Pas de Deux: The ‘Situational Ballet’ of Film Fathers-and-Sons
ROBERT S.C. GORDON
This chapter offers what might be called a functionalist or formalist approach to children on film. It takes as axiomatic that children on film are not (only) there to tell us about the experience and psychology of childhood,1 nor even (only) about the sociology of childhood, or of the family, gender and parenting dynamics played out on screen around them. It assumes and argues instead that children on film are always (also) at work as formal functions of film language and film narrative, if nothing else as conspicuous elements of the mise en scène, and that the mask of affect that they characteristically bring with them is often a decoy for these other, formal functions and paths to meaning. The chapter looks at one surprisingly prevalent, recurrent topos or syntagma, one of the many possible articulations of the child in film language: that is, the spatial configuration on screen of father-and-son couples.2 It starts with Ladri di biciclette [Bicycle Thieves] (1948), referring sporadically to other instances from Italian film history; but its central interests lie less in national cinemas (and the shaky idea of nationally specific imaginaries ← 81 | 82 → of childhood) and more in transversal functions for the figure of the child in film narrative in general. It sets alongside Ladri a series of three mainstream American movies spread widely over a period stretching from the 1920s to the 2000s, each of which taps into something of the same formal and spatial energies...
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