Haunted Places: Screening the Imaginary in A Night at the Movies, or You Must Remember This by Robert Coover

Auteur / Author: 
SAMMARCELLI, Françoise (Centre de Recherche Texte et Image, Université Paris-Sorbonne, France)
Lundi 22 Août 2011 - 17:00


This paper aims to explore the complex interplay of visual memory and imagination in A Night at the Movies by postmodernist writer Robert Coover (1987). While many contemporary writers have merely acknowledged the influence of the cinema on their works, Robert Coover inscribes or frames some of these specters in a collection of stories whose contents mimick the program of an old film show. Coover’s playing with film traces does not only assume the form of linguistic inscription (employing the vocabulary of film, quoting titles or emblematic figures), but it also involves technical allusions and visual “quotations”, relying on the reader’s memory while destabilizing it. This paper will examine the dynamics of two short texts, “After Lazarus” and “Gilda’s Dream”, which experiment with the intriguing power of visual echoes and the ambivalent recycling of images. Unlike other texts in the collection, these stories do not primarily function as parodies, but establish a more ambiguous relationship with the films or images they quote. A very compact text, “Gilda’s Dream” literalizes the dynamics of veiling and unveiling and offers a rich concentration of motifs, foregrounding voyeurism and projection while achieving a blurring of categories. Whereas, in its very title, “Gilda’s Dream” flaunts its connection with Vidor’s famous film, “After Lazarus” (containing no dialogue and presented as “The Weekly Serial”) calls for more intuitive recognition as it leaves the reader free to identify sequences or shots borrowed from Expressionist cinema (in particular Murnau) or from C.T. Dreyer’s work. Resorting to fragmentation and insistent repetition, it both conjures up and erases visual effects while, diegetically, resurrection or extinction seems to be at stake (the story implicitly ends with the burial of the camera). Both enigmatic texts thus display a problematic hybridity that requires a “double gaze” on the part of the reader/viewer.