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Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1990s
Patrick McGilligan continues his celebrated interviews with exceptional screenwriters in Backstory 5, focusing on the 1990s. The thirteen featured writers—Albert Brooks, Jean-Claude Carrière, Nora Ephron, Ronald Harwood, John Hughes, David Koepp, Richard LaGravenese, Barry Levinson, Eric Roth, John Sayles, Tom Stoppard, Barbara Turner, and Rudy Wurlitzer—are not confined to the 1990s, but their engrossing, detailed, and richly personal stories create, in McGilligan’s words, "a snapshot of a profession in motion." Emphasizing the craft of writing and the process of collaboration, this new volume looks at how Hollywood is changing to meet new economic and creative challenges. Backstory 5 explores how these writers come up with their ideas, how they go about adapting a stage play or work of fiction, how they organize and structure their work, and much more.
Regulating Sexuality in Early American Cinema
ABC’s action-comedy series Batman (1966–68) famously offered a dual address in its wildly popular portayal of a comic book hero in a live action format. Children uncritically accepted the show’s plots and characters, who were guided by lofty ideals and social values, while adults reacted to the clear parody of the values on display. In Batman, author Matt Yockey argues that the series served as a safe space for viewers to engage with changing attitudes about consumerism, politics, the Vietnam war, celebrity, race, and gender during a period when social meaning was increasingly contested in America. Yockey examines Batman’s boundary pushing in four chapters. In “Bat-Civics,” he analyzes the superhero as a conflicted symbol of American identity and considers the ways in which the Batman character parodied that status. Yockey then looks at the show’s experimentation with the superhero genre’s conservative gender and racial politics in “Bat-Difference” and investigates the significance of the show’s choices of stars and guest stars in “Bat-Casting.” Finally, he considers how the series’ dual identity as straightforward crime serial and subversive mass culture text set it up for extratextual production in “Bat-Being.” The superhero is a conflicted symbol of American identity—representing both excessive individualism and the status quo—making it an especially useful figure for the kind of cultural work that Batman undertook. Batman fans, from popular culture enthusiasts to television history scholars, will enjoy this volume.
1950s Hollywood and the Rebirth of Low-budget Cinema
The emergence of the double-bill in the 1930s created a divide between A-pictures and B-pictures as theaters typically screened packages featuring one of each. With the former considered more prestigious because of their larger budgets and more popular actors, the lower-budgeted Bs served largely as a support mechanism to A-films of the major studios—most of which also owned the theater chains in which movies were shown. When a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court antitrust ruling severed ownership of theaters from the studios, the B-movie soon became a different entity in the wake of profound changes to the corporate organization and production methods of the major Hollywood studios.
In The Battle for the Bs, Blair Davis analyzes how B-films were produced, distributed, and exhibited in the 1950s and demonstrates the possibilities that existed for low-budget filmmaking at a time when many in Hollywood had abandoned the Bs. Made by newly formed independent companies, 1950s B-movies took advantage of changing demographic patterns to fashion innovative marketing approaches. They established such genre cycles as science fiction and teen-oriented films (think Destination Moon and I Was a Teenage Werewolf) well before the major studios and also contributed to the emergence of the movement now known as underground cinema. Although frequently proving to be multimillion-dollar box-office draws by the end of the decade, the Bs existed in opposition to the cinematic mainstream in the 1950s and created a legacy that was passed on to independent filmmakers in the decades to come.
War and Peace in the Era of Mass Communication
Most people typically think of armed conflict in physical terms, involving guns and bombs, ships and planes, tanks and missiles. But today, because of mass communication, war and the effort to prevent it are increasingly dependent on non-physical factors-the capacity to persuade combatants and citizens to engage in violence or avoid it, and the packaging of the information on which decision making is based. This book explores the many ways that mass communication has revolutionized international relations, whether the aim is to make war effectively or to prevent it. Gary Messinger shows that over the last 150 years a succession of breakthroughs in the realm of media has reshaped the making of war and peace. Along with mass newspapers, magazines, books, motion pictures, radio, television, computer software, and telecommunication satellites comes an array of strategies for exploiting these media to control popular beliefs and emotions. Images of war now arrive in many forms and reach billions of people simultaneously. Political and military leaders must react to crowd impulses that sweep around the globe. Nation-states and nongovernmental groups, including terrorists, use mass communication to spread their portrayals of reality. Drawing on a wide range of media products, from books and articles to films and television programs, as well as his own research in the field of propaganda studies, Messinger offers a fresh and comprehensive overview. He skillfully charts the path that has led us to our current situation and suggests where we might go next.
Gay Rights Activism through the Media
Over the past decade, the controversial issue of gay marriage has emerged as a primary battle in the culture wars and a definitive social issue of our time. The subject moved to the forefront of mainstream public debate in 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began authorizing same-sex marriage licenses, and it has remained in the forefront through three presidential campaigns and numerous state ballot initiatives. In this thorough analysis, Leigh Moscowitz examines how prominent news outlets presented this issue from 2003 to 2012, a time when intense news coverage focused unprecedented attention on gay and lesbian life.
Though he has made only five films in two decades—Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, and the Oscar-nominated films Moulin Rouge!, Australia, and The Great Gatsby—Australian writer-director Baz Luhrmann is an internationally known brand name. His Christian name has even entered the English language as a verb, as in “to Baz things up,” meaning “to decorate them with an exuberant flourish.” Celebrated by some, loathed by others, his work is underscored by what has been described as “an aesthetic of artifice” and is notable for both its glittering surfaces and recurring concerns.
In this collection of interviews, Luhrmann discusses his methods and his motives, explaining what has been important to him and his collaborators from the start and how he has been able to maintain an independence from the studios that have backed his films. He also speaks about his other artistic endeavors, including stage productions of La Bohème and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his wife and collaborative partner Catherine Martin, who has received two Academy Awards for her work with Luhrmann.
The Art and Argument of Ally McBeal
During its five-year run from 1997 to 2002, the popular TV show Ally McBeal engaged viewers in debates over what it means to be a woman or a man in the modern workplace; how romance factors into the therapeutic understanding of relationships; what value eccentricity has and how much oddity society should tolerate; and what utility fantasy has in the pragmatic world. In addition to these social concerns, however, Ally McBeal stood out for being well-constructed, narratively complex, and stylistically rich—in short, beautiful TV. Starting from the premise that much of television today is "drop-dead gorgeous" and that TV should be studied for its formal qualities as well as its social impact, Greg M. Smith analyzes Ally McBeal in terms of its aesthetic principles and narrative construction. He explores how Ally's innovative use of music, special effects, fantasy sequences, voiceovers, and flashbacks structures a distinctive fictional universe, while it also opens up new possibilities for televisual expression. Smith also discusses the complex narrative strategies that Ally's creator David E. Kelley used to develop a long-running storyline and shows how these serial narrative practices can help us understand a wide range of prime-time TV serials. By taking seriously the art and argument of Ally McBeal, Beautiful TV conclusively demonstrates that aesthetic and narrative analysis is an indispensable key for unlocking the richness of contemporary television.
Early Video Game History
Following the first appearance of arcade video games in 1971 and home video game systems in 1972, the commercial video game market was exuberant with fast-paced innovation and profit. New games, gaming systems, and technologies flooded into the market until around 1983, when sales of home game systems dropped, thousands of arcades closed, and major video game makers suffered steep losses or left the market altogether. In Before the Crash: Early Video Game History, editor Mark J. P. Wolf assembles essays that examine the fleeting golden age of video games, an era sometimes overlooked for older games’ lack of availability or their perceived “primitiveness” when compared to contemporary video games. In twelve chapters, contributors consider much of what was going on during the pre-crash era: arcade games, home game consoles, home computer games, handheld games, and even early online games. The technologies of early video games are investigated, as well as the cultural context of the early period—from aesthetic, economic, industrial, and legal perspectives. Since the video game industry and culture got their start and found their form in this era, these years shaped much of what video games would come to be. This volume of early history, then, not only helps readers to understand the pre-crash era, but also reveals much about the present state of the industry. Before the Crash will give readers a thorough overview of the early days of video games along with a sense of the optimism, enthusiasm, and excitement of those times. Students and teachers of media studies will enjoy this compelling volume.