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UBC Theses and Dissertations

On longing for loss : a theory of cinematic memory and an aesthetics of nostalgia Laks, Zoë Anne


Nostalgia is everywhere in media today – be it films, television, ads, or social media. But what does it mean to say that a media text is nostalgic? Beyond simply presenting nostalgic narratives, media texts also express nostalgia through their form and style. So how does this nostalgia look and feel? This thesis explores the aesthetics of nostalgia in the context of film studies, positing that “pastness” becomes synonymous with fantasy when films and other nostalgic media rely on an artificial audiovisual style – most often a hazy and hyper-coloured image. By pairing stylistic analysis and film theory with a philosophy of nostalgia, this project argues that this aesthetic serves as both a theory of cinematic memory and a reflection of the experience of lived nostalgia, which is effectively always a longing for the inaccessible, the impossible, the lost – in other words, fantasy itself. Relying on theories by Edward Casey, James Hart, and Steven Galt Crowell, this study takes a phenomenological approach, describing nostalgia as the experience of a dialectic between proximity and distance to the past. This contradictory position between emotional proximity and distance points toward a radically critical nostalgia, an area that remains relatively underexplored in nostalgia studies. This thesis also takes its cue from key works by Christine Sprengler, Rebecca Comay, William Beard, Jane M. Gaines, and Bliss Cua Lim, discussing nostalgia via two case studies on films by Canadian director Guy Maddin. Chapter Two applies this theory of nostalgic aesthetics to Careful (1992), using a melodramatic framework to explore how nostalgia inheres in the form of the film itself. Chapter Three interrogates these ideas on a more abstract level, positing that the spectral imagery in Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) serves as another way of expressing nostalgia as a dialectic between past and present. Ultimately, this nostalgia locates nostalgic audiences not in a static and idealized relic of the past, but in the present moment, where time splinters into its heterogeneous parts and is rendered in subjective, emotional terms, so as to be experienced as the loss of a past so inaccessible that it never was.

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