Two lists, although in a sense this will be a third. My list of my most favorite pieces of criticism made me realize just how much I consider myself a student of narratology, even though none of my analyses of literature really pursue narratological questions, and hardly use narratological tools. The second list is Nathan and mine’s quest to watch every Best Picture and Best Director nominee; indeed, it was the subject of our very first post. As we don’t get many opportunities to see each other, Nathan and I are trying to breeze through 1990 during my brief sojourn in the New York environs (I’m trying to convince him to join me in Elm City for a Saturday of films and apizza). To that end, we’ve watched three of our seven films: Reversal of Fortune, Godfather III, and The Grifters. Of these, two of the films bear a serious influence problem, or as I prefer to see it, an inability to defamiliarize.

In the essay, “Art as Technique,” the Russian Formalist Victor Shklovsky described the process of defamiliarization. He wrote that “The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” The best art is the art that moves us away from the realm of everyday experience, either in language or in elements. One of Shklovsky’s biggest points is that once something has been seen several times, it is no longer noticed, or it is no longer remarkable. Images can easily become type scenes and tropes, losing their unique meaning. Shklovsky warns against this tendency toward repetition, urging instead defamilarization.

The Grifters is emblematic of a particular subgenre of film-making, what I will call (for lack of knowledge of the actual term) “The Fawn Film.” A fawn film is an intentional ode to another director/writer or to a specific genre/time period/medium. More specifically, a fawn film attempts to be a recreation of its object. The Grifters, which earned its director, Stephen Frears, a Best Director nomination, is a recreation of “B” Film Noir movies: it mimics the visual style and plot elements of these movies. Here is an indelible image from the film.


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