Brian McIlroy

Professor

Research Classification

Cultural Industries

Research Interests

Documentary
Early Cinema
Irish Cinema
Canadian and US Cinema
Television Drama
British Cinema

Relevant Degree Programs

 

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Master's students
Doctoral students
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2020
2021
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.

Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
'We're all coming through fine' : the observed self of the screen actor in the multi-role performances of Peter Sellers and Buster Keaton (2017)

In Stars, Richard Dyer writes that star actors “seem to be of a different order of being, a different ‘ontological category’” than other people (49). It is here, in the core question of studies on screen acting, that this thesis places itself. Building on Dyer’s claim, this work documents a unique category of existence for film actors: beings that are legitimately understood as one of three separate types of individuals (a character, a persona, or a private self), while also regarded as an accumulation of all those three (many characters, the many roles that create a persona, and the visible and invisible parts of one’s personal life). Another part of the screen actor that facilitates this existence—something not yet encountered in film studies discourse—is referred to here as the observed self, which allows for the many disparate pieces of an actor to be corralled into one body. As part of this analysis, Michel Foucault’s notion of the care of the self is employed, allowing for the identification of an observed self in films such as The Mouse that Roared (Jack Arnold, 1959), Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964), and The Play House (Buster Keaton, 1921). After one chapter that surveys trends in screen acting academia, and another on the relevant Foucauldian concepts, this thesis examines performances from Peter Sellers and Buster Keaton to identify the observed self on screen. This piece of identity is found in films that house all three of the different components of an actor’s constitution. Once the components of the observed self are identified within these films, the thesis identifies moments in which audiences must rely on this to place themselves within a familiar viewing experience. I argue that these moments are broadcast at a high frequency in films where actors play multiple roles, and that actors employ Foucault’s notion of transgression, with this inherent quality allowing the viewer to see them as beings that are both unified and disintegrated.

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Obscene intimacies : postmodern portraiture in documentary film and television (2015)

The past several decades have witnessed a steadily increasing output of documentaries which aim to explore the intimate lives of individual subjects. Although there has been no official scholarly study delineating these films as a documentary sub-genre, they have been variously termed portrait or biographical documentaries, and they are a persistent feature of both documentary film production and non-fiction television programming. This project aims to situate these films and television programs within broader cultural shifts that have occurred in the latter half of the twentieth century, including an upsurge in the ubiquity of images, distrust in the photographic medium’s ability to access the real, and dismantling of taste hierarchies. All of these changes fit under the broad paradigm of postmodern theory and culture, a societal condition that continues to evidence itself in the current age. Despite postmodernism’s proclamation that social relationships and individualism have collapsed, contemporary portraiture documentaries still aim to facilitate a sense of connection between viewer and subject. Postmodernism intersects here with what Richard Sennett has called the “intimate society,” which is characterized by a societal impetus toward personal revelation and emotional expression. I posit that portraiture documentaries represent the collision and working through of these two competing cultural features. Following an overview of the scholarship relevant to my research in Chapter One, Chapter Two will discuss two films by the documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995) and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003). Often maligned in both critical and scholarly circles for failing to interrogate ideology in any meaningful way, I argue that his work operates on a reflexive level to suggest that images fail us when attempting to extract the intimate truth of the individual. In Chapter Three I discuss two examples of reality television series that focus on the lives of individuals, Errol Morris’s First Person (IFC, 2000-2001) and Intervention (A&E, 2005 - ), which demonstrate the persistent need to render the subject in visual terms and make the viewer witness to the most intimate and personal aspects of their lives.

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The circuitry of memory : time and space in Mad Men (2015)

Memory is central to Mad Men (Matthew Weiner 2007-15) as a period piece set in the 1960s that activates the memories of its viewers while also depicting the subjective memory processes of its protagonist Donald Draper (Jon Hamm). Narratively, as much as Don may try to move forward and forget his past, he ultimately cannot because the memories will always remain. Utilizing the philosophy of Henri Bergson, I reveal that the series effectively renders Bergson’s notion of the coexistence of past and present in sequences that journey into the past without ever leaving the present. Mad Men ushers in a new era of philosophical television that is not just perceived, but also remembered. As a long-form serial narrative that intricately layers past upon present, Mad Men is itself an evolving memory that can be revisited by the viewer who gains new insight upon each viewing. Mad Men is the ideal intersection of Bergson’s philosophy of the mind and memory and Gilles Deleuze’s cinematic philosophy of time. The first chapter simply titled “Time,” examines the series’ first flashback sequence from the episode “Babylon,” in it finding the Deleuzian time-image. The last chapter “Space,” seeks to identify the spatial structure of the series as a whole and how it relates to its slow-burning pace. Chapter two, “Memory,” highlights the viewer’s memory making processes, and appropriately bridges “Time” and “Space” together, just as it bridges spatial and temporal consciousness together for the individual. This thesis emphasizes the individualized experience of the Mad Men viewer who watches Don evolve over seven seasons. Two narrative structural aspects of the series are shown to be especially activating of the viewer’s memory: its flashback sequences and its meditative moments featuring Don in deep contemplation. With reference to literary theory that has identified the concepts of Bergson in the modernist literature movement, as well as to Bergson’s schemas that precisely illustrate his concepts, this thesis concludes that Mad Men can be understood as a carousel that takes viewers on a trip through the circuitry of memory.

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"I am excessively diverted" : recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice on television, film, and digital media (2014)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is the proverbial choice for adaptation, especially her most famous novel Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813. Remarkably, this two hundred-year-old novel written by a lady who never married, always lived at home, and died at the age of forty-one, is one of the most timeless stories in English literature. Adapters are drawn to the story of Elizabeth and Darcy, both to pay reverence to the original, and to impart their own vision of the classic tale of first impressions. In the past two decades, the most creative, popular, and financially successful adaptations have emerged: the 1995 BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice directed by Simon Langton, the 2005 feature film Pride & Prejudice directed by Joe Wright, and the 2012 transmedia storytelling experience The Lizzie Bennet Diaries directed by Bernie Su. This thesis utilizes the three components of Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation (2006) to discuss these works at length. After a preliminary chapter outlining the major adaptations theories, in Chapter Two I examine the 1995 BBC miniseries as a formal entity or product; in Chapter Three I discuss the 2005 film as a process of creation; and in Chapter Four I analyze the 2012 transmedia experience as a process of reception. This thesis argues that each of these adaptations does something remarkably different to set itself apart from the novel and the adaptations before it. I claim that adaptations of Pride and Prejudice from the 1990s onward respond back to the most recent adaptation just as much as they do the original novel, affirming the increasing popularity of Pride and Prejudice as an adaptive source text.

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"I am not the fine man you take me for" : the postmortem western from Unforgiven to No Country for Old Men (2010)

The Postmortem Western is so named because, after having been buried for 15 years, the genre reappears with a pronounced self-awareness of its atrophied conventions and ideologies. As Jim Kitses and Alexandra Keller observe, today’s Western is almost entirely revisionist. Chapter One delineates two broad revisionist cycles: those Westerns that re-imagine marginalized histories and those that deconstruct the genre’s problematic influence on subject formation. This thesis is concerned with the latter, which may be likened to a postmortem examination of the Classical Western that reveals a systemic cause of death rooted in the Frontier Myth. While Richard Slotkin researches how the Frontier Myth has become symbolically encoded within American ideology, he does not attend to how it has also functioned as a prescription for masculine subject formation. Building from Michael Kimmel and Stephen Whitehead sociologies of masculinity, I elaborate how the Myth’s perpetual retelling through the Western has worked to justify compulsive masculinities, incite disjunctive gender relations, and foster an illusory lone-hero mythology of mastery and wholeness. Chapter Two is a literature and theory review that contextualizes the Postmortem Western within the genre’s history of adapting to cultural and ideological change. It also establishes an historical, profeminist methodology to substantiate the connection between an ancestral pattern of frontier masculinity and a perceived contemporary crisis in masculinity. Chapter Three establishes the cycle’s foundation insofar as Unforgiven, The Proposition, and The Claim depict masculinities constrained in rigid gender scripts and dysfunctional behaviours. These same themes thread through Chapter Four’s analysis of HBO’s Deadwood, whose epic scale is able to go much further by formulating a new mythic-historical script to cope with neoliberalism. Lastly, Chapter Five presents The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Down in the Valley, and No Country for Old Men as a subset that deploy Western elements in a modern day setting in order to express another intricacy of this cultural condition. Their narratives and formal designs portray our moment of historical rupture with a palpable sense of loss, when culture feels increasingly disconnected from the meaning and national cohesion once glimpsed in the past.

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Desperately seeking redundancy? : queer romantic comedy and the festival audience (2010)

Historically speaking, the queer film festival is rooted in grassroots politicsand it exists as a counterculture space. Conversely, genre cinema is associatedwith classical Hollywood and it is largely associated with mainstream,heteronormative value systems. The queer romantic comedy represents a majorflashpoint as a crossover phenomenon: in its ability to infiltrate thesediametrically opposed cultural systems, it is viewed as both traitor and arbitratorsimultaneously. The response to this queered genre is directly related to criticaldebates surrounding the question of whether the queer film festival space hasbecome or seeks to become redundant. Ironically, while the question ofredundancy circulates, critical analysis of the queer film festival space has onlyrecently begun to emerge, while the queer romantic comedy itself is virtually nonexistentwithin genre theory. As such, I argue that the queer film festival and thequeer romantic comedy are inextricably linked as sites of transgression, and that,neither are becoming redundant.To construct my analysis, I use the Vancouver Queer Film Festival as ablueprint for the selection of gay and lesbian romantic comedies. I cite a numberof critical thinkers, however, key to my analysis are a series of forums on thequeer film festival published in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, aswell as Rick Altman’s genre theory and Bakhtin’s concept of carnival. In chaptertwo, I provide an historical overview of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival andoutline my primary data for analysis. In chapter three, I draw from the GLQforums to contextualize key debates surrounding the changing role of the queeriiifilm festival. In chapter four, I insert queer romantic comedy into the lexicon ofgenre theory to explore the use of self-reflexivity as a political tool. In chaptersfive and six, I compare the gay and lesbian romantic comedy collections,focusing on primary tropes, modes of address and media response to locatepoints of disruption within these ‘generic’ texts. In the concluding chapter, Iconsider the question of redundancy in relation to actual and authorizedtransgression within queer romantic comedy and the queer film festival space.

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