and surveillance in film
page highlights film dealing with surveillance and identity.
with the preceding page it is eclectic and not all-inclusive;
a search of major movie guides and specialist studies
will uncover several themes.
that is solid melts into air
The history of film
is an essay on the theme 'you can't believe your eyes'.
In The Net (1995)
plucky Sandra Bullock becomes an unperson when the villain
erases her existence from all databases. Claude Rains
in the 1934
Invisible Man merely goes mad once deprived of
his identity. Zorro demonstrates the advantages
of anonymity; North by NorthWest suggests problems
with mistaken identity. Blade Runner (1982) features
the 'replicant', indistinguishable from humans apart from
superior attitude and capacity to kick ass.
In Gattaca (1997)
Ethan Hawke engages in identity
theft in a future where DNA is destiny. There is a
less willing appropriation by a charming sociopath in
The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).
The problem for Gerard Depardieu in Colonel Chabert
is recognition after he inconveniently returns from the
dead, an echo of the events discussed by Natalie Zemon
Davis in The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge:
Harvard Uni Press 1983). 'Madeleine' in Hitchcock's Vertigo
(1958) instead assumes the identity of some who really
is dead. In Some Like it Hot Jack Lemmon invents
a new identity to avoid lead poisoning; Tony Curtis in
The Great Impostor (1961) - based on Ferdinand
Waldo Demara - and Leo diCaprio in Catch Me If You
Can (2002) do it for the money.
of the State (1998)
reveals that "It's Not Paranoia If They're Really
After You". They're after Mel Gibson in Conspiracy
and after the bad guys (ie those who aren't members of
the NRA or the Tom Clancy fanclub) in Tom Clancy's
Netforce (1998). The good geeks are after the bad
geeks in Hackers
The Truman Show suggests that all of life's a stage
but why worry when the rain, like the trains, comes on
time ... or is it merely on cable?
For the oneiric eye see of course Peeping Tom (1960),
The Anderson Tapes (1971)
or most works from the strange Mr Hitchcock. There have
been several screen versions of 1984; arguably
a more successful rendition is Terry Gilliam's 1985
For denunciation the classic is Clouzot's 1943
Le Corbeau; Peter Lorre's performance in M
is worth rescuing from the darker recesses of your DVD
Men in Black reveals that your neighbour is a
bug-eyed illegal immigrant from outer space, with way-hip
the shades!) to keep the critters in order.
It's a comic twist on Hollywood's possession genre, from
the various Invasion of the Body Snatchers and
vampire remakes to horrors such as the 1952
My Son John (fluoridation turns your kids gay,
red or bugaboo du jour). It also resonates with anxieties
that the sub-class du jour ('wetbacks', koreans,
yankees, somalis) are gatecrashing the neighbourhood.
machines in blue
Schelde's Androids, Humanoids & Other Science Fiction
Monsters: Science & Soul in Science Fiction Films
(New York: NY Uni Press 1994) suggests that computers
have become "the lab full of hissing liquids was
to Dr. Jekyll: core signifiers that serious, potentially
dangerous science is in progress". You can't have a spooky
movie without a big machine at the other end of the fisheye
In Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
the omniscient computer goes birko through frustrated
love for the astronauts (or is it Dr Chandra). In Colossus:
The Forbin Project (1970) the "paragon of reason"
- equipped with a nuke or two rather than the controls
of the pod-bay door - also throws a tantrum. In War
Games (1983) the clever box decides to leave megadeaths
to Herman Kahn and the boys at RAND after playing tic-tac-toe
with a feisty hacker.
examined conspiracy theory on the next page of this profile.
Film Lacanians will enjoy Jerry Aline Flieger's 1997 Postmodern
Perspective: The Paranoid Eye essay;
most readers are likely to find Cyndy Hendershot's
Paranoia and the Delusion of the Total System essay
more accessible. For different jargon see Ray Pratt's
Projecting Paranoia: Conspiratorial Visions in American
Film (Lawrence: Uni Press of Kansas 2001).
For political paranoia, decorated with the odd wiretap
and database, see The Parallax View (1974), Three
Days of the Condor (1975), The Falcon & the
Snowman, Hidden Agenda (1990), Hardware
(1990) and Netforce (1999).
next page (the
net and conspiracy theory)