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Showing posts from January, 2010

Blessing in Disguise

I'm teaching Robert Allen and Douglas Gomery's Film History textbook this semester. They devote a considerable amount of space to a polemic for a distinct film historiographic practice. Some of it is dated (film history is no longer brand-spaking new), and some of it still holds. Reading past the substance of their argument, though, one can detect an underdog fetish:
We estimate that nearly half of the theatrical-length motion pictures made in the United States are lost forever. Consider the enormity of this loss for the historical study of cinema. It is difficult to construct even a hypothetical analogy on the same scale in another branch of history. To do so we would have to propose, for example: What if two-thirds of all the paintings done in the twentieth century were destroyed, and most of the remainding one-third were saved through happenstance rather than through systematic preservation?Well, for all we know, two-thirds of all paintings painted in the 20th century were d…

CFP: 50 Years of the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research

On, Archives!: A conference on media, theater and history
Celebrating 50 Years of the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research
July 6 - 9, 2010
Madison, Wisconsin

In 2010 the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research celebrates its 50th anniversary. Formed in 1960 as a joint project of what was then the Department of Speech at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and the Wisconsin Historical Society, the WCFTR was one of the earliest institutions in the United States to perceive the value in preserving and collecting archival materials in American film, radio, television and theater. Conjointly with the WHS's extensive Mass Communication collections, the WCFTR has continued to build a resource used by scholars, researchers, students, and the general public alike to keep the history of media and the dramatic arts alive and to aid in our understanding of cinema, radio, television, drama, and popular culture as globally vital phenomena.

In this its 50th year, the Center wil…

Friday Giallo Blogging

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The ideological trope of J&B scotch...

This example from The Bloodstained Shadow. One of the things I love about giallos is their inventiveness in finding new visual means to achieve conventional generic ends. Take this shot of the killer entering the apartment building:

Normally, suspense films withhold the information of the killer's identity by a) keeping the killer offscreen; b) framing part of the killer's body but never the face; or c) illuminating so that shadow falls on the face. Here, inspired no doubt by the low-light cinematography of Gordon Willis, the camera points directly at the killer and the key illumination of the scene. I cannot claim this is the first film to do this, but in some ways that's beside the point - the generic pleasures of giallo is the systematic rule-breaking.

Spring 2010

I have also uploaded syllabi for this semester's versions of my Intro to Film/Video Analysis class and the graduate Film Theory class.

I see that Alisa Perren has shared a syllabus for her grad Media Industries class - the course looks great. I am hoping to collect any shared syllabi in the field. Pointers welcome.

Reality TV genre

Watching Tabitha's Salon Takeover, I kept think of Rick Altman's genre syntax/semantics model, since the show has the semantics of a interior-design makeover show (any of the HGTV programming, but even more Restaurant Makeover) but the syntax of Supernanny. I don't claim it's necessarily the first such combination (I never watched Kitchen Nightmares, which clearly is in the mix), but the syntax/semantic combination does distinguish the show from other Bravo shows which otherwise seem comparable stylistically.
Which makes me wonder what scholarship has addressed the genres of American reality TV. I know there's a tendency in popular discourse to treat it as one genre, but either a format might be a better way of conceiving of it or else if it is a genre then the subgenres bring important distinctions. Yes, I know some searching around some databases and a few hours reading can answer my question, but that's a project I'll have to put off for now.

Hollywood Cinematography syllabus

The semester is starting up soon, which means getting syllabi in order. I am teaching a new class this Spring, an Advance Film History class focusing on Hollywood cinematography. I've uploaded my draft syllabus of the readings and films. If anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears.

The Unsuspected

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Here we see Warners taking a page from Fox's true-crime pseudoducmentary book for a credit sequence:


In general, if I had to pick one film that exemplified the trends of the late 1940s, I could do worse than The Unsuspected (WB-Curtiz Productions, Michael Curtiz).

In house independent production. The 1940s was a period in which tax structures encouraged independent production, often with stars or directors producing their own films and releasing them through a parent studio. The Unsuspected is both a Warners film and not. It was produced by Curtiz, a WB director and relied heavily on the studio's talent. Consequently it looks and feels like a Warners film, yet it departs in its imitation of Fox and others.

Noir and gothic narrative. The Unsuspected borrows liberally from Laura, with a literary radio host and a haunting portrait. It also suggests other noir sources, like Nightmare Alley. It takes the noir hallmark of pushing the enigma of the narration to its stretching point in t…