Research

About our work

Faculty of the Program in Film & Media Studies have a wide range of scholarly and creative interests. Some faculty are accomplished artistic practitioners who write screenplays or make films/media. Published scholarship of our faculty extends over a broad range of film and media, from silent cinema to video games, from early network television to contemporary film industry practice.  Faculty research also extends across global boundaries and includes French, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and American film/media. Several of our faculty have especially strong research profiles in addressing the representation of gender and sexuality in film/media. Many are focused on comparative and contextualizing approaches that highlight the relationship of film/media to other artistic modes, discourses, or technologies (including dance, photography, politics, and theater). All of our research-oriented core faculty and a number of our eleven affiliated faculty integrate criticism and theory with archive-based historical research.

the faculty bookshelf

Powers of the Real Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan
Hymns for the Fallen; Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam
The Invention of Robert Bresson: the Auteur and his Market
When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film
Have Gun – Will Travel
Who Should Sing 'Ol' Man River'?: The Lives of an American Song
Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema
John Ford Made Westerns
Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster
Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film
This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age
Laughing Screaming : Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy
Reflections in a Male Eye
In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic
Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy

Powers of the Real Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan

Powers of the Real analyzes the cultural politics of cinema’s persuasive sensory realism in interwar Japan. Examining cultural criticism, art, news media, literature, and film, Diane Wei Lewis shows how representations of women and signifiers of femininity were used to characterize new forms of pleasure and fantasy enabled by consumer culture and technological media. Drawing on a rich variety of sources, she analyzes the role that images of women played in articulating the new expressions of identity, behavior, and affiliation produced by cinema and consumer capitalism. In the process, Lewis traces new discourses on the technological mediation of emotion to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and postquake mass media boom. The earthquake transformed the Japanese film industry and lent urgency to debates surrounding cinema’s ability to reach a mass audience and shape public sentiment, while the rise of consumer culture contributed to alarm over rampant materialism and “feminization.”

Demonstrating how ideas about emotion and sexual difference played a crucial role in popular discourse on cinema’s reach and its sensory-affective powers, Powers of the Real offers new perspectives on media history, the commodification of intimacy and emotion, film realism, and gender politics in the “age of the mass society” in Japan.

Hymns for the Fallen; Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam

In Hymns for the Fallen, Todd Decker listens closely to forty years of Hollywood combat films produced after Vietnam. Ever a noisy genre, post-Vietnam war films have deployed music and sound to place the audience in the midst of battle and to provoke reflection on the experience of combat. Considering landmark movies—such as Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, and American Sniper—as well as lesser-known films, Decker shows how the domain of sound, an experientially rich and culturally resonant aspect of cinema, not only invokes the realities of war, but also shapes the American audience’s engagement with soldiers and veterans as flesh-and-blood representatives of the nation. Hymns for the Fallen explores all three elements of film sound—dialogue, sound effects, music—and considers how expressive and formal choices in the soundtrack have turned the serious war film into a patriotic ritual enacted in the commercial space of the cinema.

The Invention of Robert Bresson: the Auteur and his Market

Challenging the prevailing notion among cinephiles that the auteur is an isolated genius interested primarily in individualism, Colin Burnett positions Robert Bresson as one whose life's work confronts the cultural forces that helped shape it. Regarded as one of film history's most elusive figures, Bresson (1901–1999) carried himself as an auteur long before cultural magazines, like the famed Cahiers du cinéma, advanced the term to describe such directors as Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jean-Luc Godard. In this groundbreaking study, Burnett combines biography with cultural history to uncover the roots of the auteur in the alternative cultural marketplace of midcentury France.

When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film

There was a time when seeing a movie meant more than seeing a film. The theater itself shaped the very perception of events on screen. This multilayered history tells the story of American film through the evolution of theater architecture and the surprisingly varied ways movies were shown, ranging from Edison's 1896 projections to the 1968 Cinerama premiere of Stanley Kubrick's 2001. William Paul matches distinct architectural forms to movie styles, showing how cinema's roots in theater influenced business practices, exhibition strategies, and film technologies.

Have Gun – Will Travel

One of the most successful series of its time, Have Gun—Will Travel became a cultural phenomenon in the late 1950s and made its star, Richard Boone, a nationwide celebrity. The series offered viewers an unusual hero in the mysterious, Shakespeare-spouting gunfighter known only as "Paladin" and garnered a loyal fan base, including a large female following. In Have Gun—Will Travel, film scholar Gaylyn Studlar draws on a remarkably wide range of episodes from the series’ six seasons to show its sophisticated experimentation with many established conventions of the Western.

Who Should Sing 'Ol' Man River'?: The Lives of an American Song

This book tells the almost eighty-year performance history of a great popular song. Examining more than two hundred recorded and filmed versions of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic tune, the book reveals the power of performers to remake one popular song into many different guises. Written for the African American singer Paul Robeson, “Ol’ Man River” enjoyed instant success in the 1927 Broadway musical Show Boat and became a signature song for Robeson, who turned the tune toward his own goals as an activist. Beyond Robeson and Show Boat, “Ol’ Man River” also had a long and rich life in the world of popular music. An astonishing variety of singers and musicians—from pop to jazz, opera to doo‐wop, rhythm and blues to gospel to reggae—all chose to perform or record it. These included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Cher, and Rod Stewart. At the heart of Hammerstein’s lyric is a clear-eyed vision of the black experience in the United States, and performers—black or white—have had to deal with the song’s charged racial content. The book traces this aspect of “Ol’ Man River” through American history, an at-times high-stakes journey where the African American struggle for dignity and equality came down to the lyrics of a popular song.

Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema

In Precocious Charms, Gaylyn Studlar examines how Hollywood presented female stars as young girls or girls on the verge of becoming women. Child stars are part of this study but so too are adult actresses who created motion picture masquerades of youthfulness. Studlar details how Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Jones, and Audrey Hepburn performed girlhood in their films. She charts the multifaceted processes that linked their juvenated star personas to a wide variety of cultural influences, ranging from Victorian sentimental art to New Look fashion, from nineteenth-century children’s literature to post-World War II sexology, and from grand opera to 1930s radio comedy. By moving beyond the general category of “woman,” Precocious Charms leads to a new understanding of the complex pleasures Hollywood created for its audience during the half century when film stars were a major influence on America’s cultural imagination.

John Ford Made Westerns

In John Ford Made Westerns, nine major essays by prominent scholars of Hollywood film situate the sound-era Westerns of John Ford within contemporary critical contexts and regard them from fresh perspectives. These range from examining Ford’s relation to other art forms (most notably literature, painting, and music) to exploring the development of the director’s reputation as a director of Westerns. While giving attention to film style and structure, the volume also treats the ways in which these much-loved films engage with notions of masculinity and gender roles, capitalism and community, as well as racial, sexual, and national identity.

Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster

In 1997, James Cameron’s Titanic, the most expensive and technologically advanced movie ever made, hit theaters. In 13 weeks, it became the highest-grossing film in North America, and shortly thereafter, the first motion picture to earn a billion dollars worldwide.

The cultural studies and film scholars who have contributed 13 essays to this collection ask the key question—Why? What made Titanic such a popular movie? Why has this film become a cultural and film phenomenon? What makes it so fascinating to the film-going public?

Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film

The Sheik. Pépé le Moko. Casablanca. Aladdin. Some of the most popular and frequently discussed titles in movie history are imbued with orientalism, the politically-charged way in which western artists have represented gender, race, and ethnicity in the cultures of North Africa and Asia. This is the first anthology to address and highlight orientalism in film from pre-cinema fascinations with Egyptian culture through the "Whole New World" of Aladdin. Eleven illuminating and well-illustrated essays utilize the insights of interdisciplinary cultural studies, psychoanalysis, feminism, and genre criticism.

This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age

Studlar looks at four major Hollywood male stars of the silent era – Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, and Lon Chaney – to illuminate the cultural, ideological, and historical implications of these stars in relation to contemporary debates over changing sexual and social norms.

Laughing Screaming : Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy

William Paul's exploration of an extremely popular box office genre - the gross-out movie - is the first book to take this lowbrow product seriously. Writing about "movies that embraced the lowest common denominator as an aesthetic principle, movies that critics constantly griped about having to sit through, " Paul examines their unique place in our culture. He focuses on gross-out horror and comedy films of the seventies and eighties - film cycles set in motion by the extraordinary successes of The Exorcist and Animal House. What links these genres together, Paul argues, is their concern with the human body - and all its scatological and sexual aspects. These "films of license, " as Paul calls them, embrace "explicitness as part of their aesthetic." Tracing both of these culturally disreputable subgenres back to older traditions of festive comedy and Grand Guignol, Paul finds their precursors in horror films like The Birds and Night of the Living Dead as well as comedies such as M*A*S*H and Blazing Saddles that were produced under Hollywood's then recently liberalized censorship code. Moving on to mass tastes, Paul asserts that American audiences are "not without powers of discrimination." He argues that gross-out movies challenge social tastes and values, but without the self-consciousness of avant-garde art. Through interpretations of classics by Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, blaxploitation movies, horror films by David Cronenburg and Stanley Kubrick, and comedies starring John Belushi and Bill Murray, Paul establishes gross-out as a true genre - one that "speaks in the voice of festive freedom, uncorrected and unconstrained by the reality principle... aggressive, seeminglyimprovised, and always ambivalent."

Reflections in a Male Eye

In a career that spanned six decades, the legendary John Huston directed 38 films, including The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, Prizzi's Honor, and The Dead, as well as three documentaries on the experience of World War II combat and its aftereffects.

Despite his achievements, Huston's work has often been spurned by movie critics and film scholars. This anthology, the first in-depth study of Huston's films since his death in 1987, challenges the conventional wisdom through a vigorous reassessment of the director's work. Bringing together recent essays, classic pieces by Andrew Sarris and James Agee, as well as two Huston short stories and an interview with the filmmaker, Reflections in a Male Eye explores the ideology of Huston's films, their social and political backdrop, and his vision of the American male.

In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic

In a major revision of feminist-psychoanalytic theories of film pleasure and sexual difference, Studlar's close textual analysis of the six Paramount films directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich probes the source of their visual and psychological complexity.

Ernst Lubitsch’s American Comedy

In this book, William Paul analyzes the style and social themes of the comic films made in Hollywood by the director, Ernst Lubitsch.