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The Failure of Fantasy: Genre and Form in Contemporary Film

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Abstract:
How are we to qualify the “contemporary” in narrative cinema? One of the main purposes of this dissertation is to provide a problematization of broad categories usually applied to contemporary film, such as “postclassical,” “postmodern,” and “global.” To do so, my argument focuses on a specific aspect of contemporary cinema—namely, the crisis of genre as a form. To be sure, genres have seldom been more prosperous and pervasive than they are today. But far from a sign of strength, this proliferation and extreme fragmentation of genre cinema is the symptom of an impasse that is thoroughly contemporary and that can be formulated as follows: a generalized inability of genre as form to provide a cognitive mapping of our position within the complex socio-economic totality of global capitalism. In other words, the epistemological potential of genre—its ability to mediate between the individual subject and the vast, unrepresentable totalities that transcend her—is in decline, overwhelmed by the radical, traumatic transformations in human experience that define our present. The dissertation is divided in two parts. In the first part I outline a diagnosis of the current state of affairs in contemporary genre cinema by focusing on the recent mutations of two of the most epistemologically charged genres—namely, the fantastic and the detective story. In chapter one I discuss how the emergence of a “disenchanted fantastic” thematizes in unprecedented ways the relationship between magic, science, and spectacle. In chapter two I analyze the impasse of the hermeneutic process of detection that characterizes specific instances of the “serial-killer movie” sub-genre. With the second part of the dissertation I turn my attention to Europe to look at local reactions to this global crisis. I consider two new trends: the New French Extremity and the New Italian Epic. The former combines art cinema conventions with elements of the horror and the thriller. The latter foregrounds a renewed interest for the enigmas that punctuate the recent Italian past. In this sense the New Italian Epic offers a compelling answer to the questions raised in the first part of the dissertation, as it indicates epic as a form of collective storytelling through which a narrative grasp of history and the present becomes possible.
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Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2014)

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Resmini, Mauro, "The Failure of Fantasy: Genre and Form in Contemporary Film" (2014). Italian Studies Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z0MP51NC

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