Miriam Hansen's idea of vernacular modernism explains the global appeal of classical Hollywood cinema by drawing on its affinity with modernist aesthetics. She argues that cinema's modernism is part of a widespread mass culture response to the changing features of modern life and that Hollywood cinema's global appeal is based on the incarnation of the modern and up-to-date. But how do we determine whether any given film was, or could have been, an instance of vernacular modernism? To what extent do its historical reception and circulation matter? Hansen answers this question by deriving criteria, largely oriented around the idea of play (with the medium, with other films, with history, etc.), from actual instances of translation. Though Hansen herself does not make this act of criticism explicit, recognizing its presence in fact grounds vernacular modernism more emphatically, and more successfully, in the fluid life of films.

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