The Solaris Effect: Art and Artifice in Contemporary American Film

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University of Texas Press, Jan 1, 2010 - Performing Arts - 280 pages

What do contemporary American movies and directors have to say about the relationship between nature and art? How do science fiction films like Steven Spielberg's A.I. and Darren Aronofsky's π represent the apparent oppositions between nature and culture, wild and tame?

Steven Dillon's intriguing new volume surveys American cinema from 1990 to 2002 with substantial descriptions of sixty films, emphasizing small-budget independent American film. Directors studied include Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Todd Haynes, Harmony Korine, and Gus Van Sant, as well as more canonical figures like Martin Scorcese, Robert Altman, David Lynch, and Steven Spielberg. The book takes its title and inspiration from Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film Solaris, a science fiction ghost story that relentlessly explores the relationship between the powers of nature and art. The author argues that American film has the best chance of aesthetic success when it acknowledges that a film is actually a film. The best American movies tell an endless ghost story, as they perform the agonizing nearness and distance of the cinematic image.

This groundbreaking commentary examines the rarely seen bridge between select American film directors and their typically more adventurous European counterparts. Filmmakers such as Lynch and Soderbergh are cross-cut together with Tarkovsky and the great French director, Jean-Luc Godard, in order to test the limits and possibilities of American film. Both enthusiastically cinephilic and fiercely critical, this book puts a decade of U.S. film in its global place, as part of an ongoing conversation on nature and art.


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1 Tarkovskys Solaris and the Cinematic Abyss
2 Steven Soderberghs Tinted World
3 Aronofsky Sundance and the Return to Nature
4 Mulholland Drive Cahiers du cinéma and the Horror of Cinephilia
Animation Timeand Digital Culture
Artists and Paintings in Contemporary American Film
Expressionism and Naturalism in 1990s American Film
8 Situating American Film in Godard Jarmusch and Scorsese

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Page 4 - ... than others once the status of these perceptions is envisaged rather than their number or diversity; for its perceptions are all in a sense "false." Or rather, the activity of perception which it involves is real (the cinema is not a phantasy), but the perceived is not really the object, it is its shade, its phantom, its double, its replica in a new kind of mirror.
Page 4 - The unique position of the cinema lies in this dual character of its signifier: unaccustomed perceptual wealth, but at the same time stamped with unreality to an unusual degree, and from the very outset.
Page 5 - ... become an object of belief: it is the impossible which can only be restored within a faith. Belief is no longer addressed to a different or transformed world. Man is in the world as if in a pure optical and sound situation. The reaction of which man has been dispossessed can be replaced only by belief. Only belief in the world can reconnect man to what he sees and hears. The cinema must film, not the world, but belief in this world, our only link.
Page 5 - The link between man and the world is broken. Henceforth, this link must become an object of belief: it is the impossible which can only be restored within a faith.

About the author (2010)

Steven Dillon is Professor of English at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

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