Reference : Capturing Backstage. Representations of Democracy in Hollywood Cinema
Scientific journals : Article
Arts & humanities : Multidisciplinary, general & others
Capturing Backstage. Representations of Democracy in Hollywood Cinema
Pause, Johannes mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > >]
Frames Cinema Journal
University of St Andrews
Cultural Memories and National Ideologies: Exploring Political Myths Through Cinema
St. Andrews
[en] Film Studies ; Politicial Theory ; Public Culture
[en] Democracy, states Claude Lefort, is distinguished by a fundamental representation problem: unlike in the case of a monarchy, there is no longer any sovereign body through which the state is able to uniformly manifest itself. In Hollywood cinema, the “empty space” at the core of democracy thus disclosed is filled with mythical ‘primal scene’ that conceive of political representation – in the precise sense described by Thomas Hobbes – as a spontaneous theatrical performance: the persuasive power of a political speech fashions an individual, for as long as that person is performing, into the representative of all those present, with the latter becoming the audience and hence a representation of the people. This myth of a social order occurring at the moment of spontaneous performativity is also the identifying feature of filmic depictions of parliament, election rallies, and other political arenas, which Hollywood movies portray as places in which the shaping of democratic principles is a process being permanently re-enacted.

Yet the films are characterized not by this legitimization of the democratic system alone, each of them also consistently pursuing an investigative act of enlightenment, revealing to us what is going on behind the scenes of the performance. By means of a comparative analysis of individual scenes from works by Frank Capra, Otto Preminger, John Frankenheimer, and George Clooney, the essay examines how the stage-like nature of political action takes on additional complexity through these explorations of the backstage. Similarly, the influence of filmic media on politics, as evidenced by the production of ever-new front- and side-stages (Meyrowitz), is an aspect being considered by these works in increasingly autoreflexive manner. Far from creating monodimensional ideologies, Hollywood thus seeks, through a highly differentiated approach, to get to grips with the mechanisms and aporias of modern-day politics, one which, in the actual essay itself, assumes the form of a filmic outline of the intellectual history of democratic representation.
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