Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 6, February 2003



Deborah Thomas


A Reply to Mogg and Chopra-Gant



Ken Mogg

'Small World: Deborah Thomas's _Beyond Genre_'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 4, February 2003


Mike Chopra-Gant

'Hollywood Spaces: Deborah Thomas's _Reading Hollywood_'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 5, February 2003


Reply to Ken Mogg


While I suppose it is a good thing for one's ideas to provoke such a forceful and deeply felt response, I am genuinely perplexed at the extent to which Ken Mogg has personalized his attacks on me in his review and at the extent of his aggression. Further, many of the points he makes are subjective and asserted with no evidence given in their support. For example, 'the theory itself is unexciting', the reading of _An Affair to Remember_ is 'an ugly reading, a petty reading', and so on. He is, of course, entitled to these opinions, as well as to the emotive language he uses throughout, but it is impossible to engage usefully with him when so little argument is presented in their support. He also ascribes positions to me which are simply not the case, describing me as 'of a largely theoretical bent' and in possession of 'essentially an aesthetic temperament'. Although I present a theoretical framework in the opening chapter and in the summings up at the end of each subsequent chapter, the heart of the book is in the detailed criticism of each specific film. In any case, the theoretical framework is not intended as a hermetically sealed aesthetic one, but as a look at how American films engage with real social hierarchies of power and status outside the films, reproducing them in melodramatic films and transforming them in comedic ones.


Nonetheless, there are a couple of points to which I can respond. Firstly, Mogg's opening point about the recapitulation of my argument on page 36 seems to indicate that he took that to mean a recapitulation of the overall argument of the book up to that point. Occurring in the section on _Bigger Than Life_, it was intended, rather, to pull together what had been argued about that one film only. He asserts -- and does nothing more than assert -- that the argument is slow to emerge. Once again, that is his opinion and he is entitled to it, and there is little I can do to counter his claim beyond suggesting that readers look at what I say in the book and make up their minds for themselves. Secondly, in a footnote, Mogg asks whether _Psycho_ is a melodrama or a comedy, claiming that such a question challenges 'the easy categorisation that Thomas attempts to set up in her book'. And yet it is a continuing theme within the book that many American films involve a complex interplay between the two, with few films being wholly one thing or the other. I argue that the melodramatic and the comedic are general tendencies, rather than absolute and mutually exclusive categories. On the more specific issue of _Psycho_, I argue that its narrative world is melodramatic (dangerous, repressive, malign, and so on), while using 'black humour' to evoke hollow laughter in the face of such acknowledged melodramatic qualities. This sort of humour is very different from what I identify as comedic qualities. Films which make us laugh are not necessarily the same as what I call comedic films (those which transform their narrative worlds and characters for the better). Mogg's question about _Psycho_, rather than challenging my schema, can be readily accommodated within it.


Reply to Mike Chopra-Gant


On the issue of whether some films are more valuable than others, I certainly stand by my claim that some films reward close examination more than others. However, I don't see this as necessarily leading to a 'process of canonization of certain films', a position I explicitly reject in the conclusion of the book. I am completely open to being convinced by others -- by 'ordinary' viewers as well as academic critics -- that a given film is of interest, though I reserve my right to offer counter-arguments of my own. It seems to me crucial that the views of others are tested, rather than taken on faith, and that we all return to whatever film is at issue in order to see for ourselves.


University of Sunderland, England



Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003


Deborah Thomas, 'A Reply to Mogg and Chopra-Gant', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 6, February 2003 <>.


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