Showing posts from April, 2007

Sarris, Film History Sage

More nuggets of insight from Andrew Sarris: I was rereading American Cinema this weekend for the intro course and found a couple more great quotes. The first ("this suggests the classic highbrow gambit of elevating lowbrow art at the expense of highbrow art") pithily expresses what took me many more words to do.

The second in some way articulates the reasoning behind my 1947 project:
Film history is both films in history and the history of films... For every I Was a Fugitive From the Chain Gang and Our Daily Bread, there were a score of "Thou Swell" romances in which money was no object. Yet the escapism of the thirties was as much a reflection of the Great Depression as any topical film on unemployment.By now, thanks in large part to auteurism, the situation has changed: the Thou Swell romances may still be forgotten, but even the topical dramas are overlooked in favor of more canonical, auteur-directed genre films. The experience of the late 40s shows that for eve…


If for nothing else, I'm going to appreciate this project for the range of fonts in the titles. Here, Tycoon (RKO, Richard Wallace) is established from the start as one half historical drama (diagonal line, slight ballooning), one half Western (blocky serifs). Well, it's not a literal Western - it's set in South America - but it's a John Wayne vehicle and transposes the settlement theme into a narrative about railroad construction. In many respects it's the typical dual-focus narrative that Rick Altman identifies, reminiscent of adventure films like Only Angels Have Wings. Wayne is having to construct a railroad tunnel while evil tycoon Alexander (Cedric Hardwicke) is skimping on materials. Meanwhile, Alexander's daughter (Laraine Day) falls for Wayne, and must come to terms with the class and lifestyle differences. I'm continually fascinated by the strange cross-identification of class politics in films like this. The film presents (presumably for its fema…

The Fugitive

The Fugitive (Argosy Films/RKO, dir. John Ford) is such a fascinating historical relic that I wish I knew more about it. The opening voice-of-God narration, intoned squarely in between the styles of How Green Was My Valley and the postwar pseudodocumentaries, pronounces that
The following photoplay is timeless. The story is a true story. It is also a very old story that was told in the Bible. It is timeless and topical, and is still being played in many parts of the world. This picture was made in our neighboring republic, Mexico, at the kind invitation of the Mexican government and the Mexican film industry. The locale is fictional It is merely a small state, a thousand miles north or south of the equator. Who knows?I'm not sure in what capacity the Mexican industry was involved, but director Emilio Fernandez and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, whose work is perhaps best known in the seminal Mexican melodrama Maria Candelaria, worked on The Fugitive as assistant director and cin…

Down to Earth

Imagine Xanadu, only without roller skates and with Rita Hayworth in the Olivia Netwon-John part. Down To Earth (Columbia, dir. Alexander Hall) itself was a sequel to a Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). Danny Miller (Larry Parks) is putting on a Broadway show about Greek muses who fall in love with American aviators. Terpsichore (Hayworth) is watching from heaven and gets upset at the characterization of the lead in the musical. She comes to earth to change the musical to something more edifying. Hijinks ensue.

Rudolph Mate's Technicolor cinematography is vibrant and saturated, and part of the pleasure is just the vitality of color in the mise-en-scene:

But the real entertainment value lies in Hayworth's performance. It's not a meaty role (Terpsichore frankly is a ditz), but Hayworth has a star presence which is knowing, immediate, yet aloof. I kept thinking of Richard Dyer's essay on Gilda and Hayworth's "resistance through charisma." Throughout, her dancing s…


I decided to start off my 1947 Project with a pseudodocumentary that's been on my to-see list for some time, Elia Kazan's Boomerang! (20th Century-Fox). Although the pseudodocumentary cycle (or "semi-documentary" in contemporary parlance) included a few entries from independent producers or other studios, Fox - Darryl Zanuck, Louis de Rochemont and director Henry Hathaway - developed the template with House on 92nd Street and made about a half-dozen features in the vein.

Like the other examples, Boomerang! starts with typewriter-serif font and a title averring that story content and locations are based in fact. (Although the actual town of Bridgeport was changed for a generic Connecticut everytown.) Also, like other examples, the film combines what is at times radical documentary narration (organization of shots and formal elements according to the logic of argument) with a more conventional fictional narration and noir style. Boomerang! points further toward the noi…

CFP: Anglo-French Cinematic Relations Conference

Sometime area-studies conferences fall off my radar, but this one sounds like an interesting and valuable one. The deadline for this is fast approaching.

Anglo-French cinematic relations since 1930

Department of Film Studies, University of Southampton
September 14-16 2007

Call for papers: deadline 30 April 2007

Despite the close geographical, political and cultural links between France and Britain, the dynamics of Anglo-French cinematic relations remain critically understudied. While numerous Anglophone studies have been written on French film - and indeed Francophone studies on British film - rarely do these works account for the dialectical interplay between the two at the levels of production, distribution, exhibition and reception. In order to redress this balance, this conference is aimed at an examination of the two-way flow of cinematic traffic between France and Britain from 1930 to the present day, filling significant gaps in our knowledge of British and French film and film per…

Shades of Middlebrow

Jason Sperb has an excellent and thorough review of Barbara Klinger's Beyond the Multiplex; I have started my way through the book and while I may have more to say about it at some point, I'll agree that it's a valuable and fascinating read. But this passage raised my eyebrows in critical suspicion:
Both genres [women's film and chick flick]...have been accused of delivering indulgent romantic fantasies and cheap emotional thrills. Their various associations with things feminine, from protagonists and plots to viewers, have often wrongly consigned them to a low aesthetic status.
This is a claim you often hear at least about the women's film, but is it true? Moreover, does it apply to the chick flick? On one level, it depends on what means by the qualifier "often." But if we take at face value some claim for representativeness, then the higher-brow reading formations (journalistic critics and the more consecrated slice of film culture) are actually kinder t…

CFP: Visible Evidence XIV

Visible Evidence XIV
Bochum, Germany
December 18-22, 2007

Hosted by the Krupp professorship for the history and theory of documentary forms at the University of Bochum, together with the Haus des Dokumentarfilms Stuttgart, and dokumentarfilminitiative NRW, Visible Evidence XIV marks the first time that the conference takes place in Germany.

Bochum is home to one of Germany’s main research universities. Since 2004, the media studies department at the Ruhr University houses the Krupp professorship for the history and theory of documentary forms. With a particular focus on the study of images of industry, the Krupp professorship puts a strong emphasis on research in new areas of the study of documentary.

This year’s conference will address current issues in documentary filmmaking as well as questions of documentary and history, documentary images in museums and art contexts, and documentary images and science (among others).

We invite panel and paper proposals on all topics and current issues …

PCMS: Paul McEwan

April's Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar is this Friday:

Paul McEwan (Muhlenberg College)
"Courts, Critics, and Censors: New Research on The Birth of a Nation Controversy"
This talk is a presentation of recent work toward a book on the reception of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 racist epic The Birth of a Nation. The reception of this film is one of the few stories in film history that everyone seems to know, but archival research greatly complicates the picture.

Part of this talk will focus on Griffith’s battles with the censor boards in Ohio, where the film was banned until the 1950s, the only place where censorship of the film managed to stick. The ongoing legal battles give us a sense of what the censorship of the film meant to Griffith and Epoch productions beyond Griffith’s high-minded statements about free speech and “witch burners.” This was a battle fought in courtrooms around the country by a company with significant financial resources. Among the interesting documents …

Dwyer on Indian Cinema

I thought I'd pass along information on an upcoming talk here at Temple:

Rachel Dwyer, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
"Screen Goddesses: Female Dieties in Indian Cinema"

Thursday, April 12, 4-6PM
Russell Weigley Room, 914 Gladfelter Hall
Temple Univerisity

Dr. Dwyer’s talk will examine depictions of goddesses in Indian cinema, seeking to explain the relative lack of popularity of the Devi in comparison to Sita. She will look at mythological films, where the goddess appears as one of the film’s characters, and at the social genre, where an image of the goddess is efficacious. She will also discuss films that refer to mythological stories of the goddesses to draw comparisons with human characters.

Rachel Dwyer teaches courses in Indian literature and cinema, as well as the Gujarati and Sanskrit languages at SOAS in London. Her main research interest is in Hindi cinema where she has published on film magazines and popular fiction; consumerism and the …

Reality TV and Legitimation Crisis

I was just ready to post some breezy suggestion that we might read the obsession with voting on reality TV shows as symptomatic of a deeper legitimation crisis when Allessandra Stanley beats me to the punch (sort of) and Michael Newman in turn denounces such a claim as a "baggy zeitgeist reading".

I won't argue too much with Michael's judgment; methodologically, the claims underlying ideological, discursive, and symptomatic reading could use a lot more shoring up in their mobilization of evidence. But since I, like many, was trained in doing such ideological readings, I'd at least like to suggest there might be a smarter version of Stanley's contention that voting rights concerns lead to the popularity of American Idol. Namely, we might see the causation question to be secondary and to connect the widespread proliferation of "voting" as a symptom of a political culture in which the importance, efficacy, and significance of voting faces widespread and…

Philadelphia Film Festival

Locals probably know that there's a film festival going on in Philly starting the end of this week. I'm impressed with the range and caliber of screenings.