Where light in darkness lies : the grotesque in theory and contemporary American film /

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Weishaar, Schuy
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation investigates the work of five contemporary American filmmakers (Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Joel and Ethan Coen, and David Lynch) through the lens of the grotesque. Chapter I discusses the roles of genre and classical Hollywood style in the emergence of aspects of the grotesque in film history and suggests that the disintegration of the old structures of the industry, well under way by the 1960s and 70s, afforded filmmakers new opportunities to experiment with the grotesque. Chapter II provides a thorough examination of the theories of the grotesque that have been prominent in contemporary scholarship on the subject, beginning with Wolfgang Kayser and Mikhail Bakhtin and moving to the more recent theories of Dieter Meindl, David K. Danow, and Geoffrey Galt Harpham, among others.
The subsequent chapters on Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Joel and Ethan Coen, and David Lynch build on facets of grotesque theory. Each chapter begins by delineating a critical direction from within the more eclectic theory chapter (II) and specifying and extending the theoretical approach taken in interpreting the material. Chapter III focuses on locating a Bakhtinian relationship between the "official" and the "carnival" in Tim Burton's films. Chapter IV explores the connection and overlap of the mythic (in Harpham and Danow), madness (in Foucault's Madness and Civilization), and the grotesque as a prominent feature of Terry Gilliam's films. Chapter V interprets physically manifested responses to catastrophe and the acting style through which they are presented in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen as related to Geoffrey Galt Harpham's notion of "the grotesque as interval" (14--15). Chapter VI investigates the modernist grotesque (as theorized by Dieter Meindl) in David Lynch's films through figures and functions (associated with the concepts of the double and the abhuman) that threaten human and/or subjective identity and that also suggest some degree of conceptual overlap among the uncanny, the gothic, and the grotesque. Finally, Chapter VII, relying on reflections from Theodor Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and an excerpt from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, attempts to bring closure by linking the grotesque, with all of its vagaries and contradictions, with humanity itself.
Adviser: David Lavery.