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Themes and Variations
The decade from 2000 to 2009 is framed, at one end, by the traumatic catastrophe of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and, at the other, by the election of the first African American president of the United States. In between, the United States and the world witnessed the rapid expansion of new media and the Internet, such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina, political uprisings around the world, and a massive meltdown of world economies.
Amid these crises and revolutions, American films responded in multiple ways, sometimes directly reflecting these turbulent times, and sometimes indirectly couching history in traditional genres and stories. In American Cinema of the 2000s, essays from ten top film scholars examine such popular series as the groundbreaking Matrix films and the gripping adventures of former CIA covert operative Jason Bourne; new, offbeat films like Juno; and the resurgence of documentaries like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Each essay demonstrates the complex ways in which American culture and American cinema are bound together in subtle and challenging ways.
The Cambridge Turn
American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary is a critical history of American filmmakers crucial to the development of ethnographic film and personal documentary. The Boston and Cambridge area is notable for nurturing these approaches to documentary film via institutions such as the MIT Film Section and the Film Study Center, the Carpenter Center and the Visual and Environmental Studies Department at Harvard. Scott MacDonald uses pragmatism’s focus on empirical experience as a basis for measuring the groundbreaking achievements of such influential filmmakers as John Marshall, Robert Gardner, Timothy Asch, Ed Pincus, Miriam Weinstein, Alfred Guzzetti, Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, Nina Davenport, Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, Michel Negroponte, John Gianvito, Alexander Olch, Amie Siegel, Ilisa Barbash, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. By exploring the cinematic, personal, and professional relationships between these accomplished filmmakers, MacDonald shows how a pioneering, engaged, and uniquely cosmopolitan approach to documentary developed over the past half century.
Upon its original publication in 1976, The American Film Industry was welcomed by film students, scholars, and fans as the first systematic and unified history of the American movie industry. Now this indispensible anthology has been expanded and revised to include a fresh introductory overview by editor Tino Balio and ten new chapters that explore such topics as the growth of exhibition as big business, the mode of production for feature films, the star as market strategy, and the changing economics and structure of contemporary entertainment companies. The result is a unique collection of essays, more comprehensive and current than ever, that reveals how the American movie industry really worked in a century of constant change-from kinetoscopes and the coming of sound to the star system, 1950s blacklisting, and today's corporate empires.
While the anti-establishment rebels of 1969’s Easy Rider were morphing into the nostalgic yuppies of 1983’s The Big Chill, Seventies movies brought us everything from killer sharks, blaxploitation, and teen comedies to haunting views of a divided America at war. Indeed, as Peter Lev persuasively argues in this book, the films of the 1970s constitute a kind of conversation about what American society is and should be—open, diverse, and egalitarian, or stubbornly resistant to change. Examining forty films thematically, Lev explores the conflicting visions presented within ten different film genres or subjects: o Hippies (Easy Rider, Alice’s Restaurant) o Cops (The French Connection, Dirty Harry) o Disasters and Conspiracies (Jaws, Chinatown) o End of the Sixties (Nashville, The Big Chill) o Art, Sex, and Hollywood (Last Tango in Paris) o Teens (American Graffiti, Animal House) o War (Patton, Apocalypse Now) o African-Americans (Shaft, Superfly) o Feminisms (An Unmarried Woman, The China Syndrome) o Future Visions (Star Wars, Blade Runner) As accessible to ordinary moviegoers as to film scholars, Lev’s book is an essential companion to these familiar, well-loved movies.
The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium
Creatively spent and politically irrelevant, the American horror film is a mere ghost of its former self-or so goes the old saw from fans and scholars alike. Taking on this undeserved reputation, the contributors to this collection provide a comprehensive look at a decade of cinematic production, covering a wide variety of material from the last ten years with a clear critical eye. Individual essays profile the work of up-and-coming director Alexandre Aja and reassess William Malone's muchmalignedFeardotcom in the light of the torture debate at the end of President George W. Bush's administration. Other essays look at the economic, social, and formal aspects of the genre; the globalization of the U.S. film industry; the alleged escalation of cinematic violence; and the massive commercial popularity of the remake. Some essays examine specific subgenres-from the teenage horror flick to the serial killer film and the spiritual horror film-as well as the continuing relevance of classic directors such as George A. Romero, David Cronenberg, John Landis, and Stuart Gordon.Essays deliberate on the marketing of nostalgia and its concomitant aesthetic, and the curiously schizophrenic perspective of fans who happen to be scholars as well. Taken together, the contributors to this collection make a compelling case that American horror cinema is as vital, creative, and thought-provoking as it ever was.
This engaging, deeply researched study provides the richest and most nuanced picture we have to date of cinema—both movies and movie-going—in the early 1910s. At the same time, it makes clear the profound relationship between early cinema and the construction of a national identity in this important transitional period in the United States. Richard Abel looks closely at sensational melodramas, including westerns (cowboy, cowboy-girl, and Indian pictures), Civil War films (especially girl-spy films), detective films, and animal pictures—all popular genres of the day that have received little critical attention. He simultaneously analyzes film distribution and exhibition practices in order to reconstruct a context for understanding moviegoing at a time when American cities were coming to grips with new groups of immigrants and women working outside the home. Drawing from a wealth of research in archive prints, the trade press, fan magazines, newspaper advertising, reviews, and syndicated columns—the latter of which highlight the importance of the emerging star system—Abel sheds new light on the history of the film industry, on working-class and immigrant culture at the turn of the century, and on the process of imaging a national community.
Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films
Science fiction films, from the original Frankenstein and The Fly to Blade Runner and The Terminator, traditionally have been filled with aliens, spaceships, androids, cyborgs, and all sorts of robotic creatures along with their various creators. The popular appeal of these characters is undeniable, but what is the meaning of this generation of creatures? What is the relationship of mad scientist to subject, of human to android, of creature to creator?
Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters is a profound investigation of this popular cultural form. Starting his discussion with the possible source of these creatures, anthropologist and writer Per Schelde identifies the origin of these critters in the folklore of past generations. Continuing in the tradition of ancient folklore, contends Schelde, science fiction film is a fictional account of the ongoing battle between nature and culture. With the advance of science, the trolls, dwarves, pixies, nixies, and huldres that represented the unknown natural forces of the world were virtually killed off by ever-increasing knowledge and technology. The natural forces of the past that provided a threat to humans were replaced by the danger of unknown scientific experiments and disasters, as represented by their offspring: science fiction monsters.
As the development of genetics, biomedical engineering, and artificial intelligence blur the lines between human and machine in the real world, thus invading the natural landscape with the products of man's techno-culture, the representation of this development poses interesting questions. As Per Schelde shows, it becomes increasingly difficult in science fiction film to define the humans from their creations, and thus increasingly difficult to identify the monster.
Unlike science fiction literature, science fiction film has until now been largely neglected as a genre worthy of study and scholarship. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Folklore Monsters explores science fiction (sf) film as the modern incarnation of folklore, emblematic of the struggle between nature and culturebut with a new twist.
Schelde explains how, as science conquered the forests and mountains of the wild, the mythic creatures of these realmstrolls, elves, and ogreswere relegated to cartoons and children's stories. Technology and outer space came to represent the modern wild, and this new unknown came alive in the popular imagination with the embodiments of our fears of that unknown: androids, cyborgs, genetics, and artificial intelligence gone awry. Implicit in all of these is a fear, and an indictment, of the power of science to invade our minds and bodies, replacing the individual soul with a mechanical, machine-made one.
Focusing his analysis on sixty-five popular films, from Frankenstein and Metropolis to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Terminator, and Blade Runner, Per Schelde brings his command of traditional folklore to this serious but eminently readable look at SF movies, decoding their curious and often terrifying images as expressions of modern man's angst in the face of a rapidly advancing culture he cannot control. Anyone with an interest in popular culture, folklore, film studies, or science fiction will enjoy this original and comprehensive study.