To revive the question about film as mass medium, this essay turns to analyses of Samuel Beckett's Film by Theodor W. Adorno and Gilles Deleuze. Their readings are compared regarding the problem of self-knowledge—and how this epistemic motif is transferred into the cinematic medium. Adorno's more than skeptical position toward film relies on notions of self-reflexivity usually on reserve for high art. When Stanley Cavell situates film as a reflective form of skepticism that binds camera, spectator, and image together, it comes neatly to this position. Adorno at this point does not ascribe to film as film negative qualities, possibly diminishing his reflective capacities. The dispute about the difference between mass art and high art is taken back to the emergence of the notion of culture industry as replacement for mass art in the frame of social theory. Comparing the different outcomes of the positive judgment of the Marx Brothers' films in Adorno and Cavell, one can find the decisive bifurcation that separates their thoughts on film. The tension between opera and film as screened in Marx Brothers at the Opera becomes the touchstone for the differences in value judgment. While for Cavell skepticism is something that pragmatically will be suspended for the sake of constructing a lifeworld bridging opera, film, and life, Adorno stays with the incompatibility of the easy, happy end with art as a reflexive form. Thus Adorno emphasizes the paradox between the wish for wish fulfillment and critical knowledge as the emotional form of ambivalence, insofar as his often-cited harsh judgments on culture industry are countered by a more complex argument about the inherent ambivalence over the aims and issues of (mass) (art).
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Gertrud Koch; Uneasy Pleasing: Film as Mass Art. New German Critique 1 November 2009; 36 (3 (108)): 73–83. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2009-011
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