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Introduction: Letter from an Unknown Woman

  • Edward Gallafent
Part of the Palgrave Close Readings in Film and Television book series (CRFT)

Abstract

Most of this book consists of close readings of four films, and I begin by outlining my approach to them. The object that the first word of my title brings to mind may well be the package that comes in the mail or, in grander contexts, the missive, the epistle. I look at how such letters are treated in the films, but I shall be engaging with other meanings of the word as well. ‘Letters’ of course also means the characters of the alphabet, and the use of the word extends to refer to anything written or printed in letters, any text, sign or inscription. I approach the films via the meanings I derive from the treatment of words we see in the course of their narratives, those written by hand or printed or incised. I also look at particular moments in which words are dramatised: they are being read out, or we watch them being written or both of these things happen in succession.

Keywords

Close Reading Opening Sentence Intimate Exchange Chalk Board Hollywood Film 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Andrew Britton, ‘The Ideology of Screen’, in Movie 26 (Winter 1978/79) p.26;Google Scholar
  2. reprinted in Barry Keith Grant (ed.) Britton on Film, Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 2009, p. 420.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Stanley Cavell, The Senses of Walden (New York, The Viking Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  4. Garrett Stewart, The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  5. John T. Irwin, American Hieroglyphics (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  6. Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: Essays on American Literature (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  7. Tony Tanner, Scenes of Nature, Signs of Men (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 3.
    Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    Garrett Stewart, Between Film and Screen: Modernism’s Photo Synthesis (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  10. Jonathan Bignell (ed.), Writing and Cinema (Harlow, Pearson Education, 1999).Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    Walter Benjamin, noting the appearance of the first lithographic poster in the London of 1861, writes that ‘the first drops of a shower of letters ran down the walls and houses (today it pours unremittingly, day and night, on the big cities).’ See Ursula Marx, Gudrun Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, Erdmut Wizisla (eds), Walter Benjamin’s Archive: Images, Texts, Signs (London, Verso, 2007), p. 62.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    For this subject see Judith Buchanan (ed.), The Writer on Film: Screening Literary Authorship (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    See Robert E. Meyer, ‘Outside the Source: Credit Sequences in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and 25th Hour’ in David L. Kranz and Nancy C. Mellerski (eds), In/fidelity: Essays on Film Adaptation (Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008). Also Georg Stanitzek and Noelle Aplevich, ‘Reading the Title Sequence (Vorspann, Générique)’, Cinema Journal 48, Number 4Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    There is a wide range of writing on Ophuls, but for work specifically on this film see Stanley Cavell, Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1996), pp. 81–113,Google Scholar
  15. V.F. Perkins, ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ in Movie 29/30 (1982), 61–72,Google Scholar
  16. V.F. Perkins, ‘Same Tune Again! Repetition and Framing in Letter from an Unknown Woman’ in CineAction No. 52 (2000), 40–48.Google Scholar
  17. George Wilson, Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 103–125.Google Scholar
  18. Robin Wood, ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman: The Double Narrative’ in Sexual Politics and Narrative Film (New York, Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 198–224.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    According to the editors of the published script, there was an additional line in the shooting script at the end of Lisa’s speech on parting from Stefan at the station: ‘But not quite all of you…the child, our son, was born in a charity hospital.’ See Virginia Wright Wexman and Karen Hollinger (eds), Letter from an Unknown Woman (Rutgers Films in Print Series Vol . 5) (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1986), p. 146.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Edward Gallafent 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Gallafent
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickUK

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