In the posthumously published Three Days before the Shooting . . . (2010), Ralph Ellison’s protagonist spends years as a film actor and filmmaker, and cinematographic effects appear throughout the narrative. Sharply aware of what he called the “enormous myth-making potential of the film form,” Ellison sought in this second novel both to explore the artistic possibilities of film and to expose the dangers of this potent medium. This essay examines three interrelated ways that movies matter to Ellison’s literary experiments. First, it argues that Ellison’s ambivalence about the American movie industry correlates with both his technological savvy and his sociopolitical conservativism in the latter half of his writing career. Second, it shows how Ellison’s fascinations with cinematic effects shape the aesthetics and themes of his unfinished second novel. Finally, the article demonstrates how Ellison’s specific techniques in representing cinematic experience exemplify, ironically, his primary allegiance to literary narrative.

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