Knjižnica Filozofskog fakulteta
Sveučilišta u Zagrebu
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Institutional Repository

Irony in American postmodern cinema


Downloads per month over past year

Martelanc, Juraj. (2014). Irony in American postmodern cinema. Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature
Department of English Language and Literature. [mentor Šesnić, Jelena and Čale Feldman, Lada].

PDF (English)
Download (649kB) | Preview


Walter Ong’s suggestion that since irony “depends on tone and distance […] movies cannot achieve the tonal complexities of literature, so cinematic irony can never reach the height of verbal irony” (Ong 18) hinges on a conception of the cinematic image as relatively void of meaning and closer to its represented content when compared to written text. Out of a great influx of action blockbusters, however, a film like Starship Troopers still stands out as especially precarious—either subversive or quietistic—due to its appropriation of signs ripped from Triumph of the Will. These signs are cinematic—conventional ways of framing and shooting, like the shot/reverse shot method used in filming Jenkins and his soldiers—and they do not pertain to any single shot, as no shot has been completely copied from the Riefenstahl film; rather, they refer to the rhythm and sequence of the propaganda shots that are repeated to provoke a specific cinematic memory. The “tone and distance” needed for irony reside in this cinematic intertext. In fact, Ong’s insistence that cinematic irony depends on its “overwhelming visualism” (17) testifies to what Noël Carroll calls the “medium-specificity” fallacy. (see Carroll 2008) In Dangerous Liaisons, for example, the gaze is used as a tool for adapting the text into the cinematic medium, but the letters are preserved as well, both as text—via voiceover and the actors reading them out aloud—and as physical object. By being encoded within the film, they become cinematic elements as well. In Traffic and Inglourious Basterds, the use of color filters and familiar Nazi imagery, respectively, help construct a hierarchy or a difference which, at first, appears to anchor the viewer in a specific ideological perspective. As the films progress, however, a Bordwellian reader resistance comes into play, and this anchoring visualism ends up being the very thing ironized. Cinematic vision is text, they seem to say, and just as vulnerable to irony’s instability. Irony is unstable, but also directed. When someone identifies a cinematic irony, they are constructing an intertextual network like the one described by Hutcheon in the case of Henry V and its film adaptations. (see Hutcheon 1994, 65) An author like Steven Soderbergh can even use this knowledge to create a filmic opus that is dialogized not only within the diegetic universe of a specific film, among the characters—like in Contagion, which I’ve tried to demonstrate by analyzing which questions each character is asking about the central plot device—but also within the film’s intertextual network, as it challenges (and is challenged by) other films’ logical structures—like when the viewer’s desire to reify the cartels in Traffic as the ethical “other” is put in contrast to the various ways characters in Contagion narrativize the plague to themselves. Hutcheon (1994) uses the term “edge” when discussing defining characteristics of irony. It is a metaphor for the instability of irony and points to the effect of irony on those ironized. It also points to a certain risk inherent in irony, as what is at stake in it is never a specific meaning, but an “inclusive and relational” (12) meaning: inclusive because it is not a matter of one meaning displacing another, but of multiple meanings being present at once; relational because the individual meanings present in the ironic meaning are constructed differentially, in relation to each other. Ultimately, any dismissal of cinematic irony or championing of verbal irony like Ong’s fails to see these two characteristics, and instead conceives of irony as fundamentally instrumental, a tool that either exhumes a present meaning behind a given sign or engages in a politics of displacement of meaning; of course, in this conception, verbal irony is seen as the finer tool. But irony is unwieldy, and always gets unwanted results, precisely because results are not what is at stake in irony: what is at stake is an inclusion, an opening up, an affirmation of the plural, playful, dynamic and dialogic nature of any sign, be it word or image.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Subjects: English language and literature
Comparative literature
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Šesnić, Jelena and Čale Feldman, Lada
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2015 09:41
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2015 09:41

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item