- Editors’ Foreword
When we first met Hannah Frank, she was still a graduate student at the University of Chicago. She had reached out to Don to discuss an idea she was developing for her PhD thesis, an intensive, material-based method for analyzing classic animated films. We agreed that what she was doing was extending the critical-analytic method of close analysis to its logical end: watching films in super-slow motion or even frame by frame to uncover the anomalies put there—intentionally or accidentally as part of the production process—and to speculate about possible hidden meanings. She was amused to learn that her approach inadvertently had affinities with the “Chicago School” of literary analysis. Derivative of the New Criticism of the 1930s, the English Department focused on “textual analysis, interpretation, and close reading, in lieu of textual historiography, literary history, and literary biography.”1 There the similarity ended, though. Rather than adopting the view of Chicago critics, such as Cleanth Brooks, who purposely excluded historical contexts from their textual exegeses, Frank proposed that these traces revealed the means of production based on industrialized labor and, sometimes, the resistance of workers within the system. These single-frame blips were clues to the times, places, personalities, and purpose of these critically neglected works.
A few archive workers might raise an eyebrow at an academic approach that involves examining film frames one at a time, because this, even in this digital age, continues to be an everyday component of many position descriptions. The import of Frank’s approach, and its relevance for archives and archivists, arises from its “forensic analysis” of cartoons as documentary subjects, a kind of slow-viewing that inevitably draws the analyst, the critic, and, eventually, the historian back to the archives. [End Page vi]
Before we drag the Steenbecks out of storage, though, anticipating an onslaught of film professors, we acknowledge that Frank’s goal was more ideal than practical; most students who do examine film and media works closely do so using video or even online sources. Aside from the sometimes dubious provenance of this material, have you ever tried scrutinizing a movie on YouTube frame by frame? Good luck. Still, this approach inevitably will become more widely practiced and ultimately will bring “forensic” scholars into archives to examine the objects of their studies in their original formats.
Hannah Frank died unexpectedly in 2017, just at the beginning of her career. As Alla Gadassik and Ryan Pierson, two contributors to our Hannah Frank memorial section, suggest, the pursuit of “Frankish frames” has the potential to open up new lines of film text–based close analyses going well beyond their origin in animation studies, especially after her pioneering dissertation will have been published as a book. Other contributors remembering the young scholar are Jen Bircher, Robert Bird, Mariana Johnson, Ian Bryce Jones, Mihaela Mihailova, and Tim Palmer.
This issue gravitates toward exposing hidden and suppressed histories. Timothy J. Piper investigates “Where ‘Post-Race’ Happens” in a study of some recent advertising campaigns produced by the National Basketball Association. He examines how the NBA seeks to brand itself with a progressive identity, “as an institutional space in which race is no longer an inhibitor of progress,” yet has ignored or papered over the backsliding attitudes and actions of certain players and owners, resulting in a media-managed past divorced from prevailing racial contexts.
“The Hidden History of the American Film Institute,” by Brian Real, sketches the beginnings of that organization in the depths of post–World War II propaganda film production and its roots in the U.S. Information Agency. One conclusion notes the irony that the AFI was never the archive that its image makers cultivated and that, despite continuing claims to be a preservation agency, the institute devotes little funds or efforts toward actual film preservation.
Camera!, a movie magazine from the 1920s, is another hidden history, excavated here by Peter Lester. Although an important voice from inside Hollywood in its day, its fortunes rose and fell with those of its vociferously pugnacious editor, Ted Taylor. The ultimate reason for the magazine’s collapse likely was the independent...