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Gilles Deleuze’s and the Crisis of the Action-Image

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Gilles Deleuze theorizes that the Second World War disrupted so-called classical cinema by presenting Europeans situations that they did not know how to react to. The mass destruction of spaces and ideals created a new kind of character in cinema: one that saw rather than acted. Deleuze calls this the crisis that shakes the action-image and the American Dream. He claims that a number of factors after the war contributed to this crisis including minority-led movements and fall of Hollywood’s old genres.

Deleuze believes that this crisis breaks previous linkages and creates a new set of images and is reflected in film that has romantic and pessimistic messaging complete with optical, sound, or psychic clichés. Films emerged that attempted to save the American dream and parodied clichés, with film noir being one of the genres in this period of film. Deleuze implies that these films have an aesthetic and political quality which could be dangerously subversive, but that the particular imagery used in these films prevent the films from crossing a line and being viewed by the public as dangerous.

Neo-realism, which is part of post-war film, uses clichés to highlight spaces such as urban cancer and pieces of waste ground, which are opposed to the old realism. In this sense, the new movement of film, focusing on space, cliché, and location is a break from classical cinema and an essential part of New Wave film. In these fragmented worlds of film, new characters that see and show rather than act emerge. These characters play with clichés in such a way as to parody them and force the viewer to re-imagine the meanings of movements and sounds.

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