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Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method
edited by Jon Lewis and Eric Smoodin
contributions by Dana Polan and Shelley Stamp
Duke University Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-8223-3807-9 | Paper: 978-0-8223-3821-5 | eISBN: 978-0-8223-9013-8
Library of Congress Classification PN1993.5.U6L58 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 791.430973

Film scholarship has long been dominated by textual interpretations of specific films. Looking Past the Screen advances a more expansive American film studies in which cinema is understood to be a social, political, and cultural phenomenon extending far beyond the screen. Presenting a model of film studies in which films themselves are only one source of information among many, this volume brings together film histories that draw on primary sources including collections of personal papers, popular and trade journalism, fan magazines, studio publications, and industry records.

Focusing on Hollywood cinema from the teens to the 1970s, these case studies show the value of this extraordinary range of historical materials in developing interdisciplinary approaches to film stardom, regulation, reception, and production. The contributors examine State Department negotiations over the content of American films shown abroad; analyze the star image of Clara Smith Hamon, who was notorious for having murdered her lover; and consider film journalists’ understanding of the arrival of auteurist cinema in Hollywood as it was happening during the early 1970s. One contributor chronicles the development of film studies as a scholarly discipline; another offers a sociopolitical interpretation of the origins of film noir. Still another brings to light Depression-era film reviews and Production Code memos so sophisticated in their readings of representations of sexuality that they undermine the perception that queer interpretations of film are a recent development. Looking Past the Screen suggests methods of historical research, and it encourages further thought about the modes of inquiry that structure the discipline of film studies.

Contributors. Mark Lynn Anderson, Janet Bergstrom, Richard deCordova, Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, Sumiko Higashi, Jon Lewis, David M. Lugowski, Dana Polan, Eric Schaefer, Andrea Slane, Eric Smoodin, Shelley Stamp


Jon Lewis is a professor in the English department at Oregon State University. His books include Hollywood v. Hard-Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry as well as Whom God Wishes to Destroy: Francis Ford Coppola and the New Hollywood and The New American Cinema, both also published by Duke University Press.

Eric Smoodin is a professor of American studies and director of film studies at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Regarding Frank Capra: Audience, Celebrity, and American Film Studies, 1930–1960, also published by Duke University Press, and Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons from the Sound Era.

“The ability of this collection to move outside of formalist analysis, and towards a more socially inclusive mode of criticism, pays multiple dividends: in particular, it provides a rich sense of the classical Hollywood film’s unparalleled social importance.” - Tim Roberts, M/C Reviews

“This is a very useful book. It has an introduction which states simply and clearly what it intends to do, and why; then twelve essays which exemplify those aims. . . . Looking Past the Screen is a book worth having. It is of course aimed primarily at researchers into American film, but the principles outlined in the introduction and illustrated in the essays can equally well be applied to any other national cinema.” - Colin Crisp, Screening the Past

“[An] intelligent and entertaining anthology. . . .” - Scott McKinnon, Media International Australia

“[E]ssays in Looking Past the Screen are exciting and informative examples of the type of scholarly work that explores the non-filmic evidence that broadens our understanding of film history. . . . Overall, Looking Past the Screen is an informative contribution to the study of film history. . .” - Shayne D. Pepper, Film Criticism

“I am not aware of another anthology on US film history that illustrates such a wide range of subjects and methodologies. . . . [M]ost of the essays in this volume are well worth reading and assigning as examples of thoughtfully conceived research.” - James Steffen, Film International

“From university classrooms in 1915 and adult films in the 1930s to secretary-producers and dish night at the movies, this compelling collection reminds us that the power, importance, and complexity of films and film studies reside in the vibrant details of the medium’s extraordinary cultural history.”—Timothy Corrigan, author of New German Film and A Cinema without Walls

“The ace editors and A-list film historians Jon Lewis and Eric Smoodin have assembled a stellar cast of critics and scholars to illuminate the mutually enabling relationship between film and history. The provocative essays in this marvelous collection might be likened to a must-see motion picture program with a choice marquee entry for every taste, a bill whose featured attractions encompass the forgotten pioneers of the silent screen, the CGI-laden blockbusters of Planet Hollywood, the kid-centric fare of the Saturday matinee, and the proto-porn of the classic adult film market, with excursions into the noir, the star, the auteur, the Oriental, and the queer. Throughout, the screenings are cinema-smart, culturally savvy, and—appropriately—highly entertaining.”—Thomas Doherty, Brandeis University

-- Scott McKinnon, Media International Australia

-- Shayne D. Pepper, Film Criticism

-- James Steffen, Film International

-- Tim Roberts, M/C Reviews

-- Colin Crisp, Screening the Past

    Acknowledgments ix

    Introduction: The History of Film History / Eric Smoodin 1

    I. Institutional Histories 35

    The Beginning of American Film Study / Dana Polan 37

    The Perfect Money Machine(s): George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Auteurism in the New Hollywood / Jon Lewis 61

    II. Star Studies 87

    Lois Weber and the Celebrity of Matronly Respectability / Shelley Stamp 89

    Tempting Fate: Clara Smith Hamon, or, The Secretary as Producer / Mark Lynn Anderson 117

    The Crafting of a Political Icon: Lola Lola on Paper / Andrea Slane 151

    III. Regulation 167

    Going Hollywood Sooner or Later: Chinese Censorship and The Bitter Tea of General Yen / Eric Smoodin 169

    Plain Brown Wrapper: Adult Films for the Home Market, 1930-1969 / Eric Schaefer 201

    IV. Reception 227

    Ethnography and Exhibition: The Child Audience, The Hays Office, and Saturday Matinees / Richard deCordova 229

    Dish Night at the Movies: Exhibitor Promotions and Female Audiences during the Great Depression / Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley 246

    “A Treatise on Decay”: Liberal and Leftist Critics and Their Queer Readings of Depression-Era U.S. Film / David M. Lugowski 276

    V. Production 301

    Murnau in America: Chronicle of Lost Films (4 Devils, City Girl) / Janet Bergstrom 303

    The American Origins of Film Noir: Realism in Urban Art and The Naked City / Sumiko Higashi 353

    Bibliography 381

    Contributors 397

    Index 401

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