Rethinking the significance of films including Pillow Talk, Rear Window, and The Seven Year Itch, Pamela Robertson Wojcik examines the popularity of the “apartment plot,” her term for stories in which the apartment functions as a central narrative device. From the baby boom years into the 1970s, the apartment plot was not only key to films; it also surfaced in TV shows, Broadway plays, literature, and comic strips, from The Honeymooners and The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Subways are for Sleeping and Apartment 3-G. By identifying the apartment plot as a film genre, Wojcik reveals affinities between movies generally viewed as belonging to such distinct genres as film noir, romantic comedy, and melodrama. She analyzes the apartment plot as part of a mid-twentieth-century urban discourse, showing how it offers a vision of home centered on values of community, visibility, contact, mobility, impermanence, and porousness that contrasts with views of home as private, stable, and family-based. Wojcik suggests that the apartment plot presents a philosophy of urbanism related to the theories of Jane Jacobs and Henri Lefebvre. Urban apartments were important spaces for negotiating gender, sexuality, race, and class in mid-twentieth-century America.
The American popular imagination has long portrayed World War II as the “good war,” fought by the “greatest generation” for the sake of freedom and democracy. Yet, combat films and other war media complicate this conventional view by indulging in explosive displays of spectacular violence. Combat sequences, Tanine Allison argues, construct a counter-narrative of World War II by reminding viewers of the war’s harsh brutality.
Destructive Sublime traces a new aesthetic history of the World War II combat genre by looking back at it through the lens of contemporary video games like Call of Duty. Allison locates some of video games’ glorification of violence, disruptive audiovisual style, and bodily sensation in even the most canonical and seemingly conservative films of the genre. In a series of case studies spanning more than seventy years—from wartime documentaries like The Battle of San Pietro to fictional reenactments like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan to combat video games like Medal of Honor—this book reveals how the genre’s aesthetic forms reflect (and influence) how American culture conceives of war, nation, and representation itself.
From the earliest sound films to the present, American cinema has represented African Americans as decidedly musical. Disintegrating the Musical tracks and analyzes this history of musical representations of African Americans, from blacks and whites in blackface to black-cast musicals to jazz shorts, from sorrow songs to show tunes to bebop and beyond.
Arthur Knight focuses on American film’s classic sound era, when Hollywood studios made eight all-black-cast musicals—a focus on Afro-America unparalleled in any other genre. It was during this same period that the first black film stars—Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge—emerged, not coincidentally, from the ranks of musical performers. That these films made so much of the connection between African Americans and musicality was somewhat ironic, Knight points out, because they did so in a form (song) and a genre (the musical) celebrating American social integration, community, and the marriage of opposites—even as the films themselves were segregated and played before even more strictly segregated audiences.
Disintegrating the Musical covers territory both familiar—Show Boat, Stormy Weather, Porgy and Bess—and obscure—musical films by pioneer black director Oscar Micheaux, Lena Horne’s first film The Duke Is Tops, specialty numbers tucked into better-known features, and lost classics like the short Jammin’ the Blues. It considers the social and cultural contexts from which these films arose and how African American critics and audiences responded to them. Finally, Disintegrating the Musical shows how this history connects with the present practices of contemporary musical films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Bamboozled.
This insightful study places African American women's stardom in historical and industrial contexts by examining the star personae of five African American women: Dorothy Dandridge, Pam Grier, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Halle Berry. Interpreting each woman's celebrity as predicated on a brand of charismatic authority, Mia Mask shows how these female stars have ultimately complicated the conventional discursive practices through which blackness and womanhood have been represented in commercial cinema, independent film, and network television.
Mask examines the function of these stars in seminal yet underanalyzed films. She considers Dandridge's status as a sexual commodity in films such as Tamango, revealing the contradictory discourses regarding race and sexuality in segregation-era American culture. Grier's feminist-camp performances in sexploitation pictures Women in Cages and The Big Doll House and her subsequent blaxploitation vehicles Coffy and Foxy Brown highlight a similar tension between representing African American women as both objectified stereotypes and powerful, self-defining icons. Mask reads Goldberg's transforming habits in Sister Act and The Associate as representative of her unruly comedic routines, while Winfrey's daily television performance as self-made, self-help guru echoes Horatio Alger narratives of success. Finally, Mask analyzes Berry's meteoric success by acknowledging the ways in which Dandridge's career made Berry's possible.
In our current era of helicopter parenting and stranger danger, an unaccompanied child wandering through the city might commonly be viewed as a victim of abuse and neglect. However, from the early twentieth century to the present day, countless books and films have portrayed the solitary exploration of urban spaces as a source of empowerment and delight for children.
Fantasies of Neglect explains how this trope of the self-sufficient, mobile urban child originated and considers why it persists, even as it goes against the grain of social reality. Drawing from a wide range of films, children’s books, adult novels, and sociological texts, Pamela Robertson Wojcik investigates how cities have simultaneously been demonized as dangerous spaces unfit for children and romanticized as wondrous playgrounds that foster a kid’s independence and imagination. Charting the development of free-range urban child characters from Little Orphan Annie to Harriet the Spy to Hugo Cabret, and from Shirley Temple to the Dead End Kids, she considers the ongoing dialogue between these fictional representations and shifting discourses on the freedom and neglect of children.
While tracking the general concerns Americans have expressed regarding the abstract figure of the child, the book also examines the varied attitudes toward specific types of urban children—girls and boys, blacks and whites, rich kids and poor ones, loners and neighborhood gangs. Through this diverse selection of sources, Fantasies of Neglect presents a nuanced chronicle of how notions of American urbanism and American childhood have grown up together.
Challenging the classic horror frame in American film
American filmmakers appropriate the “look” of horror in Holocaust films and often use Nazis and Holocaust imagery to explain evil in the world, say authors Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart and David A. Frank. In Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film, Picart and Frank challenge this classic horror frame—the narrative and visual borders used to demarcate monsters and the monstrous. After examining the way in which directors and producers of the most influential American Holocaust movies default to this Gothic frame, they propose that multiple frames are needed to account for evil and genocide.
Using Schindler’s List, The Silence of the Lambs, and Apt Pupil as case studies, the authors provide substantive and critical analyses of these films that transcend the classic horror interpretation. For example, Schindler’s List, say Picart and Frank, has the appearance of a historical docudrama but actually employs the visual rhetoric and narrative devices of the Hollywood horror film. The authors argue that evil has a face: Nazism, which is configured as quintessentially innate, and supernaturally crafty.
Frames of Evil, which is augmented by thirty-six film and publicity stills, also explores the commercial exploitation of suffering in film and offers constructive ways of critically evaluating this exploitation. The authors suggest that audiences will recognize their participation in much larger narrative formulas that place a premium on monstrosity and elide the role of modernity in depriving millions of their lives and dignity, often framing the suffering of others in a manner that allows for merely “documentary” enjoyment.
This volume is about power. It is about the power to make war and to destroy lives. It is also about another kind of power-the power to make images that may distort, displace, and destroy knowledge of the times in which those lives were lived. Many of the nineteen essays gathered in this volume are about the interrelationships between these two types of power. They demonstrate, as well, yet another type of power, the power of critical thinking to challenge dangerous myths and to confront prevailing ideologies.
The title of this anthology calls attention to the process whereby aspects of the Vietnam War have been appropriated by the American cultural industry. Probing the large body of emotion-laden, controversial films, From Hanoi to Hollywood is concerned with the retelling of history and the retrospection that such a process involves. In this anthology, an awareness of film as a cultural artifact that molds beliefs and guides action is emphasized, an awareness that the contributors bring to a variety of films. Their essays span over one hundred documentary and fiction films, and include in-depth analyses of major commercial films, ranging from Apocalypse Now to Platoon, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Full Metal Jacket, and documentaries from In the Year of the Pig to Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam.
The essays fin this volume deal with representations of the Vietnam war in documentary film and television reporting, examining the ways the power of film is used to deliver political messages. There are surprises here, new readings, and important insights on the ways we as a society have attempted to come to terms with the experiences of the Vietnam era. The book also contains two appendixes-a detailed chronology charting the relationship between major historical events and the release of American war films from 1954 through 1988, and a filmography listing information on over four hundred American and foreign films about the Vietnam War.
Think about some commercially successful film masterpieces--The Manchurian Candidate. Seven Days in May. Seconds. Then consider some lesser known, yet equally compelling cinematic achievements--The Fixer. The Gypsy Moths. Path to War. These triumphs are the work of the best known and most highly regarded Hollywood director to emerge from live TV drama in the 1950s--five-time Emmy-award-winner John Frankenheimer.
Although Frankenheimer was a pioneer in the genre of political thrillers who embraced the antimodernist critique of contemporary society, some of his later films did not receive the attention they deserved. Many claimed that at a midpoint in his career he had lost his touch. World-renowned film scholars put this myth to rest in A Little Solitaire, which offers the only multidisciplinary critical account of Frankenheimer's oeuvre. Especially emphasized is his deep and passionate engagement with national politics and the irrepressible need of human beings to assert their rights and individuality in the face of organizations that would reduce them to silence and anonymity.
Part human, part machine, the cyborg is the hero of an increasingly popular genre of American film and, as Janice H. Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz so provocatively suggest, a cultural icon emblematic of an emergent postmodern mythology. Using the cyborg film as a point of departure, Rushing and Frentz examine how we rework Western myths and initiation rites in the face of new technologies.
Through in-depth examinations of six representative films—Jaws, The Deer Hunter, The Manchurian Candidate, Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Terminator 2—Rushing and Frentz track the narrative's thread from the hunter to his technological nemesis, demonstrating how each film represents an unfolding hunter myth.
For each movie, Rushing and Frentz show how uninitiated male hunters slowly lose control over their weapons. In Jaws, a 'soft' man, dominated by technology, can re-acquire the heroic hunter qualities he needs by teaming up with a 'savage' man and a 'technological' man. In doing so, he can still conquer the prey. The Manchurian Candidate charts how technology can turn a human into a weapon; Blade Runner perfects the artificial human with its manufactured replicants who are "more than human"; and The Terminator introduces a female hunter who leads humanity in its struggle against technology.
Whether tall office buildings, high-rise apartments, or lofty hotels, skyscrapers have been stars in American cinema since the silent era. Cinema’s tall buildings have been variously represented as unbridled aspiration, dens of iniquity and eroticism, beacons of democracy, and well-oiled corporate machines. Considering their intriguing diversity, Merrill Schleier establishes and explains the impact of actual skyscrapers on America’s ideologies about work, leisure, romance, sexual identity, and politics as seen in Hollywood movies.
Schleier analyzes cinematic works in which skyscrapers are an integral component, interpreting the iconography and spatial practices in these often fictional modern buildings, especially on concepts of gender. Organized chronologically and thematically, she offers close readings of films including Safety Last, Skyscraper Souls, Wife vs. Secretary, Baby Face, The Fountainhead, and Desk Set. Opening with the humorous antics of Harold Lloyd, the premier skyscraper actor of the silent era, the book moves through the disillusionment of the Depression era, in which skyscrapers are employed as players in moralistic, class-conscious stories, to post–World War II and its reimagining of American political and economic values and ends with the complicated prosperity of the 1950s and the lives of white-collar workers and their spouses.
Taking inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, among works of other critical theorists, Schleier creates in this book a model for understanding architecture as a purveyor of desire and class values and, ultimately, contributes broadly to thinking on the rich intersection of the built environment, cinema, and gender.
When they floored their Thunderbird off a cliff rather than surrender to the law, Thelma and Louise became icons of female rebellion, provoking strong reactions from viewers who felt either empowered or outraged by the duo’s transgressions of women’s traditional roles. The 1991 film quickly became—and continues to be—a potent cultural reference point, even inspiring a bumper sticker that declares, “Thelma & Louise Live!” In this insightful study of Thelma & Louise, six noted film scholars investigate the initial reception and ongoing impact of this landmark film. The writers consider Thelma & Louise from a variety of perspectives, turning attention to the film’s promotion and audience response over time; to theories of comedy and the role of laughter in the film; to the film’s soundtrack and score; to the performances of stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis; to the emergence of Brad Pitt as a star and male sex object; and to the film’s place in the history of road and crime film genres. Complementing the scholarly analysis is an in-depth interview of screenwriter Callie Khouri by editor Bernie Cook, as well as reviews of Thelma & Louise that appeared in U.S. News & World Report and Time. Offering myriad new ways of understanding the complex interrelations of gender, identity, and violence, Thelma & Louise Live! attests to the ongoing life and still-evolving meanings of this now-classic film.
The long 1950s, which extend back to the early postwar period and forward into the early 1960s, were a period of “containment culture” in America, as the media worked to reinforce traditional family values and suspected communist sympathizers were blacklisted from the entertainment industry. Yet some brave filmmakers and actors still challenged the status quo to produce indelible and imaginative work that delivered uncomfortable truths to Cold War audiences.
Triumph Over Containment offers an uncompromising look at some of the era’s greatest films and directors, from household names like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick to lesser-known iconoclasts like Samuel Fuller and Ida Lupino. Taking in everything from The Thing from Another World (1951) to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), acclaimed film scholar Robert P. Kolker scours a variety of different genres to find pockets of resistance to the repressive and oppressive norms of Cold War culture. He devotes special attention to two quintessential 1950s genres—the melodrama and the science fiction film—that might seem like polar opposites, but each offered pointed responses to containment culture.
This book takes a fresh look at such directors as Nicholas Ray, John Ford, and Orson Welles, while giving readers a new appreciation for the depth and artistry of 1950s Hollywood films.