Commentary Track

The Death of Stalin (2017)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

The Death of Stalin (2017) 11.14.19
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary Track begins at 17:57

— Notes —

  • “What’s Fact and Fiction in The Death of Stalin” by Ellin Stein from Slate
  • The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory by David Macey — This is a wonderfully useful reference guide to various critical terms one might encounter in various field of cultural study. Highly recommended. We’ll include some of the relevant terms from our discussion below:
    • Hyperreality
      • “A term used by Eco (1975) in an essay on the culture of those American museums and theme parks where an illusion of absolute reality is created by holographs, dioramas and detailed reproductions of original works of art. They represent a hyperreal dimension in which the American imagination demands the real thing and, in order to attain it, fabricates the absolute fake. With cynical amusement, Eco describes the facsimile of the bill of sale of Manhattan to be found in museum shops. It looks old, feels old and even smells old. It is almost real. But, Eco points out, its pseudo-antique characters are written in English whereas the original was in Dutch. Hyperreality is the defining characteristic of amusement cities such as Las Vegas or Disneyland ; they are real fakes. They are also more real than the real. The real crocodile in the zoo may be asleep or hiding, but Disneyland’s fake-real crocodiles never fail to appear on cue. Baudrillard also describes Disneyland in these terms, and is fascinated by the way in which it causes the aesthetic to disappear into kitsch and hyperreality (1986). Whilst the notion of hyperreality obviously stems from an encounter between European intellectuals and American culture, hyperreality itself is now more familiar thanks to Eurodisney and the Centerparc holiday resorts which reproduce a semi-tropical climate inside domes in the English countryside.”

    • Panopticism
      • “Expression formed from ‘pan’ and ‘optic’ (‘all-seeing’) and coined by Foucault (1975) to describe a form of power which relies not upon overt repression but upon the constant surveillance of a population and ‘discipline’, or the regimentation of the body. Panopticism is an important feature of modern disciplinary societies. Foucault derives the notion of panopticism from the writings of British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832; see the materials collected as Bentham 1996). Bentham’s original ‘panopticon’ is a model prison. A tower stands at the centre of a hollow circular structure housing a number of individual cells. The tower, which is also circular, is pierced by windows that allow a supervisor to look into the cells without being seen. The individual prisoner never knows whether he is under surveillance or not, and therefore assumes that he is; he is trapped by visibility. For Foucault, the major effect of the panopticon is to induce in the inmate a feeling of conscious and permanent visibility that ensures the automatic functioning of a regime of silent discipline. He argues that panopticism is also a structural feature of mental hospitals, educational institutions and factories, and that it introduces a regime of power based upon visibility and silence. Foucault’s study of panopticism and the origins of the modern prison system opens with a diptych contrasting the noisy spectacle of the public judicial torture of the Ancien Regime and the silent discipline of the contemporary prison.”

  • A Companion to Film Comedy edited by Andrew Horton and Joanna E. Rapf — We didn’t make use of them during the episode, but there are several compelling essays here that can provide lots of insight into a film like The Death of Stalin – “The Totalitarian Comedy of Lubitch’s To Be or Not To Be” by Maria DiBattista being the most directly related; it’s fantastic. While we gladly recommend the essays in this anthology, Wiley-Blackwell books tend to come with an extortionate price tag. Do not buy this book at full price, if you can help it.

— Corrections —

  • We recorded this episode on November 14th, Olga Kurylenko’s birthday, and neglected to send her well wishes. We have promptly added ourselves to our own list.

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