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Film Mavericks in Action

New Hollywood, New Rhetoric, and Kenneth Burke

Alan Taylor

The book’s ambition is to uniquely yoke familiar histories of New Hollywood with aspects of critical theory that, since the 1950s, have embraced advances in the New Rhetoric as pioneered by literary theorist, philosopher, social analyst and educator Kenneth Burke (1897–1993). The study tracks the career arcs of Hollywood film directors Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Michael Cimino and Francis Ford Coppola whose productions are regarded as Burkean perspectives by incongruity. This analysis is contextualized within an overview that, from the 1920s to the present, considers Hollywood as a "languaged industry" that is grounded in Burkean principles of Order, identification, hierarchy, courtship and ambiguities of substance. The project is designed to serve the interests of colleagues and students in Rhetorical Theory, Film Education, Creative Writing, American Studies, Production Studies, and Film and Media Studies.

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1. Introduction: Burke and New Hollywood


“I think that when everyone’s story is told then that makes for better art. It makes for better entertainment, it makes everybody feel part of one American family, so I think as a whole the industry should do what every other industry should do which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?” (U.S. President Obama in Child, 28/1/2016).

“Action” by all means. But in a complex world, there are many kind of action. Action requires programs – programs require vocabulary. To act wisely, in concert, we must use many words (KB, ATH, p. 4).

President Barack Obama’s response to the 2016 debate over the lack of diversity in Hollywood touches not just on the standard operating procedures of the ‘industry’ but has implications also for those responsible for the training that leads towards that industry. Like any Order rooted in the drama of human relations, that industry is grounded first and foremost in symbolic action and is enriched by a persuasive mystique that goads individuals into extended courtships (film schools, mentorships) that through personal identifications and formal associations over time achieve the “fair shot” that hopefully brings consubstantiation between self and others, filmmakers and their audiences. However, as Kenneth Burke reminds us, such action “…requires programs – programs require vocabulary. To act wisely, we must use many words...

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