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  • Recent Books in Film History

Reflecting the broad range of new scholarship in the history of cinema, the books included in this section have been selected by the editorial staff of Film History. The summaries have been provided by the authors.

James Buhler, Theories of the Soundtrack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

Theories of the Soundtrack charts the history of the ways film theorists and composers have thought about the relationship between music, sound, and image. The book covers both classic theory focused on ontological questions and establishing typologies of practice (e.g., Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Balázs, Arnheim, Potamkin, Copland, Eisler and Adorno, Spottiswoode, and Kracauer) and later theoretical interventions divided by approach (e.g., semiotics, neoformalism, narratology, critical theory, psychoanalysis). It concludes with a chapter on theories of the soundtrack in the age of digital media. The book questions the visual bias of much film theory (often espoused by composers as well) and argues that a thorough audiovisuality provides a more useful account of the production and experience of film and other media. [End Page 197]

Scott Curtis, ed., Animation (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2019).

Part of the Behind the Silver Screen series, this collection of six essays provides a succinct history of American commercial and independent animation from its beginnings to the present day. Written with students and professors in mind, the chapters follow changing technologies, techniques, and organizations of labor as animation cycled from artisanal or collaborative to industrial modes of production and back again. The essays draw upon both archival research and the current literature, as well as close analysis of key films, to sketch a history of American animation that brings its varied production contexts to the foreground. Imagining animation history as a series of problems and solutions common to the craft no matter which technology or technique has been used—such as the problem of image standardization—the anthology attempts to go beyond most animation historiography by highlighting patterns in the way American animation has been made, marketed, and understood.

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Still from The Boxtrolls (Laika LLC, 2014)

[End Page 198]

Marina Dahlquist, Doron Galili, Jan Olsson, and Valentine Robert, eds., Corporeality in Early Cinema: Viscera, Skin, and Physical Form (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018).

Moving pictures fascinated early audiences by depicting inanimate objects in motion; rolling waves and phantom rides were lasting favorites. First and foremost, however, screened bodies were at the crosshairs of cinemas—whether glorious or grotesque, mundane or majestic, dressed or disrobed; impossible, improbable, or imperiled. Film's wondrous and uncanny capacity to deliver imaginary corporeal presence took advantage of and amplified modernity's novel forms of body culture. This collection of essays and its variegated case studies and theoretical approaches interrogate mediated corporeality within the larger sphere of screen practices and visual technologies—mainly during a time frame before 1915. Contributors probe the vital matrix of bodies onscreen—mediated bodies, their connection with the bodies watching them, and their responses—and thereby heighten the awareness of the ways in which early film culture and screen praxes were inherently embodied.

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"A Quiet Day in a California Movie Camp," Photoplay, July 1915, 153, from the contribution of Charlie Keil and Denise McKenna

[End Page 199]

Patrick Keating, The Dynamic Frame: Camera Movement in Classical Hollywood (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019).

The Dynamic Frame is the first book-length history of camera movement in Hollywood cinema. Beginning with Murnau's impact on the late-silent style, the story stretches through the classic studio system and into the 1950s, ending with a careful look at Touch of Evil (1958)'s opening shot. A key feature of the book is its commitment to close analysis. While covering the technologies that enabled camera movement and the aesthetic debates that shaped the controversial technique, The Dynamic Frame shows how Hollywood filmmakers used the device for a surprisingly wide range of purposes: not just to follow figures walking across the screen, but also to mimic characters' subjective states, to play narrative games of concealment and revelation, and to comment on the dynamism and seriality of contemporary American life. An accompanying website...