Dirty Jokes and Fairy Tales: David Mamet and the Narrative Capability of Film

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David Mamet is best known as a playwright, but he also has a thriving film career, both as screenwriter and as director. He has taken very seriously each of these roles, formulating theories that, he suggests, account for the creative choices he makes. Though Mamet sometimes contradicts himself, as when he suggests that viewers should have the satisfaction of constructing their own meaning of a work, but at the same time is devoted to montage, which works by juxtaposing images that lead to a single interpretation, he clearly sees the story as a critical avenue into the spectator's unconscious, where ... continued below

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i, 239 leaves

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Haspel, Jane Seay May 1997.

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  • Haspel, Jane Seay

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David Mamet is best known as a playwright, but he also has a thriving film career, both as screenwriter and as director. He has taken very seriously each of these roles, formulating theories that, he suggests, account for the creative choices he makes. Though Mamet sometimes contradicts himself, as when he suggests that viewers should have the satisfaction of constructing their own meaning of a work, but at the same time is devoted to montage, which works by juxtaposing images that lead to a single interpretation, he clearly sees the story as a critical avenue into the spectator's unconscious, where he hopes it will resonate with a truth that speaks directly to the individual. His films House of Games, Things Change, and Homicide clearly reflect his ideas on the best ways of conveying a story on film. In House of Games, Mamet draws on Bruno Bettelheim's theories to construct a fairy tale designed to act on adult viewers in the same way that fairy tales act on the child. In Things Change, he creates a fable that explores issues of friendship and honor within the milieu of the gangster genre. And in Homicide, Mamet uses the expectations viewers bring to the theatre in anticipation of a genre film to explore themes of loyalty and identity. In Oleanna, however, Mamet relies heavily on exposition and dialogue, rather than the visual elements that separate the film from drama, which renders the film the antithesis of his long-held philosophy of film narrative. Mamet's best film work, in House of Games and Homicide, has been innovative and thought-provoking, bringing depth to the new noir and redefining the cop film. His work in Oleanna, though it may prove to be an anomaly, may suggest a surrender of his principles of filmmaking or a reformulation of them to fit some new vision.

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i, 239 leaves

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  • May 1997

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  • March 24, 2014, 8:07 p.m.

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  • May 22, 2015, 9 a.m.

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Haspel, Jane Seay. Dirty Jokes and Fairy Tales: David Mamet and the Narrative Capability of Film, dissertation, May 1997; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc278457/: accessed October 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .