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Face to Face with Terror: Children in Film

Chapter

Abstract

A pamphlet, Kidstuff: Childhood and Cinema, produced to accompany an extensive season of films at the ICA London, to mark the 1979 International Year of the Child, focuses in its introductory essay on how certain images of ‘childhood’ (the child as innocent, as silent, as a site of memory, or as an anterior to rational thought and so on) amount to a ‘set of ideological assumptions about childhood, as a transcendental period of human life’. Such unproblematized idealizations do not address issues of childhood so much as issues of adulthood. ‘The ideological work of cinema’, that is to say, ‘is to systematically and unconsciously rule out the intervention of actual children in the range of attitudes available to them to make sense of their lives’.2 We might say, a certain fantasmatic child labour is put into operation, whereby surplus value is returned to adults in terms of symbolic capital, as our own heuristic investment. The child’s work is to carry, unwittingly, the burden of signification.

Keywords

Symbolic Capital Ideological Work Primal Scene Child Figure Pirate Ship 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    T. Jousse, Les Cahiers du Cinéma, Cannes 88, n.93 (June 1989);Google Scholar
  2. quoted in F. Vallet (1991), L’Image de l’enfant au cinéma (Paris: Éditions du CERF, 1991), p. 115. Translations from the French throughout this essay are my own unless otherwise noted.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    R. Wood, Personal Views: Explorations in Film (London: Gordon Fraser, 1976), pp. 170–1.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    M. Keller, The Untutored Eye: Childhood in the Films of Cocteau, Cornell and Brakhage (London: Associated UP, 1986), pp. 19, 22, 25, 37, 32.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
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    Kubiak, op. cit., pp. 6–8. The relevant passages from Hesiod appear in 11. 934–8 of Theogony, and 11. 143–7 of The Shield of Herakles. Kubiak quotes from Hesiod, The Works and Days, Theogony, The Shield of Herakles, tr. Richard Lattimore (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959).Google Scholar
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    I am indebted to Ellie Ragland’s account of Lacan’s reading of the ‘Burning Child’ dream from Freud in E. Ragland, ‘Lacan, the Death Drive, and the Dream of the Burning Child’, in E. Bronfen and S.W. Goodwin, eds., Death and Representation (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), pp. 80–102.Google Scholar
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    This example is included by Linda Ehrlich in her discussion of the role of the child protagonist and the proper name as a sustainer of identity in situations of political-historical crisis. See L.C. Ehrlich, ‘The Name of the Child: Cinema as Social Critique’, Film Criticism 14.2 (Winter 1989–90), pp. 12–23.Google Scholar
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    G. Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, tr. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Athlone Press, 1989), pp. 1–3.Google Scholar
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    A. Bazin, ‘The Virtues and Limitations of Montage’, What Is Cinema?, vol. 1, ed. and tr. Hugh Gray (London: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 41–52.Google Scholar
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    M. Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, tr. Ann Smock (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), pp. 72, 82. Freud’s primal scene theory is in large part built upon the Wolf Man’s recall, in adulthood, of a childhood dream of the white wolves outside his bedroom window.Google Scholar
  21. See S. Freud, ‘From the History of an Infantile Neurosis’ in Case Histories II: The ‘Rat Man’, Schreber, The ‘Wolf Man’, A Case of Female Homosexuality (The Penguin Freud Library, vol. 9), tr. James Strachey, ed. Angela Richards (London: Penguin, 1979), especially pp. 259 ff.Google Scholar
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    I. Ang, ‘Hegemony-in-Trouble: Nostalgia and the Ideology of the Impossible in European Cinema’, in D. Petrie, ed., Screening Europe: Image and Identity in Contemporary European Cinema (London: BFI, 1992), pp. 21–31 (26).Google Scholar
  23. 31.
    Ang, pp. 28–9. Chocolat is a film made by a woman with a female child protagonist. There might still, however, have been space here for Susannah Radstone’s critique of patriarchal evasions in those films of boyhood where an historical problematic is evaded with an autobiographical pathos. Instead of citing the problem of the subject and history on its own body, she argues, ‘masculinity’ displaces it, in certain instances, either onto stories about women’s bodies or stories about remembered boyhoods. This amounts to a refusal of suffering, offering instead the ‘pathetic tears of History’, with a gaze back to a time that never was or forward to a time these narrators fear to enter because it is not theirs. S. Radstone, ‘Cinema/memory/history’, Screen, 36.1 (Summer 1995), pp. 34–47. In these lights, Denis’s conclusion is not such an evasion: the blank past and future are at least written on the adult France’s hand, or at least she recognizes them to be so.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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