Rethinking the significance of films including Pillow Talk, Rear Window, and The Seven Year Itch, Pamela Robertson Wojcik examines the popularity of the “apartment plot,” her term for stories in which the apartment functions as a central narrative device. From the baby boom years into the 1970s, the apartment plot was not only key to films; it also surfaced in TV shows, Broadway plays, literature, and comic strips, from The Honeymooners and The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Subways are for Sleeping and Apartment 3-G. By identifying the apartment plot as a film genre, Wojcik reveals affinities between movies generally viewed as belonging to such distinct genres as film noir, romantic comedy, and melodrama. She analyzes the apartment plot as part of a mid-twentieth-century urban discourse, showing how it offers a vision of home centered on values of community, visibility, contact, mobility, impermanence, and porousness that contrasts with views of home as private, stable, and family-based. Wojcik suggests that the apartment plot presents a philosophy of urbanism related to the theories of Jane Jacobs and Henri Lefebvre. Urban apartments were important spaces for negotiating gender, sexuality, race, and class in mid-twentieth-century America.
From the earliest sound films to the present, American cinema has represented African Americans as decidedly musical. Disintegrating the Musical tracks and analyzes this history of musical representations of African Americans, from blacks and whites in blackface to black-cast musicals to jazz shorts, from sorrow songs to show tunes to bebop and beyond.
Arthur Knight focuses on American film’s classic sound era, when Hollywood studios made eight all-black-cast musicals—a focus on Afro-America unparalleled in any other genre. It was during this same period that the first black film stars—Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge—emerged, not coincidentally, from the ranks of musical performers. That these films made so much of the connection between African Americans and musicality was somewhat ironic, Knight points out, because they did so in a form (song) and a genre (the musical) celebrating American social integration, community, and the marriage of opposites—even as the films themselves were segregated and played before even more strictly segregated audiences.
Disintegrating the Musical covers territory both familiar—Show Boat, Stormy Weather, Porgy and Bess—and obscure—musical films by pioneer black director Oscar Micheaux, Lena Horne’s first film The Duke Is Tops, specialty numbers tucked into better-known features, and lost classics like the short Jammin’ the Blues. It considers the social and cultural contexts from which these films arose and how African American critics and audiences responded to them. Finally, Disintegrating the Musical shows how this history connects with the present practices of contemporary musical films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Bamboozled.
This insightful study places African American women's stardom in historical and industrial contexts by examining the star personae of five African American women: Dorothy Dandridge, Pam Grier, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Halle Berry. Interpreting each woman's celebrity as predicated on a brand of charismatic authority, Mia Mask shows how these female stars have ultimately complicated the conventional discursive practices through which blackness and womanhood have been represented in commercial cinema, independent film, and network television.
Mask examines the function of these stars in seminal yet underanalyzed films. She considers Dandridge's status as a sexual commodity in films such as Tamango, revealing the contradictory discourses regarding race and sexuality in segregation-era American culture. Grier's feminist-camp performances in sexploitation pictures Women in Cages and The Big Doll House and her subsequent blaxploitation vehicles Coffy and Foxy Brown highlight a similar tension between representing African American women as both objectified stereotypes and powerful, self-defining icons. Mask reads Goldberg's transforming habits in Sister Act and The Associate as representative of her unruly comedic routines, while Winfrey's daily television performance as self-made, self-help guru echoes Horatio Alger narratives of success. Finally, Mask analyzes Berry's meteoric success by acknowledging the ways in which Dandridge's career made Berry's possible.
Challenging the classic horror frame in American film
American filmmakers appropriate the “ look” of horror in Holocaust films and often use Nazis and Holocaust imagery to explain evil in the world, say authors Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart and David A. Frank. In Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film, Picart and Frank challenge this classic horror frame— the narrative and visual borders used to demarcate monsters and the monstrous. After examining the way in which directors and producers of the most influential American Holocaust movies default to this Gothic frame, they propose that multiple frames are needed to account for evil and genocide.
Using Schindler’ s List, The Silence of the Lambs, and Apt Pupil as case studies, the authors provide substantive and critical analyses of these films that transcend the classic horror interpretation. For example, Schindler’ s List, say Picart and Frank, has the appearance of a historical docudrama but actually employs the visual rhetoric and narrative devices of the Hollywood horror film. The authors argue that evil has a face: Nazism, which is configured as quintessentially innate, and supernaturally crafty.
Frames of Evil, which is augmented by thirty-six film and publicity stills, also explores the commercial exploitation of suffering in film and offers constructive ways of critically evaluating this exploitation. The authors suggest that audiences will recognize their participation in much larger narrative formulas that place a premium on monstrosity and elide the role of modernity in depriving millions of their lives and dignity, often framing the suffering of others in a manner that allows for merely “ documentary” enjoyment.
Part human, part machine, the cyborg is the hero of an increasingly popular genre of American film and, as Janice H. Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz so provocatively suggest, a cultural icon emblematic of an emergent postmodern mythology. Using the cyborg film as a point of departure, Rushing and Frentz examine how we rework Western myths and initiation rites in the face of new technologies.
Through in-depth examinations of six representative films—Jaws, The Deer Hunter, The Manchurian Candidate, Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Terminator 2—Rushing and Frentz track the narrative's thread from the hunter to his technological nemesis, demonstrating how each film represents an unfolding hunter myth.
For each movie, Rushing and Frentz show how uninitiated male hunters slowly lose control over their weapons. In Jaws, a 'soft' man, dominated by technology, can re-acquire the heroic hunter qualities he needs by teaming up with a 'savage' man and a 'technological' man. In doing so, he can still conquer the prey. The Manchurian Candidate charts how technology can turn a human into a weapon; Blade Runner perfects the artificial human with its manufactured replicants who are "more than human"; and The Terminator introduces a female hunter who leads humanity in its struggle against technology.
Whether tall office buildings, high-rise apartments, or lofty hotels, skyscrapers have been stars in American cinema since the silent era. Cinema’s tall buildings have been variously represented as unbridled aspiration, dens of iniquity and eroticism, beacons of democracy, and well-oiled corporate machines. Considering their intriguing diversity, Merrill Schleier establishes and explains the impact of actual skyscrapers on America’s ideologies about work, leisure, romance, sexual identity, and politics as seen in Hollywood movies.
Schleier analyzes cinematic works in which skyscrapers are an integral component, interpreting the iconography and spatial practices in these often fictional modern buildings, especially on concepts of gender. Organized chronologically and thematically, she offers close readings of films including Safety Last, Skyscraper Souls, Wife vs. Secretary, Baby Face, The Fountainhead, and Desk Set. Opening with the humorous antics of Harold Lloyd, the premier skyscraper actor of the silent era, the book moves through the disillusionment of the Depression era, in which skyscrapers are employed as players in moralistic, class-conscious stories, to post–World War II and its reimagining of American political and economic values and ends with the complicated prosperity of the 1950s and the lives of white-collar workers and their spouses.
Taking inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, among works of other critical theorists, Schleier creates in this book a model for understanding architecture as a purveyor of desire and class values and, ultimately, contributes broadly to thinking on the rich intersection of the built environment, cinema, and gender.