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Report from Veronica Pravadelli’s ARTHEMIS talk

Veronica Pravadelli, from Università degli Studi Roma Tre, presented yesterday within the 2013-14 ARTHEMIS lecture series. Her talk was entitled “Classical Hollywood Cinema and Film Studies: Historicizing Theory, Theorizing History.”

Pravadelli presented a convincing talk to a small, yet engaged, audience of professors and students alike. In this paper, Pravadelli’s aim was to show how, and why, it is important to historicize theory. She argued that most theories on older Hollywood films often hold a monolithic, and problematic, view of Classical Hollywood. The problem, Pravadelli suggests, is that those theories offer a portrait of classical Hollywood that is too categorical. To support this argument, Pravadelli refers to the distinction between classic realist texts and progressive texts. Whereas the classic realist text “is enmeshed with the dominant ideology”, the progressive text “seems to remain within the realm of ideology, but it is formally incoherent.” The problem with proponents of the progressive readings (Pravadelli mentions for instance Thomas Elsaesser’s “Tales of Sound and Fury” (1972), as well as Claire Johnston and Pam Cook’s first feminist progressive readings (1973-75)) is that they seem to be blind to the fact that certain films could possibly be realist texts, and not all progressive.

Against this type of categorization, Pravadelli proposes that a different breakdown of periods in Classical Hollywood cinema could be possible if one looked at modes of representation, rather than at modes of production. By doing so, one would avoid the evolutionary determinism that comes with a categorization of cinema based on technological developments such as the arrival of sound, or colour, in Hollywood films. The important thing to remember, Pravadelli stresses, is that not every film will perfectly exemplify the era of its production. Essentially, one of the pitfalls of historical study that scholars should try to avoid is that of  seeing the past as a series of pieces that fall perfectly into place.

After the talk, members of the audience engaged in a very active discussion. Not only were we asking Pravadelli questions on her research project, attendees were also responding to one another, providing us with a lively Q&A period.

There are only two talks left in this year’s ARTHEMIS lecture series, so if you could not come to the previous presentations, please join us as we welcome John Mackay (Yale University) on March 28, as well as Raymond Bellour (CNRS) on April 4. Details on these upcoming talks are to be announced both on ARTHEMIS, and on Grad/Aperture.

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