Spectatorship and risk

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Abstract

Cinematic fictions often depict characters who face a remarkable variety of natural and otherworldly dangers, such as attacks by aliens, dinosaurs, zombies, killer puppets, and swarms of insects. The risk of physical injury and death is the staple of the horror, crime, war, and action genres, while in art films, the focus tends to be on psychological and moral perils. Risk is such a pervasive subject in film that one is tempted to conjecture that this is the main attraction of that seemingly low-risk activity, film spectatorship.1 In what follows I investigate several issues related to this conjecture, beginning with the problem of identifying and classifying risk, both in the actual world and as it is represented in cinematic works. In my first section I introduce a distinction between taking and running risks and discuss epistemic problems related to the classification of events as risks or rewards. Next I discuss some of the challenges- and artistic risks-that filmmakers confront as they attempt to represent risks in works of fiction. With regard to artistic tradeoffs related to the representation of risk, in the third section I provide a more detailed discussion of two cases: Pleasantville (dir. Gary Ross, 1998) and La visione del sabba (Sabbath Vision, dir. Marco Bellocchio, 1988). Finally I ask how we might explain why risk is such a pervasive subject in the cinema. What is at stake in the spectator's seemingly low-risk engagement in spectacles of extreme risk?.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFilm and Risk
PublisherWayne State University Press
Pages73-95
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9780814334638
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

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LIVINGSTON, P. (2012). Spectatorship and risk. In Film and Risk (pp. 73-95). Wayne State University Press.