Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Discourse Analysis and Taste Formations

From a letter to the editor, the New York Times, January 18, 1948:
It seems to me that a year in which such noteworthy films as Gentleman's Agreement, The Yearling, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Life With Father, The Fugitive, Kiss of Death, The Senator Was Indiscreet, Farmer's Daughter, Boomerang, Body and Soul and numerous others were produced could hardly be called a 'bad year' for the industry that produced them.
Some of this letter is not surprising. There was a filmgoing segment in 1947 that was thrilled at the direction that some of Hollywood's A films were going, social problem films especially. But having seen all of these titles now, I am struck by how the author's list fails to match up to any recognizable taste formation that we might have from either popular memory or cinephile/academic canon. Problem films and noirish thrillers sit next to sentimental dramas.

I think there is an underlying affinity between these sides of the list, but it raises a question of how we read this as historical evidence. On one hand a letter like this is really valuable to suggest a different episteme or discourse and to basically defamiliarize our historical understanding of the period. On the other hand, this author could be idiosyncratic in his selection of noteworthy films. It's a tension I find myself straddling when trying to deal with the cinematic taste formations of the 1940s.

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