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Title: The Repetition of difference: Marginality and the films of Hal Hartley
Authors: Deer, Lesley
Issue Date: 2000
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Hal Hartley is prominent within the recent rise of the independent film-making movement in America. This thesis is centred around the issues of repetition, difference and marginality which characterise his films. Marginality inhabits Hartley's position as an American independent who makes a European art-house style of film. He is an auteur who articulates his influences through his reference to Godard. Marginality is also the dominant characteristic of those who people Hartley's films. Difference, which is marginality pushed to its greatest extent, is further imposed upon Hartley's characters. It is interposed through Hartley's concern with repetition, in which the degree of formal repetition becomes so high that difference is forefronted. This thesis asserts that the essential difference in Hartley's films lies in gender. After an introduction which engages with the issues highlighted above, Chapter I contains a literature review which serves both to delineate critical opinions on Hartley, and to demonstrate the lack of sustained material which this thesis hopes to go some way towards redressing. Chapter II's taxonomy emphasises the consistency of Hartley's concern with repetition. It establishes both the formal repetition, linear and cyclical, which structures Hartley's films, and the behavioural repetition which his characters exhibit. Chapter III extends the taxonomy by applying theories of repetition to Trust. It uses Deleuze to engage with the tensions between the linear and cyclical modes of formal repetition in the film. An analogy with minimalism introduces difference into this repetition. Finally, the chapter examines Matthew's marginality and crisis of masculinity, embodied within the compulsion to repeat passive behaviour, in light of Freud's theories on repetition. Chapter IV extends male marginality into the interrogation of Thomas' criminality in Amateur. It is a criminality largely instituted through parodic generic reference. Thomas' amnesia does not allow him either to repent or to escape the reputation through which his criminality is perpetuated. Religion, notably the figure of Redeemer, is introduced as a means to bring about Thomas' redemption. The film's engagement with the resonances of pornography problematises both the Redeemer, Isabelle (who is both Virgin and Whore) and wider gender issues. Chapter V extends the concern with pornography, which defiles the ecstatic experience of writing characteristic of Henry Fool's shamanic figures. The film questions Henry's status as a criminal who refuses to repent. The blurring of legal and moral judgement in the film suggests an analogy with the genre of a morality play. Without repentance, redemption occurs though forgiveness and trust. The pornographic, which in invoked but never seen, serves to interrogate gender positioning in relation to it. Chapter VI examines female agency, with The Unbelievable Truth's Audry ostensibly exerting control over her commodification. Audry is not as able to control her commodification as much as the film suggests. She loses her ideals through the sale of images of herself. The film attempts a Godardian engagement with the problem of the commodified female image. It does so without showing the images of Audry, resisting their inherently exploitative nature and not allowing them to become pornographic by eliciting viewing pleasure. Yet by not showing these images, Hartley increases their coding as objects of desire. He does not escape the problems of the auteur using female images. Chapter VII concerns Simple Men, a film which seeks to make reparation for the exploitative use of women by placing women as the film's necessary centre. However, in alluding to male-centred genres, Hartley's film displaces women into the margins of male scenarios, reducing them both to function and difference in relation to men. Rather than the problems of femininity, the film engages with the troubled masculinities which its genre invokes. Chapter VIII reprises repetition in light of Hartley's wider questioning of gender. Applying formal and behavioural theories of repetition to Flirt, the chapter asks: What is the difference in Hartley's repetitions? Since Flirt's repetitions involve the gendering of masochism as female, and mark femininity as the essential difference, it can retrospectively be asserted that it is gender that is the key difference, the ultimately signified, of Hartley's repetitions. It is with this that the thesis concludes by drawing together the central themes of Hartley's films. These include male marginality, and its association with troubled masculinities, and the problematic associations of pornography with the objectification and commodification of women. Although marginality extends across gender boundaries within Hartley's films, it is ultimately women who are more fundamentally marginalised by them. This is brought about through the association of the difference which inhabits repetition with femininity.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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