Critical Discourse and the Cultural Consecration of American Films

*
Allen, Michael Patrick. Lincoln, Anne E.
Social Forces, Volume 82, Number 3, March 2004, pp. 871-893 (Article)

Published by The University of North Carolina Press DOI: 10.1353/sof.2004.0030

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The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 871

Critical Discourse and the Cultural Consecration of American Films*
MICHAEL PATRICK ALLEN, Washington State University ANNE E. LINCOLN, Washington State University

Abstract
This research examines the effects of contemporaneous critical, professional, and popular recognition, as well as the effects of the extent of subsequent critical discourse about films and their directors, on the retrospective cultural consecration of American films. Specifically, it examines a sample of 1,277 films released from 1929 to 1991 that received three or more major Academy Award nominations or were selected among the ten best films of the year by either the New York Times or the National Board of Review or were among the top ten films in terms of box-office revenues in a given year. The analysis focuses on the characteristics of those films that were retrospectively consecrated either by inclusion among the 100 greatest films by the American Film Institute or by inclusion in the National Film Registry. Contemporaneous professional and recognition of the director of a film is especially important in determining the likelihood of retrospective consecration. In addition, the extent of critical discourse both about a film and about its director is important in determining the likelihood of retrospective consecration. Overall, the findings confirm that the retrospective consecration of films is affected by the discourse produced by film critics and scholars who function, in effect, as reputational entrepreneurs. However, this discourse is influenced by the availability of certain cultural schemas. Specifically, the ascendancy of “auteur theory” as a discourse of value within film studies serves to privilege the director as the primary creative agent in film production. It also serves to privilege certain directors over others. In 1989, when the National Film Preservation Board selected the first 25 films to be included in the National Film Registry, one of the films chosen was The
* The authors are indebted to John Campbell, Mary Blair-Loy, Paul DiMaggio, Denise Bielby, William Bielby, John Mohr, Michael Schudson, Gary Alan Fine, Tom Rotolo, Greg Hooks, Amy Wharton, and the members of the Social Inequalities Workshop at Washington State University for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Please direct all correspondence to Michael P. Allen, Department of Sociology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 991644020. E-mail: allenm@wsu.edu. © The University of North Carolina Press Social Forces, March 2004, 82(3):871-894

There have been no systematic analyses of more formal processes of cultural consecration. Consecration is especially important within the field of cultural production. the process of cultural consecration is often more formalized in those fields of cultural production that are less autonomous from the field of economic production. However. cultural consecration occurs whenever distinctions are imposed that serve to separate individuals and achievements that are worthy of admiration and respect from those that are not. The Searchers was “repetitious” and “overlong. Nine years later. the major trade publication of the film industry. awards. Zolberg 1990). they are more difficult to ignore if their works have won important awards and prizes (Todd 1996). Lamont 1987. According to Bourdieu (1991:119-20). but they have paid much less attention to more formal processes of retrospective cultural consecration (Bourdieu 1991. Although The Searchers was one of the top ten films of 1956 in terms of box-office income. it did not receive any awards from the New York Film Critics Circle. scholars. and other writers. it was not included among the ten best films selected by either the New York Times or the National Board of Review in 1956. it did not garner any professional awards or much critical acclaim when it was released. Dowd et al.” Similar unfavorable criticisms were expressed by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. Corse & Griffin 1997. It was not among the 28 American films that were nominated for major Academy Awards that year. There have been a number of historical studies of the processes by which scientists receive Nobel Prizes (Feldman 2000) or athletes are elected to the Hall of Fame (James 1994). Ironically. Lang & Lang 1988). and prizes is a pervasive and highly visible aspect of everyday life (Goode 1978. Nevertheless.” The consecration of this film by these two cultural institutions from the tens of thousands of American films produced over the past century was paradoxical on a number of counts. Levy 1990). This lack of attention to formal processes of cultural consecration is somewhat surprising given the fact that the conferring of honors. the most important distinctions are those that are imposed by cultural institutions that can legitimately claim that function (DiMaggio 1992).” Of course. these studies have been largely descriptive and atheoretical. . Kapsis 1992.872 / Social Forces 82:3. the consecration of The Searchers four decades after its release is important because it illustrates some of the intricacies of the process of cultural consecration. March 2004 Searchers. where cultural producers struggle primarily for legitimacy rather than profits (Bourdieu 1993). Moreover. cultural consecration is an act of “social magic” that produces “discontinuity out of continuity. Last but not least. a western directed by John Ford. Writers whose books are popular may be ignored by critics. In the words of the reviewer for Variety. the most influential film critic in America at the time. Sociologists have devoted considerable attention to the manner in which the reputations of cultural producers and their products are created and perpetuated (Becker 1982. Specifically. DeNora 1995. 2002. the American Film Institute included it among the “100 greatest American films of all time. However.

it examines the extent to which cultural schemas.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 873 In many cases. This research proposes a theory of retrospective cultural consecration and examines the empirical adequacy of this theory as it applies to American films. None of these studies has examined the more formal process of retrospective cultural consecration. which frame the discourse about films and their directors. Cultural valorization involves the use of aesthetic judgment to assign cultural value to cultural producers and products. Indeed. cultural organizations and institutions sometimes endeavor to establish the legitimacy of a field of cultural production by identifying the most exemplary achievements by cultural producers within that field over a prolonged period of time. to the contrary. The Cultural Consecration of Films The process of cultural consecration can be seen as one aspect of the more general and pervasive process of cultural valorization. it examines the implicit criteria employed by both the American Film Institute and the National Film Registry in selecting films for retrospective consecration. affect the retrospective consecration of American films. its age.277 films released from 1929 to 1991 that received popular. Consecration. The analysis is based on a sample of 1. To this end. professional. Finally. cultural producers and their products are consecrated retrospectively rather than contemporaneously. It examines those factors that affect the likelihood of a film being retrospectively consecrated. Consecration. the ultimate form of cultural consecration is to be the subject of a retrospective exhibition by a major museum (Heinich 1996). and the extent of critical discourse about the film and its director. or critical recognition at the time of their release. is a distinct form of valorization inasmuch as it imposes discrete distinctions between those cultural producers and products that deserve admiration and respect and those that do not. This assumption was explicit in the retrospective consecration projects conducted by both the National Film Registry and the American Film Institute. Valorization imposes distinctions among cultural producers and products. produces “discontinuity out of continuity” by . In the field of fine art. but these distinctions are typically continuous rather than discrete. Previous studies of artistic reputations have consisted primarily of qualitative analyses of the historical processes by which certain individuals have established their reputations as artists. including the extent of its contemporaneous recognition. however. Very few studies (Lang & Lang 1988) have examined historical changes in the reputations of different cultural producers and products over time. These acts of retrospective consecration are based on the premise that only the most legitimate cultural producers and cultural products survive the “test of time” (Becker 1982:365).

874 / Social Forces 82:3. these consecration projects also achieve another purpose. Bourdieu asserts (1993:50-51) that there are three primary forms of legitimacy: “specific” legitimacy. denying it to other producers and their products. Bourdieu (1988:259) re- . 1993. However. these cultural organizations promote the legitimacy of the entire field of cultural production.” established these prizes in order to recognize excellence in the nascent profession of journalism. which emanate from outside the field of production. Pulitzer felt that the competition for these awards might foster higher standards among journalists. and “popular” legitimacy. Joseph Pulitzer. an award is given to a cultural producer in recognition of their achievement in producing a particular cultural product. which is based on public acclaim. he proclaims that “cultural consecration does indeed confer on the objects. This is clearly the case. who was denounced during his lifetime for engaging in “yellow journalism. The study of cultural consecration and its effects is central in the work of Bourdieu (1984. In this sense. He also believed that these awards would help establish the cultural legitimacy of journalism as a profession and a field of cultural production. Of course. His appropriation of the term consecration. persons and situations it touches a sort of ontological promotion akin to transubstantiation. “bourgeois” legitimacy. for example. which is conferred by other cultural producers. with the Pulitzer Prizes. with its religious connotations surrounding the “magical” separation of the sacred from the profane.” It is important to note that cultural value is distinct from economic value. In recognizing exemplary achievements within a field. 1996). These consecration projects usually involve the presentation of honors and awards that recognize achievements of excellence within a field of cultural production. In particular. one of the purposes of any award or honor is to provide others with incentives to emulate those exemplary achievements (Goode 1978). which is conferred by the agents and institutions of the dominant class. Typically. by implication. March 2004 separating the great from the merely good. In the introduction to Distinction (Bourdieu 1984:6). Cultural consecration is important because it involves granting cultural legitimacy to certain cultural producers and their products and. Moreover. cultural producers become more concerned with the specific legitimacy conferred upon them by other producers and less concerned with popular legitimacy or even bourgeois legitimacy. an autonomous field of cultural production represents “an economic world turned upside down” (Bourdieu 1996:81). to the extent that a field of cultural production becomes autonomous from the field of economic production. Any formal consecration project entails an assertion on the part of an organization that it possesses the institutional legitimacy to consecrate certain cultural producers and their products as legitimate. Formal rites of cultural consecration are typically conducted by organizations. Sociologists typically view cultural value in terms of cultural legitimacy. is deliberate.

” Formal cultural consecration is especially important in the field of film production because films are both an art form and an industrial commodity. retrospective cultural consecration projects are more selective in terms of the number of cultural products and producers that are consecrated.” Recently. In this sense. For example. Indeed. the National Film Registry has chosen 350 films. As part of this legislation. the National Film Registry. For instance. the National Board of Review is imposing a distinction between the best films and all the other films released in that year. the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. and the New York Film Critics are each engaged in their own contemporaneous cultural consecration projects. the New York Times. In general. Indeed. including documentaries. the legitimacy of the Pulitzer Prizes derives from the legitimacy of the Pulitzer Prize Committee and the procedures it employs in awarding these prizes.” Every year since 1989. the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was established in 1927 by a group of actors. and producers for the express purpose of improving the reputation of films as an art form. was created by the U. the recognition that any cultural product or its producer receives from cultural organizations and institutions immediately following its production represents a form of contemporaneous cultural consecration. In the past 14 years. as Bourdieu (1991:120) argues. was created by the U. Only those films that are at least ten years old are eligible for inclusion in this registry.S. “the distinctions that are the most efficacious socially are those which give the appearance of being based on objective differences. The Academy Awards were created the following year in order to recognize “outstanding achievements in the arts and sciences of motion pictures” (Sands 1973:46). the National Board of Review. Congress in 1988. These formal consecration projects were part of larger efforts by these institutions to confirm the legitimacy of film as an art form (DiMaggio 1992). the librarian. in consultation with the 18 members of the National Film Preservation Board and the staff of the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress. or aesthetic significance.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 875 fers to this process as “consecration through contagion. Congress in 1965. historical. in selecting the “ten best” films of the year. To some extent. However. directors. One institution. The other institution. retrospective cultural consecration projects often claim that their results are valid because these cultural producers and products have survived the “test of time. two established cultural institutions have engaged in the retrospective consecration of American films. the legitimacy of both the organization and its consecration project are based on the perceived legitimacy of its procedures. Moreover.” Moreover. contemporaneous consecration does not typically impart the same cultural legitimacy as that derived from retrospective consecration. writers. one of its missions is to increase the . According to its charter. has selected 25 films for inclusion in the National Film Registry. the librarian of Congress is required to identify and preserve films of “cultural. the American Film Institute.S.

even though it did not garner any professional or critical acclaim when it was released. it does appear that many cultural products and their producers fail to survive the “test of time. the cinematic and thematic conventions of classical Hollywood films from the 1930s and 1940s have become “transparent” and. which was chosen by both the American Film Institute and the National Film Registry. the process of social aging does not explain why many of the films that have been retrospectively consecrated were not viewed as being all that exceptional when they were first released. who reviewed the film for the New York Times. as witnessed by the professional and critical recognition they received at the time of their release.876 / Social Forces 82:3.” It was also one of the top ten films in terms of box-office income that year. The American Film Institute (1997) suggested that these films be selected on the basis of such criteria as critical recognition. To this end.500 film professionals. less compelling to modern film audiences. March 2004 “recognition and understanding of the moving image as an art form. and cultural impact. The Country Girl was not included among the films retrospectively consecrated by either the American Film Institute or the National Film Registry. Indeed. The effects of social ageing may explain why many films that were once considered exceptional. Indeed. the American Film Institute initiated a project to identify the 100 greatest American films of the century. as a result of repetition. As a result. therefore. A case in point is The Country Girl. a case in point is The Searchers. Bosley Crowther. Bourdieu asserts (1966:253) that artists and their works are subject to “banalization” as audiences become increasingly familiar with the artistic conventions associated with particular artists and genres.” One explanation is that the reputations of artists and their works are often eroded by a process of social aging (Bourdieu 1996:254). As indicated earlier.” . films that received professional or critical acclaim when they were released decades ago may seem conventional and unexceptional by contemporary standards. and scholars to select the “100 greatest American films of all time” using a list of 400 films compiled by its staff. Despite this professional.” In conjunction with the centennial of the film industry in 1995. In their search for artists and works that “last.” retrospective consecration projects inadvertently ignore the fact that the process of collective memory has profound effects on the reputations of those artists and their works. it recruited an expert panel of 1. have not been retrospectively consecrated. and popular recognition. critics. historical significance. some film scholars (Ray 1985) argue that. critical. However. which received seven major Academy Award nominations and was chosen as one of the ten best films of 1954 by both the New York Times and the National Board of Review. As Becker (1982:365) observes. These and other retrospective cultural consecration projects proceed from the common assumption that the best art is “what lasts” over time (Becker 1982:365). “what lasting consists of is not very clear. proclaimed it to be “one of the fine and forceful pictures of the year. Specifically.

The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 877 Researchers in the field of collective memory have shown that the cultural representations of public figures and historical events often shift over time in response to changing social conditions as well as the efforts of individuals and groups (Ducharme & Fine 1995. As Ferguson (1998:635) puts it. Fine (1996) argues that the reputations of historical figures are often shaped by the discourse produced by “reputational entrepreneurs” who possess the requisite institutional and rhetorical resources to produce and disseminate this discourse.” It is apparent that discourse is also important in the process of cultural consecration within these fields. the reputations of films and those who produce them. Within film studies. The existence of competing discourses of value may explain why films that receive professional recognition from other cultural producers are not always the same films as those that receive critical recognition from critics and scholars. of course. auteur theory still enjoys widespread popularity because it provides a convenient and accessible discourse for evaluating the artistic merits of films (Haberski 2001). Wagner-Pacifici & Schwartz 1991). Specifically. This implies. Shrum (1996:35) asserts. that different groups. the director of The Country Girl. “in cultural fields. For example. there is no getting around words. who possess both the institutional and rhetorical resources to produce this discourse. Specifically. the director of The Searchers. Similarly. are able to shape. Smith 1983) argue that aesthetic judgments about cultural products are invariably generated within the context of particular “discourses of value” that regulate the social practice of valorization within different groups. which was first articulated in a series of articles published in the French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma beginning in 1956 (Hillier 1985). “quality standards and quality judgments are ultimately created within the contexts of discourse. In brief. Ferguson 1998. This same process undoubtedly affects the reputations of cultural products and producers as well. a seminal study of American film directors (Sarris 1968) identified John Ford. the predominant discourse of value over the past several decades has been auteur theory (Sarris 1968). auteur theory asserts that directors are the primary . Researchers who have examined the formation of cultural fields have also pointed to the importance of intellectual discourse in the form of texts (Baumann 2001. This theory also had the effect of elevating commercial Hollywood films directed by certain directors to the status of art (Mukerji 1978).” Indeed. to some extent. there have been eight books published about John Ford but only one about George Seaton. Although film scholars have developed a number of other discourses for interpreting films (Andrew 1984). may value cultural producers and their products differently. It is likely that film critics and film scholars. employing various discourses. cultural theorists (Frow 1995. This theory. Schwartz 1991. was important to the legitimation of film studies as a field of academic study (Haberski 2001). Santoro 2002). as a “pantheon director” but completely ignored George Seaton.

auteur theory. it is possible to formulate a preliminary theory of retrospective cultural consecration. much of their cultural authority derives from their ability to frame their aesthetic judgments about films and directors within the context of an established cultural schema such as auteur theory. Films directed by auteur directors are considered to possess greater artistic merit than films by directed by other directors. since older films are more subject to banalization. and entailments. films directed by directors identified as auteurs by film critics and scholars are more likely to be retrospectively consecrated than other films. to frame their discourse about a film in terms of the contributions of its director. To begin with. It is important to note that discourses of value can be viewed as cultural schemas. who are often seen as nothing more than highly skilled technicians. it is anticipated that the extent of critical discourse produced about a film has a positive effect on its likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated. Baumann (2001) found that retrospective reviews of films often focused on the identities of their directors.878 / Social Forces 82:3. In fact. Moreover. the effects of contemporaneous recognition are likely to be eroded by the effects of age. Consequently. relationships. critical. . cultural schemas are “knowledge structures that represent objects or events and provide default assumptions about their characteristics. and even popular recognition that a film receives at the time of its release has a positive effect on its likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated. in turn. determine which “frames” are employed in particular instances of discourse (Bielby & Bielby 1994). On the basis of these observations. encourages film critics and scholars. the discourse produced by film critics and scholars is important in the creation and maintenance of the reputations of both films and their directors. March 2004 creative agents in the production of films.” These cultural schemas. especially as it applies to films. According to DiMaggio (1997:267). it is anticipated that the extent of professional. Indeed. It also asserts that certain directors are able to transcend the commercial limitations imposed by the film industry and impart their own unique and personal artistic visions in their films (Stoddart 1995). Auteur theory privileges the contributions of directors over the contributions of other creative artists in the production of a film. as a cultural schema. However. but it also privileges some directors over others. given the ascendancy of auteur theory as a cultural schema in film studies. as reputational entrepreneurs. auteur theory celebrates some directors and ignores others. In addition. More specifically. Undoubtedly. However. it is also anticipated that the extent of discourse associated with the director of a film has a positive effect on its likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated.

best supporting actor or actress. it is possible to examine the characteristics of a large sample of films that received professional. critical recognition is bestowed on artists and their works by critics and scholars rather than other artists. the analysis also excludes films released after 1991 because the National Film Registry does not include any films that are not at least ten years old. Of course. best production designer. best director. to analyze all the tens of thousands of films produced in the U. or popular recognition at the time of their release. the sample employed in this study does not include silent films because they are not generally as available or accessible to modern audiences as sound films. First. it is necessary to impose certain restrictions on such a sample. As a general rule. These nominations are an important measure of peer recognition because only the members of each individual branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can nominate films in a given category. Third. the analysis includes only sound films released since 1929. 553 American films received three or more major Academy Award nominations between 1929 and 1991. Professional recognition is bestowed upon artists and their works by other artists. best editor. best actor or actress. critical. of course. best cinematographer. For the purposes of this analysis. in effect. The sample of films examined in this analysis includes those films that received important critical recognition at the time of their release. Second.S. the sample does not include animated or documentary films because they are not strictly comparable to live-action narrative films in terms of the forms of professional recognition employed in this analysis. The sample of films examined in this analysis includes every American film that received three or more major Academy Award nominations between 1929 and 1991. After all. as the national newspaper of record and its reviews have an inordinate impact on the critical . One of the most important forms of professional recognition within the film industry is a nomination for an Academy Award (Levy 1990). It is not feasible. in the past one hundred years. these films are more likely to be retrospectively consecrated than less contemporaneously recognized films. The New York Times serves. it includes all the American films selected as one of the ten best films of the year by the New York Times. For example. For analytical purposes. and best musical director.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 879 Research Design The basic theoretical issues posed by this research require an examination of those characteristics that lead to the retrospective consecration of certain films over others. However. Specifically. Consequently. In all. a film can receive more than one nomination in the acting categories. best screenwriter. major nominations include those in the categories of best picture. the academy has permitted only five nominations in any category (Sands 1973). only members of the Directors Branch can nominate directors for an Academy Award. In contrast to professional recognition.

this analysis examines the effects of contemporaneous professional recognition on the retrospective consecration of films. once this function was rendered obsolete by the imposition of the Production Code in 1927. Similarly. From 1929 to 1991. it is difficult to compare these data over time due to the effects of inflation. Box-office revenue is equal to the total box-office receipts minus the exhibition fees charged by theater owners. According to one film historian (Koszarski 1994: 209). This research also examines the effects of contemporaneous critical recognition on the cultural consecration of films. considerable overlap between these samples. the data on box-office revenue were obtained from annual compilations published by either Variety or the Hollywood Reporter. the two major trade publications of the motion picture industry. for the period from 1929 to 1939. best actor . The only reliable measure of audience attendance is the boxoffice revenue of a film.092 films. the New York Times selected a total of 428 Americans films among its ten best films of the year. it began publishing reviews that advocated that films represented “a new type of art” (Haberski 2001:49). This analysis seeks to identify those characteristics that contribute to the retrospective consecration of films. Specifically. which could conceivably include a total of 2. it is possible to identify only the six most popular films each year. there were 582 popular films that ranked among the top six to ten films in terms of their box-office revenue. each year. The final sample. of course. in terms of box-office revenue. it is possible to identify the ten most popular films each year from 1940 to 1991. information was compiled for each of these films on a number of variables.880 / Social Forces 82:3. Consequently. the analysis identifies those American films that received annual awards from the New York Film Critics Circle for best picture. The popular recognition of a film is best measured by how many people paid to see the film at the time of its initial theatrical release. the sample of films included in this analysis includes the top six to ten films. First and foremost. the National Board of Review selected a total of 528 American films among its ten best films of the year. the National Board of Review “set the agenda for serious film study in this period. The National Board of Review was created by the film industry in 1916 as a censorship body. a film may receive popular recognition even if it does not receive professional or critical recognition. The analysis measures not only the total number of major Academy Award nominations received by each film at the time of its release but also the types of nominations it received. However. the analysis identifies those American films that were selected as being among the ten best films of the year by the New York Times or among the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review.277 films. There is. March 2004 reception of films. Consequently. Although data on actual box-office revenue were available for most films. Finally. actually contains 1. However. From 1929 to 1991. In general. In addition.” From 1929 to 1991. Using the available data. the sample includes all the American films selected as one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review.

Finally. 83 were selected for inclusion among the 100 greatest films by the American Film Institute and 131 were selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Of the 1. since the New York Film Critics Circle did not issue any awards prior to 1935. only 29 of these 68 narrative films were major feature films. the National Film Registry includes 16 inexpensive but historically significant “B” films. the extent of critical discourse about each film is measured by the number of times that it has been discussed at length in film anthologies. Indeed. . of course. For the purposes of this analysis. They include such diverse films as Duck Soup and The Manchurian Candidate. Of these. The analysis also examines the extent of critical discourse both about each film and its director. 142 were featured in three or more film anthologies. This disparity arises because the National Film Registry employs selection criteria that are purposely more eclectic than those employed by the American Film Institute. such as Gun Crazy and The Night of the Living Dead. The American Film Institute. Similarly.277 films in the sample. However. There are. The books about each director were identified using the WorldCat database. Of the 1. they are subjected to square-root transformations in all the statistical analyses. given the fact that both of these measures of critical discourse have highly skewed distributions.277 films included in the sample were directed by 411 directors.S. In all. included only seven narrative films released from 1929 to 1991 that were not among the 1. This information was compiled from a comprehensive index of film anthologies (Bowles 1994). such as Shadows and The Return of the Secaucus Seven. 489 were featured in at least one film anthology. and best director. The 1. 142 directors were the subject of at least one book and 60 were the subject of at least three books. the analysis identifies those films that received contemporaneous popular recognition in that they were among the top ten films in terms of boxoffice revenue in a given year. Finally.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 881 and actress.277 films in the sample. other important film awards but they do not span the time period encompassed by this research. any analysis involving this variable is limited to those films released since then. Only books published in English are included in the analysis. Of these. the National Film Registry includes 68 narrative films released between 1929 and 1991 that were not included in the sample. It also includes 13 equally inexpensive but innovative independent films.277 films in the sample. an electronic version of the Union Catalog database that includes information on the holdings of all major libraries in the U. the extent of critical discourse about directors is measured by the number of books published about them. For example.

to a lesser extent. and critical recognition that a film receives at the time of its release.277 films released over a period of six decades on their likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated by either the American Film Institute or the National Film Registry.882 / Social Forces 82:3. Model 1 includes only the age of a film and the extent of its popular recognition as independent variables. professional. When these variables are considered simultaneously. as well as its age. Since the dependent variable is simply whether a film is retrospectively consecrated. professional. Model 3 includes the age of a film and forms of critical recognition as independent variables. In view of the fact that the parameters of logistic regression models are not easy to interpret directly. It reveals that being among the top ten films of the year in terms of box-office revenue has a positive effect on the odds of consecration. Model 4 in Table 1 includes the age of a film and all these various forms of popular. the most appropriate statistical technique for this analysis is logistic regression. The results of five logistic regression analyses of the effects of various sets of variables on the likelihood of a film being selected as one of the 100 greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute are presented in Table 1. The analysis first examines the effects of the various forms of popular. and critical recognition as independent variables. An odds ratio less than 1 implies that there is a negative relationship between an independent variable and the odds of retrospective consecration. this analysis presents the odds ratios obtained from the exponentiated coefficients of these models. March 2004 Results The analysis examines the effects of the different forms of contemporaneous recognition and critical discourse associated with 1. An odds ratio greater than 1 implies that there is a positive relationship between an independent variable and the odds that a film was retrospectively consecrated (Bishop. This model reveals that receiving an Academy Award nomination for best director and. Next. Fienberg & Holland 1975). Model 2 includes the age of a film and the forms of professional recognition as independent variables. The age of a film has no effect on the likelihood of retrospective consecration in any of these models. on its likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated. It reveals that being selected among the ten best films of the year by the New York Times and the National Board of Review and receiving awards from the New York Film Critics for best picture and best actor have positive effects on the likelihood of retrospective consecration by the American Film Institute. it examines the effects of the significant forms of contemporaneous recognition in conjunction with the extent of discourse about a film and its director on its odds of being retrospectively consecrated. receiving nominations for best editor and best musical director have positive effects on the odds of consecration. only being among the top ten films of the year in terms of box-office revenue and receiving an Academy Award nomination for best director have significant positive effects on the odds .

85 0.05 1. 1929–1991 Model 1 Age of film 1.162 318.01 21.80* Model 3 1.00 1.Y.92* 2.162 of retrospective consecration.277 211. best picture N. and Extent of Discourse on the Selection of Films As One of the 100 Greatest Films by the American Film Institute.C.24† 1.25* 2.135 1.59* 2. model 5 includes all these variables as well as the two measures of critical discourse as independent variables. Critical. Finally.81 1. model 1 includes .551 1.50 1. receiving an Academy Award nomination for best musical director and receiving a New York Film Critics award for best director also have marginally significant positive effects on the odds of consecration.49** 1.Y.88 2.99 3. As before.035 1.00 Top ten box office 2.F.27† 1.14 Model 5 6.75 1. being among the top ten films of the year in terms of box-office revenue and receiving Academy Award nominations for best director and best musical director also have significant positive effects on the likelihood of retrospective consecration.97** 2.C.74** 1. Board of Review 10 best N.00 Model 4 0.83 1.70 0.91 9.9 .Y.05** 1. Moreover.38 10.98* 2. It reveals that both the number of books about the director of a film and the number of anthology entries about a film have significant positive effects on the odds of retrospective consecration by the American Film Institute.395 1.F.32** 1.C.345 1.162 228.3 .23 1.10 * p < . The results of parallel logistic regression analyses of the effects of these same sets of variables on the likelihood of a film being selected for inclusion on the National Film Registry are presented in Table 2.05 ** p < .43** 3.8 .9 . However.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 883 TABLE 1: Logistic Regression Analyses (Odds Ratios) of the Effects of Professional.26** 21. and Popular Recognition.97** Best picture nomination Best director nomination Best actors nomination Best screenwriter nomination Best cinematographer nomination Best editor nomination Best art director nomination Best musical dir.3 .01* 0.05 1.84 1.40† 1.03 2.83† 1.F. nomination New York Times 10 best Nat. best director N. best actors Books about director (square root) Anthology entries (square root) 2 Model 2 1.277 77.70** Pseudo R2 N † p < . Age.

18 Model 5 1.Y. Critical.76* 1.159 1. and Popular Recognition.17 Best picture nomination Best director nomination Best actors nomination Best screenwriter nomination Best cinematographer nomination Best editor nomination Best art director nomination Best musical director nomination New York Times 10 best National Board of Review 10 best N.3 . being selected among the ten best films of the year by the New York Times and the National Board of Review.10 * p < .8 .01 9.F.36* 1.86 Model 3 1. and critical recognition as independent variables.13 2.94* 1.C.05 ** p < . March 2004 TABLE 2: Logistic Regression Analyses (Odds Ratios) of the Effects of Professional.09** 2.277 90. and Extent of Discourse on the Selection of Films for Inclusion in National Film Registry.Y.26** 1. 1929–1991 Model 1 Age of film 1. Model 3 includes the age of a film and various forms of critical recognition as independent variables.F.98 1.88 1.35 2. This model reveals that the age of a film. . Model 2 includes the age of a film and various forms of professional recognition as independent variables.02** 2. professional.11** .4 .03** Pseudo R2 N † p < . best director N.118 1.91 .9 .F.06 2.06** 1.64* 1.C. Age.011 1. best director and best screenwriter have positive effects on the odds of consecration.325 1. Model 4 in Table 2 includes the age of a film and all these various measures of popular.58 1.02** Model 4 1.02** 1.C.277 133.20* 3.87 1.48 3.195 1.16 1.64 2.12** .72 2.0 .162 150.34 .71† 2. best actors Books about director (square root) Anthology entries (square root) 2 Model 2 1.55† .14 .86* 1.84** 1.41 1. This model reveals that only age of film has a positive effect on the odds of consecration.45** 1.884 / Social Forces 82:3.Y.35 1.01 1.162 250. It reveals that the age of a film and receiving Academy Award nominations for best picture. best picture N.162 only the age of a film and popular recognition as independent variables.01** Top ten box office 1. and receiving an award from the New York Film Critics for best director have positive effects on the likelihood of retrospective consecration by the National Film Registry.00* 1.

The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 885 When these variables are considered simultaneously. Moreover. at least in part. receiving Academy Award nominations for best picture. and the extent of critical discourse about its director. it reveals that both the number of books about the director of a film and the number of anthology entries about a film have significant independent effects on the odds of retrospective consecration by the National Film Registry. there are a number of similarities between the results presented in Table 1 and those presented in Table 2. being selected among the best ten films of the year by the New York Times. in terms of the number of anthology entries. Popular recognition. also have a positive effect on the odds of retrospective consecration. and receiving a New York Film Critics award for best director have significant positive effects on the odds of consecration. it must be noted that the extent of critical discourse received by a film is undoubtedly affected by the popular. Indeed. to the fact that these two measures of professional recognition are highly correlated (0. including their indirect effects through the critical discourse variables. either in terms of Academy Award nominations for best director or New York Film Critics awards for best director. that is the reason why the effects of these independent variables are examined separately in these models. receiving an Academy Award nomination for best art director has a marginally significant positive effect on the odds of consecration. in terms of the number of books about the director. receiving an Academy Award nomination for best screenwriter and receiving a New York Film Critics award for best director also have positive significant effects on the likelihood of retrospective consecration. Indeed. The total effects of these variables. the other becomes statistically significant. professional. has a positive effect on the odds of retrospective consecration. . the fact that the effects of receiving an Academy Award nomination for best director and best picture are not statistically significant in the final model for retrospective consecration by the National Film Registry can be attributed. The final models in both Table 1 and Table 2 examine only the direct effects of these independent variables. it is apparent that the contemporaneous recognition received by the director. are more substantial and significant than their direct effects. only age of film. However. First. These results of these analyses require further explication on two points. If either variable is deleted from this model. model 5 includes these variables as well as the two measures of critical discourse as independent variables. However. there are important differences between these two analyses as well. Finally. Once again. Second. and best screenwriter. In both sets of analyses. best director. The extent of critical discourse about a film.614). the correlation between these two measures of professional consecration suggests that even members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences associate the excellence of a film with the achievements of its director. As one might expect. and critical recognition that it receives at the time of its release.

0 3.6 4. A comparison of the goodness-of-fit statistics for these two models indicates that the variables used in this analysis account for the selections of the American Film Institute better than they account for the selections of the National Film Registry.277 contemporaneously recognized films in the sample include 131 of the 202 narrative sound films selected for the National Film Registry and 83 of the 93 narrative sound films selected by the American Film Institute.3** 6. March 2004 TABLE 3: Mean Number of Books about Director and Mean Number of Entries in Film Anthologies for Contemporaneously Recognized Films and Retrospectively Consecrated Films. Altogether.2 0. has an effect on the likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated by the American Film Institute but not by the National Film Registry. the similarities between these two analyses suggest that the implicit criteria employed in these retrospective consecration projects are similar but not identical. As noted earlier.8 7. The Yule’s Q for the association between the list of best films identified by the American .0** 8. it is possible to measure directly the association between the results of these two independent retrospective consecration projects. Indeed. the odds ratios suggest that receiving an Academy Award nomination for best director has a much greater effect on the odds of retrospective consecration by the American Film Institute than it has on the odds of retrospective consecration by the National Film Registry. Indeed.01 582 553 582 482 131 83 65 2.5 1. 1929–1991 Mean Number of Books about Director Mean Number of Entries in Anthologies Number All films among top ten in box-office revenue each tear All films with 3 or more Academy Award nominations All Films selected by National Board of Review All Films selected by New York Times Films selected by National Film Registry Films selected by American Film Institute Films selected by both American Film Institute and National Film Registry ** p < .3** in the form of being among the top ten films in a given year in terms of boxoffice revenue. there are 65 films that are on both lists.886 / Social Forces 82:3.8 4.2** 5.3 1.8 4. Overall.9 1.2** 9. the 1.

they have generally been the subjects of more books by film scholars than other directors. or critical recognition. In short. those films that are consensus selections for retrospective consecration are the objects of much more critical discourse than other films. Indeed.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 887 Film Institute and the list of best films identified by the National Film Registry is 0.414). Fienberg & Holland 1975:387-89). at least one by the American Film Institute and at least one other by the National Film Registry. It is apparent that those films that are consensus selections for retrospective consecration. it also serves to privilege some directors over others. Although the number of Academy Award nominations received by these directors is also closely related to the number of their films selected by the American Film . In short. prior knowledge of whether films are on one list reduces the errors in predicting whether they are also on the other list by 95. It can be argued that the accumulation of extensive critical discourse about a film and its director contributes to the formation of a consensus that it is worthy of retrospective consecration. Although there is no definitive directory of auteur directors.381) or the National Film Registry (r = 0. Moreover. Similarly. the theory proposed in this study argues that the particular discourse of value applied to films has a differential effect on their likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated. have significantly more books about their directors and more entries in film anthologies than films selected by only one of these two institutions. By this criterion. Finally. those selected by both the American Film Institute and the National Film Registry.958. Table 3 presents the mean number of books about the directors and the mean number of entries in film anthologies for the films in the sample. the 65 films that were consensus selections for retrospective consecration had four times as many entries in anthologies as did other contemporaneously recognized films. those films that were selected either by the American Film Institute or the National Film Registry have significantly more books about their directors and more entries in film anthologies than films that received only contemporaneous popular. it is apparent that these two retrospective consecration projects yield very similar results.8 percent (Bishop. It also presents the number of Academy Award nominations received by these directors and the number of books written about them. The number of books written about each of these 29 directors is closely related to the number of their films selected by either the American Film Institute (r = 0. the directors of these films had twice as many books written about them as did the directors of the other films in the sample. Table 4 presents a list of the 29 directors who had two or more films selected for retrospective consecration. The ascendancy of auteur theory as a cultural schema in films studies serves not only to privilege the contributions of directors over those of other collaborators in the production of films. professional.

888 / Social Forces 82:3. March 2004 TABLE 4: Number of Retrospectively Consecrated Films. have both been the subjects of several books even though .” Indeed. Orson Welles and Howard Hawks.178). Given the ascendancy of auteur theory. two other “pantheon directors” on this list. The two directors with the most retrospectively consecrated films. 1929–1991 Name of Director Alfred Hitchcock John Ford Steven Spielberg Billy Wilder William Wyler Martin Scorsese Francis Ford Coppola Stanley Kubrick Frank Capra George Stevens John Huston Howard Hawks Michael Curtiz George Cukor Elia Kazan David Lean Robert Wise Vincente Minnelli George Lucas Orson Welles Woody Allen Robert Altman Sam Peckinpah Milos Forman Fred Zinneman Lewis Milestone Leo McCarey Franklin Schaffner Victor Fleming AFI List 4 3 5 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 NFR List 5 6 3 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3 5 4 3 3 2 3 4 2 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 Best Director Nominations 5 5 4 8 12 3 4 4 6 5 5 1 4 5 5 7 3 2 2 1 6 4 0 3 7 5 3 1 1 Books about Director 42 8 19 10 5 14 9 12 16 1 10 9 4 9 12 6 1 6 7 21 23 9 5 3 2 2 1 1 0 Institute (0. and Number of Books about Director for 27 Directors with Two or More Retrospectively Consecrated Films. have been the subjects of several books and were identified by one influential proponent of auteur theory (Sarris 1968) as “pantheon directors. Number of Academy Award Nominations. it is not surprising to find that many of the retrospectively consecrated films were directed by auteur directors. John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.533). it is not closely related to the number of their films selected by the National Film Registry (0.

Both of these films garnered Academy Award nominations for both best picture and best director and are routinely mentioned in film anthologies. In general. At the same time. George Stevens directed A Place in the Sun and Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca. is produced each year. Film critics and scholars are able to act as reputational entrepreneurs by choosing to study some directors and their films . at least to some extent. Conclusions This research provides considerable empirical confirmation for the theoretical propositions advanced by this study concerning the process of retrospective cultural consecration. historical. However. In addition. a large volume of discourse. in the form of articles and books about films and their directors. In general. For example. there are directors who are associated with several retrospectively consecrated films despite the fact that they have been the subjects of relatively few books. the extent of subsequent critical discourse about a film and its director has significant positive effects on its odds of retrospective consecration. neither George Stevens nor Michael Curtiz is generally considered to be an auteur director even though they received several Academy Awards nominations for best director during their careers. however. the fact that older films have often been the subject of more articles and books than newer films may account for the finding that age does not have any effect on the retrospective consecration of films. Moreover. films that received popular recognition at the time of their release were more likely to be retrospectively consecrated by the American Film Institute than they were by the National Film Registry.The Cultural Consecration of American Films / 889 they each received only one best director nomination during their careers. despite the fact that the National Film Registry has a slightly broader mandate than did the American Film Institute in selecting films of cultural. In these cases. the extent of professional and critical recognition received by the director of a film has substantial positive effects on its likelihood of being retrospectively consecrated. or aesthetic significance. these findings confirm the argument that the valorization and retrospective consecration of cultural producers and products is influenced. For example. by the activities of reputational entrepreneurs who are responsible for producing much of the discourse within a field of cultural production (Fine 1996). Those narrative films selected by one institution were very likely to be chosen by the other. With the emergence of film studies as an academic discipline. Indeed. especially as it applies to films. the two retrospective consecration projects achieved very similar results. the particular films directed by these directors were retrospectively consecrated because the films themselves received contemporaneous professional and critical recognition and have been the subjects of considerable discourse in the form of entries in film anthologies.

It is beyond the scope of this analysis to explain why some directors are considered auteurs by film scholars and critics while others are dismissed as mere technicians. this theory does not explain why some directors and their films were the subjects of more books and articles than other directors and their films. critical.890 / Social Forces 82:3. this discourse produced by the early contributors to the French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma and later American proponents of auteur theory (Sarris 1968) has had a profound effect on the artistic reputations of certain directors and their films. Dudley 1993). The fact that John Ford is considered as an auteur director and George Seaton is not may be the primary reason why The Searchers was retrospectively consecrated and The Country Girl was not. These alternative cultural schemas. to the romantic assumption that one person. auteur theory is both simple and accessible. At the same time. once certain directors have been identified as auteurs. Its appeal can be attributed. and staging. The results of these analyses also reveal some of the limitations of auteur theory. auteur theory has been supplemented by a number of other film theories. Finally. camera. however. In recent years. it is difficult for film critics and scholars to ignore them or their films. have not been the subjects of very many articles or books. The films of less celebrated directors may be retrospectively consecrated but only if they received sufficient professional. March 2004 and ignore other directors and their films. have enabled film scholars to examine the historical and cultural influences on both film production (Schatz 1988) and audience reception (Jenkins 1995). auteur theory remains the predominant discourse of value with respect to films (Corrigan 1991. by their characteristic use of lighting. Auteur directors. auteur theory is popular as an evaluative theory because it invites comparisons among the films directed by the same director. Moreover. Moreover. However. At the . Some very accomplished directors. such as genre theory and feminist theory. who have received considerable professional or critical recognition. Given the ascendancy of auteur theory as a discourse of value within film studies. In short. and popular recognition at the time of their release. is ultimately responsible for the aesthetic merits of a film. left an identifiable imprint on their films (Bordwell & Thompson 1993). which are more interpretative than evaluative in nature. There is some evidence that the original proponents of auteur theory favored those directors who were seen to possess a distinct and consistent cinematic style (Hiller 1985). unlike most of the other cultural schemas applied to films. these theorists argued that auteur directors. critics and scholars are often compelled to frame their aesthetic judgments of films in terms of the contributions of their directors. those who have been subjects of numerous books. these findings suggest that the cultural authority exercised by these film critics and scholars is constrained by the cultural schemas employed in this discourse. Moreover. in part. namely the director. are more likely to have their films retrospectively consecrated than other directors. Whatever the criteria.

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