JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

A student’s guide to the YML essay  —
an annotated bibliography

Today’s student can best understand the Young Mr. Lincoln essay by first seeing the film, and having it fresh in mind, reading the Cahiers analysis. Because most of the discussion moves through the film scene by scene, having reference to a DVD copy allows the student to check the argument as it proceeds.

The Criterion Collection, no. 320: Young Mr. Lincoln (2 discs) directed by John Ford.

Today’s English-speaking student may find the Cahiers YML essay slow going at times. The French expository style differs from the bread-and-butter Anglo-American essay form. Part of this can be understood as characteristic of an intellectual community based in one city where everyone at least knows of each other, has the same opportunities for film viewing, and reads the same “background” discussions. The essay also exists within a specific decade-long film culture in and around Cahiers. In that framework, the writers could assume that their readers had been regularly following earlier discussions. Thus the somewhat opaque references to Lacan, Barthes, Althusser, and others: at the time their core readers really did know, or know about, these figures. Further, French intellectual discussions are entrenched in French culture as public spectator sport, at least among the professional classes.[49] [open endnotes in new window] The result: density.

The actual essay is available in several places:

[collective text], "'Young Mr Lincoln' de John Ford." Cahiers du cinéma. 223 (August 1970): 29-47. Print.

[A collective text by the Editors of Cahiers du cinéma]. "John Ford's Young Mr Lincoln." Screen [UK] 13.3 (1972): 5-44. Print. Tr. Helen Lackner and Diana Matias.

Reprinted: Bill Nichols, ed., Movies and Methods: An Anthology (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976), 493-529.

Reprinted: John Ellis, ed., Screen Reader 1: Cinema/Ideology/Politics (London: Society for Education in Film and Television, 1977), 113-152.

Reprinted: Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen, eds., Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Second edition (NY: Oxford University Press, 1979), 778-831. [The article did not appear in the 1974 first edition of this workhorse anthology.]

Reprinted: Mast and Cohen, Third edition, 1985, 695-740. [As with the earlier reprint in 1979, includes two production stills, the second of which (Lincoln and Mary Todd talking outside the dance) was from a segment edited out of the film. The essay was dropped from the Fourth edition.]

Reprinted: Philip Rosen, ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 445-482.

An essential companion text:

Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni, “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” in Browne, Nick, ed. Cahiers Du Cinéma, 1969-1972: The Politics of Representation. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1990. Pp. 58-67. Also widely reprinted in Screen, Screen Reader, Rosen, Mast and Cohen’s later editions, etc.

The Cahiers piece appeared in English with a short editorial introduction and a short afterward:

Rhodie, Sam. "Editorial." Screen (U.K.) 13.3 (1972): 2-3. Print.

Wollen, Peter. "Afterword [to Cahiers YML]." Screen 13.3 (1972). Print.

And a year later, an additional discussion appeared:

Brewster, Ben. "Notes on the Text, "Young Mr. Lincoln," by the Editors of Cahiers du cinéma." Screen 14.3 (1973): 29-43. Print.

In the context of an issue of Screen on Metz’s semiotics, Brewster makes some introductory connections and then provides a thoughtful extension of Cahiers points in terms of Marxist discussion. He concludes by observing that the YML analysis has a foundation in authorship study.

Across the Atlantic, the essay was discussed in significant articles:

Nichols, Bill. "Style, Grammar, and the Movies." Film Quarterly 28.3 (1975). Print.

Nichols, promoting Gregory Bateson’s ideas, faults Cahiers for using binary oppositions and calls for a theory/practice of mediation to produce a better analysis.

Henderson, Brian. "Critique of Cine-Structuralism, Part II." Film Quarterly 27.2 (1973-1974). Print. Reprinted in Henderson, Brian. A Critique of Film Theory. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980. Print.

Henderson uses very long quoted sections of the YML essay to introduce it to U.S. readers. (At the time Film Quarterly was the prestige film journal with a very wide circulation in schools and public libraries as well as a large subscriber base; Screen only circulated dozens of copies in N. America.) He then goes on a tedious rampage against Ben Brewster’s article introducing Metz, apparently seeing it as a return to classic auteur theory (which it is not).

MacBean, James Roy. Film and Revolution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. Print.

MacBean’s key book collects the major articles he wrote on Godard (and Godard-Gorin)’s left films, and other essential left films of the 60s-70s, for Film Quarterly. His concluding chapter includes a criticism of English-speaking commenters for discussing the YML essay in terms of structuralism and semiotics rather than Marxism. (At the time it was obvious he was referring to Henderson.)

Abramson, Ronald, and Richard Thompson. "Young Mr. Lincoln Reconsidered: An Essay on the Theory and Practice of Film Criticism." Ciné-Tracts: A journal of film and cultural studies 2.1 (no. 5) (1978): 42-62. Print.

The authors, former students of Henderson and Dudley Andrew, are critical of various parts of the Cahiers article while adding their own arguments and observations. Reprinted online: http://tlweb.latrobe.edu.au/humanities/screeningthepast/22/young-mr-lincoln-reconsidered.html

Some broader perspectives supply essential contexts for understanding the YML essay in its own historical moment and in terms of the evolution of film theory in general:

Browne, Nick, ed. Cahiers du cinéma, 1969-1972: The Politics of Representation. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1990. Print.

Browne’s contribution to the four volume collection of key articles in translation concentrates on the most political phase of Cahiers' history. Surprisingly, it was decided to omit the YML essay since it was so widely available elsewhere at the time of publication. Browne’s superb and concise introduction frames the Cahiers project and points out the connections to other essays in the collection.

Bickerton, Émilie. A Short History of Cahiers du cinéma. London: Verso, 2009. Print.

This brief overview of the entire history of Cahiers is light on the magazine’s theoretical/critical progress, but it offers important framing in terms of people, personalities, and institutional frame.

Harvey, Sylvia. May '68 and Film Culture. London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1978. Print.

Harvey provides a detailed discussion of the late 60s moment in Parisian film circles and discussion of the Cahiers and Cinéthique differences. Essential reading for understanding the political issues.

Lellis, George Patrick. "From Formalism to Brecht: The Development of a Political and Aesthetic Sensibility in Cahiers du cinéma." Dissertation: University of Texas, 1976. Print.

Extremely clear history of the major changes in Cahiers.

Lesage, Julia. "The Films of Jean Luc Godard and Their Use of Brechtian Dramatic Theory." Dissertation: Indiana University, 1976. Print.

Baecque, Antoine de. Les Cahiers du cinéma: Histoire d'une revue. Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1991. 2 volumes. Print.

Fairfax, Daniel. “‘Yes, We Were Utopians; in a Way, I Still Am…’: An Interview with Jean-Louis Comolli (Part 1).” Senses of Cinema. 62 (2012). Web.

Interesting personal retrospective view of the heady post-68 years of Cahiers.

Casetti, Francesco. Theories of Cinema: 1945-1995. Trans. Chiostri, Francesca and Elizabeth Gard Bartolini-Salimbeni, with Thomas Kelso. revised edition, updated ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. Print.

Casetti’s historical survey of post WW2 film theory gains much from his vantage point outside of France, the UK and US. Although he sacrifices some breadth and depth, he lays out the central concerns with a sensible accuracy. Best starting point for grasping the big issues.

Bordwell, David. Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989. Print.

When it first appeared 25 years ago Bordwell’s book was seen as a salvo in the “cognitivist” critique of “post-structuralist” theory. Today it reads as a witty survey of developing film studies that deals with institutional, logical, and pragmatic issues in the frame of rhetorical analysis. Contains a concise discussion of the YML essay (pp 84-87) and then deploys the reference throughout the book’s argument. Especially useful for drawing connections between critics who saw themselves as opposed to each other or actually antagonistic.

Lapsley, Robert, and Michael Westlake. Film Theory: An Introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988. Print.

This narrowly UK-centric presentation of the field stays well within the Screen orbit of the 70s. Film theory is understood as moving ineluctably and teleologically away from Marxist politics and toward Lacanian poststructuralism. An extended discussion of the YML article (pp. 116-123) concludes, “…the analysis was, like Wollen’s Signs and Meaning, a transitional text, bridging one organizing conception based on authorial intention and another based on textual productivity.”

Rushton, Richard, and Gary Bettinson. What Is Film Theory? An Introduction to Contemporary Debates. Berkshire: Open University Press, 2010. Print.

Proceeding by a series of summaries of key articles/chapters in contemporary film theory, a concise highlighting of Cahiers on YML (pp. 22-27).

Hill, John. “Ideology, Economy and the British Cinema.” Film and Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Miller, Toby and Robert Stam. Malden MA: Blackwell, 2000. 565-76. Print.

A concentrated discussion of the Cahiers YML model as “occluded” usefully contrasts it with institutional, historical, and political economy approaches.

Kleinhans, Chuck. "Marxism and Film." The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. Eds. Hill, John and Pamela Church-Gibson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 106-13. Print.

Basic background

Klinger, Barbara. “‘Cinema/Ideology/Criticism’ Revisited: The Progressive Genre.” Film Genre Reader iv. Ed. Grant, Barry Keith. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. 93-109. Print.

A particularly apt discussion of how “category e” was deployed by other critics for various purposes.

Wilson, David, ed. Cahiers du cinéma: Volume 4: 1973-1978: History, Ideology, Cultural Struggle. New York: Routledge 2000. Print.

Presents the aftermath of the intense post-68 Cahiers. Includes a useful introductory essay by Berénice Reynaud.

Hillier, Jim, ed. Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. Print.
Hillier, Jim, ed. Cahiers du cinéma: The 1960s: New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 1986. Print.

Essential background to post-68 Cahiers.

Stam, Robert. Film Theory: An Introduction. Malden MA: Blackwell, 2000. Print.

A very different take on film theory with little attention to Cahiers, Stam goes for great expansive coverage (of topics, of places, etc.) by sacrificing depth. Best as a start on doing one’s own further reading.

Other works on Ford:

Sarris, Andrew. The John Ford Movie Mystery. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. Print.

Auteur study.

Gallagher, Tag. John Ford: The Man and His Films. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Print.

Comprehensive auteur study with detailed discussion of YML, pp. 162-174. Specifically critical of the Cahiers reading. Gallagher has a unique discussion of music motifs in the film, and within auteur study orthodoxy offers interesting discussion of Ford’s value system and outlook as embedded in character and narration.

Gallagher, Tag. "Passage: John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln." Senses of Cinema (2006). Web. http://sensesofcinema.com/2006/39/young_mr_lincoln/

Gallagher continues to plow the YML field, this time with lots of images, indicating a theme of “passage”—both literal and figurative. An interesting riff, but couldn’t the term/concept be applied to almost any film except a chamber drama?

Routt, Bill. "Ford at Fox. 3(c)" [section on YML] (2012?). Web. Screening the past, http://www.screeningthepast.com/2012/07/ford-at-fox/

Eisenberg, Emanuel. "John Ford: Fighting Irishman." New Theater and Film: 1934-1937: An Anthology. 1936. Ed. Kline, Herbert. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. 267271. Print.

Enthusiastic interview with Ford stressing his rebellious nature (making The Informer, including anti-lynching scenes, and detesting studio bosses).

Eisenstein, Sergei. "Mr. Lincoln by Mr. Ford." Eisenstein: Writings 1934-1947. Ed. Taylor, Richard. Vol. 3. London: British Film Institute, 1996. Print.

Eisenstein’s 1945 enthusiasm for YML gives it good leftist credentials.

Andrew, J. Dudley. The Major Film Theories: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Print.

An extremely brief presentation of film semiology includes a panicked reaction to Marxism, Cahiers and “Cinétique” (sic), pp 236-241

Andrew, Dudley. Concepts in Film Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Print.

Years later Andrew returns to a much fuller discussion of new theory which (earnestly) tries to be descriptive but which constantly reveals its own anxieties through textual disruption and quite a few “signifying absences.”

Horrigan, Bill. "Andre Bazin's Destiny." Jump Cut.19 (1978). Web.
http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC19folder/BazinHorriganRev.html

Discussion of Dudley Andrew’s book on Bazin as mounting a defense of the Frenchman from an assault by newfangled political film folk.

Balio, Tino. Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939. History of the American Cinema. Ed. Harpole, Charles. Vol. 5. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Print.

Jurca, Catherine. Hollywood 1938: Motion Pictures' Greatest Year. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Print.

Custen, George F. Twentieth Century's Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood. New York: Basic Books, 1997. Print.

Useful contexting of Screen c. 1970:

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, and Cristophe Dupin, eds. The British Film Institute, the Government and Film Culture, 1933-2000. Manchester UK: Manchester University Press, 2012. Print.

Bolas, Terry. Screen Education: From Film Appreciation to Media Studies. Bristol UK: Intellect, 2009. Print.

Grieveson, Lee, and Haidee Wasson, eds. Inventing Film Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.

Afterword and aside: why so angry?

The YML essay was itself contentious when it appeared. It openly includes a strong criticism of the positions taken by the rival left film magazine Cinéthique, mentioned by name. Unsurprisingly the article entered the intense debates of Parisian film culture politics. But on publication in translation it also appeared under a combative banner. Sam Rhodie, the new editor of Screen, began the Autumn 1972 issue that highlighted the YML essay with a brief summary context and introduction. But the issue also contained an article by John Smith on Hitchcock’s English films, and Rhodie is clearly hostile and dismissive of the article he is publishing.

“If Cahiers explores 'breaks,' Smith is after unities and synthesis and the films which appear most coherent (form and content perfectly integrated) are those which are deemed 'best.'…Smith relates to an older and I think incorrect aesthetic position…[a] species of [untenable] romantic aesthetics….”

Why is Rhodie publishing the piece if it is so aesthetically incorrect? And why is he compelled to make such a declaration against it? The issue also includes the second half of an article by Steven Mamber on “Cinema-Verite in America,” along with a long letter from Mamber complaining about editorial changes to the first half, apparently published without his knowing about the alterations or having a chance to see them before publication.[50]

So the very kick off of the YML essay in English is clouded with hostility. It didn’t take long for the discussion to warm up across the Atlantic. Writing two years later in Film Quarterly about the YML essay and a follow-up article from Screen by Ben Brewster, Brian Henderson recapitulates much of the Cahiers article, with some extraordinarily long direct quotes from the original. He quotes very extensive passages: eight sequential paragraphs; four paragraphs; three paragraphs; and then three paragraphs.[51]

He then takes issue with Brewster’s article

“…he violates the Cahiers concept, indeed he obliterates it,…the principal direction of Brewster’s article is that of a regression….
“…bridging this gap is ambiguous at best and fishy at worst…he fails to bridge this gap….Aside from other defects, this is an alarming reduction and simplification…Brewster’s conclusion is a shock. One is astonished that this is what Brewster’s analysis has led to, the return of the author. Nothing has prepared one for this….The nominal project of integrating Metzism reduced to a shell with a denatured “Young Mr. Lincoln” sets up the mutual collapse that Brewster’s text has engineered….A carefully built house of cards collapses abruptly;….” [I’ll show mercy and stop quoting here: the last four paragraphs of Henderson’s article become quite florid—CK.]

Henderson’s passion is clear: he reads what Brewster is doing as a betrayal. But at the time, and especially today, to almost all readers Brewster seemed to be making a rather common sense point: that while Cahiers claims it is moving beyond the earlier Bazinian and auteur foundations of the magazine’s outlook, in fact its approach is still informed by (though not slavishly dependent on) the concept of authorship. (Much as one cannot un-ring a bell, I suppose.)

Hostile exceptions to the Cahiers approach multiplied in the 70s. Two of Henderson’s students, Abramson and Thompson added to the critique with their own different reading/interpretation. And the dean of conservative film aesthetics, Dudley Andrew, addresses the post-68 moment of Cahiers and Cinéthique[52] briefly in a few pages of his 1976 The Major Film Theories, and then the much larger international context of new theory in his Concepts of Film Theory (1984). Andrews’ writing style itself invites a symptomatic reading. His honest commitment to a fair, if not neutral, discussion of the new direction, particularly the most politicized examples is undermined by his obvious discomfort with left politics and gender issues. The result is more than a trace of male hysteria in expressing his alarm at this new arrival in film studies.

Of course we would expect change as intellectuals evolve in a longer discussion. Sometimes this was abrupt: within a matter of months Cahiers dismissed its earlier phases as it moved toward a Red star-struck Maoism. But often it seemed that thinkers were holding to a rather linear view of progress that mean the new replaced the old rather than build on it, modified it, or potentiated earlier work. Perhaps that way of thinking is built into assuming the “human sciences” advance in a way similar to the natural sciences, and is an easy given in a consumer capitalist society. In the long run, today for example, the Cahiers analysis of the Ford film opened up a mainstream commercial narrative film to a profoundly new way of thinking, and much more importantly, it opened up the whole field of dramatic cinema to a deeper political and formal analysis. We live on the other side of that moment.

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