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Jackie Byars


This is a study of Menippeanism in motion pictures with particular reference to Bedazzled (Stanley Donen 1967), Week-End (Jean-Luc Godard 1967), Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (Terry Jones 1983), and The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen 1998). The hypothesis that Menippeanism exists in motion pictures rests on two propositions: a definition of the form and an account of how this form takes shape in the motion picture. Menippeanism might have remained the exclusive province of the Classical world were it not for the work of Northrop Frye and Mikhail Bakhtin. Frye and Bakhtin argue that an awareness of the Menippean form will improve our understanding of contemporary literature, a claim the current study extends to motion pictures. The chief objection to the works of Frye and Bakhtin faults them for stretching the ancient form Menippean satire beyond its historical scope but this is also their chief insight. In their wake, commentators such as Joseph Relihan, Philip Stevick, Juanita Williams, Philip Holland, Eugene Kirk, F. Anne Payne, Theodore Kharpertian, and W. Scott Blanchard have elaborated significant insights into the Menippean form. Prior attempts to apply Menippeanism to motion pictures have neglected the formidable literature that Frye and Bakhtin engendered, thereby forfeiting a deeper understanding of Menippeanism. This study offers a working definition of Menippeanism as consisting of several essential traits: a governing aesthetic of variety, a narrator who observes and collects, characters who caricature worldviews or occupational outlooks, a various plot that collects allusions and ideas, shifts in scale and perspective, a various setting that amounts to a series of symposia, a fondness for language which is offset by a suspicion of it, elements of utopia and dystopia, and the theme of self-sufficiency. The bulk of the current study demonstrates how these features manifest in Bedazzled, Week-End, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life , and The Big Lebowski.

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