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Showing posts from December, 2010

Ngram and Inference

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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

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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.