Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Awkward Ages: Film Criticism, Technological Change, and Cinephilia
by Roberts, Jason Kelly, Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2015, 316; 3741433
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the rhetoric of popular and academic film criticism across moments of major technological change, focusing on the coming of sound, television broadcasts of movies, home video, and digital projection. Specifically, I investigate the appearance of four seemingly binary oppositions (change/continuity; specificity/convergence; scarcity/plenitude; and hope/disillusionment) constructed and deployed by film critics to ascertain the scope and value of these changes. In doing so, I uncover common responses to otherwise new and distinct cinematic technologies.

Although material and cultural differences distinguish these moments and their respective critical receptions, I argue that the persistence of these tropes belies claims frequently made by film critics that such changes represent “radical breaks.” My analysis of film criticism thus reminds us that both the use and interpretation of new technologies is contingent and relational, not determined by the technologies themselves. Technological determinism of this sort is stubbornly resilient among film critics, but viewed in the alternative perspective I propose, cinema and film criticism become interdependent mirrors of one another. Forged by humans and therefore lacking an immutable essence, cinema and film criticism are subject to being transformed, redefined, and reevaluated. Each must be understood as liberated from any medium-specific destiny; indeed, they are always the products of our invention, not objects of archaeological discovery. As I demonstrate, film critics meet such epistemological uncertainty ambivalently, evoking sensations of exhilaration and melancholy.

In tandem with my study of technological change, my study of cinephilia looks at the styles of thought and structures of feeling characteristic of serious film culture since the silent era. Whereas most studies of film criticism and technological change assess new styles or articulate new theories, I also contemplate technological change’s emotional resonances. In other words, I am interested not only in problems of filmmaking practice and modern technology, but also in probing the affective bonds connecting film critics to the medium. The Awkward Ages shows us, then, that film culture’s current crisis—the impact of digital technologies—is just the most recent instance of a larger pattern, whereby moments of major technological change simultaneously unsettle the myth of medium specificity, and provide an occasion for affirming the myth.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Curtis, Scott
Commitee: Sconce, Jeffrey, Taylor, Greg, White, Mimi
School: Northwestern University
Department: Screen Cultures
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 77/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Film studies
Keywords: Cinephilia, Coming of sound, Film criticism, Home video, Popular film critics, Technological change
Publication Number: 3741433
ISBN: 978-1-339-33715-9
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