Monday 9 May 2011

The Obscurity of the Obvious: On the Films of Otto Preminger

 Richard Brody on Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1967)
Auteurism got film studies into the academy, but it was 1970s “semiotic” theory (with its amalgam of structuralism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and feminism) that secured film studies a position as a discrete discipline. With this critical shift, however, the obvious became obscure: for in effect, the semiotic approach rendered in need of interpretation many films that appeared transparent. But while films by directors like Ray, Sirk, and Minnelli seemed tailor-made for this method—with their implicit interrogation of the social relations of post-war life in America (bourgeois, patriarchal, heterosexual, capitalist)—Preminger’s films aren’t, due to their both narrative and stylistic approach. While Ray, Sirk, and Minnelli mounted their critique of American capitalist society indirectly, through their carefully designed mise-en-scène that communicated visually things that couldn’t then be addressed directly, Preminger took the opposite approach: addressing controversial social issues (sexual affairs, drug abuse, homosexuality) head- on, so that any “symptomatic” interpretation was rendered superfluous. The social issues under interrogation in Preminger’s films were not subtextual—they were the manifest content. Indeed, to point out that there is a subtext of incest in Anatomy of a Murder, Bonjour Tristesse, and Bunny Lake Is Missing is merely to state the obvious. As a result, since the early 1970s, Preminger has been a severely under-examined filmmaker.  [Excerpt from Christian Keathley, 'Otto Preminger and the Surface of Cinema', World Picture Journal, 2, 2008]
Film Studies For Free was so inspired by Christian Keathley's video essay on Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, part of an impressive body of scholarship on this director's films by this US based academic, that it immediately set to work on assembling an accompanying collection of direct links to other high quality and openly accessible studies of this filmmaker's oeuvre, as well as to one or two other interesting discussions of other directors' work which mention Preminger's films.

And below you have it. That is all. 


Fredrik Gustafsson said...

This is great. Otto Preminger is without doubt one of the most impressive and interesting of filmmakers out there, and more stuff is definitely needed. I've been working on a piece for some time and I'll let you know when it is done. Incidentally, one of your links was to an essay about Anthony Mann, the one by Jakob Isak Bielsen. OK, time to start to read!

Catherine Grant said...

Thanks Fredrik. Yes, please let me know about your essay. I decided to link to the Nielsen essay because, although about Mann's work, given the relative paucity of work devoted completely to Preminger's films online, there's an interesting comparison to Preminger made there (and it's a good essay!).

Fredrik Gustafsson said...

I just remembered that the homage to Saul Bass I did in March primarily concerned itself with his cooperation with Preminger.

Fredrik Gustafsson said...

I once tweeted that John Orr was one of very few who took Preminger seriously (besides Preminger himself...) but I see there's more out there. I finally watched Bunny Lake is Missing a couple of weeks ago. Utterly frightening and rather astonishing. Also, I love the title of Chris Fujiwara's book about him: The World and Its Double.