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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


Deep Surfaces: The Production of Culture and the Culture of Production in Twentieth Century Hollywood


In this thesis I argue the idea of film as art rather than an industry that mass-produces culture is a recent concept. I show how culture studies theorists received film in the early 20th century, and how the director David Lynch transforms the medium of film into art in the late 20thcentury. I analyze the conflicting arguments made by Walter Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and those made by Theodore Adorno, and Max Horkheimer in Enlightenment as Mass Deception: The Culture Industry. I argue that Adorno and Horkheimer view film as a vehicle for the distribution of pre-packaged ideals and values, while Benjamin views film as a mechanism which brings to the public a better political understanding of their world. However, all theorists agree that film is a mechanism that can not be considered art in the way painting (for example) is considered art. This is because, they contend, film requires an absent-minded spectator. I demonstrate how Nathanael West’s novel, The Day of the Locust, and Joan Didion’s novel,Play it As it Lays, reflect the arguments of these theorists in their “antimyth” and “anti anti-myth” depictions of Hollywood. Finally, I use the film Mulholland Drive to reconcile both positions of film and to argue that film does require an aware spectator, and therefore is art.

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