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Spectacle of Property

The House in American Film

2017
Author:

John David Rhodes

Spectacle of Property

A fascinating and unprecedented look at our relationship with the house in cinema

Spectacle of Property details the ambivalent but powerful pleasure we take in viewing private property onscreen, analyzing the security and ease the house promises along with the horrible anxieties it produces. It marks a new milestone in examining cinema’s relationship to realism while leaving us vastly more informed about, if less at home inside, the houses we occupy at the movies.

Opening up a whole new and exciting field of study, Spectacle of Property is far more intelligent, interesting, and revelatory than most cinema studies books. John David Rhodes's combination of sensitive and nuanced close-readings of films and the rich theoretical contexts in which he elaborates them is brilliantly original. Among the book's great pleasures is Rhodes's own writing; it is elegant, judicious, and finely modulated.

David E. James, University of Southern California

Much of our time at the movies is spent in other people’s homes. Cinema is, after all, often about everyday life. Spectacle of Property is the first book to address the question of the ubiquitous conjuncture of the moving image and its domestic architecture. Arguing that in cinema we pay to occupy spaces we cannot occupy, John David Rhodes explores how the house in cinema both structures and criticizes fantasies of property and ownership.

Rhodes tells the story of the ambivalent but powerful pleasure we take in looking at private property onscreen, analyzing the security and ease the house promises along with the horrible anxieties it produces. He begins by laying out a theory of film spectatorship that proposes the concept of the “spectator-tenant,” with reference to films such as Gone with the Wind and The Magnificent Ambersons. The book continues with three chapters that are each occupied with a different architectural style and the films that make use of it: the bungalow, the modernist house, and the shingle style house. Rhodes considers a variety of canonical films rarely analyzed side by side, such as Psycho in relation to Grey Gardens and Meet Me in St. Louis. Among the other films discussed are Meshes of the Afternoon, Mildred Pierce, A Star Is Born, Killer of Sheep, and A Single Man.

Bringing together film history, film theory, and architectural history as no book has to date, Spectacle of Property marks a new milestone in examining cinema’s relationship to realism while leaving us vastly more informed about, if less at home inside, the houses we occupy at the movies.

Spectacle of Property

John David Rhodes teaches at the University of Cambridge, where he is director of the Centre for Film and Screen. He is author of Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome and coeditor of Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image, both from Minnesota.

Spectacle of Property

Opening up a whole new and exciting field of study, Spectacle of Property is far more intelligent, interesting, and revelatory than most cinema studies books. John David Rhodes's combination of sensitive and nuanced close-readings of films and the rich theoretical contexts in which he elaborates them is brilliantly original. Among the book's great pleasures is Rhodes's own writing; it is elegant, judicious, and finely modulated.

David E. James, University of Southern California

Spectacle of Property is a far-reaching and original account of the relationship between private houses and cinematic spaces and the conflicted ways they are viewed and inhabited. Deftly analyzing a variety of different types of abodes and their gendered and race-inflected underpinnings, John David Rhodes demonstrates the way a house may determine the shape of a cinematic narrative. He provides new and fascinating interpretations of such iconic films as Mildred Pierce, To Kill a Mockingbird, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Psycho.

Merrill Schleier, author of Skyscraper Cinema: Architecture and Gender in American Film

Spectacle of Property is a brilliant, provocative, politically astute, and witty exploration of a fascinating topic. In looking at the ways in which houses and domestic architecture are figured in a wide range of American films, it gives us entirely new understandings of cinematic and architectural spaces and of our relationships to ‘property.’

Laura Marcus, University of Oxford

Spectacle of Property

Contents
Introduction: The House as Medium
1. Cinema's Short Term Tenancy: A Materialist Theory of Film Spectatorship
2. Wrong Life: Bungalow Aesthetics in and against Hollywood
3. All Too Easy: The Modernist House and Effortless Appropriation
4. Between the Past and the Present: Nostalgia and the Cinema of Stick and Shingle Style Architecture
Coda. From Porch to Attic: Condemned to Property in New Orleans
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index