Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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The Film Text

Critics have long realized that the text and the author, far from being easy, stable building blocks upon which we can set less solid ones, themselves pose a series of thorny theoretical questions. (For an illustration, think of Shakespeare's King Lear, which exists in multiple printed versions from the Renaissance, was revised by actors and directors in later centuries, and has been performed in countless different ways, and has been read and seen by even more readers. What is the text of King Lear?) The medium of film creates further problems for critics seeking to establish an authoritative text; one's experience of a film is subject to projection technology, re-editing of proportion ("this film has been formatted to fit your television"), architecture, variance in sound system quality, and so forth. We do not have a sense of an authentic, original copy of a film in the way we have that sense of a poem or novel. Following the work of Walter Benjamin, a German who published "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in 1936, film critics sometimes discuss ways in which film seems to offer a kind of impersonal immediacy to the viewer that separates it from other textual media, including drama. Films generally have nothing exactly equivalent to an author; they replace the supposedly personal connection to a text's author with a technological experience that seems more lifelike but less a product of personal expression than other texts. This is not to say that films are not personal expressions or that other texts are so in an uncomplicated way, only that the medium of film breaks down the assumptions by which we experience other forms of art.
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