Even in the 'digital age' of advancing video and computer markets,
the scale and hype of Hollywood, its spin-offs and the rest of the cinema
industry lead films to dominate many peoples' relationships with
commercial popular culture. They tend to be the organising centre for
the private consumption of TV's visual wallpaper, while multiple
screens proliferate to cater for that special public submission to overwhelming
sounds and images. This strength of impact allows elements of film narratives,
styles and characters to become markers of experience and identity, so
that cinema is as thoroughly woven into social and cultural life as, say,
sport or music.
However, public discourse on cinema has been surprisingly limited: film-as-art
theory and philosophy, gee-whizz journalism, technical studies, family
viewing advice; all entailing a fair degree of snobbery of one kind or
another. But writing about films is now catching up with the sophistication
and diversity of the commodities it addresses1,
largely thanks to cultural and media studies shifting the terms of debate
on 'mass culture.' The sheer complexity of responses to films,
and thus the general significance of cinema for modern cultures, can now
be questioned along with the wider social, economic and political dynamics
Established rhetorics of art, morality and taste still have useful mileage
for a range of interests: many films are produced and marketed in terms
of them being the 'cutting edge' of experimental cinema as an
art form. Claims made for their value relate more to avant garde form
and risky content, rather than any 'uplifting' qualities; indeed,
their controversial nature and success are more likely to be attributed
to regressive and reactionary tendencies, both of the film maker and the
audience. So-called independent or art-house films follow commercial pressures
just as much as the mainstream, but not necessarily with the same budgets
or agendas of Hollywood (that is, multinational) companies. The films
exploit niche marketing by targeting diverse audiences - combining
styles, genres and narrative structures in one product2.
This also makes them 'postmodern' so they tend to have cachet
as art. And as the major companies begin to exploit the profit potential
of each new wave of film makers, the names of the directors (as stars/auteurs)
become the promotional focus - rather than films being vehicles for
their celebrity actors or their titles functioning as commodities.
One effect of the breaking down of conventional categories of genre and
narrative is that films may be relatively open-ended, confusing to viewers,
or even downright unintelligible. Other films and media images are referred
to as much as real situations, using pastiche and parody, while nostalgic
images and styles bring versions of the past firmly into the present.
Horrific, sublime, unpresentable aspects of human experience are not funnelled
off in embarrassment into specialised genres such as horror or pornography.
Instead they are brought into the centre of mundane existence. Significantly,
these 'postmodern' films usually strongly privilege white male
middle class perspectives and choices - and the film literature generally
mirrors this tendency, especially ignoring what non-middle class viewers
might make of them. However, the frightening, exotic or disgusting contexts
that middle class protagonists struggle in and out of are usually represented
by poor and dangerous Black and/or working class communities and characters.
So the 'slumming' in Something Wild, After Hours, Blue Velvet,
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid etc., contrasts with earlier generations where
magic and horror are located in the wealth and decadence of upper class
life (of course, many films continue this tradition). Respectable lifestyles
are portrayed as not only boring and sterile, but totally insecure - hardly
the morale-boosting stuff of aspiration and meritocracy peddled elsewhere
by education and the media. Slumming in the yuppie nightmare is a cautionary
tale - titillation, then reassurance for middle class viewers. Waking
from the bad dream, having sampled the terrifying but sublime environment
of the gutter (a commodity on offer in the supermarket of life), audiences
feel refreshed for the rigours of their professional lives. But how will
the inhabitants of the gutter (that is, poor, Black, and/or working class
viewers) respond to their portrayals? The film literature seems to find
it very difficult to pay attention to such questions.
But just as interpreting films need not focus on questions of artistic,
intellectual or political merit, neither is there any inevitable identification
with middle class characters and dilemmas. Ordinary viewers will select
some elements of the films, and will enlarge on these in the imagination
and in discussion. They can experiment, identifying with different characters,
positions and possibilities within the narrative - and can switch among
them during viewing and afterwards. With their open-ended plots and bizarre
characters, the new films in particular are likely to stimulate very varied
and complex feelings and thoughts, in wider audiences, as they achieve
higher box office returns and wider cinema, video and TV distribution.
The yuppie nightmare soon retreated into the more smug subgenre of 'x
from hell', where 'x' may be a neighbour, flatmate, employee,
etc. - showing the further social alienation and paranoia of recent
generations of successful middle class consumers. Meanwhile the mixed
genre characteristics of the yuppie dilemma are used in films which purport
to apply more to waking life than to nightmares or romantic dreams, such
as in Cape Fear, Candyman, Deep Cover, Kalifornia, White Palace and Pretty
Woman. Alternatively, the slumming may be performed by the audience carried
along by the narrative in sampling unhappier lives or by parachuting obviously
middle class characters into lower class narratives (such as in City of
Hope, Short Cuts, Shopping and Lone Star).
The 1990s mixed genre films continue to go further in blending fantasy
and narrative layering. Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp
Fiction use the crudest of genre stories and characters, stitched together
with inventive camera direction, editing and plot devices. The films twist
and turn according to the minutiae of real human personality, random accidents,
banality and psychopathology of daily life, recalcitrant complexity of
the world and over-determination of events. A remarkable kind of emotional
and situational realism ensues, in the midst of elaborate homages to just
about the most unrealistic cinema styles imaginable. Tarantino's
scripts are compelling enough for their power to persist even through
Tony Scott's sentimentalism (True Romance), or Oliver Stone's
moralising individualism (Natural Born Killers)3.
In general, even though big budget mainstream films now routinely use
the virtuoso camerawork, editing techniques and narrative complexity learned
from independent film makers, their stories and characters are often even
weaker and narrower than before. As in the cases of cult and exploitation
genres, new film methods are mainly enlisted by Hollywood merely as a
gloss on the superficiality of conventional genres, and in the process
the most interesting and powerful aspects of the source material are lost4.
Except, perhaps, when the success of independent directors propels them
into the big budget arena - as in Tarantino's meteoric rise, or
more modestly in the case of David Lynch.
A body of films
David Lynch has been exemplary in experimenting with style and genre.
He is uncompromising in locating extremes of sexuality, violence, fear
and pleasure within ordinary life; transgresses boundaries of taste and
moral and political acceptability; and keeps to his own trajectory despite
fluctuations in popularity with both audiences and the industry. He depicts
Middle America as full of emotional excess, signposted by his characters'
weirdness, where scratching the surface reveals rich and hysterical depths.
The films can be read as critiques of bourgeois social arrangements and
morals, which suppress, fear and may be undone by the effects of passion
and fantasy on bodies and behaviour, relationships and institutions.
Lynch's early films are notable for bizarre, lurid, nightmare visions
of grotesque bodily excrescence, infantile emotion, dreams and a powerful
sense of nostalgia for past eras and lost innocence. These subjects are
not treated by romanticising them: typical moods are depression, rage
and ambivalent desire. In the short film The Grandmother (1970), and in
Eraserhead (1976), these effects are achieved against backdrops of industrial,
urban and domestic blight, but without relying on traditional surrealist
or horror genre conventions. Critics were thus left with no easy way of
dismissing the films, except for their weirdness - and this mute response
no doubt helped Eraserhead become a cult classic for horror audiences.
Something similar might have happened with Elephant Man (1980), if it
hadn't been for the prop of a 'true' story funded by the
mainstream industry with corresponding budget and hype.
Dune (1984) failed even as cult, partly because the source material (Frank
Herbert's sci-fi epic) was too vast. But Lynch continued to harness
the body's vulnerability, power and monstrosity - bypassing thought
and language - to illuminate and complicate personal dilemmas and their
social contexts. From Dune onwards Lynch's films deal explicitly
with recognisable coming-of-age and family dramas. Such developments possibly
say as much about what was needed to consolidate his move into the mainstream,
as opposed to the director's 'artistic' ambition - for
example when market imperatives insist on appealing to younger audiences.5
Blue Velvet (1986) was a turning point, set in an identifiable postwar
America, and not the timeless, fantastic worlds of its forerunners. In
all Lynch films the implacable, menacing presence of the flesh, raw nature,
and their excesses of degradation and ecstasy, are central motifs. In
Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks (1989-1990) Wild At Heart (1990), and Twin Peaks,
Fire Walk With Me (1992), the fascination of these images and experiences
is thoroughly woven into depictions of 'real life'. It becomes
difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality; to identify boundaries
between them; or even to know whether or not any such boundaries exist
at all - as in Lost Highway (1997).
The avalanche of criticism and analysis following Blue Velvet's release
was as contradictory as the film itself6.
Mainstream critics pigeonholed the narrative as small town or rites of
passage drama, film noir, psychological thriller, soft porn cult, nostalgia
film, gothic comedy or surrealism, or even as a religious parable of sin
and redemption. Cultural analysts tended to feel that blending styles
and images from several periods was superficial - everything being
made equally bizarre, as well as appearing normal, without sufficient
context to make it socially or politically meaningful. The 'unspeakably'
fascinating images and behaviour - dirt, nature, flesh, violence and
perversion - were interpreted as distractions, depicting evil in a
way that evokes distaste rather than horror. Worse still, in linking sexual
desire with violence and voyeurism, the psychological logic was said to
leave the characters no better options. But the use of songs, names, nicknames,
media and advertising fragments, plus images of the cruelty of nature,
resonate strongly with all sorts of unexpected significance. Bypassing
rationality, such sounds and images have more power to focus the hidden
desires of the protagonists. They explode into the viewer's awareness,
in extremes of colour and lingering close up, with an impact that can't
easily be grasped by analysing the narrative. For both characters and
viewers, events in the film resemble dreams - where apparently random
elements condense, combine and multiply, uneasily reconstructed in memory
Critics and academics were frustrated in their need to impose authoritative
readings, in the absence of a congenial 'message'. So, every
single review and analysis assumed that the final scene represented Jeffrey's
return to normal real life. But it could just as easily be another twist
in the nightmare. By crudely embedding Jeffrey's dream or fantasy
in a small town mystery, Lynch fulfils his ambition to reveal strange
desires lying beneath a respectable veneer. Yes, the film does threaten
safe middle class life. It depicts perverse inadequacy, the fear, hatred,
idealisation and stereotyping of women and the dangerous potential of
the criminal lower classes to invade and ruin the pleasant security of
the American Dream. These feelings aren't conveniently attributed
to an 'other'. They are hidden under the nice, clean-cut exterior
of a young man ready to take his place of power in the middle class scheme
of things, grounded in the trivia of romantic consumerism. Viewers who
aren't middle class may not make Lynch's and the critics'
mistake, seeing Jeffrey as representative of 'Everyman'. Instead
we might glimpse and understand a little more clearly the attitudes of
those with power over us - attitudes which may be multi-layered and
complex, but which are also very concrete in shaping the conduct of those
in the professions, commerce, education and the media.
The American nightmare
Wild At Heart is a family drama, road movie and love story. Lynch transforms
Barry Gifford's novel, focusing again on the body's ecstasy,
agony and violation, and the visual impact of fire, sex and death. Sailor
(Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) avoid awareness of their excesses
by weaving all experience into fairytale yearning via images and narratives
from rock and roll. Sex is their drug and their anaesthetic, and as they
lurch between catastrophes the past always catches up with them. The past
and the present are more complicated than in Blue Velvet, however. The
lovers seek freedom from Lula's well-off mother (Dianne Ladd) whose
status derives from gangsterism - in many ways more representative
of American economic history than shop owners.
The underclass hell looms, and the concerns and illusions of Sailor, Lula,
their family and community, collide with and mirror the cruel animal passions
of its denizens - personified by Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe). They are
distinguishable from the main protagonists by the latters' race,
suburban accoutrements and aspirations for themselves and their children.
So, the fate of a rich teenager affects the lovers far more deeply than
their own predicament, as she frets about her handbag and her parents'
anger while bleeding to death after a car crash. The film can be read
as reflecting the fantasies and fears of the new middle classes. They
escaped from the ghetto, but expressing dangerous passion could return
them there. To be safe, romance must stay within the class and race limits
staked out in geography and psychology, by conventional American social
Twin Peaks is a bizarre murder mystery and comic soap opera, attracting
huge TV audiences. Lynch parodies the soaps, giving the characters absurd
idiosyncrasies and relationships, although sticking to emotional realism
in the family and neighbourhood dramas depicted. But everything hinges
on the mystery of the naughty teen queen's murder. The convoluted
plot keeps fans of detective stories alert, identifying with FBI Special
Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan). As before, the series can be read
in terms of the main character's fantasies. Only Cooper has more
than two dimensions - ace detective, father figure, scientist, masculine
ideal, bureaucrat, all-American WASP, new man, philosopher and mystic,
government representative, tourist, pervert, angel ... you name it! In
his desire to master truth, fight evil and control his world, he embodies
the middle class ambition for domination via knowledge and individual
merit. Displaying superhumanity, he charismatically enrols the entire
community to his agenda, so that by the end they all inhabit what amounts
to his imaginative world. Crucially, Twin Peaks shows that the whole project
must fail - the narrative, the TV concept and the worldview. Neither
Lynch nor Cooper, nor the reign of science and middle class values, can
run the show, or solve the problems - the nearer Cooper thinks he gets,
the more the Twin Peaks community falls apart. That Twin Peaks needed
to go to such extremes to reach this conclusion bears witness to the power
and fascination of those myths.
In the feature film 'prequel', Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me,
this theme was spectacularly pared down to the failure of the American
nuclear family as well as the FBI. On TV we saw the diverse manifestations
of 'evil forces' (i.e. some of the more appalling expressions
of masculine insecurity) in an extended community. Whereas the film begins
with the authorities' arrogance and stupidity - obsessed with
their worldview, rituals and trivia, the incompetent FBI men chase around
pontificating about the nature of evil. Meanwhile, in the face of forces
which pose as benign, a young woman struggles to establish an identity
and a sense of agency over her life. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) lurches
desperately between agony, anger and an ambivalent search for distraction
in drugs, sex and friendship. All of these she abuses, mirroring her father's
(Ray Wise's) denied cruelty and her mother's (Grace Zabriskie's)
distant, preoccupied neglect - in possibly the most powerful cinematic
treatment ever of long term sexual abuse. Navigating an intolerable course,
some of her troubled dreams begin to unravel, and she can see the dread
reality more clearly. Her father kills her, rather than allow truth to
surface. And the rest of the adult world, by implication, colludes. The
community holds onto its complacent ignorance, and the police maintain
their delusions of control and grandeur.
You take the high road...
Lost Highway in some ways closes the circle. None of the details in the
film are necessarily 'true' - we are in the realms of identity
loss and madness. The story - like the early films - tackles the
main character's existential chaos: it may represent Fred's
doomed attempt to fantasise solutions to his intolerable fears, since
even during the most shocking events we focus on his confusion. Despite
an enviable position and a job which is also a passion, he is uneasy and
distrustful of everything - his wife, his shadowy home, the world outside.
Whatever the circumstances of his metamorphosis into Pete, it surely can't
be coincidence that he escapes from himself into a carefree working class
youth. Except that abuse, deceit and injustice quickly filter into this
incarnation too - much of it down to him. Then, mistrusting his own
thoughts, perceptions and feelings, he has nowhere else to go. No one
else, in either Fred or Pete's life, has much more of a grip on 'reality'.
Authorities (such as the police or Pete's parents) seem especially
stupid and ineffective. And Patricia Arquette's characters are full
of compelling but unintelligible needs and motives. It is very tempting
to see the film as excavating masculine insecurity and infantility; or
even as a sustained metaphor for the artificiality of cinematic contrivances
in general. Or, to stretch the analogy, a commentary on the complacency
of middle class discourses of knowledge, psychological integrity and consistency,
and individualistic agency and control over one's own life.
However, this film makes no attempt to give this (admittedly extreme)
dilemma of conventional aspirations an optimistic outcome - a resolution.
A yuppie nightmare you will not wake from, very frustrating for the viewer,
with no feelgood factor and none too promising at the box office: Lost
Highway may be a logical conclusion to Lynch's films in the way I
have read them, implying that bourgeois social, cultural or political
philosophy furnishes only fantasy, and not solutions. To mainstream critics
this makes the film 'enigmatic', 'meaningless' or
'hollow'8 - just as middle class
discourses in general are typically reluctant to envisage, to acknowledge,
or to respect any other kind of discourse.
...and I'll take the low road
By representing the dreams and fantasies of diverse modern middle class
American characters, the films build complex pictures of the way such
individuals and groups bring their passions to bear upon their own lives
and their surroundings. From a static picture of the small-town lumpen-bourgeoisie,
through the strivings and insecurities of more mobile fractions of the
middle classes, we reach an absurd allegory of white America itself. The
small town boy grows up, from shop owner to professional, gangster, FBI
hotshot - or even a famous film director. Then, Fire Walk With Me and
Lost Highway finish the job of pulling apart all of the stereotypical
elements of this macho mythos - things certainly don't improve
when the patriarchs fantasise themselves as saints, or disavow responsibility
for evil. The weight of history operates on the inner lives of the characters - their
biographical, emotional baggage - and on threads of money, class, sex,
race and power entwined in the social history of families, neighbourhoods
and societies. The weirdness, though bizarre, rings true - in the gaps
between what we see making the characters tick, what they think, say,
feel and believe about themselves, and how they explain their actions.
We're reminded of our own experience of our inconsistencies, quirks
and foibles, our unaccountable and unruly emotions, and those of people
close to us.
Lynch's latest film, The Straight Story (1999), reinforces these
points by negating any sign of inconveniently messy inner, or public,
life. An ailing 73-year-old ex-trucker drives 300 miles on a lawnmower
to visit an estranged brother. We learn little about this 'Gump on
a grasscutter' from his family, friends and neighbours, or from the
down-home counselling assorted strangers derive from him on his journey.
Everyone accepts their lot: traumas from war, poverty, ill health, family
tragedy and conflict must be adapted to - meekly and unreflectively.
Agency is impossible, collectivity unimaginable, struggle inconceivable.
The rhetoric is conveyed in the warm sentimental glow of muted and unthreatening
quirkiness; the superb photography, editing and acting; and also in Alvin
Straight's kindly words of wisdom (which are unerring insults to
anyone harbouring a sense of the real injustices of the world). Truly
the dreams and fantasies of diverse modern middle class American viewers!
These resonances may be even more meaningful to lower class viewers, in
the light of the pretensions of those who seek to know, teach, deploy,
administer and police us. They are secure in 'knowing' the rationality
of their systems, the comprehensiveness of their knowledge, rightfulness
of their power, and, often enough, the ignorance and inferiority they
think they see in their charges (especially those more uppity than Alvin
Straight et al). Whereas we may suspect that strange and venal wishes,
fears and hatreds must lie under their cool, superior demeanours, just
as they do under our uncouth common-ness.
The films can reinforce these vague, uncomfortable suspicions - we
don't have to rely purely on our own disquiet, pain or fury to confirm
it. And, through necessity, those without the resources for, or interest
in, building illusions of individual superiority might realise that social
and cultural strength has the potential to weave our collective weaknesses
into the possibility of a better life - except that distortions of
power and wealth get in the way. But there is no reason to expect the
film makers and producers to be aware of these possible kinds of impacts
of their films; and scarcely any more likelihood of film criticism comprehending
The main method the films use to achieve their strongest effects is to
create images that virtually defy words, set in contrast to the visual
clichés of high and low culture, fashion and taste. Poignant, disgusting,
intimate, tragic, sublime and terrible experiences are just as likely
to come upon us during the mundane everyday as they are in special circumstances,
and the films exploit this irony to the full when such moments occur at
crucial points in the narrative. In concentrating and escalating the viewer's
gut responses they provide a focus to highlight the significance of events
and situations for the characters.
However, mainstream entertainment critics and academic analysts depend
on reading films as texts or as art, wishing to discover value and meaning
within the object of their study itself. Popular audiences prefer the
recognition of pleasure and pain, both in the intransigence of the world
and in the fantasy of doing something different about it. Fantasy is not
just escapism, however. For viewers who routinely face drudgery, degradation
and domination, fantasy can connect with the possibility of effecting
change in real life. But this is not the same world as the one professionally
inhabited by those who 'know' for a living. Their discourse
can't accommodate the immediacy and visual power the new films use
to emotionally engage their viewers. Likewise, art cinema buffs can't
handle their vulgar appeal to popular audiences not schooled in aesthetic
subtlety. So it comes as no surprise that the tricks of the new film trade
owe much to advertising - which also relies on engaging a mass audience's
familiarity rather than its contempt.
Cultural theorists wrangle over whether or not the meaning of film images
are sites of 'struggle' - still concerned with claiming the
correct reading, even while agreeing that many are present. Searching
for secret knowledge, they are frustrated by stories that don't yield
straightforward answers and by viewers for whom the last thing desired
is a lesson. The Political Correctness Pundits, for example, focus mainly
on what they see as the negative effects of a film - desiring to police
popular culture. The typical strategy is to dream up stereotyped fictional
'ideal' viewers who get attributed narrow and fixed responses.
The ensuing interpretations are then universalised as the only significant
political understandings (unless you're reactionary).
Lynch's films are usually trivialised as well, as the pigeonholing
of Blue Velvet suggests. But since the viewing audience is so diverse,
with highly ambivalent responses, such analyses miss the point - as
do the common elitist complaints of superficiality, narcissism and style
over substance, and the loss of meaning. Much of the more recent trend
of cultural populism is scarcely more promising, in its tendency to glorify
the subversive opportunities afforded by consumer choice in a saturated
media market - seeming to confuse the potential for 'reading against
the grain' with its de facto achievement on a mass scale.9
The new film criticism has begun to go beyond the arbitration of taste
and morality. And by interpreting the (potential) responses of specific
types of viewers, the dangers of uncritical populism are at least partially
side-stepped. But there is still a strong proclivity for privileging certain
viewer and subject positions and, in doing so, downplaying others. Most
noticeably, social class is consistently treated as subsidiary to gender,
race and sexuality, even when such analysis turns out to be incoherent
without a firm grounding in class dynamics.10
But, in general, the most significant development in recent film criticism
might be its tentative abandonment of elitism, in no longer simply treating
films as special opportunities for enlightened and universal judgements.
Films are part of the debris of our material cultural environments - and
how they will be used is not determined from within their structure or
by objective qualities, but depends on how users articulate responses
to them. And this is no new, postmodern phenomenon. Symbolic material,
fantasy and myth has been woven in many subversive and revolutionary directions - in
the peasant cultures of early modern Europe, at the beginnings of industrialism,
in carnival and religious heresy, native and aboriginal societies, and
in the persistent murmurings of lower class collective cultures11.
Media images may not be our religion, but they form a significant part
of our mythic worlds. The best that traditionally leftist critics usually
manage to concede is that there might be 'positive misreadings'
which can prompt slight changes for the better in an aimless, distracted
audience. However, we might prefer to remain distracted from their aims.12
Media and cultural critics and academics need to claim to know the pleasures
of ordinary people, assuming the capacity to define our interests in ways
that can establish status for their forms of knowledge, institutions and
careers. The film readings given here try to enter the terrain of this
discourse from the position of an outsider with different motives13.
Cinema films are prominent in general awareness, and in their incorporation
into popular imagination. Without worrying about the 'rightness'
or 'goodness' of it, we may appropriate film imagery in line
with what we desire the meanings to be, for particular purposes. Video
technology does allow a level of control over watching and reflecting
on films, so that ordinary viewers can be in the relatively unusual position
of distancing ourselves from the spectacle even while being flooded by
it.14 Many contemporary films do, as it happens,
lend themselves to this, in their mixtures of nostalgia and futurism,
novelty and pastiche, violence, sex, comedy, magic and banality.
If the professionally knowledgeable have to distance themselves from culture
in order to objectify and monitor it; radicals these days all too often
pretend to exist outside of their own living culture, hating what capitalism
makes of it - and have lost their (high)way.
1. Studies in this category would include: Fred Pfeil (1995) White Guys:
Studies in Postmodern Domination and Difference, Verso; Yvonne Tasker
(1998) Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema, Routledge;
S. Craig Watkins (1998) Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production
of Black Cinema, University of Chicago Press; Sharon Willis (1997) High
Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Film, Durham, NC,
Duke University Press.
2. Genre-bending and recent developments in the US film industry are described
by: Thomas Schatz, 'The New Hollywood,' and Jim Collins, 'Genericity
in the Nineties: Eclectic Irony and the New Sincerity', both in Jim
Collins et al (Eds.) (1993) Film Theory Goes to the Movies, Routledge;
and in Timothy Corrigan (1991) A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture
After Vietnam, Routledge.
3. For what Stone did with Tarantino's script, see ref, note 1. See
Sharon Willis, 'Borrowed Style: Quentin Tarantino's Figures
of Masculinity', in High Contrast (ref. note 2). And while it makes
sense to concentrate on other cinema production functions, so as to counter
the hype of director-as-author, directors are the most visible focus in
the motivation for these mixed genre films, and thus allow a more convenient
cognitive mapping of this region of contemporary cinema. See: Yvonne Tasker
(1998), 'Performers and Producers', in Working Girls (ref. note
1); and Lizzie Francke (1994) Script Girls: Women Screenwriting in Hollywood,
4. For example, pornography: Linda Ruth Williams (1993) 'Erotic Thrillers
and Rude Women', Sight & Sound, Vol. 3, No. 7, pp. 12-14; or
horror: Carol J. Clover (1992) Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the
Modern Horror Film, BFI.
5. Accounts of Lynch's early films are given in: Michael Chion (1995)
David Lynch, BFI; Corrigan (ref. note 3); and John Alexander (1993) The
Films of David Lynch, Letts.
6. A range of perspectives on Blue Velvet can be found in: Michael Atkinson
(1997) Blue Velvet, BFI; Peter Brunette & David Wills (1989) Screen/Play:
Derrida and Film Theory, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press; Chion
(ref. note 6); Corrigan (ref. note 3); Barbara Creed (1988) 'A Journey
Through Blue Velvet', New Formations, Vol. 6, pp. 97-117; Norman
Denzin (1987) 'Blue Velvet: Postmodern Contradictions', Theory,
Culture & Society, Vol. 5, pp. 461-73; Fredric Jameson (1989) 'Nostalgia
for the Present', South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 88, pp. 53-64; and
Jed Sekoff (1994) 'Blue Velvet: the Surface of Suffering', Free
Associations, Vol. 31, pp. 421-46.
7. Sharon Willis (1997) convincingly argues that Wild At Heart violently
displaces various middle class anxieties into its treatment of race and
gender ('Do The Wrong Thing: David Lynch's Perverse Style',
in High Contrast, ref. note 2). But this insight is left hanging, almost
as an afterthought.
8. On Lost Highway, see: Marina Warner (1997) 'Voodoo Road',
Sight & Sound, Vol. 7, No. 8, pp. 6-10; David Lynch & Barry Gifford,
(1997) Lost Highway, Faber & Faber; Kim Newman (1997) [review], Sight
& Sound, Vol. 7, No. 9, pp. 48-9.
9. An incisive critique can be found in Jim McGuigan (1992) Cultural Populism,
10. Yvonne Tasker dissects representations of women and their sexuality
in terms of the economic and social implications of women's employment
(Working Girls, ref. note 2). Her discussion works partly due to its explicit
attention to the articulation of social class interests in film narratives,
producers and viewers. But despite recurring throughout the book, there
is little sense that such questions need to be foundational - as in
Sharon Willis' analysis of Wild At Heart (see note 8).
11. See, for example, E.P. Thompson's studies, and the work of James
C. Scott - in particular, Domination: The Arts of Resistance, Yale
University Press (1990). Tricia Rose shows how fruitful a sensitivity
to grassroots audiences can be, in Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture
in Contemporary America, University Press of New England (1994). Ron Eyerman
also discusses Black American culture and politics: 'Moving Culture',
in Mike Featherstone & Scott Lash (Eds.) (1999) Spaces of Culture:
City, Nation, World, Sage.
12 See 'Natural Born Cultures' (note 1).
13. If, as I believe, collective grass-roots action is always both political
and cultural, then radical left criticism of popular culture should avoid
elitism. But, to put it mildly, this seems rare.
14. Thanks to Stefan Szczelkun for this point.