WE ASKED EIGHT EXPERTS TO SPOTLIGHT THE BEST RECENT BOOKS ON AMERICAN CINEMA..
Jon Lewis, professor of English at Oregon State University and editor of The New American Cinema (Duke, 1998).
"Hollywood history, Norman Mailer contends, is composed mostly of factoids; stories are taken as true not because they are factual but because they have been so often repeated. The thirty-five interviews in Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhles anthology, Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist(St. Martins, 1997), provide just such a selective and seductive history. The interviews (with the likes of Lionel Stander, Abraham Polonsky, and Ring Lardner Jr.) attend to careers lost to time. History, they remind us, consists of stories told by survivors. Thomas Schatzs Boom and Bust: The American Cinema in the 1940s (Scribners, 1997) covers much of the same turf, albeit in the third person, and does so with a keen eye for the remarkable ironies that characterized the complex relationship between Washington, D.C., and Hollywood during and after the war."
Judith Mayne, professor of French and womens studies at Ohio State University and author of Directed by Dorothy Arzner (Indiana, 1995).
"B. Ruby Richs Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement (Duke, 1998) offers a unique take on the development of feminist film culture in the United States. Rich has been an important contributor to debates about feminist independent cinema, and this collection of essays traces her development, as well as that of many filmmakers and critics, over the last two decades. Rich introduces each piece with an autobiographical sketch that underscores the passion and fervor animating early feminist film criticism. Equally rewarding is Patricia Whites Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability (Indiana, forthcoming). White argues that lesbianism has never been quite as absent from classical Hollywood cinema as most critics have assumed. After reading Whites book, Bette Daviss famous lines to Paul Henreid in Now, VoyagerOh Jerry, dont lets ask for the moon! We have the stars!will never again sound quite the same."
Ben Singer, professor of film studies at Smith College and author of Melodrama and Modernity: Early Cinema and the Social Contexts of Sensationalism (Columbia, forthcoming).
"When film historians discuss the rise of avant-garde cinema, they tend to focus exclusively on a small canon of 1920s European filmmakers indebted to Cubism, surrealism, Dada, and futurism. Only in the late 1940s and 1950s, they claim, did a bona fide American avant-garde cinema coalesce, spearheaded by Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and other filmmakers working in poetic and abstract expressionist modes. The thirteen contributors to Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde, 19191945 (Wisconsin, 1995), edited by Jan-Christopher Horak, prove this thesis wrong. The collections essays and extensive filmography establish the importance of early avant-garde film practice in Americaone inspired by, but in certain respects distinct from, European modernism. What emerges is a portrait of a highly eclectic film subculture made up, on the one hand, of artists, writers, and sophisticated amateurs and, on the other, of Hollywood employees who commandeered studio equipment for experimental side projects and tried to introduce avant-garde elements into Hollywood productions."
Eric Schaefer, assistant professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College and author of "Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!": A History of Exploitation Films, 19191959 (Duke, forthcoming).
"In recent years, books on film noir have been almost as numerous as the mugs packing .45s who populate those brooding postwar films. But much of that scholarship, because it frequently employs psychoanalytic readings, takes up gender issues, or focuses on the same handful of films, has been doggedly routine. Given the lasting influence of noirL.A. Confidential being the most successful contemporary example of the genreJames Naremores More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts (California, 1998) is a welcome investigation. Examining noirs many historical contexts, Naremore considers often overlooked influences, such as French Popular Front films and American literary modernism. Fresh material on the Hays Office and the marketing of films casts new light on classics like Gun Crazy and Detour, and chapters on recent and international films demonstrate that smart-talking double-crossers still retain their appeal."
Lauren Rabinovitz, professor of American studies and film studies at the University of Iowa and author of For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (Rutgers, 1998).
"Thomas Waughs Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film From Their Beginnings to Stonewall (Columbia, 1996) sets a new standard for the history of gay cinema in America. Waugh meticulously documents and analyzes an array of nineteenth- and twentieth-century still and moving imagesdisparately understood as pornography, art, science, or popular culturefor how they represent male bodies and what they contribute to the history of gay male self-expression. He tracks the production of homoerotic porn movies over the last century, revealing how publicly repressed films rarely deemed worthy of serious scholarly attention are crucial for understanding the dynamics of film culture. And he links the history of underground gay porn to the ways that gay subcultures have appropriated mainstream icons such as bodybuilding imagery and the scientific studies of the Kinsey Institute."
Justin Wyatt, associate professor of media studies at CUNY Queens College and author of High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (Texas, 1994).
"Aesthetically and economically, American cinema is neither entirely studio-driven nor solely beholden to the domestic market. A frank and unapologetic insider perspective on the rise of independent films is offered by Christine Vachon and David Edelstein in Shooting to Kill (Avon Books, 1998). Vachon, the producer of breakthrough successes such as Todd Hayness Poison, chronicles in fascinating detail the development, financing, budgeting, production, distribution, and marketing of independent film. Hollywood & Europe: Economics, Culture, National Identity, 194595 (BFI, 1998), edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Steven Ricci, offers an equally compelling analysis of Hollywood product in the global market. One of its many insights: The box-office grosses tracked by the infotainment press are hardly accurate measures of economic success. The Last Action Hero, for instance, bombed in the United States butlike most star-driven action filmswas a big hit in Europe and Asia, thereby allowing Sony to recoup the films extravagant production costs."
Annette Kuhn, reader in the Institute for Cultural Research at Lancaster University in England and editor of Queen of the Bs: Ida Lupino Behind the Camera (Praeger, 1995).
"Janet Staigers Bad Women: Regulating Sexuality in Early American Cinema (Minnesota, 1995) is an impeccably researched and gracefully written study of early-twentieth-century bad women films such as Traffic in Souls, A Fool There Was, and The Cheat. Staiger addresses the part played by these films in debates about public morality (social hygiene) and eugenics (race suicide) during the 1910s. She treads a careful path between two film-historical fallacieson the one hand, that films simply reflect social and historical reality, and, on the other, that the formal organization and content of films are fully understandable in isolation from their economic and social contexts. Bad Women is emblematic of the revisionist film history informed by concerns about womenboth as the subjects of films and as a large part of cinemas audience."
Stephen Prince, professor of communications studies at Virginia Tech and author of Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies (Texas, 1998).
"Histories of film must attend not only to the mediums intimate connection to its sociopolitical moment, but also to its multiple identities as technology, art, business, and industry. While the earliest film histories tended to traffic in anecdote and myth, contemporary film histories have a solid empirical base and draw from primary source documents and industry records. An ambitious, ten-volume work, Scribners History of the American Cinema is the most thorough treatment yet published of the first one hundred years of American cinema. Under the general editorship of Charles Harpole, the series has put out six volumes so far. Proceeding decade by decade, the series uses primary documentation to trace the development of the film industry, from storefront nickelodeons to the Hollywood studio system, and from there to the breakup of the studios and to the industrys present place within the global communications marketplace."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.