Babel and Babylon Spectatorship in American Silent Film

ISBN-10: 0674058313

ISBN-13: 9780674058316

Edition: 1991

Authors: Miriam Hansen

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Although cinema was invented in the mid-1890s, it was a decade more before the concept of a "film spectator" emerged. As the cinema began to separate itself from the commercial entertainments in whose context films initially had been shown--vaudeville, dime museums, fairgrounds--a particular concept of its spectator was developed on the level of film style, as a means of predicting the reception of films on a mass scale. In Babel and Babylon Miriam Hansen offers an original perspective on American film by tying the emergence of spectatorship to the historical transformation of the public sphere. Hansen builds a critical framework for understanding the cultural formation of spectatorship, drawing on the Frankfurt School's debates on mass culture and the public sphere. Focusing on exemplary moments in the American silent era, she explains how the concept of the spectator evolved as a crucial part of the classical Hollywood paradigm--as one of the new industry's strategies to integrate ethnically, socially, and sexually differentiated audiences into a modern culture of consumption. In this process, Hansen argues, the cinema might also have provided the conditions of an alternative public sphere for particular social groups, such as recent immigrants and women, by furnishing an intersubjective context in which they could recognize fragments of their own experience. After tracing the emergence of spectatorship as an institution, Hansen pursues the question of reception through detailed readings of a single film, D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), and of the cult surrounding a single star, Rudolph Valentino. In each case the classical construction of spectatorship is complicated by factors of gender and sexuality, crystallizing around the fear and desire of the female consumer. Babel and Babylon recasts the debate on early American cinema--and by implication on American film as a whole. It is a model study in the field of Cinema Studies, mediating the concerns of recent film theory with those of recent film history.
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Book details

List price: $42.50
Copyright year: 1991
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 3/15/1994
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 390
Size: 6.50" wide x 9.50" long x 0.75" tall
Weight: 1.320
Language: English

The lateMiriam Bratu Hansenwas Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago and the founding chair of what is now the Department of Cinema and Media Studies. Her publications includeBabel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Filmand numerous essays in international film history and film theory.

Introduction: Cinema Spectatorship and Public Life
Rebuilding the Tower of Babel: The Emergence of Spectatorship
A Cinema in Search of a Spectator: Film-Viewer Relations before Hollywood
Early Audiences: Myths and Models
Chameleon and Catalyst: The Cinema as an Alternative Public Sphere
Babel in Babylon: D. W. Grffith's Intolerance (1916)
Reception, Textual System, and Self-Definition
""A Radiant Crazy-Quilt"": Patterns of Narration and Address
Genesis, Causes, Concepts
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