Richard Schickel’s well-researched biography of Griffith chronicles his racism.
There is little evidence that Griffith had non-racist intentions, and evidence that he did. One sample title card from TBOAN (he co-wrote the film): “The Ku Klux Klan, the organization that saved the South from the anarchy of black rule.” The meaning seems as clear as the Bruce Springsteen lyrics you quoted earlier in this thread.
This is why I consider original intentions an aesthetic straitjacket: “I am pretty sure they never tried to be anything more than entertainment.” Besides the fact that one can not be 100% certain about intentions (and I agree that there are degrees of certainty), I would maintain that it is possible that once in a while (maybe more often) the final artwork exceeds the intention(s) of its maker(s)–that the components they have assembled into an entertainment can also be read/seen as something else. But (if I am understanding you correctly) to read the components as “something else” is not a valid reading (no matter how well-supported by formal elements) if that “something else” was not intended by the makers. Hence the aesthetic straitjacket–the only valid readings are those which can be confirmed by extrafilmic reference to records of artistic intention.
Okay–now you seem to be gesturing toward my understanding–that there are additional understandings and arrangements possible beyond those indicated by stated artistic intentions.
I do not understand the distinction you are drawing between “hidden messages” about the zeitgeist and “reflections” of the zeitgeist. I have a vague idea, but I will hold off for the moment.
I agree with the additional stipulation that four of the Bond films show their directors shaping the en vogue (beyond merely making them fit into their films’ overall design), while also exhibiting (albeit mildly) an attitude toward them. I think Orion’s comment is pertinent here:
Mendes clearly dialed back his auteurist tendencies which I think helps make his films successful since the Bond franchise formula is not amenable to full-bore auteurist treatment. SKYFALL was Mendes’ first rough pass at getting the alchemy correct, and SPECTRE his subsequent successful conjuring (after which he wisely gave Bond up in my opinion, though I am interested to see how he will apply the lessons he learned on future films since I would bet that the Bond experience left him a better filmmaker). Hamilton reaches a similar position, but from the opposite direction: a metteur-en-scene who kept tight rein on his auteurist tendencies, though some did leak through as he acknowledged. In both cases, an auteur-lite approach was achieved which served the franchise better than those of other directors.
Agreed, but whether or not that scene reflects Young’s views does not alter a judgment about whether the scene is racist or not. Even if it turned out that Young were an ardent anti-racist who marched with Dr. King, the fact is that the scene is in the movie.
True, but at that time such attitudes were not universally accepted and practiced, and in some precincts they were condemned (TBOAN was criticized as racist even in 1915).
I agree that the films employed elements of their zeitgeists, but they selected among these elements, and in this instance DN could have selected an alternate depiction of race relations–the zeitgeist at the time had more than one. I am not saying that Young picked this one as a reflection of his own values or as an example of what he thought were proper race relations, but he put it in his film, and it must be dealt with as what you refer to as “examples based on what everyone can see or read” (if your intentionality argument is to be maintained).
For me, the scene is objectively racist, and even if we knew definitively that a) Young was anti-racist and did not include the scene in an approving way (which is probably true); and b) such relations were prevalent at the time of the making of the film, such knowledge does not mitigate the objective racism of the scene. In the same way, knowing that Griffith was a racist does not make the title card I quoted above any more racist than it objectively is.
Agreed, but there were people in 1962 who had the same outlook you possess in 2019–there may not have been as many as today, but it was not an unknown understanding. In fact, it was well-known and widespread enough to be fiercely opposed.
I agree it would be wrong. I do not think the films are intended as “pamphlets of white supremacist ideas” (just based on the internal evidence of their formal elements). However, the films do contain on occasion representations that align with white supremacist ideas about race and culture.
But if there is no firm perspective, how can one determine intentionality? If the measure of an interpretation’s validity is how it matches up to artistic intentions, but the intention is not to be firm, then either no interpretation is valid or they all are.
If the artists’ intentions were nothing more than to entertain, then the elements of the film were chosen on the basis of their entertainment value. But if the artists are merely reflecting and eschewing any firm perspective, then they are not choosing on the basis of wanting to entertain, and such passive mirroring can as likely result in incorporating elements that offend as those which entertain.
I agree; it is a huge problem.
Again, I agree. I believe that I have supported my reading of DAF by citing numerous formal elements from the film itself (which is the controlling document so to speak and available to all). Extrafilmic sources such as interviews and production histories are nice, but they are not among the formal elements of a work of art. They can be useful in providing guidance on what to look for and where, and even suggest possible avenues of interpretation, but a reading’s validity is–as you note–based on what everyone can see or read, and the only thing that everyone can see and read is the artwork itself.
Update: an additional thought. Different viewers will use different critical prisms (and not all prisms will be to an individual’s taste). Dustin employed a psychological one in his writing on SKYFALL. I use a queer theory lens (with a soupcon of late modernism). Many approaches are valid, but the interpretations that result from their being brought to bear on an artwork can only be valid if a significant number of formal elements are examined and put to use. If the elements are cherry-picked and few in number, then the interpretation will most often be weak and invalid.