La Trobe
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The Politics of cinematic reputation: a case study of the Screen Directors Guild Meeting of 1950

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posted on 2023-01-11, 12:59 authored by Kevin Brianton
This thesis will show that the critical reputations of film directors can be strongly influenced by historical and biographical accounts. These writings create symbolic reputations for film directors which is a key idea or expression about their work and lives. Often these reputations are based on poorly constructed historical accounts and apocryphal events. However, once entrenched, they can define both biographical and critical responses to a director. The way symbolic reputations are developed is political in the sense that it is the end result of a debate between different groups and individuals. Like any political debate, it is full of half-truths and distortions. This thesis will demonstrate that a positive symbolic reputation that emerges from any debate is pivotal in developing a good critical reputation, fostering further interest and study. A negative symbolic reputation can lead to neglect and dismissal. This thesis concludes that symbolic reputations play an essential role in defining the critical reception of a director and can even dictate the historical and biographical coverage of film directors. Specifically, it will show that the critical reputations of film directors Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz were affected by historical and biographical accounts of the Screen Directors Guild (SDG) meeting on 22 October 1950. The meeting now symbolises an effective stand by the directorial community against both the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) investigations and the McCarthy era. The historical coverage has also played a pivotal role in developing the image of the central players: DeMille, Ford and Mankiewicz. It will be shown that from this historical and biographical debate, Cecil B. DeMille has emerged as a McCarthyite figure with touches of anti-Semitism, John Ford has become a paragon of American virtue and Joseph L. Mankiewicz is depicted as a strong and committed liberal. This thesis argues that the historical basis of these symbolic reputations are inaccurate and based on false information derived from highly partisan sources. Therefore, it draws into question the critical judgments that have emerged from the historical coverage of the meeting.

Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the School of Communication, Arts and Critical Enquiry, Faculty of Humanities, La Trobe University, Bundoora.


Center or Department

Faculty of Humanities. School of Communication, Arts and Critical Enquiry.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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