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  • Introduction

In contemporary discourse, "American" film and the "American" experience are often conceptually limited to Hollywood and the United States. While we include this version of America in this issue, we were particularly interested in highlighting other sorts of American film and television production throughout the American continents. In our call for papers we focused on "American" issues such as establishing and crossing borders, the construction of identity within and beyond national or other boundaries, and the ways in which film and television work tomediate, negotiate, and obliterate various borders. The pieces included in this issue cover, geographically,"The Americas" from the Arctic Circle to Hollywood to Mexico.

The articles and the interview included in this issue are diverse in historical, geographical, and theoretical terms, but connections can be made among them along a variety of axes. Although some of the authors included in this issue deal specifically with Hollywood productions, in various ways each contributor also expresses a need to negotiate dissatisfaction with and resistance to mainstream "American" film and television. These negotiations depend upon the relationship between media and identity. The authors and filmmakers included here address these issues and many others, considering varying definitions of "borders" and varying ways in which media and identity can be connected. Some commentators negotiate a conflict between national andlocal identities or between "official" and widely acceptable identities and more personal and specific ones. In one way or another each piece included here deals with the tensions that arise between local and global, mainstream and independent, and representations and self-representations.

Because the goal of this issue of the Velvet Light Trap is to explore American media applying a broad definition of "America," we cover a great deal of geographic and theoretical territory. We begin by taking a look at two specific historical moments in American film. In "Film Noir and the American Dream: The Dark Side of Enlightenment" Ken Hillis considers the connections between film noir characters and post–World War II American identity. Hillis argues that film noir is central to understanding formulations of postwar American identity and its relationship to citizenship. He suggests that noir protagonists reflect an existential awareness of the impossibility of their own enlightenment and, by extension, of ever realizing the American Dream. In his analysis of several classic films noir, including DoubleIndemnity (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), and The Big Heat (1953), Hillis contends that the characters in these films and their relationships to "light" and enlightenment reflected and perhaps even helped to shape contemporary audiences who also dealt with shifting identities.

Victoria Sturtevant also explores an historical era in American film, with focus on a particular actress instead of a particular genre. In "Spitfire: Lupe Vélez and the Ambivalent Pleasures of Ethnic Masquerade" Sturtevant investigates the ways that the star persona of Mexican American actress Lupe Vélez (1908–44), known as the "Mexican Spitfire," participates in the logic of ethnic masquerade, a comic process that foregrounds outrageous self-referential performance. According to Sturtevant, Vélez, unlike her contemporary, Dolores Del Río, was not regarded as an exotic ambassador to the United States but rather as a polluting immigrant perhaps because of her loud, irrational, and hypersexual spitfire persona. She argues that Vélez represents an ambivalent vision of immigrant identity, one that acknowledges the limitations [End Page 1] of the American fears about ethnic pollution while simultaneously offering a subversive outsider's vision of Anglo values.

Vélez portrayed characters who were complicated and dynamic, even when, toward the end of her career, she found her available roles limited by her ethnicity. The Velvet Light Trap is very pleased to include an interview with an exceptional Mexican American filmmaker who captures similar complexity and ambivalence in her own film projects. Lourdes Portillo, whose films include Columbus on Trial, Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena, and Señorita Extraviada, has worked across borders of various sorts and has contributed to the development of a rich Mexican American film culture. We asked Portillo to talk about some of the issues central to a discussion of American media as well as her sense of place within American media. She discusses her most recent project as...


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