement. ‘Place’, said Heidegger, ‘is the locale

of the truth of being’ and ‘dwelling is the capacity to achieve a spiritual unity between humans

and things’ (cited in Harvey 1992: 11).

27. White guilt remains an ever-present spectre, especially within the post-industrial environment of

the West. ‘No matter how hard we try to forget, modern civilization was built on the graves of our

savage ancestors, and repression of the pleasures they took from one another, from the animals

and the earth. I suspect our collective guilt and denial of responsibility for the destruction of (so

called ‘savages’) pleasure can be found infused in every distinctively modern cultural form’

(MacCannell 1992: 24).

28. David Chaney speaks of how the ‘Professional classes’ can best ‘control social space’. In an

unusual analogy, he constructs a case that ‘professional robbers’ in Reservoir Dogs can

‘transform a place into their space for the duration of their business’ (Chaney 1994: 177). Such a

parody exposes a prevailing wish for such control but in this film - as I would suspect within the

mind set of a majority of white liberals in LA, such control has been forfeited to black hoods - at

least in such places as the inner city ghetto.

29. The sheer size of the canyon is, of course, difficult to comprehend. Its depth is so terrifying that

many pull back in fear after the first glimpse. It measures 280 miles long and up to 18 miles

wide - representing two billion years of geology in 15,000 feet of tilted-up stone carved down by

the Colorado River. Buffalo Bill after a visit wrote in the visitor’s book: ‘It was too sublime for

expression, too wonderful to behold without awe, and beyond all power of mortal description’

(cited in Nye 1994: 42).

30. As explored in Chapter 1, it was Kant most particularly who associated the sublime of the North

American landscape with a certain kind of primitive mentality and native wildness that could be

differentiated from ‘thicker’ cultures of the European Enlightenment. Kant reckoned in

‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime’ that ‘among all savages there is

no nation that displays so sublime a mental character as those in North America’ (1960: 111

cited in Pease 1994 : 229).

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Kantian liberal politics rests on two basic myths:

1) On the analogy that beauty is the moral good - the idea of harmony serves as an ideological

basis for the social contract.

2) On the analogy that the sublime threatens the individual and society with annihilation which

is the ideological basis for obedience (see Kroker and Cook 1991: 165).

Kant defines the sublime as an ‘object (of nature), the representation of which determines the

mind to regard the excavation of nature beyond our reach as equivalent to a presentation of

ideas’ (cited in Zizek 1992: 202). ‘It is precisely nature in its most chaotic, boundless, terrifying

dimension which is best qualified to awaken in us the feeling of the sublime’ (ibid.: 203). But, as

Nye effectively argues in American Technological Sublime, ‘rather than the result of solitary

communion with nature’, the sublime becomes an experience organised for crowds of tourists as

in Disney(land) and in cultural artefacts like Hollywood film which end up ‘transforming the

individual experience of immensity and awe into a belief in national greatness’ (Nye 1994: 43).

31. Narrative film theory speaks of ‘suture’, which connotes the idea that the subject is stitched

together by (film) language; but as Allen asserts, it also suggests that, as in surgery, a wound or

hole is covered over that always leaves a scar. This ‘space’ can of course suggest progression

towards a form of transgression.

For Outard, the shot/reverse shot presupposes a role for the spectator in comprehending it that

provides a model or analogue for the dialectic of the subject’s relationship to language as it is

described by Lacan. Outard posits a ‘mythical’ moment in the spectator’s encounter with the

first image of the shot/reverse shot sequence when he does not see the image as an image but

experiences it as a fluid, fantasmatic reality and recognises the frame in a manner that is only

fleeting and unstable. (This corresponds to Lacan’s idea of fantasy of engulfment and awareness

of frame - like the mirror metaphor) (see Allen 1995: 34).

32. K. Von Maltzahn concludes his Nature as Landscape by asserting that ‘we must commit

ourselves to the cultural sublimation of our desires and the enhancement rather than

disfigurement of our fellow human beings and natural beings and our common dwelling place,

the earth’ (Maltzahn 1994: 129).

33. Urry constructs five forms of tourist gaze:

Romantic - solitary, sustained immersion gaze involving vision, awe, aura.

Collective - communal activity, series of shared encounters gazing at the familiar.

Spectatorial - communal activity, series of brief encounters glancing at and collecting different

signs.

Environmental - collective organisation, sustained and didactic scanning to survey and inspect.

Anthropological - solitary, sustained immersion scanning and active interpretation (Urry 1995:

191).

34. In 1993 Zygmunt Bauman, in Postmodern Ethics, dismissed the metaphor of ‘postmodern

nomads’ as a way of understanding ‘modern pilgrims’ (tourists). Unlike pilgrims, nomads do not

have a final destination which plots in advance their itinerary. ‘Nomads, therefore, are a flawed

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Page 271

Glossary Of Terms
Some framing notions and concepts which are extensively applied to this ecological

reading of film:

Anomie: often becomes a symptom of millennial fears, which like dystopian/ecocidal fears, can

be used to suggest a counter ecological wishful fantasy.

Agency: cross-fertilising social science theorising alongside fictional appreciation of filmic

protagonist’s to explore how representational figures can embody an ecological agenda.

Cyborg: applying extensive new media theorising concerning post-human agency, particularly as

a means of overcoming regressive male/female oppositions.

Deep ecology: goes beyond the transformation of technology and politics to a transformation of

humanity and is continuously contrasted with Light (shallow) ecology.

Discourse analysis: helps to underpin cultural and textual analysis strategies for reading film

and ecology generally.

Ecologism: extending the principle of sustainability to all fields of study including film.

Ethics: evaluating a range of attitudes and values with regards to the treatment of nature and its

inhabitants, which is a central preoccupation of this study.

Feminism: including the central metaphoric importance of ‘mother nature’, together with

marginalisation debates concerning the 'other', are used to focus on how alternative agencies can

be best appropriated for this ecological project. Furthermore, 1970s feminist film analysis,

focusing on ‘excessive’ stylistic expressions within melodrama, for example, to offset the more

obvious patriarchal trajectory of such narratives (Screen Theory), is also re-applied to this

ecological reading of film.

Gaia thesis: how the biosphere together with its atmospheric environment forms a single entity

or natural system. Gaia pushes Darwinian notions to its limit by contending that no matter what

humans do to the planet, it will survive.

Nature: is often closely connected with landscape, alongside cultural debates around space/place

and becomes the means of visually appropriating our environment, often in the service of

promoting a romantic or sublime/deep ecological connection, through the witnessing of human

agents.

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Other: drawing connections from applications in feminist and post-colonial studies, and

extending how ‘otherness’ can be used through the agency of cyborgs in particular to promote a

progressive ecological project.

Postmodernist texts: helps create new ways of conceptualising and stimulating representational

debate around the future of humanity. Furthermore this highly contested aesthetic phenomenon

can provide a ‘third space’ for and engagement with ecology outside of rigid Left/Right

ideological structures.

Risk: drawing on Beck’s notion of how Western society is defined by its inherent problems and

risks, especially ecological ones.

Space/place: a defining characteristic and subject for debate within cultural Geography in

particular. The area draws on notions like chronotope that allow critics to historicise the use of

space and time in film. Privileging film studies in terms of space/place is of central importance

for this study.

Spiritualism: helps to valorise a transcendent form of ecological representation and is by all

accounts extremely problematic within film analysis. Nevertheless, like other ‘myths’, moments

of ‘transcendent epiphany’ promote tangible emotions and responses of ‘oneness with nature’

and with our planet.

Tourism: alongside travel, remains a defining characteristic within Western culture. Traversing

landscape involves engaging with nature and ecology in broad terms and ultimately promoting

the possibility of witnessing a sublime spectacle. This strategy helps to foreground readings of

films like Grand Canyon, which engender a deep ecological awareness in the spectators.

Utopian effect: remains a primary focus of this film study and can be traced from

romantic/spiritual/sublime/transcendentalism/communitarian sensibilities, as they evolved in

American culture.

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