With this Seventy-Third Issue Of The Velvet Light Trap, Our Editorial Collective Continues the journal’s tradition of bringing together rigorous studies of film and media linked by a common theme. But this issue departs from the transhistorical focus of many previous ones in order to embark on a reconceptualization of a particular moment in media history—the early years of the Cold War era. The two decades after World War II witnessed epochal shifts within film and media culture, including the domestic decline and international expansion of Hollywood, the global rise of art cinema, the diffusion of television, and the emergence of satellite broadcasting. Together, these events put us on a path toward what today is spoken of as “global media.”
Though each of the constituent events is well known and well documented, recent scholarship has urged us to situate them in the broader context of transnational cultural exchanges and to provide more fine-grained accounts of these shifts. In It’s So French! Hollywood, Paris, and Cosmopolitan Film Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2007), Vanessa Schwartz notes that “although we often speak of ‘global media’ culture we do not have a sufficiently textured sense of how it came to be.” Her work demonstrates “just how contingent the story of global media is when approached as a historical problem.” Dudley Andrew’s Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Robert Sklar and Saverio Giovacchini’s Global Neorealism: The Transnational History of a Film Style (University of Mississippi Press, 2012) both expand on that project.
The five essays collected here make valuable contributions to the study of the emergence of global media in the decades following World War II. These articles reconceptualize the complex historical conditions of the Cold War and the multifaceted ways in which media take shape according to the unique political climates and industrial contexts of their creation and consumption. Here, such contexts include art cinema institutions, global production and reception, education films, and expanded media.
The international film festival is among the many global media institutions to rise in prominence after World War II. Michael Baskett’s contribution, “Japan’s Film Festival Diplomacy in Cold War Asia,” traces the growth and influence of Asian cinema within film festivals in relationship to the Japanese imperial legacy and the emerging cultural Cold War order. As Gabrielle Hecht has argued, the Cold War proceeded in uneasy tension with empire, taking various forms, including global and regional disputes over politics, economics, and culture. As the colonial nations of the West returned to Asia in 1945 to restore their lost empires, disputes over decolonization intensified into anticolonial struggles for independence, creating “entangled geographies.” The Cold War roots of modernization theory and development economics resonate in colonial ideologies such [End Page 1] as the “white man’s burden” and “civilizing mission,” which similarly exalted the acquisition and control of technology.
Second, Abby Hinsman’s “Undetected Media: Intelligence and the U-2 Spy Plane” provides what may be the most familiar and conventional understanding of the Cold War to be found in this issue, but it examines an ambitiously unconventional choice of media object: the U-2 spy plane. By analyzing redacted CIA documents, Hinsman argues that the spy plane, equipped with a camera and sensors, should be understood as a media object. The U-2 became part of an arsenal of media technologies used to monitor world territories while establishing a new regime for what could be known. A paranoid climate of uncertainty palpable in the archival material Hinsman consults spurred the development (and, later, failure) of a high altitude surveillance vehicle intended to see without being seen, felt, or touched by manipulating its relationship to the enemy’s vertical aerial space. Hinsman’s work contributes to the effort to understand how mediated warfare and its motivating ideologies have informed the development of media technologies, and the article suggests a reconsideration of the historical interrelations among agency, identity, and media production.
Next, Ken Provencher expands upon previous research regarding runaway production in “Bizarre Beauty: 1950s Runaway Production in Japan.” He proposes an approach to these films that complicates their creation, and their impact, by...