Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Girard, Conversion, Film, Culture

From Brussels Journal, Thomas F. Bertonneau writes,

When, a semester or two ago, my department chair asked me to teach the local version of the nowadays-pervasive “popular culture” course, I consented with some mild misgivings and, as I like to do, took a mostly historical approach to course-content. I have no investment in contemporary popular culture, the wretchedness of it striking me as consummate. My students, for their part, being morbidly, continuously immersed in contemporary popular culture, require no one, really, to acquaint them with it. At least they require no one to tutor them in it directly, since it regrettably is their ubiquitous and hortatory guide and cue-giver for all facets of life. But one might apprise them about the insipidity of existing mass-entertainment indirectly by putting it in contrast with the popular entertainments of the past, including the classic films that most of them have never seen and, more importantly, would never seek out on their own. One film that I showed to students was the Errol Flynn vehicle The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), directed by Michael Curtiz. Another one, not so well known as Robin Hood, was the Roger Livesey/Wendy Hiller vehicle I Know Where I’m Going (1945), directed by Michael Powell (1905-1990).

In respect of The Adventures of Robin Hood, I have remarked in an article [here], for MediaHope, how one of the strongest recommending features of Curtiz’s superbly mounted medieval epic is that, at its heart, the film tells a moving conversion story – actually a pair of them, Marian’s and Robin’s, that the screenwriters skillfully intertwine. In the same article I reiterated critic René Girard’s argument that all effective narrative turns on plausible conversion and that reading itself is a type of conversion experience. If Girard’s point were valid for written narrative then why would it not likewise be so for film? Like Curtiz’s Robin Hood, Powell’s I Know Where I’m Going tells a conversion story, brilliantly, and uses it to make a profound filmic critique of the crassness that pervades modern life. I should add that in neither instance is it a case of religious conversion but rather of something subtler..More>>

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