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Visions of Vengeance: Tracking the Father through New Hollywood Cinema

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Stefanie Ullmann.

While studies of Hollywood in the 1970s — commonly known as “New Hollywood” — have long identified the vigilante as a key type in the era’s films, the exact nature of the figure’s extralegal violence has gone unexamined. Films often cited as emblematic of New Hollywood cinema’s fixation on men who enact their own form of justice — Joe (1970), Death Wish (1974), and Hardcore (1979) among them — center not just anticrime avengers but on avenging dads in particular. The vengeful dad is thus a key type for understanding some of the larger ideological moves of the New Hollywood era. Often conflated with the more general vigilante figure, he represents a specific flavor of paternalistic backlash against evolving social norms and perceived social decay; his “justice” is enacted in reaction to the violation of their daughters’ sexuality, leading to violent confrontations which often play out across class lines. Critically, his inability to balance the demands of work with the stresses of a collapsing domestic sphere is dependent on the inadequacies of his spouse, depictions of whom feature misogynistic tropes which can be traced back to the literature of the burgeoning “men’s liberation” movement contemporaneous with New Hollywood. This article demonstrates how the vengeful dads of New Hollywood not only offer a critical reformulation of how that era’s filmmaking is understood but also presage seemingly unrelated cinematic depictions of the father in the 1980s and beyond.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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