Torturous Etiquettes

Film Performance and Social Form

By Daniel Varndell

Subjects: Film Studies, Popular Culture
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438493510, 262 pages, July 2023
Paperback : 9781438493503, 262 pages, January 2024

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Minding Manners

Part I: Initiation

1 Close Encounters: Greetings

2 Home Invasions: Hospitality

3 Crossing the Line: Embarrassment

Part II: Exchange

4 No Joke: Humor

5 The Butler Did It: Service

6 Racist Etiquette: Disservice

Part III: Dissolution

7 Garments of the Mind: Clothes

8 Tabular Outrages: Dinner

9 Tresses and Distresses: Intimacy

Conclusion: As Time Goes By

Explores the “torture” of mannered behavior and the prevalence of etiquette as a theme in classical and contemporary Hollywood and European cinema.


"Etiquette," as noted toastmaster Herbert V. Prochnow once pointed out, "is knowing how to yawn with your mouth closed"—that is, to spare the feelings of the other person, one must stifle one's own. To be polite, therefore, is to perform. Onscreen, closeups often reveal the effort that goes into maintaining that performance: with a fleeting frown or a slight scowl, an actor reveals the "torture" of mannered behavior. In Torturous Etiquettes, Daniel Varndell examines such gestures to reveal the difficulties of the social encounter. Drawing on the history of etiquette, the book deconstructs an array of examples from classical and contemporary Hollywood and European cinema, taking a close look at onscreen representations of rudeness, ridiculing, racist and sexist etiquettes, hospitality, table manners, and more. In doing so, it reveals etiquette to be a persistent theme in cinema and questions the role it plays in either upholding or denying the basic humanity of others.

Daniel Varndell is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Winchester in England. He is the author of Hollywood Remakes, Deleuze, and the Grandfather Paradox.


"This is a highly original contribution to the field of film studies. Through the accumulation of brilliant examples, Varndell makes the case that movies are compulsively drawn to etiquette as a theme, either through their observation of the minutiae of social behavior or through the ways in which they dramatize its rules and violations." — Alex Clayton, University of Bristol