The Phantom of the Cinema

Character in Modern Film

By Lloyd Michaels

Subjects: General Interest
Series: SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video
Paperback : 9780791435687, 191 pages, November 1997
Hardcover : 9780791435670, 191 pages, December 1997

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations



Chapter One
The Phantom of the Cinema: Representation of Character in the Modern Film

Chapter Two
Reflexivity and Character in Persona

Chapter Three
Incarnations of the Confidence Man

Chapter Four
Reviving the Undead: Herzog's Remake of Nosferatu

Chapter Five: The Spy and the Cipher

Chapter Six
Documenting Character in The Thin Blue Line

Chapter Seven
Avatars of Memory: Entropy and Nostalgia in the Representation of Character

Chapter Eight
Conclusion: The Mystery and Melancholy of a Self


Works Cited and Consulted

About the Author


The first book to focus on the representation of character in film, encompassing the art cinema, popular movies, and documentaries.


The first extended study to focus on the representation of character in film, The Phantom of the Cinema provides a historically informed, theoretically sophisticated, yet eminently readable account of a broad spectrum of texts that center on elusive, ambiguous protagonists. Ranging across acknowledged classics such as Citizen Kane and Persona, including relatively neglected works such as House of Games, The Last Tycoon, and Badlands, and encompassing the art cinema, popular movies, and documentary, Michaels applies the concept of "presence of absence" to distinguish cinema from other performative arts. He then suggests how this propensity to present images that reflect a constantly mediated sense of reality allows certain reflexive films to project a problematic understanding of human identity.

In analyzing these spectral figures haunting the modern cinema, Michaels combines contemporary theory with his own close reading in order to reconcile the structuralist emphasis on textuality with the humanist account of character as representing the autonomous self. Ultimately, he demonstrates how film protagonists reflect both the melancholy and mystery of personhood and the "inner aesthetic" of the medium itself.

Lloyd Michaels is Frederick F. Seely Professor of English at Allegheny College. Author of Elia Kazan: A Guide to References and Resources, he is also the editor of the journal Film Criticism.


"I find this book continually interesting and alive with insights. With the cultural studies agenda alive today, character has returned to center stage, but generally as a mirror of types in society. Michaels delivers a more cinematic view of character, one that tells us more about the medium than about the society that uses it. This is a theoretically sophisticated book [whose] success rests on the clear reading of some great and some surprising films. It is the work of someone quite in tune with the cinema." -- Dudley Andrew, Institute for Cinema and Culture, University of Iowa

"Michaels's Phantom of the Cinema is an important study on a subject--character construction in film--that has been virtually neglected by scholars. Thoroughly researched, lucidly written, and full of right insights, it focuses on both canonical texts and little-discussed ones and ultimately is as much about film itself as it is about characterization. It is a timely contribution to film studies." -- Arthur Nolletti, Jr., Framingham State College

"The breadth of critical approaches in The Phantom of the Cinema is very impressive. The author displays a keen ability to bring together a diverse array of methodologies which combine to create a completely unique analysis of the material at hand. This is a refreshingly modern book in all respects, and one which is simultaneously daring and original." -- Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, University of Nebraska, Lincoln