Friday, March 30, 2007

1947 Project

This is the time of semester when teaching and research commitments take all of my time. But given that summer is around the corner, I've been planning my writing and research docket for the time away from the classroom. Getting the book manuscript (a history of the social problem film in Hollywood) in shape is top priority, but I also plan to embark on a project that dovetails with my research on Hollywood as a social field and will undoubtedly generate new insights.

My goal is to watch every feature film that I can get my hands on that was released by a major American studio in 1947. Only 15% of the features distributed by the 8 majors are currently available on an authorized DVD release, so my work is going to be cut out for me tracking the rest down. There about 260 titles total; I figure if I can watch half that number, I'll be excited.

Essentially, my aim is twofold. First, I want to address the sampling problem in writing film history of the period. Since so few films are available on video, and since only a small minority of those approaches anything like canonical status, I suspect that the period of the late 1940s is ripe for reexamination despite the general sense that we know Hollywood's history well. Second, while diachronic analysis is important to historical argumentation, I wanted to get a better picture - at least for myself, hopefully for incorporation into original research - of the synchronic dimension of postwar Hollywood: the whole relational universe of postwar commercial cinema, the kinds of genres made, and the true A-B distinctions.

Oh, and why 1947? Since my project is on the postwar social problem film, 1947 looms large as a key year in the cycle (Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire). It also should allow a study of a studio system adjusting to postwar market changes and on the cusp of divorcement. Besides, I had to limit the historical scope somehow, even if arbitrarily.

I have to thank those who have already provided valuable suggestions - here at Temple Dan Friedlaender and Dan Kremer. Any input from readers on video sourcing, archival resources, etc. is most welcome.

7 comments:

michael newman said...

This sounds like a very blogworthy project, Chris. Looking forward to following your viewing here should you choose to chronicle it.

This reminds me a class project we did in grad school in a course on the American studio system. We chose one year from the 1930s and divided up all the films released by a single studio, Warner Bros. Each of us researched our handful of films in terms of budget, earnings, and critical reception as well as we could ascertain from the trades, then aggregated all the info into one matrix. It was a useful exercise to see how the studio conceived of its season's program, how it allocated stars and directors, and how it balanced A and B pictures. But we didn't watch the films, we just researched their production and distribution.

Chris Cagle said...

Thanks. I do intend to chronicle it.

I very much would like to research further into the production, distribution and reception of these films as well... or at least a reasonable subset of them. I have a decent sense of 20th-Century Fox in this period, but keep coming up against the problem that I don't have a good idea what their more generic output actually consisted of, how the prestige and noir offerings related to them. Hence the genesis of this project.

Jason Mittell said...

Chris - this does sound like quite an interesting project. One comment/suggestion is that if you're trying to get a handle of the snapshot of what film in one year looks like, you shouldn't restrict yourself to just features. Animation, documentary shorts, and the like were still part of the theatrical program (although they wouldn't be for long), so including a sense of what exhibition was like in that year seems critical - what did people see when they went to the movies? Not that you need to make the project any more ambitious... Good luck!

Chris Cagle said...

Good point, Jason, though for now I may have to keep a more producer-focused conception than an exhibition/reception-focused one. I had not entirely forgotten short, since I was clear to specify that features were scope of the project. And I will try to include some screening of them, just as I will include some Poverty Row films. But for a reasonable scope of study over a summer, I thought limiting the list somehow was necessary. We'll see what I can get to, as is.

Anonymous said...

For cross-section analogues in literary studies, see:

1599

1819

1889

1927

1977

Anonymous said...

Frederic Jameson:

As for the form of this literary history, however, it belongs to an identifiable if uncommon sub-genre that we may call "the story of a year." Of its various exemplars, I only want to mention here James Chandler's recent book on 1819, the Peterloo year, which has the formal interest for us of a reflexive history:7 he argues, indeed, that the very idea of a dated situation, the concept of a "year" as a category in its own right and a specific marker of cultural history as such, dates from precisely this "year" which is his subject. We will eventually want to ask ourselves whether anything of this reflexivity, this auto-designation, characterizes Angenot's own work. On one level the question merely has to do with the year itself: is it a decisive year, as the year of Peterloo certainly was, or is it merely representative, and might one not have dipped into the stream of time a thousand days earlier or later? It is certain that many interesting things happen in Angenot's year: the centenary of the French Revolution, for example, and the Universal Exposition, the opening of the Eiffel Tower and the flight and suicide of General Boulanger; across the Channel the mystery of Jack the Ripper, and closer to home the first publications of two unknown writers, Henri Bergson with Les données immédiates de la conscience, and Maurice Barrès with Un homme libre; the double love-death suicide at Meyerling of the Archduke Rudolph of Habsburg and his lover, and the appearance of one of the climactic novels of Zola's Rougon-Macquart series, La bête humaine. Enough to fill up any year, you will say, particularly if as is customary we add that it is the year of birth of Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler, Martin Heidegger, and Jean Cocteau; but precisely, something similar could be said about any year, I'm afraid, every year is crammed full of just such astonishing and forgotten, yet unforgettable, actualité (a concept to which we will return). So we must presumably be careful not to reify the date in question, not to allow our arbitrarily chosen methodological frame to turn into this or that watershed, turning point, beginning or ending of something.

Anonymous said...

See also 1922

and an essay by Michael North (the author of the above) on:

Virtual Histories: 
The Year as Literary Period