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Film, Theater, and Performing Arts > Film and Media Studies

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Blockbuster TV Cover

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Blockbuster TV

Must-See Sitcoms in the Network Era

Janet Staiger

Archie Bunker. Jed. Laverne and Shirley. Cliff Huxtable. Throughout the entire history of American prime-time television only four sitcoms have been true blockbusters, with Nielsen ratings far above the second- and third-rated programs. Weekly, millions of Americans of every age were making a special effort to turn on the set to see what Archie, Jed, Laverne, and Cliff were doing that week. The wild popularity of these shows--All in the Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, Laverne & Shirley (and its partner Happy Days), and The Cosby Show--left commentators bewildered by the tastes and preferences of the American public. How do we account for the huge appeal of these sitcoms, and how does it figure into the history of network prime-time television?

Janet Staiger answers these questions by detailing the myriad factors that go into the construction of mass audiences. Treating the four shows as case studies, she deftly balances factual explanations (for instance, the impact of VCRs and cable on network domination of TV) with more interpretative ones (for example, the transformation of The Beverly Hillbillies from a popular show detested by the critics, to a blockbuster after its elevation as the critics' darling), and juxtaposes industry-based reasons (for example, the ways in which TV shows derive success from placement in the weekly programming schedule) with stylistic explanations (how, for instance, certain shows create pleasure from a repetition and variation of a formula).

Staiger concludes that because of changes in the industry, these shows were a phenomenon that may never be repeated. And while the western or the night-time soap has at times captured public attention, Blockbuster TV maintains that the sitcom has been THE genre to attract people to the tube, and that without understanding the sitcom, we can't properly understand the role of television in our culture.

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Blow Up the Humanities

Toby Miller

A short, sharp, and provocative book, Blow Up the Humanities has esteemed scholar Toby Miller declaring that there are two humanities in the United States. One is the venerable, powerful humanities of private universities; the other is the humanities of state schools, which focus mainly on job prospects. There is a class division between the two—both in terms of faculty research and student background—and it must end.

Miller critically lays waste to the system. He examines scholarly publishing as well as media and cultural studies to show how to restructure the humanities by studying popular cultural phenomena, like video games. Miller ultimately insists that these two humanities must merge in order to survive and succeed in producing an aware and concerned citizenry.

Blues Before Sunrise Cover

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Blues Before Sunrise

The Radio Interviews

Steve Cushing

This collection assembles the best interviews from Steve Cushing's long-running radio program Blues Before Sunrise, the nationally syndicated, award-winning program focusing on vintage blues and R&B. As both an observer and performer, Cushing has been involved with the blues scene in Chicago for decades. His candid, colorful interviews with prominent blues players, producers, and deejays reveal the behind-the-scenes world of the formative years of recorded blues. Many of these oral histories detail the careers of lesser-known but greatly influential blues performers and promoters._x000B__x000B_The book focuses in particular on pre-World War II blues singers, performers active in 1950s Chicago, and nonperformers who contributed to the early blues world. Interviewees include Alberta Hunter, one of the earliest African American singers to transition from Chicago's Bronzeville nightlife to the international spotlight, and Ralph Bass, one of the greatest R&B producers of his era. Blues expert, writer, record producer, and cofounder of Living Blues Magazine Jim O'Neal provides the book's foreword.

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Body Double

The Author Incarnate in the Cinema

Lucy Fischer

Body Double explores the myriad ways that film artists have represented the creative process. In this highly innovative work, Lucy Fischer draws on a neglected element of auteur studies to show that filmmakers frequently raise questions about the paradoxes of authorship by portraying  the onscreen writer. Dealing with such varied topics as the icon of the typewriter, the case of the writer/director, the authoress, and the omnipresent infirm author, she probes the ways in which films can tell a plausible story while contemplating the conditions and theories of their making.

            By examining many forms of cinema, from Hollywood and the international art cinema to the avant-garde, Fischer considers the gender, age, and mental or physical health of fictionalized writers; the dramatized interaction between artists and their audiences and critics; and the formal play of written words and nonverbal images.

            By analyzing such movies as Adaptation, Diary of a Country Priest, Naked Lunch, American Splendor, and Irezumi, Fischer tracks the parallels between film author and character, looking not for the creative figure who stands outside the text, but for the one who stands within it as corporeal presence and alter-ego.

Body Shots Cover

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Body Shots

Early Cinema’s Incarnations

Jonathan Auerbach

This original and compelling book places the body at the center of cinema's first decade of emergence and challenges the idea that for early audiences, the new medium's fascination rested on visual spectacle for its own sake. Instead, as Jonathan Auerbach argues, it was the human form in motion that most profoundly shaped early cinema. Situating his discussion in a political and historical context, Auerbach begins his analysis with films that reveal striking anxieties and preoccupations about persons on public display—both exceptional figures, such as 1896 presidential candidate William McKinley, and ordinary people caught by the movie camera in their daily routines. The result is a sharp, unique, and groundbreaking way to consider the turn-of-the-twentieth-century American incarnation of cinema itself.

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Bondarchuk's War and Peace

Literary Classic to Soviet Cinematic Epic

An epic story of 20th century film-making, Sergei Bondarchuk's seven hours long and $700 million dollar masterpiece as the Soviet Union reclaims Tolstoy's Russian classic as Cold War propaganda.

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Border Bandits

Hollywood on the Southern Frontier

By Camilla Fojas

The southern frontier is one of the most emotionally charged zones in the United States, second only to its historical predecessor and partner, the western frontier. Though they span many genres, border films share common themes, trace the mood swings of public policy, and shape our cultural agenda. In this examination, Camilla Fojas studies how major Hollywood films exploit the border between Mexico and the United States to tell a story about U.S. dominance in the American hemisphere. She charts the shift from the mythos of the open western frontier to that of the embattled southern frontier by offering in-depth analyses of particular border films, from post–World War II Westerns to drug-trafficking films to contemporary Latino/a cinema, within their historical and political contexts. Fojas argues that Hollywood border films do important social work by offering a cinematic space through which viewers can manage traumatic and undesirable histories and ultimately reaffirm core “American” values. At the same time, these border narratives delineate opposing values and ideas. Latino border films offer a critical vantage onto these topics; they challenge the presumptions of U.S. nationalism and subsequent cultural attitudes about immigrants and immigration, and often critically reconstruct their Hollywood kin. By analyzing films such as Duel in the Sun, The Wild Bunch, El Norte, The Border, Traffic, and Brokeback Mountain, Fojas demands that we reexamine the powerful mythology of the Hollywood borderlands. This detailed scrutiny recognizes that these films are part of a national narrative comprised of many texts and symbols that create the myth of the United States as capital of the Americas.

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Brass Diva

The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman

Caryl Flinn

Broadway star Ethel Merman's voice was a mesmerizing force and her vitality was legendary, yet the popular perception of La Merm as the irrepressible wonder falls far short of all that she was and all that she meant to Americans over so many decades. This marvelously detailed biography is the first to tell the full story of how the stenographer from Queens, New York, became the queen of the Broadway musical in its golden age. Mining official and unofficial sources, including interviews with Merman's family and her personal scrapbooks, Caryl Flinn unearths new details of Merman's life and finds that behind the high-octane personality was a remarkably pragmatic woman who never lost sight of her roots.

Brass Diva takes us from Merman's working-class beginnings through the extraordinary career that was launched in 1930 when, playing a secondary role in a Gershwin Brothers' show, she became an overnight sensation singing "I Got Rhythm." From there, we follow Merman's hits on Broadway, her uneven successes in Hollywood, and her afterlife as a beloved camp icon. This definitive work on the phenomenon that was Ethel Merman is also the first to thoroughly explore her robust influence on American popular culture.

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Brazilian Women's Filmmaking

From Dictatorship to Democracy

At most recent count, there are no fewer than forty-five women in Brazil directing or codirecting feature-length fiction or documentary films. In the early 1990s, women filmmakers in Brazil were credited for being at the forefront of the rebirth of filmmaking, or retomada, after the abolition of the state film agency and subsequent standstill of film production. Despite their numbers and success, films by Brazilian women directors are generally absent from discussions of Latin American film and published scholarly works._x000B__x000B_Filling this void, Brazilian Women's Filmmaking focuses on women's film production in Brazil from the mid-1970s to the current era. Leslie L. Marsh explains how women's filmmaking contributed to the reformulation of sexual, cultural, and political citizenship during Brazil's fight for the return and expansion of civil rights during the 1970s and 1980s and the recent questioning of the quality of democracy in the 1990s and 2000s. She interprets key films by Ana Carolina and Tizuka Yamasaki, documentaries with social themes, and independent videos supported by archival research and extensive interviews with Brazilian women filmmakers. Despite changes in production contexts, recent Brazilian women's films have furthered feminist debates regarding citizenship while raising concerns about the quality of the emergent democracy. Brazilian Women's Filmmaking offers a unique view of how women's audiovisual production has intersected with the reconfigurations of gender and female sexuality put forth by the women's movements in Brazil and continuing demands for greater social, cultural, and political inclusion._x000B_

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The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall

Eve Golden

" Comedic film actress Kay Kendall, born to a theatrical family in Northern England, came of age in London during the Blitz. After starring in Britain's biggest cinematic disaster, she found stardom in 1953 with her brilliant performance in the low-budget film, Genevieve. She scored success after success with her light comic style in movies such as Doctor in the House, The Reluctant Debutante, and the Gene Kelly musical Les Girls. Kendall's private life was even more colorful than the plots of her films as she embarked on a series of affairs with minor royalty, costars, directors, producers, and married men. In 1954 she fell in love with her married Constant Husband costar Rex Harrison and accompanied him to New York, where he was starring on Broadway in My Fair Lady. It was there that Kendall was diagnosed with myelocytic leukemia. Her life took a romantic and tragic turn as Harrison divorced his wife and married Kendall. He agreed with their doctor that she was never to know of her diagnosis, and for the next two years the couple lived a hectic, glamorous life together as Kendall's health failed. She died in London at the age of 32, shortly after completing the filming of Once More with Feeling!, her husband by her side. The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall was written with the cooperation of Kendall's sister Kim and includes interviews with many of her costars, relatives and friends. A complete filmography and numerous rare photographs complete this first-ever biography of Britain's most glamorous comic star. Eve Golden is the author of several biographies of actresses, Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway, as well as a collection of essays on silent film stars.

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