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Avatar and Nature Spirituality explores the cultural and religious significance of James Cameron’s film Avatar (2010), one of the most commercially successful motion pictures of all time. Its success was due in no small measure to the beauty of the Pandoran landscape and the dramatic, heart-wrenching plight of its nature-venerating inhabitants. To some audience members, the film was inspirational, leading them to express affinity with the film’s message of ecological interdependence and animistic spirituality. Some were moved to support the efforts of indigenous peoples, who were metaphorically and sympathetically depicted in the film, to protect their cultures and environments. To others, the film was politically, ethically, or spiritually dangerous. Indeed, the global reception to the film was intense, contested, and often confusing.
To illuminate the film and its reception, this book draws on an interdisciplinary team of scholars, experts in indigenous traditions, religious studies, anthropology, literature and film, and post-colonial studies. Readers will learn about the cultural and religious trends that gave rise to the film and the reasons these trends are feared, resisted, and criticized, enabling them to wrestle with their own views about the film and the controversy. Like the film itself, Avatar and Nature Spirituality provides an opportunity for considering afresh the ongoing struggle to determine how we should live on our home planet, and what sorts of political, economic, and spiritual values and practices would best guide us.
Since its inception, narratology has developed primarily as an investigation of literary narrative fiction. Linguists, folklorists, psychologists, and sociologists have expanded the inquiry toward oral storytelling, but narratology remains primarily concerned with language-supported stories. In Avatars of Story, Marie-Laure Ryan moves beyond literary works to examine other media, especially electronic narrative forms. By grappling with semiotic media other than language and technology other than print, she reveals how story, a form of meaning that transcends cultures and media, achieves diversity by presenting itself under multiple avatars.
Ryan begins by considering, among other texts, a 1989 Cubs-Giants baseball broadcast, the reality television show Survivor, and the film The Truman Show. In all these texts, she sees a narrative that organizes meaning without benefit of hindsight, anticipating the real-time dimension of computer games. She then expands her inquiry to new media. In a discussion covering text-based interactive fiction such as Spider and Web and Galatea, hypertexts such as Califia and Patchwork Girl, multimedia works such as Juvenate, Web-based short narratives, and Façade, a multimedia, AI-supported project in interactive drama, she focuses on how narrative meaning is affected by the authoring software, such as the Infocom parser, the Storyspace hypertext-producing system, and the programs Flash and Director. She also examines arguments that have been brought up against considering computer games such as The Sims and EverQuest as a form of narrative, and responds by outlining an approach to computer games that reconciles their imaginative and strategic dimension. In doing so, Ryan distinguishes a wide spectrum of narrative modes, such as utilitarian, illustrative, indeterminate, metaphorical, participatory, emergent, and simulative.
Ultimately, Ryan stresses the difficulty of reconciling narrativity with interactivity and anticipates the time when media will provide new ways to experience stories.
Marie-Laure Ryan is an independent scholar and the author of, most recently, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media.
Robert Frank's American Cinema
Until now, celebrated photographer Robert Frank’s daring and unconventional work as a filmmaker has not been awarded the critical notice it deserves. In this timely volume, George Kouvaros surveys Frank’s films and videos and places them in the larger context of experimentation in American art and literature since World War II.
Born in 1924, Frank emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1947 and quickly made his mark as a photojournalist. A 1955 Guggenheim Foundation fellowship allowed him to travel across the country, photographing aspects of American life that had previously received little attention. The resulting book, The Americans, with an Introduction by Jack Kerouac, is generally considered a landmark in the history of postwar photography. During the same period, Frank befriended other artists and writers, among them Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso, all of whom are featured in his first film, Pull My Daisy, which is narrated by Kerouac. This film set the terms for a new era of experimental filmmaking.
By examining Frank’s films and videos, including Pull My Daisy, Me and My Brother, and Cocksucker Blues, in the framework of his more widely recognized photographic achievements, Kouvaros develops a model of cross-media history in which photography, film, and video are complicit in the search for fresh forms of visual expression. Awakening the Eye is an insightful, compelling, and, at times, moving account of Frank’s determination to forge a personal connection between the circumstances of his life and the media in which he works.
Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television
Often disguised in public discourse by terms like "gay," "homoerotic," "homosocial," or "queer," bisexuality is strangely absent from queer studies and virtually untreated in film and media criticism. Maria San Filippo aims to explore the central role bisexuality plays in contemporary screen culture, establishing its importance in representation, marketing, and spectatorship. By examining a variety of media genres including art cinema, sexploitation cinema and vampire films, "bromances," and series television, San Filippo discovers "missed moments" where bisexual readings of these texts reveal a more malleable notion of subjectivity and eroticism. San Filippo's work moves beyond the subject of heteronormativity and responds to "compulsory monosexuality," where it's not necessarily a couple's gender that is at issue, but rather that an individual chooses one or the other. The B Word transcends dominant relational formation (gay, straight, or otherwise) and brings a discursive voice to the field of queer and film studies.
Black Power Action Films
This lively study unpacks the intersecting racial, sexual, and gender politics underlying the representations of racialized bodies, masculinities, and femininities in early 1970s black action films, with particular focus on black femininity. While low-budget blaxploitation films typically portrayed black women as trifling "bitches" compared to the supermacho black male heroes, the terms "baad bitches" and "sassy supermamas" signal the emergence of films featuring self-assured, empowered, and tough (or "baad") black female protagonists: Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, and Foxy Brown. Stephane Dunn closely examines a distinct moment in the history of African American representation in popular cinema, tracing its influences from the Black Power movement and feminism.
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
With a career spanning more than forty years, Barbara Kopple (b. 1946) long ago established herself as one of the most prolific and award-winning American filmmakers of her generation. Her projects have ranged from labor union documentaries to fictional feature films to an educational series for kids on the Disney Channel. Through it all, Kopple has generously made herself available for a great many print and broadcast interviews. The most revealing and illuminating of these are brought together in this collection.
Here, Kopple explains her near-constant struggles to raise money (usually while her films are already in production) and the hardships arising from throwing her own money into such projects. She makes clear the tensions between biases, objectivity, and fairness in her films. Her interviewers raise fundamental questions. What is the relationship between real people in documentaries and characters in fictional films? Why does she embrace a cinéma vérité style in some films but not others? Why does she seem to support gun ownership in Harlan County, U.S.A., only to take a decidedly more neutral view of the issue in her film Gun Fight?
Kopple’s concern for people facing crises is undeniable. So is the affection she has for her more famous subjects—Woody Allen playing a series of European jazz concerts, Gregory Peck on tour, and the Dixie Chicks losing a fan base but making a fresh start.
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.