Books for review – Spring 2018

IAMHIST received copies of the following books and is looking for reviewers (Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television). If you are interested, just send a message (mentioning the full title of the book) to the associate and book review editor for North America, Katharina Niemeyer : iamhistreviews@gmail.com. It would help if you could tell us a bit about your own research and expertise and/or why you are interested in reviewing this title. Please do also communicate your full postal address in case the book is still available for review.

Barefoot, Guy. Trash Cinema: The Lure of the Low. Columbia University Press, 2017.

Bondanella, Peter, and Federico Pacchioni. A History of Italian Cinema. 2nd ed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. Already assigned for review

Denison, Rayna, ed. Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2018.

Dobson, Nichola. Norman McLaren. Between the Frames. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2018.

Friedman, Seth. Are You Watching Closely?: Cultural Paranoia, New Technologies, and the Contemporary Hollywood Misdirection Film. SUNY Press, 2017.

Fronc, Jennifer. Monitoring the Movies: The Fight Over Film Censorship in Early Twentieth-century Urban America. University of Texas Press, 2017. Already assigned for review

Fuller-Seeley, Kathryn H. Jack Benny and the Golden Age of American Radio Comedy. Univ of California Press, 2017. Already assigned for review

Glick, Joshua. Los Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958-1977. Univ of California Press, 2018.

Gorfinkel, Elena. Lewd Looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Haltof, Marek. Screening Auschwitz: Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage and the Politics of Commemoration. Northwestern University Press, 2018. Already assigned for review

Harlap, Itay. Television Drama in Israel: Identities in Post-TV Culture. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2017.

Herzog, Werner, Martje Herzog, and Alan Greenberg. Scenarios: Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Every Man for Himself and God Against All; Land of Silence and Darkness; Fitzcarraldo. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Johnson, Keith Leslie. Jan Svankmajer. University of Illinois Press, 2017.

Klika, D. T. Situation Comedy, Character, and Psychoanalysis: On the Couch with Lucy, Basil, and Kimmie. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2018.

Leigh, Jacob. The Late Films of Claude Chabrol: Genre, Visual Expressionism and Narrational Ambiguity. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2017.

Long, Christian. The imaginary geography of Hollywood cinema 1960-2000. Intellect Books, 2017. Already assigned for review

Raw, Laurence. Six Turkish Filmmakers. University of Wisconsin Pres, 2017.

Rawlings, Roger. Ripping England!: Postwar British Satire from Ealing to the Goons. SUNY Press, 2017. Already assigned for review

Ripley, Mark. A Search for Belonging: The Mexican Cinema of Luis Buñuel. Columbia University Press, 2017.

Roberts, Robin. Subversive Spirits: The Female Ghost in British and American Popular Culture. University Press of Mississippi, 2018.

Roquet, Paul. Ambient Media: Japanese Atmospheres of Self. University of Minnesota Press, 2016. Already assigned for review

Samer, Roxanne, and William Whittington, eds. Spectatorship: Shifting Theories of Gender, Sexuality, and Media. University of Texas Press, 2017. Already assigned for review

Shuster, Martin. New Television: The Aesthetics and Politics of a Genre. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Sonnevend, Julia. Stories without borders: The Berlin Wall and the making of a global iconic event. Oxford University Press, 2016. Already assigned for review

Souch, Irina. Popular Tropes of Identity in Contemporary Russian Television and Film. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2017.

Stoeltje, Rachael, ed. Sustainable Audiovisual Collections Through Collaboration: Proceedings of the 2016 Joint Technical Symposium. Indiana University Press, 2017. Already assigned for review

Wagner, Kristen Anderson. Comic Venus: Women and Comedy in American Silent Film. Wayne State University Press, 2018. Already assigned for review

Wright, Julie Lobalzo. Crossover Stardom: Popular Male Music Stars in American Cinema. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2017. Already assigned for review

Love and revenge in The Eagle (1925)

Agata Frymus, University of York

23 January 2018


Big budget costume dramas were a prominent fixture in the changing landscape of early and mid-1920s Hollywood. Such productions were instructive in responding to ‘a specific spectatorial desire for escapism into an ahistorical time of myth and magic, inured to the ravages of urbanization [and] industrialization.’[1] In other words, silent historical epics were tailored to cater to audiences’ desire for spectacle, whilst also providing a conceptualisation of chivalry and romance untarnished by the shifting gender discourse of the time of their production. Vilma Bánky’s stardom was constructed around the notions of respectable (and largely passive) femininity, concepts which were easily accommodated by this type of drama. Because it was one of the most conservative genres, at least as far as gender portrayal is concerned, it gave its female protagonist a chance to fulfil the role of damsel in distress.

Figure 1: Rudolph Valentino’s star appeal was used in The Eagle’s publicity campaign.

The opening sequence of The Eagle (1925) depicts the first encounter between Lieutenant Dubrovsky (Rudolph Valentino) and Masha (Vilma Bánky) as the handsome man saves her from being kidnapped. One might extrapolate the significance of their meeting for the further development of the plot, given that the motion picture builds upon the trope of the ‘damsel in distress’, a patriarchal fantasy that has long foregrounded the depictions of love in mainstream art. In accordance with this representational pattern, the act of rescue perpetuated by the hero equates Bánky’s character with the trophy awarded for his exceptional bravery. At that point, Dubrovsky is unaware of Masha’s precarious status as the daughter of the man who had seized Dubrovsky’s dying father’s familial estate. Whilst Bánky exchanges the look of the film’s protagonist, her ‘to-be-lookedness’ within the scene is counterbalanced by the negative position appointed to Catherine the Great, who observes the rescue action unacknowledged by Valentino’s gaze, with her face ‘momentarily transfigured in desire.’[2]

Figures 2 and 3: Seducer and seduced: Valentino as Dubrovsky with Masha (left) and Catherine the Great (right).

Portraying Catherine the Great in terms of sexual insatiability was by no means a development pioneered by The Eagle, but a long-standing tactic that has persisted across a plethora of other cultural texts.[3] Suggesting debauchery in relation to the monarch operated to highlight the notion that female political power constitutes an ultimate reversal of the ascribed gender positions. Much of the film’s comedic potential is built around the juxtaposition between the young, seemingly inaccessible Masha and Czarina, an older and sexually aggressive woman who pursues soldiers in her own guard in exchange for military status. Masha’s standing as a representational antithesis to the Czarina is inadvertly highlighted through visual means, particularly by costume: whilst the former wears delicate gowns and elaborate Russian dress, the latter is seen mostly in military uniform.

Moreover, Bánky’s heroine gains in moral stature because she is constructed in opposition to the corporeal aspects emblematised by the Czarina and, by extension, in referencing the idealistic notions of the spirit rather than the body. Historian Arthur Marwick has traced some aspects of this discourse back to the body vs. mind philosophy of the nineteenth century, which supported the notion that female beauty is evaluated in the context of the emotions it invokes in a heterosexual man; if the feeling is lustful, then the woman cannot be morally virtuous.[4] Confronted with this notorious man-eater, Dubrovsky chooses to desert the army rather than to conform to Czarina’s advances, eventually assuming a new identity as a Robin Hood-esque hero, the defender of the downtrodden, by the name of Black Eagle. ‘I enlisted for war service only’ proclaims the proud lieutenant, as he leaves the Czarina’s chamber in haste. To paraphrase Wood, The Eagle testifies to the universality of Western fantasy because it reduces two major female characters to archetypes of the Mother and the Whore, which embody the two fundamental myths of women continually re-inforced within patriarchal society. In the initial scenes of The Eagle Valentino is defined as a target of seduction, a ‘reluctant male trapped by the lustful designs of a female seductress’, which constitutes an ultimate reversion of his most famous role of predatory lover in The Sheik.[5]

The main challenge encountered by Dubrovsky in his quest to challenge Kirilla ? the corrupt man who robbed him of his inheritance ?  is the fact that the villain has a familial relationship with his love interest. One might argue that this obstacle naturally falls into the remit of ‘courtly love’, [6] in the sense that Masha’s inaccessibility not only elevates her status as an object of desire, but also creates the chief force driving the narrative forward. For Lacanian theorists, this is a culturally persistent trope, where hindrances and complications function to strengthen the desire to attain one’s goal. ‘Obstacles’, writes John Richardson, ‘are necessary in this understanding to preserve the illusion that without them the object would be instantly accessible.[7]

Masha’s initial rejection of Black Eagle’s advances (‘I don’t associate with masked men as a rule’) is hardly surprising, given the representation of romantic courtship in the bulk of popular Hollywood productions, as well as within Western cultural texts more broadly. Popular fictions on page and screen have long favoured a narrative contrivance in which heteronormative unity is achieved through the process of deferred courtship; that is, where the heroine is initially reluctant to fall under the hero’s spell, but does so eventually after he proves himself worthy of her affection. The ‘seduction plot’, was one of the central motifs of eighteenth-century sentimental literature that has been successfully disseminated across s great number of films, albeit in varying forms.[8]

As the action moves on, Dubrovsky gets closer to his arch nemesis – and, most significantly, to his daughter – by applying for the position of a French teacher in Kyrilla’s household. Bánky’s character resents Black Eagle at first, thinking very little of his chivalry and compliments. After she discovers the real identity of her French teacher, the narrative trajectory moves to emphasise Masha’s internal conflict: ‘I hate you!’, she screams. Eventually, she can no longer maintain the distance between herself and Dubrovsky, admitting that ‘Day and night I have fought against loving you – fought and lost!’

Figure 4: A still promoting the film seems to emphasise the semi-tragic aspect of Masha’s love for Dubrovsky, the nemesis of her father.

Of course, Masha wields little power on her own, being defined primarily through her relationship with the film’s chief antagonist. Eventually, the masked hero forsakes the oath of vengeance he has taken, concluding that ‘Revenge is sweet, but sometimes a girl is sweeter.’ In its critical appraisal of the film The New York Times deliberated that this dramatic shift is understandable, given the astonishingly good looks of Bánky’s character; ‘her beauty makes the hero’s gallantry all the more convincing.’[9] Thus, The Eagle culminates with the assumption that romantic fulfilment is a panacea for virtually all societal problems, including class struggle. The fight between the underprivileged citizens of the Russian state and the landowning class, epitomised here by Kirilla, is effectively eclipsed by the nuances of heteronormative romance.


References:

[1] Diana Anselmo- Sequeira, ‘Blue Bloods, Movie Queens and Jane Does: Or How Princess Culture, American Film, and Girl Fandom Came Together in the 1910s’, in Princess Cultures: Mediating Girls’ Imaginations and Identities, ed. Miriam Forman-Brunell and Rebecca C. Hans (New York: Peter Lang Press, 2014): 169.

[2] Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994): 269.

[3] Peter Bondanella, Hollywood Italians. Dagos, Palookas, Romeos, Wise Guys and Sopranos (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006): 139.

[4] Sarah Berry, ‘Hollywood Exoticism’, in Stars: The Film Reader, ed. Lucy Fisher and Marcia Landy (London: Routledge, 2004): 183.

[5] Bondanella, Hollywood Italians, 138.

[6] The term is theorised by Slavoj Zizek in his The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality (London and New York: Verso, 2005): 89 – 91.

[7] John Richardson, ‘The Neosurrealist Musical and Tsai Ming-Laing’s The Wayward Cloud’, in The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics, ed. John Richardson, Claudia Gorbman and Carol Vernallis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013): 300.

[8][8] Lea Jacobs, The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008): 181.

[9] Mordaunt Hall, ‘Movie Review. The Screen,’ The New York Times, 9th November 1925, page unknown, available at http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9804E7DB1F38E233A2575AC0A9679D946495D6CF? [accessed 10/04/2017]


Agata Frymus is a PhD candidate at University of York and a recipient of White Rose Scholarship of Arts and Humanities. Her PhD thesis explores the star personae of three silent stars: Pola Negri, Jetta Goudal and Vilma Bánky. Her work has been published in Celebrity Studies Journal and Early Popular Visual Culture; she has an upcoming publication in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A day, well two days, at the archives… Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Public Library

Katharina Niemeyer, Professor at the Media School , Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal and Chloé Tremblay-Goyette, Research Assistant at the Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal

19 January 2018


From Paris to Canada

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of visiting the fascinating Bibliothèque Nationale de France  (French National Library), and to analyse the archive material held at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel  (INA). In 2016, I moved to Montreal (the mainly French speaking part of Canada) where new opportunities for archival research have emerged; such as the rich collections held in the BANQ  (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec), to name such one. Today, Chloé Tremblay-Goyette and I wish to share our explorative research experience at the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Toronto Public Library  where we spent two days at the end of November 2017.

We, along with another research assistant, Anne-Marie Charette, are currently working on preparing a project which focusses on the mediatization of terrorism in the 20th century. This project seeks to trace several sources such as historical newspapers, radio and television broadcasts. A lot of material pertinent to this project has been digitized, and is available online ; for example there are a few French-speaking broadcasts available from Radio Canada, and its English-speaking equivalent CBC ; and collections of newspapers from BANQ and Archives Canada, Ottowa. However, much more material remains housed within the archives themselves, and so it is very important for media historians to visit such archives for profound and investigative research.

Day 1 – Toronto Public Library

Libraries, although they are not always labeled officially as archives, can be quite a good source of information in the framework of an archival search. After contacting a few libraries in Toronto looking to know more about their records that could be related to our research topic, we ended up deciding to spend a day in the Toronto Reference Library. Not only had it been pointed out by a librarian as one of the best libraries to access newspapers, but it also had the option to book an appointment with a librarian to help us out with our research. We decided to make an appointment on the 23rd of November, as we were going to be in Toronto for a couple of days exploring different archives. As we are both living in Montreal, we weren’t familiar with Toronto and were quite happy to find out the Toronto Reference Library is in a central location, at about a minute’s walk away from Bloor-Younge station.

Chloé, arrived there quite early (9:00 AM). As there was hardly anyone in the building, she got to enjoy this gorgeous airy library to herself:

A short time later Chloé met Bessie, a librarian from the Toronto Reference Library, who was able to help by providing advice on how to make a better use of the library’s expansive database, which includes Canadian newspapers from across the Pacific to the Atlantic. Katharina joined Chloé in the early afternoon after enjoying the quite spectacular five hour train ride in the morning from Montreal to Toronto, where you can view the beautiful Lake Ontario pictured below:

Although the collection did not hold many items prior to the 1980s, we were able to access main Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail going back to the first half of the 20th century. There is even a special place in the library that is called the ‘Toronto Star Newspaper Centre’. Although most of these older articles weren’t indexed, they had been digitized, and we enjoyed going back to the earliest articles available to understand how the terms and concepts of terrorism might had evolved since early in the 20th century. This helped to stimulate our interest in the research we are planning to do.

Day 2 – Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

On a not-so-cold November morning, we spent the next day at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that is situated quite close to the main train station (it is a five-minute walk away) and even more interesting: close to the famous CN tower.

Geoffrey Hopkinson, Senior Manager of the CBC Libraries and Archive, welcomed us with his colleagues, experienced media librarians Arthur Schwartzel (TV) and Keith Hart (Radio) who had already conducted preliminary research in relation to our topic. The team guided us the whole day, not only through the general research possibilities and the software, but also indicated the obstacles that are related to the latter. As material from 1952 (the year television arrived in Canada) until the early 1990s was only indexed in the 1990s, research based on keywords is not as reliable in terms of synchronization with the broadcast content, as it is the newspaper articles that can be browsed more easily by the nature of their structure and digitization.

Chloé spent the day looking through the two CBC radio databases. Both radio databases did not provide direct access to the records, but to descriptions of them including keywords. There was a possibility to access and to listen to records upon request. The first, and oldest, radio database goes all the way back to the 1950s, and ends in the middle of the 1990s, the second database covers the 1990s till present day, and together they provide a quite extensive overview of CBC radio diffusion. Although there was limited results related to our topic from the 1950s, results started to become increasingly interesting as Chloé searched through later decades. As Keith explained, searching through earlier records, especially through the ones from many decades ago can be quite delicate because the employees who indexed these broadcasts at the time were not always comfortable describing the events reported as “terrorism” in the 1950s, which is actually the same problem for television.

With the help of Arthur, Katharina learned more about the various possibilities for accessing the 32 English-speaking video archives ranging from Yellowknife TV News to the program archives all by experiencing the work of the DIVA’s archive solution (a special CBC robotic system) that offers the possibility to select an old broadcast directly on a computer screen. The tape is selected by the machine that converts the tape into a digital signal and sends the content then to your computer for visioning – physically at a distance between the 7th floor and the basement.

Our fascinating morning research session was then turning into a personal guided tour of the archives, such as the analogue VTR library. Interestingly, all tapes have a unique ID and bar code to facilitate the work for the CBC people. You can even take a virtual tour, but we also took pictures of course:

 

We also visited the Film Vault, where approximately 115,000 cans of film are sleeping at approx. 4°C, quite warm if we look at current Montreal temperatures…

We are both looking forward to come back to CBC, and to also enjoy the wonderful restaurants in downtown Toronto nearby. If you have the opportunity to visit Toronto do not miss a free visit to the CBC museum situated in the same building where you can even find some relics of 1990s technology such as the MiniDisc.

To be continued with ‘Part II: A Day at the Archives… Montreal’…


Katharina Niemeyer is Professor of Media Theory at the Media School , Faculty of Communication, University of Quebec in Montreal and she is an IAMHIST council member.

Chloé Tremblay-Goyette, Research Assistant at the Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal, works on the mediatization of refugees in Australian media in her Master thesis


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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