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March 13, 2003

From Portland With Love, The Student Who Came In From The Rain, etc.

Posted by Mike on March 13, 2003 8:11 AM

Well, the term's almost over. The most interesting class (at least in terms of how much information was imparted or factored in across a number of disciplines) was probably the '60s spy film class (entitled "Sex, Spies, and Semiotics").

I made a PDF of my final paper, which seeks to explain how a genre wrapped up in political understandings and rooted in a period deeply concerned with ideology can be a vehicle for non-ideological messages. Fortunately, the instructor was more interested in the content than the less formal approach. So here's the paper pdf (70k), and here's a list of my pocket summaries of the films mentioned (I'm still missing a few from late in the course, including Hitchcock's Topaz and The President's Analyst):

The paper references pomo lit wildman Roland Barthes' "Death of the Author". There's a passing reference to Vladimir Propp, as well, who wrote Morphology of the Folktale, an attempt to create a universal narrative structure. It's not available online, either (except in Russian), but there's a summary of his basic outline and a fun fairytale generator based on his ideas.

The last three films in the list go down better with a reading of Clement Greenberg's "The Avant Garde and Kitsch," which I can't find online. Had we been given a less strict page limit, there would have been a lot to say about how the depoliticized spy movie detaches its content from any concrete cause, making for an Orwellian anti-history of meaningless image fragments. Greenberg saw kitsch in its context as a tool used by Stalin and his bureaucrats to create ersatz folk culture out of the residue and scraps of authentic folk expression. It works pretty well for a Hollywood establishment that feels perfectly comfortable airbrushing the World Trade Center out of the background, too.