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The Garden as Film Backdrop: Construction of Cinematic Garden Space

Nina Gerlach, University of Heidelberg, Junior Fellow 2008/09

During my fellowship, I analyzed the role of the cinematic garden set as an educational argument in Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle (1958) and Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961). Linda A. Pollock considers gardening to be one of the most frequently used metaphors with reference to childhood (2002). Such a metaphorical construction is possible because gardens are in general suitable for creating a visualized criticism. Given the shifting existence of gardens, between pure natural and cultural existence, they share the hybrid state of res mixta with the condicio humana and are thereby provided for contexts of metaphorical universalism. Additionally in a tradition of an ethical naturalism that viewed nature as a point of reference for ethical judgment the notions of nature and goodness can be philosophically solidified. Rousseau's pedagogical concept could be read as a theory that combines these two ideas in the other most frequently used metaphor vis-à-vis childhood: innocence. Emphasized as natural purity, childhood is understood as the state of life completely unspoiled by human interventions. Both research objects confirm this idea of a retrospectively viewed natural paradise ex negativo since the decline of this original state goes along with the representation of architecturalized garden sets and of a childhood that is strongly dictated by adults. For instance, Clayton conceptualizes the spitefulness of the children as natura lapsa, visually indicated by a garden location, which combines the Victorian garden of Sheffield Parc with a Neo-gothic gazebo and garden staffage influenced by the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) in an aesthetic of the foreign. Simultaneously, the bad behavior of the children can be narratologically explained only as a result of the insanity of the puritanical governess or the supernatural influence of the other adults, the ghosts.

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