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Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series

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Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series

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Buffoon Men

Classic Hollywood Comedians and Queered Masculinity

Scott Balcerzak

Film scholars and fans have used distinctive terms to describe the Classic Hollywood comedian: He is a "trickster," a "rebel," or a "buffoon." Yet the performer is almost always described as a "he." In Buffoon Men: Classic Hollywood Comedians and Queered Masculinity, Scott Balcerzak reads the performances of notable comedians such as W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello through humor and queer theory to expose a problematic history of maleness in their personas. He argues that contrary to popular notions of Classic Hollywood history, these male comedians rearranged or, at times, rejected heteronormative protocols. Balcerzak begins by defining the particular buffoonish masculinity portrayed by early film comedians, a gender and genre construct influenced by the cultural anxieties of the 1930s and '40s. In chapter 1, he considers the onscreen pairing of W. C. Fields and Mae West to identify a queered sexuality and drag persona in Fields's performance, while in chapter 2 he examines the two major constructions of Fields's film persona-the confidence man and the husband-to show Fields to be a conflicted and subversive figure. In chapter 3, Balcerzak considers the assimilation and influence of Eddie Cantor as a Jewish celebrity, while he turns to the cross-media influence of Jack Benny's radio persona in chapter 4. In Chapters 5 and 6, he moves beyond the individual performer to examine the complex masculine brotherhood of comedy duos Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. Buffoon Men shows that the complicated history of the male comedian during the early sound era has much to tell us about multimedia comedic stars today. Fans and scholars of film history, gender studies, and broadcast studies will appreciate Balcerzak's thorough exploration of the era's fascinating gender constructs.

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Christophe Honoré

A Critical Introduction

David A. Gerstner and Julien Nahmias

French filmmaker Christophe Honoré challenges audiences with complex cinematic form, intricate narrative structures, and aesthetically dynamic filmmaking. But the limited release of his films outside of Europe has left him largely unknown to U.S. audiences. In Christophe Honoré: A Critical Introduction, authors David A. Gerstner and Julien Nahmias invite English-speaking scholars and cinéastes to explore Honoré's three most recognized films, Dans Paris (2006), Les Chansons d'amour (2007), and La Belle personne (2008)-"the trilogy." Gerstner and Nahmias analyze Honoré's filmmaking as the work of a queer auteur whose cinematic engagement with questions of family, death, and sexual desire represent new ground for queer theory. Considering each of the trilogy films in turn, the authors take a close look at Honoré's cinematic technique and how it engages with France's contemporary cultural landscape. With careful attention to the complexity of Honoré's work, they consider critically contested issues such as the filmmaker's cinematic strategies for addressing AIDS, the depth of his LGBTQ politics, his representations of death and sexual desire, and the connections between his films and the New Wave. Anchored by a comprehensive interview with the director, the authors incorporate classical and contemporary film theories to offer a range of cinematic interventions for thinking queerly about the noted film author. Christophe Honoré: A Critical Introduction reconceptualizes the relationship between film theory and queer theory by moving beyond predominant literary and linguistic models, focusing instead on cinematic technique. Students and teachers of queer film will appreciate this thought-provoking volume.

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Cinema and Community

Progressivism, Exhibition, and Film Culture in Chicago, 1907-1917

Moya Luckett

Caught between the older model of short film and the emerging classic era, the transitional period of American cinema (1907-1917) has typically posed a problem for studies of early American film. Yet in Cinema and Community: Progressivism, Exhibition, and Film Culture in Chicago, 1907-1917, author Moya Luckett uses the era's dominant political ideology as a lens to better understand its cinematic practice. Luckett argues that movies were a typically Progressive institution, reflecting the period's investment in leisure, its more public lifestyle, and its fascination with celebrity. She uses Chicago, often considered the nation's most Progressive city and home to the nation's largest film audience by 1907, to explore how Progressivism shaped and influenced the address, reception, exhibition, representational strategies, regulation, and cultural status of early cinema. After a survey of Progressivism's general influences on popular culture and the film industry in particular, she examines the era's spectatorship theories in chapter 1 and then the formal characteristics of the early feature film-including the use of prologues, multiple diegesis, and oversight-in chapter 2. In chapter 3, Luckett explores the period's cinema in the light of its celebrity culture, while she examines exhibition in chapter 4. She also looks at the formation of Chicago's censorship board in November 1907 in the context of efforts by city government, social reformers, and the local press to establish community standards for cinema in chapter 5. She completes the volume by exploring race and cinema in chapter 6 and national identity and community, this time in relation to World War I, in chapter 7. As well as offering a history of an underexplored area of film history, Luckett provides a conceptual framework to help navigate some of the period's key issues. Film scholars interested in the early years of American cinema will appreciate this insightful study.

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Cinema at the Periphery

Edited by Dina Iordanova, David Martin-Jones, and Belén Vidal

From Iceland to Iran, from Singapore to Scotland, a growing intellectual and cultural wave of production is taking cinema beyond the borders of its place of origin—exploring faraway places, interacting with barely known peoples, and making new localities imaginable. In these films, previously entrenched spatial divisions no longer function as firmly fixed grid coordinates, the hierarchical position of place as “center” is subverted, and new forms of representation become possible. In Cinema at the Periphery, editors Dina Iordanova, David Martin-Jones, and Belén Vidal assemble criticism that explores issues of the periphery, including questions of transnationality, place, space, passage, and migration. Cinema at the Periphery examines the periphery in terms of locations, practices, methods, and themes. It includes geographic case studies of small national cinemas located at the global margins, like New Zealand and Scotland, but also of filmmaking that comes from peripheral cultures, like Palestinian “stateless” cinema, Australian Aboriginal films, and cinema from Quebec. Therefore, the volume is divided into two key areas: industries and markets on the one hand, and identities and histories on the other. Yet as a whole, the contributors illustrate that the concept of “periphery” is not fixed but is always changing according to patterns of industry, ideology, and taste. Cinema at the Periphery highlights the inextricable interrelationship that exists between production modes and circulation channels and the emerging narratives of histories and identities they enable. In the present era of globalization, this timely examination of the periphery will interest teachers and students of film and media studies.

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The Collapse of the Conventional

German Film and Its Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century

Edited by Jaimey Fisher and Brad Prager

While difficult questions of history, culture, and politics figured less prominently in the lighter cinematic fare of the 1980s and 1990s, German filmmakers have recaptured the world’s attention since the turn of the millennium with vital, dynamic, and engaged works. In fact, today’s filmmakers have turned back to many themes that were important in the 1960s and 1970s, when a movement of young filmmakers proclaimed the collapse of existing filmmaking conventions. In The Collapse of the Conventional: German Film and Its Politics at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, editors Jaimey Fisher and Brad Prager present contributions from prominent German film studies scholars to examine the current politically charged and provocative moment in German filmmaking historically, ideologically, and formally as another break with cinematic convention. Fisher and Prager introduce the volume with a look back at the history of German film to define New German Cinema and identify the themes and motives that characterize its films and filmmakers. In the first section, essays explore the cinematic treatment of German national identity in historical films, including those that confront Germany’s Nazi past, such as Downfall, The Miracle of Bern, and the TV-film Dresden. The second section takes on German cinema’s examination of life in East Germany and the consequences of reunification by analyzing the films Good Bye, Lenin and The Lives of Others. The Collapse of the Conventional also examines new groundbreaking work by filmmakers such as Christian Petzold, Fatih Ak?n, and Christoph Hochhäusler to investigate how German film critically approaches globalization and the end of the cold war. This collection shows that today’s German filmmakers are delving into new modes of cinematic production in a global context. Students, scholars of film, and anyone interested in German and cultural studies will appreciate this volume.

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Contact Zones

Memory, Origin, and Discourses in Black Diasporic Cinema

Sheila J. Petty

Created at the crossroads of slavery, migration, and exile, and comprising a global population, the black diaspora is a diverse space of varied histories, experiences, and goals. Likewise, black diasporic film tends to focus on the complexities of transnational identity, which oscillates between similarity and difference and resists easy categorization. In Contact Zones author Sheila J. Petty addresses a range of filmmakers, theorists, and issues in black diasporic cinema, highlighting their ongoing influences on contemporary artistic and theoretical discourses. Petty examines both Anglophone and Francophone films and theorists, divided according to this volume’s three thematic sections—Slavery, Migration and Exile, and Beyond Borders. The feature films and documentaries considered—which include Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust, The Man by the Shore, and Rude, among others—represent a wide range of cultures and topics. Through close textual analysis that incorporates the work of well-known diasporic thinkers like W. E. B. DuBois, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon along with contemporary notables such as Molefi Kete Asante, bell hooks, Clenora Hudson-Weems, René Depestre, Paul Gilroy, and Rinaldo Walcott, Petty details the unique ways in which black diasporic films create meaning. By exploring a variety of African American, Caribbean, Black British, and African Canadian perspectives, Contact Zones provides a detailed survey of the diversity and vitality of black diasporic contributions to cinema and theory. This volume will be a welcome addition to the libraries of scholars and students of film studies and Africana studies.

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Crowds, Power, and Transformation in Cinema

Lesley Brill

From Intolerance to The Silence of the Lambs, motion pictures show crowds and power in complex, usually antagonistic, relationships. Key to understanding this opposition is an intrinsic capability of the cinema: transformation. Making unprecedented use of Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power, Lesley Brill explores crowds, power, and transformation throughout film history. The formation of crowds together with crowd symbols and representations of power create complex, unifying structures in two early masterpieces, The Battleship Potemkin and Intolerance. In Throne of Blood, power-seekers become increasingly isolated, while the crowd of the dead seduces and overwhelms the living. The conflict between crowds and power in Citizen Kane takes place both within the protagonist and between him and the people he tries to master. North by Northwest, Killer of Sheep, and The Silence of the Lambs are rich in hunting and predation and show the crowd as a pack; transformation—true, false, and failed—is the key to both attack and escape. Brill's study provides original insights into canonical movies and shows anew the central importance of transformation in film. Film theorists, critics, and historians will value this fresh and intriguing approach to film classics, which also has much to say about cinema itself and its unique relationship to mass audiences.

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Documenting the Documentary

Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, New and Expanded Edition

Edited by Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski

Originally released in 1998, Documenting the Documentary responded to a scholarly landscape in which documentary film was largely understudied and undervalued aesthetically, and analyzed instead through issues of ethics, politics, and film technology. Editors Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski addressed this gap by presenting a useful survey of the artistic and persuasive aspects of documentary film from a range of critical viewpoints. This new edition of Documenting the Documentary adds five new essays on more recent films in addition to the text of the first edition. Thirty-one film and media scholars, many of them among the most important voices in the area of documentary film, cover the significant developments in the history of documentary filmmaking from Nanook of the North (1922), the first commercially released documentary feature, to contemporary independent film and video productions like Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (2005) and the controversial Borat (2006). The works discussed also include representative examples of many important national and stylistic movements and various production contexts, from mainstream to avant-garde. In all, this volume offers a series of rich and revealing analyses of those "regimes of truth" that still fascinate filmgoers as much today as they did at the very beginnings of film history. As documentary film and visual media become increasingly important ways for audiences to process news and information, Documenting the Documentary continues to be a vital resource to understanding the genre. Students and teachers of film studies and fans of documentary film will appreciate this expanded classic volume.

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Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters

A Hollywood History

By Sheldon Hall and Steve Neale

The pantheon of big-budget, commercially successful films encompasses a range of genres, including biblical films, war films, romances, comic-book adaptations, animated features, and historical epics. In Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History authors Sheldon Hall and Steve Neale discuss the characteristics, history, and modes of distribution and exhibition that unite big-budget pictures, from their beginnings in the late nineteenth century to the present. Moving chronologically, the authors examine the roots of today’s blockbuster in the “feature,” “special,” “superspecial,” “roadshow,” “epic,” and “spectacle” of earlier eras, with special attention to the characteristics of each type of picture. In the first section, Hall and Neale consider the beginnings of features, specials, and superspecials in American cinema, as the terms came to define not the length of a film but its marketable stars or larger budget. The second section investigates roadshowing as a means of distributing specials and the changes to the roadshow that resulted from the introduction of synchronized sound in the 1920s. In the third section, the authors examine the phenomenon of epics and spectacles that arose from films like Gone with the Wind, Samson and Deliliah, and Spartacus and continues to evolve today in films like Spider-Man and Pearl Harbor. In this section, Hall and Neale consider advances in visual and sound technology and the effects and costs they introduced to the industry. Scholars of film and television studies as well as readers interested in the history of American moviemaking will enjoy Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters.

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Film and Risk

Edited by Mette Hjort

The phenomenon of risk has been seriously neglected in connection with the study of film, yet many of those who write about film seem to have intuitions about how various forms of risk-taking shape aspects of the filmmaking or film-viewing process. Film and Risk fills this gap as editor Mette Hjort and interdisciplinary contributors discuss film’s relation to all types of risk. Bringing together scholars from philosophy, anthropology, film studies, economics, and cultural studies, as well as experts from the fields of law, filmmaking, and photojournalism, this volume discusses risk from multiple intriguing angles. In thirteen chapters, contributors consider concrete risks (e.g., stunts or financial decisions); theoretical aesthetic and artistic risks (e.g., filmmakers who incorporate excessive hazards into their films); and the real-world jeopardy spectators might put themselves in when viewing films. The first three chapters tackle the conceptual terrain that is relevant to understanding risk in film. The next three chapters focus on risk as it pertains to the practice of filmmaking. Subsequent chapters deal with economic risk and the role that risk has in the development of film’s institutional landscape. The scholarship in this collection is impressive, boasting some of the top writers in their respective fields. Through the contributors’ clear and thorough discussions, this cohesive but diverse collection shows that risk arises in many different areas that tend to be thought of as central to film studies. Scholars of film studies will appreciate this daring and inventive collection, and readers with a general interest in film studies will enjoy its accessible style.

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