Showing posts from December, 2010

Ngram and Inference

Google's new ngram word mapping has been making the blogging rounds. Basically, it charts the frequency of words that occur in Google Books scans. I think Kevin Drum aptly suggests "the potential here for timewasting disguised as scholarly research." But let me take seriously as scholarly research for a moment, because the ngram simply puts a quantitative face on a key practice that humanities scholars adopt regularly: the historicization of ideas. It's Raymond Williams' Keywords with numbers. See for instance, Aaron Bady's discussion of concepts of race.
My book-in-progress is historicizing both the concept of the "social problem" and consequently the "social problem film." This has involved an intellectual history of the former and a reception study of the latter. The word-mapping is a good, if very partial, check to see how representative either pursuit is.
The rise in "social problem" usage does at least correspond, roughly to…

The Red House

What is the relationship between the film noir and the B movie? Some, clearly, were B movies, but not nearly as many as commonly thought. The Red House (UA/Sol Lesser-Thalia Productions, Delmer Davies) for example runs 100 minutes and was released through United Artists, a non-integrated, non-block-booking distributor. I have plenty of B films to watch in my 1947 viewing, but so far the plurality of my noir viewing has been A picture.

But if many noirs were not B films then arguably a B-film aesthetic pervades all but the most prestige-leaning noirs (Laura, for example). There's a prevalent notion that equates this with a post-noir understand of the exploitation film, but I'm also interested in the impact of classical B filmmaking, beyond cheap budgets.

The Red House is an interesting missing link. The credit shot above borrows the iconography and titling design of the B Western (compare). The cinematography at times is evocative, but it relies on day-for-night shooting (not sol…

CFP: Volume on Special Effects

Call for Papers
Special Effects: New Histories, Theories, Contexts

Edited by Michael Duffy [Towson University], Dan North [University of Exeter], and Bob Rehak [Swarthmore College]

Deadline for Abstracts: 1 March 2011
Deadline for Submissions: 1 January 2012

Recent decades have seen ever more prominent and far-reaching roles for special and visual effects in film and other media: blockbuster franchises set in detailed fantasy and science-fiction worlds, visually experimental adaptations of graphic novels, performances in which the dividing lines between human and inhuman – even between live action and animation – seem to break down entirely. Yet the cinema of special effects, so often framed in terms of new digital technologies and aesthetics, actually possesses a complex and branching history, one that both informs and complicates our grasp of the “state of the art.” At stake in studies of special/visual effects is a more comprehensive understanding of film’s past, present, and future in …

All Roads Lead to Genre Criticism?

I was discussing the 1947 project with a colleague at another school. One point she raised was the promise the project held for understanding genre in the studio years. It's interesting because I didn't start out conceiving of the project as primarily a study in genre. But that's been one consistent thread of it, largely because I keep seeing patterns of film narratives that don't fit the received genre histories.