In celebration of LGBTQ History Month this October, enjoy free access to articles from Feminist Media Histories, a journal that examines the role gender has played in media technologies across a range of historical periods and global contexts. These must-read articles will be freely available throughout the month of October.
Lisa Ben’s “Cinema Ramblings” in the 1940s underground publication Vice Versa mark some of the first media reviews to focus on homosexual themes, representations, and subtexts from a self-proclaimed lesbian perspective. While still largely unknown, the critical lenses and stylistic methods she employed set a precedent for the kind of radical queer media criticism that reviewers engage in today.
This article reconstructs queer popular culture as a way of exploring media production studies as a trans history project. Miller argues that queer and trans insights into gender are indispensable to feminist media studies. The article looks at The Ugliest Girl in Town series (ABC, 1968–69), a satire amplifying a purported real-life fad in flat chests, short haircuts, and mod wigs, to restore texture to the everyday landscape of popular entertainment.
This essay offers a microhistory of the feminist film distributor Moonforce Media. Between 1975 and 1980, Moonforce Media built the National Women’s Film Circuit, a lesbian feminist distribution system that circulated preconstituted packages of multigeneric feminist films through as wide a nontheatrical feminist U.S. market as possible.
This essay investigates the ways in which Barbara Hammer’s film Nitrate Kisses (1992) traces stories about homosexuality throughout the twentieth century. Inspired both by the concept of “vertical cinema,” as theorized by Maya Deren, and by the historical-philosophical reflections of Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin, Hammer realizes a montage process in Nitrate Kisses that resurrects a forgotten historical memory through the juxtaposition of archival materials and original images. It is a memory that is reappropriated through the film as an experiential, tactile, and emotional moment.
‘It’s a television show’—said William Shatner (Captain Kirk) to us when we interviewed him for our book, Star Trek and American Television, in 2002. He didn’t mean to be dismissive, he didn’t mean it was just a television show; he was pointing out that Star Trek—despite the movies, the games, the fans, the spoofs—was, and is, primarily culturally important as a product of television. It’s worth being reminded of this fact especially this year—the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the original series (TOS) being launched on the NBC TV network.
We love Star Trek—but it’s always been the TV show that was most special to us, both as viewers and as scholars. That’s why, when it came to writing a book about Star Trek, we decided to take Bill Shatner’s assertion as our mantra and named our book Star Trek and American Television. At first we thought of simply calling it Star Trek as Television. But as we researched the history of the show—and especially after talking to many of its leading lights, including founder-producers such as Robert Justman and Herb Solow, (alas, Gene Roddenberry was dead by the time we got round to researching the book)—we realized that the story of Star Trek was also a way of telling the story of American television more broadly.
The show started in the era of the three networks, made by a production company run by one of the most iconic and beloved of all TV stars, Lucille Ball, and it was not a ratings success. But, prophetically, it found a dedicated audience of fans who helped to keep the show alive in syndication. In the 1980s and 90s, with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, it progressed through the cable era, and on into the era of channel abundance brought about by digital technology. Along the way, it changed ownership several times, and ironically, it is now the property of CBS, who turned the original series down in the 1960s. Simply following the twists and turns of fortune involving the show’s ownership was a story in itself—as the early chapters of our book discuss.
It was a great privilege to talk to so many of the people involved in the show. We had especially privileged access to the stars of The Next Generation who were making the final film in the TNG series, Nemesis, when we did our Hollywood research. Thanks to introductions from Sir Patrick Stewart, Captain Jean Luc Picard in TNG, who kindly wrote a foreword for our book, we were able to talk to actors, producers, technicians, set builders, designers, makeup artists, writers, and directors—all of whom had fascinating insights into the series, into their own particular roles in it, and into why the Star Trek phenomenon has been so enduringly popular. Generous interviews given by stars such as Sir Patrick himself, Jonathan Frakes, William Shatner and Marina Sirtis are extensively quoted in our book.
The last TV series, Enterprise, had just started production when we visited Hollywood to meet these Star Trek luminaries, and it was cancelled after only four seasons. It seemed as if the future of Star Trek had to be in the new film series directed by J. J. Abrams and that its primary identity as television was over. But Star Trek as television was never going to die; all the previous series continue in syndication around the world—and a new TV series, Star Trek: Discovery, will premiere on CBS in January, 2017*. As we say at the end of our book: “Whatever happens in the future, we would bet all our gold-pressed latinum, several bottles of Saurian brandy and a few dilithium crystals that Star Trek will live long and prosper!”
Lois Weber in Early Hollywood by Shelley Stamp was awarded a Special Jury Prize for the 2015 Richard Wall Award, for an exemplary work in the field of recorded performance.
In order to distinguish the Theatre Library Association’s awards from other associations that focus on theoretical scholarship, jurors are asked to nominate only those books that provide evidentiary examples of an author’s use and interpretation of library/archival materials to support his/her topic. Library materials should be interpreted to mean any resources that libraries acquire—films, manuscripts, books, journals, reference books/databases, archives of ephemeral materials (e.g., newspapers, design sketches, playbills, posters)—in either their original format or in digital or other reproductions. As an association committed to furthering the advancement of archivists and librarians, as well as highlighting the diverse collections we maintain, the focus of TLA’s awards is on shining a light on the profession and the collections they make accessible and preserve.
Whether you’ll be joining the feverish thousands in person or not, in honor of Day 1 of Comic-Con 2016, we’ve rounded up some suggested reading for our pop culture fans, comic book lovers, and monster and other creature geeks.
With a foreword by Sir Patrick Stewart, and taking their cue from the words of the program’s first captain, William Shatner, in an interview with the authors: “It’s a television show.”, this book returns to the heart of one of the most successful transmedia franchises of all time: the initially unsuccessful 1960s television production, Star Trek: The Original Series.
Listen to author Joseph Laycock talk about ‘The Satanic Panic & Role Playing Games’ on an episode of MonsterTalk, then jump into his book which makes “a much-needed contribution to the understanding of the human need and capacity for creating and inhabiting multiple realities.”
Eric Herhuth draws upon film theory, animation theory, and philosophy to examine modes of animation storytelling that address aesthetic experience within contexts of technological, environmental, and socio-cultural change. This forthcoming book considers Pixar’s artificial worlds and transformational stories as opportunities for thinking through aesthetics as a contested domain committed to newness and innovation, as well as criticism and pluralistic thought.
“What’s interesting about Krazy! is that it explores these art forms and presents them in a way in that forces the reader to never look at anime, manga, or video games in the same way again. . . . With bold, beautiful full-colored pictures. . . . Embrace the kraziness.”—Pop Matters
When Alex Haley’s book Roots was published by Doubleday in 1976 it became an immediate bestseller. The television series, broadcast by ABC in 1977, became the most popular miniseries of all time, captivating over a hundred million Americans. As a scholar of popular culture and African American history I wanted to research and write this book because we know remarkably little about one of the most recognizable cultural productions of all time. One could fill a shelf with books on recent critically lauded television shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, but Making Roots: A Nation Captivated is the first book length study of this unprecedented cultural phenomenon.
Alex Haley and his collaborators left a fascinating paper trail that shows, sometimes on a day-by-day basis, how Roots took shape from the early 1960s through the late 1970s. In researching Making Roots I examined tens of thousands of pages of Haley’s letters, notes, and manuscript drafts in the collections housed at the University of Tennessee, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Goodwin College. At the University of Southern California, the archived papers of David Wolper and Stan Margulies offer similar insights into how these television producers adapted Haley’s story for the screen. In Making Roots, I foreground the voices and perspectives of the people who played a role in creating Roots: Haley, literary agent Paul Reynolds, Doubleday editors Ken McCormick and Lisa Drew, Haley’s editor Murray Fisher, Wolper, Margulies, screenwriter Bill Blinn, and actors like LeVar Burton, John Amos, and Leslie Uggams.
Alex Haley never published another book after Roots. He loved talking to people but found himself overwhelmed by the praise, criticism, and legal troubles Roots generated. “He made history talk,” Jesse Jackson said of Alex Haley at the author’s funeral in 1992. “He lit up the long night of slavery. He gave our grandparents personhood. He gave Roots to the rootless.” In this light, pointing out the flaws in Haley’s family history feels like telling your grandmother she is lying. Fortunately, Haley’s fabrications are only a small part of a much larger, more interesting, and more complicated story of the making of Roots. Making Roots tells that story.
Matthew F. Delmont is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University and the author of Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia, both published by UC Press.
Also shot in New York City exactly fifty years ago, “Lupe” is a tribute to Mexican film star Lupe Vélez. Directed by Puerto Rican filmmaker José Rodríguez Soltero, it is clearly rooted in New York City’s underground cinema movement of the 1960s: it is visually striking, with bold, saturated colors; and narratively, it is every bit as transgressive as comparable films by Andy Warhol and Jack Smith. Its soundtrack, on the other hand, and the superb acting by drag queen Mario Montez, also root it to Latin America and Spain. Some of its parts seemed to dialogue with Mexican musicals of the 1950s called cabareteras. Others seemed to dialogue with Cuban Santiago Álvarez’s agit-prop newsreels of the 1960s. And I would not be surprised to learn that Almodóvar was inspired by Lupe when he shot “High Heels“.
The experience was unforgettable, a reminder that Latin American cinema, whether made in Latin America or in New York City, is a triangulated cinema defined by the intense circulation of images, themes, and sounds between North America, Europe, and Latin America itself.
Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez is Professor and Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. The author of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea: The Dialectics of a Filmmaker, he has published extensively on Latin American cinema in leading academic journals.
May Day, “International Worker’s Day,” is a curiously un-American holiday. Celebrated by labor groups and political parties outside the United States, it began in 1890 as a global day of solidarity to commemorate those who lost their lives in Chicago’s Haymarket Square while demonstrating for an eight-hour workday. Haymarket, a symbol of labor’s rising activism, also sparked America’s first major “red scare,” a political backlash that created tensions within the U.S. labor movement and hived it off from its counterparts around the world. That legacy is still with us, as most American labor organizations continue to frame issues through the prism of national interest. Even in Hollywood, labor groups describe their most pressing challenges in terms of “runaway production,” which is industry parlance for out-sourcing. Consequently, many workers fail to grasp the larger set of forces that is killing jobs, intensifying workplace pressures, and undermining creativity. They also have a hard time making connections between the challenges they face and those confronted by counterparts overseas. Interestingly, the situation isn’t so different in Bollywood (Mumbai), Nollywood (Lagos), and Prague, as demonstrated by two dozen scholars in Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor, a newly released UC Press volume that’s also available through the Luminos open access platform.
As these scholars show, motion picture production practices in cities around the world are growing more closely aligned under the pressures of media globalization and corporate conglomeration. Distribution protocols and audience behaviors are also converging. Although these transformations offer fresh opportunities for media makers and their fans, they also open the door to managerial strategies that exact a heavy toll on workers and make it difficult for them to organize and respond. Interestingly, one of the most widely shared complaints is about the long workdays that run well past the eight-hour limit advocated by Haymarket demonstrators more than a hundred years ago!
Precarious Creativity provides a window into the everyday lives of film, television, and video game workers, while also offering a critical perspective that makes connections and comparisons across the globe. Essays also reflect on the prospects for labor activism and transnational organizing. We are therefore delighted to have the opportunity to release it on the Luminos open access platform where it is already reaching a global audience. Only weeks after publication Precarious Creativity has been accessed by readers in Nigeria, India, and the Czech Republic; and it has generated a bit of buzz stateside as well, even in Hollywood.
So here’s to May Day, and to greater awareness of the diverse yet interwoven challenges facing media workers around the world!
Michael Curtin is the Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Professor of Global Studies in the Department of Film and Media Studies and cofounder of the Media Industries Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His previous books include The American Television Industry; Reorienting Global Communication: Indian and Chinese Media Beyond Borders; Playing to the World’s Biggest Audience: The Globalization of Chinese Film and TV; andDistribution Revolution: Conversations about the Digitial Future of Film and Television.
Kevin Sanson is a Lecturer in Entertainment Industries at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. He is coeditor of Distribution Revolution: Conversations about the Digital Future of Film and Television and Connected Viewing: Selling, Streaming, & Sharing Media in the Digital Era and is part of the founding editorial collective of Media Industries, the first peer-reviewed open-access journal for media industries research.
The Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards are the UK’s leading prizes for books published in the fields of photography and the moving image (including film, television and new media). The KKF Book Awards celebrate excellence in photography and moving image publishing.
This story, written by Leah Stark, first appeared on the Stanford University website on April 18, 2016 and is cross-posted here with their kind permission.
The Hellboy comics — about a demon who tries to resist his predestined role to destroy our world — provide a powerful vantage point from which to view the extraordinary and unique powers of the comic book medium, a Stanford scholar suggests.
That is the viewpoint of Scott Bukatman, a Stanford professor of film and media studies. He researched the Hellboy series by creator Mike Mignola and found that the pleasures of reading a comic book can reveal something about contemporary visual culture and even the act of reading itself.
“Trying to understand what comics are in and of themselves is really important because we are in a moment where comics are very, very popular, whether in the new popularity of superheroes, which are now ubiquitous in our culture, or in the graphic novels, memoirs and journalism that have been appearing over the past few decades,” said Bukatman, who details his findings in a new book,Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins.
Many different genres are juggled in the Hellboy comics and, as a result, the stories themselves have different tonalities, Bukatman said.
“Some are really funny, some are melancholy. Some are cosmic in scope, others are local and small. There’s a lot of variety within this strange story world that Mignola has come up with,” he said.
Mignola also overtly draws upon genre fiction, art history and other comics traditions to build his world; Hellboy‘s world intersects with other aesthetic and literary worlds, according to the Stanford scholar.
Bukatman’s research homes in on the aesthetic space that Mignola creates where he emphasizes the page over the linear sequence of panels, always thinking about the impact of two pages side-by-side.
“The experience of Hellboy is the experience of holding the book open and having two pages in front of you … so that when you’re holding it, you’re immersed in a hugely aestheticized world. In my reading, Hellboy‘s world is the world of the book,” Bukatman said.
Bukatman also emphasizes the color palette that comic colorist Dave Stewart has given Hellboy. Color is an understudied aspect of comics, he points out, even though it has such a visceral impact on readers. He wonders whether American culture’s suspicion of comics has something to do with the lurid colors that marked them in newspapers and comic books.
Stillness in comics
As a film studies scholar, Bukatman has explored the similarities between comics and films as types of moving image media. But in Hellboy’s World, he is more concerned with the deep differences between these media.
Though Bukatman acknowledges that a Hellboy comic and a Hellboy film (directed by Guillermo de Toro) are both action-adventure stories, he notes distinct differences between them.
“The movies are highly kinetic, even frenetic, especially the second one [Hellboy II: The Golden Army]: lots of special effects, lots of bustle and noise. The comics, by contrast, are really still and quiet,” he said.
Mignola creates an experience of stillness by avoiding the traditional motion lines (and other cues to motion) that many comic artists use. He does not emphasize deep space, as other comic artists tend to do in an attempt to imitate film. Instead, Mignola renders panels that are “strikingly quiet, flat and still,” Bukatman said.
“The more I thought about the [Hellboy] comics, the more I realized how different they were from the films, different in ways that helped me to think more broadly about the ways these media diverge,” he said.
Bukatman suggests that comic books provide something that film does not: silence – and the freedom of the reader to peruse the world created by the comic, each in his or her own way. Within this silence, the reader’s imagination uniquely animates each panel and page.
Ultimately, Bukatman concludes that the nature of Hellboy‘s aesthetic sophistication is uniquely suited to the printed medium of comics.
Comics in the classroom
Bukatman treats comics as serious objects of inquiry. He emphasizes the acts of watching and reading over the demand to find “meaning” in these kinetic and colorful experiences. How are we animated by films and comics, and how do they animate us?
His students have been highly receptive to his approach to culture and film studies. He thinks that they are “appreciative because I do open up ways of approaching culture that are different from the ways they’ve often been taught to do it.”
In addition, he co-founded a student workshop, The Stanford Graphic Narrative Project, that facilitates collaboration among scholars, writers, artists and teachers on topics such as comics, manga, animation and graphic novels.
Bukatman brings a child-like spirit to contemplating serious issues; perhaps not all things require “gravity” to be taken seriously.
He points to the “tendency of scholars to overemphasize seriousness.” By contrast, he respects the lightness of his objects of study.
He wants “to engage with their lightness, and explicate it in a way that never weighs them down, but which continues to respect what they are, be it a Fred Astaire dance sequence or a page of a Hellboy comic or a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
To celebrate the 2016 annual conference for the Society for Cinema & Media Studies, which kicks off tomorrow in Atlanta, we are pleased to offer a collection of limited-time free articles from Film Quarterly and Feminist Media Histories that together honor “Women in Cinema & Media.” Enjoy free access to these articles today through the end of the meeting on April 3, and be sure to meet the editors if you are attending the conference!