Existentialism and Film Studies: Party Girl (1958) Precedes Party Girl (1995)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Nicholas Ray directed Party Girl (1958), starring Cyd Charisse, in less than ideal circumstances, while Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s Party Girl was released in 1995 and quickly faded into obscurity. There is, as far as I know, no substantive connection between the two films beyond the coincidence of their titles but I nevertheless present a comparison between these relatively unrecognised films in order to explore the extent to which Existentialism is an important influence on popular thought in general and cinema in particular. Party Girl (1995) features Parker Posey, an emblematic actor of 1990s American independent film, trying to find purpose in her life by working as a librarian during the day and a party organiser at night. Mayer’s Party Girl, set in the hedonistic club culture of underground New York, explicitly references Existentialist ideas in a comic fashion while Ray’s Party Girl touches on a number of themes that we might associate with Existentialism: alienation, the anxieties of youth, the legitimacy of the law, doomed anti-heroes and struggles for true expression. These are, of course, ideas that run through many of Nicholas Ray’s other more well-known films, They Live By Night (1948), In a Lonely Place (1950), Rebel Without a Cause (1955)and more.Both Party Girl films feature young women trying to find meaning in life or, to use the Existentialist jargon, to live in good faith, and do so, in different ways, by taking part in parties. The contrast between the frivolous and the serious and how we might distinguish one from the other is a crucial question in each film. This talk is part of a broader project about the importance, on the one hand, of Existentialism to the development of Film Studies, film theory and film-philosophy as critical discourses, and, on the other, the extent to which Existentialist ideas permeate filmmaking throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Period25 Jan 2023
Held atKing's College London, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Existentialism
  • Film-Philosophy
  • Cinema
  • Dance