The Complexity of Mainstream/Cult Favorites

Summer 2019

Vol. 19 no. 2

As film and media scholarship re-imagines research questions and shifts priorities to explore increasingly varied methodological and philosophical perspectives, in-depth studies of individual films remain part of the mix. Similarly, while research expands to examine media delivery systems, overlooked creative labor, ecological effects of global media, and connections between fan activity and transmedia storytelling, scholars continue to analyze and revisit films that first gained visibility as theatrical releases. The summer 2019 issue features three articles that show the value of reflecting on familiar American films that also enjoy cult status due to audiences’ investment in exploring their underlying meanings. Mikal Gaines offers new insights into Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) by discussing it in relation to black biopics. Ian Campbell sheds light on Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017) by also considering Nabokov’s metafictional novel Pale Fire. Alex Bordino effectively revisits David Lynch’s surreal film Inland Empire (2006), which capped a string of Lynch cult favorites that had wide appeal.   

                       --Cynthia Baron, Editor

Paid the Cost to be the Boss: Chadwick Boseman and Mythologizing the Black Superhero

by Mikal J. Gaines

This article explores how twenty-first century black biographical films (biopics) based on real historical events actively mythologize their subjects, while many Marvel films work to cultivate a sense of historicity that foregrounds, solidifies, and ultimately lends seriousness to their fictional heroes. It argues that this blurring of biography and superhero mythos points toward a deeper postmodern desire to challenge and replace established versions of history that fail to serve our present understandings. Using Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman’s career trajectory as a case study, it examines the ways in which, if the biopic has often served as a mechanism of legitimacy, a reward and proof of the actor’s special capabilities, it now functions as a stepping-stone to what has become the more culturally prestigious and significant work of rendering truth from myth.

Metafiction and Pale Fire in Blade Runner 2049

by Ian Campbell

This essay considers how the presence of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1963 novel Pale Fire in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, the 2017 sequel to the original Blade Runner, repositions the film as metafictional science fiction. It argues that the film demands to be watched and re-watched in conjunction with other texts, such as Pale Fire, in much the same manner as Nabokov’s novel demands to be read and re-read. The disjunctions and misdirections in the novel, centered on whether and to what extent its narrator can be trusted, enable us to view the film’s implied successful revolution by Replicants against their masters as an appealing but ultimately false narrative. This article also examines the ways in which the film uses a particular visual motif of focusing on holographic illusion as illusion, especially around the character of Joi, in order to both distract from and draw attention to the misdirection.

Metafiction and the Reversal of the Male Gaze in David Lynch’s Inland Empire

by Alex W. Bordino

Fictional worlds constructed within fictional worlds, or metafiction, have admittedly become overused in contemporary cultural production, though they nevertheless serve as a form of postmodern social critique. David Lynch’s 2006 film Inland Empire constructs several layers of metafiction, which, in their multiplicity, are more radically transgressive than the typical film-within-a-film scenario. Although the film seems to devolve into an endless spiral of incoherence as the existential crisis of Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) exacerbates, this article argues that there are five distinct metafictive layers, or diegetic worlds, established by Lynch. Through metafiction, Nikki’s trans-diegetic journey—literally becoming her character Susan Blue in the film within the film, On High in Blue Tomorrows—serves to disrupt patriarchal authority and reverse the male gaze associated with traditional Hollywood spectatorship.