Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0913-3382

Year of Publication

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Pearl James

Abstract

Since performers first became credited for their on-screen work in the early twentieth century, stardom has been understood as a primary factor distinguishing cinema as a unique, discrete art form. Much of the work done by canonical film scholars emphasizes film as a continuous medium defined by relation, as well as the irreducible value of human presence in creating meaning that transcends the boundaries of film. These are important cornerstones of star studies, a subfield within film studies that interrogates how film performers accrue and project meaning and value. They also isolate continuity as a singular tool for developing approaches to understanding cultural and ideological value of film stars – determining why certain stars are such powerful commodities and addressing the deceptively elusive question of what they actually mean.

Through careful inspection of the transactions between film production and culture, my dissertation – “He’ll Just Be Paul Newman Anyway: Film Continuity and the Star Image” – pursues two primary goals regarding the cultivation of stardom and our understanding of star persona. First, I reestablish the star image as a discrete force, informed by on-screen performances and off-screen biography but remaining distinct from both (following the framework of French film theorist Edgar Morin). I attempt to disentangle these figures, asserting star image – the intangible, ethereal collection of values, expectations, and investment constituted from both performer and character – as the central mechanism for interpreting human presence. Second, I explore the notion that narrow range of performance and on-screen consistency are more essential to developing stardom than the revelation of the performer’s actual self. This position applies both to the production of stars and to our critical understanding of them, creating compelling connections to central debates of film studies. In doing so, my goal is to reassert the star as the most valuable and definitive source of meaning in film.

The combination of Paul Newman’s on-screen continuity, enduring persona, and career trajectory (rising to stardom during the fall of the studio system) makes him uniquely valuable for understanding the evolution of film stardom and encourages new perspective on the development and deployment of star image. Moreover, Newman is an ideal subject for investigating the star image as a discrete force and the function of range in its development. Through critical examination of his on-screen tendency to “go his own way,” I demonstrate the immense value stars can offer to our understanding of the moving image and surrounding culture(s). Moreover, in asserting star persona as a discrete force integral to interpreting the meaning of human presence in film, I also cultivate a contextual understanding of the rebel archetype in response to changing dominant cultural ideologies. In doing so, my work directly addresses valuable questions essential to and extending beyond film studies: why stardom is essential to defining film and understanding how it signifies, how star persona is accumulated and deployed in individual films and across a whole career, and what meanings are generated and revealed by the star as an projection of social values and ideals.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2018.423

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