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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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4. Martin Scorsese and the Backward Looking of the Prophets


Existence is a kind of dialectic of division and merger, disintegration and reintegration, death and rebirth, war and peace; the dialectic is the natural and inevitable result of the complex and ever–changing conflict relation between the human agent and his scene. This dialectic of existence – the drama of human relations – centers in what Burke speaks of as every man’s attempt to build himself a character in order to establish and maintain an identity. Burke says in Attitudes Toward History that all the “issues” with which he has been concerned “come to a head in the problem of identity” (ATH, II, 138)… Man in search of himself and a way toward the better life is, for Burke, the universal situation, and the most unbelievably complex drama of this quest is a major subject of all …Burke attempts to chart the self, to direct it out of the wasteland towards a better life through symbolic action (Rueckert, 1963, pp. 42–43).

“The first thing I ever did was work with comic frames, not strips, because I couldn’t flip them…I put them through a piece of cardboard from which I’d cut a hole for the screen. I’d slip the pictures through individually. I did that from the time I was eight until I was thirteen. It was a big production” (Martin Scorsese in Von Grunden, 1991, p. 136).

Introduction: Guilty Pleasures

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