American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 1, 2003
- pp. 80-81
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature life, production histories ofhis films, briefallusions to extant critical work on those films, and new critical commentary by Armstrong himself. It is important to note that the author's analysis on the "American" quality of Wilder's motion pictures roots itself primarily in the fact that the films he studies were all made in the United States and/or were produced by a US motion picture studio (i.e. Paramount, Warner Brothers). The text does not, in any great detail (with the exception of its discussion of location shoots and the American star system), comment on the "American Century." Billy Wilder: American Film Realist begins with a short introduction in whichArmstrong outlines his project, a project even more succinctly described on the back cover, and then proceeds with a critical investigation of nearly a score of Wilder's films including Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Some Like ItHot, TheApartment, and The FrontPage. Each study spans approximately eight pages. The quality ofthe essays varies greatly but generally suffers from the author's efforts to incorporate his abundant research material and critical insights into so few pages. An example of this appears in the following excerpt drawn from Armstrong's discussion of Double Indemnity: "By 1944, Hollywood monochrome photography had reached the zenith in sound cinema which it reached in silent cinema around 1926. Double Indemnity cinematographer John Seitz had himself been a cameraman since the silent period. His work here is some of the most efficient ever achieved in the classical period. Notice the economy with whichWalter's abrupt departure from Phyllis and her hold over him is contained in a shot over her shoulder as she watched him leave." In the preceding, it is clear that the author has three goals. He wants to introduce the importance of monochrome photography , to relate this technology to the film's cinematographer, and to closely read a moment in the film where its use (monochrome photography) is apparent. Unfortunately, spatial restrictions on this section must have demanded that editing be done and the result is that none of the three goals are reached. Reviewing the excerpt, it is not clear why Armstrong mentions monograph photography or the silent film experience of Seitz. Without needed contextualization, one cannot be entirely sure to which scene the author is referring. At other moments, Armstrong's valuable contribution to the study of Wilder is compromised through his use of problematic prose. In one telling example, the author refers to Marilyn Monroe in his discussion of The Seven Year Itch in the following manner: "With breasts like the brake lights on a Cadillac and a derrière as inviting as a triple cheeseburger, she is the epitome oftheAmerican dream ofAbundance Declared, and the system which marketed it." Together, these moments of conjecture and hyperbole dilute the author's analysis and lessen the promise ofthis worthwhile project. On a more positive note, Armstrong's text proves to be extraordinarily handy, as many auteur studies are, forits filmography and bibliography. Although only the films discussed in the book appear in the filmography, it is worth noting that the author does include an abbreviated credit listing for the majority ofthese films. The bibliography features fifty-three Wilder-themed books and nearly one-hundred articles. In light ofthe extensive research performed in support of the book and documented within it, Billy Wilder: American Film Realist offers a useful and most likely productive starting pointto anyreaderlookingto learnmore about the emigrant director. Harvey Young Cornell University email@example.com Tom Stempel. American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing. The University Press of Kentucky, 2001. 280 pages; $27.50 cloth. Different Environments Film scholars often pride themselves on insightful readings of individual films, genres, and directors as auteurs. Researchers investigate film and studio archives in order to ascertain the intent of filmmakers and how the production process often alters these initial ideas. Some historians consider film to be a primary source and endeavor to place the work offilmmakers in historical context, examining how a film may reflect the cultural milieu and time period in which it was made. But all too often scholars of film tend to ignore the film audience...