Cohan directly takes on the fascinating paradoxes presented by studio-era, “classic” Hollywood musicals: how can they be considered both wholesome famCohan directly takes on the fascinating paradoxes presented by studio-era, “classic” Hollywood musicals: how can they be considered both wholesome family fare and longtime objects of gay fetishization? Mainstream yet niche? Canonized yet marginalized? Primarily interested in those glossy MGM musicals of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s both major (Singin’ in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis) and much more minor (I Love Melvin, Esther Williams’s whole filmography), Cohan’s strategy in making sense of the “incongruity” of these mass “entertainments” is via that ever-amorphous concept of “camp.” What is interesting is that Cohan is interested in demonstrating that camp readings do not just apply to a consideration of the long-acknowledged relationship gay men have had with these films, but, rather counterintuitively, are also the source of their reputations for wholesome family-friendly fare.
The book’s introductory chapter features deep theoretical and historical engagement, but I appreciate how overall Cohan never loses sight of the fact that these films—and a camp sensibility in general—generally pivot upon pleasure, humor, and, in his own words, “fun, though not with the intent of trivializing." Thankfully, this recognition is reflected in his writing and analytical style (how many times have I sighed over theoretical readings of topics like “pleasure” and found the objects of scrutiny hopelessly wrung of any such thing? TOO MANY).
Each chapter centers a different facet of Cohan’s overarching thesis, ranging from the groups of “sissy” chorus boys always seeming to accompany glamorous female stars during their musical numbers, Judy Garland’s eternal but polyvalent persona and star appeal, the ambiguous “camp masculinity” of Gene Kelly, the non-heterosexual figures crucial to the storied “Freed Unit,” etc, etc. I was also particularly interested in his final chapters which consider the intricacies of nostalgia inherent in the That’s Entertainment! series, as well as the much more daunting task of making some kind of sense of Judy Garland internet tribute websites and message boards and the complexities that go along with the legacy of a beloved—and incredibly complicated figure. Certainly a diverse range of topics, but all, in the end, demonstrating how viewers are required to constantly “negotiate the incongruous cultural dualisms” deliberately embedded within these films, and the importance of considering camp when doing so.
[This is a condensed version of a review posted on my blog, Queer Modernisms. The full version, which deals more extensively with Cohan's theorization of camp, can be found here.]...more
One might presume that at this point this volume would be quite dated, and while of course it doesn't cover developments in film theory over the lastOne might presume that at this point this volume would be quite dated, and while of course it doesn't cover developments in film theory over the last several decades, I have encountered few other sources that manages to be clear and elucidating while also being gracefully written in and of itself. A reference book I find myself turning to often. ...more
A collection of Rich's essays on a number of important feminist and/or queer filmmakers, ranging from the classical era (Deren, Riefenstahl, MaedchenA collection of Rich's essays on a number of important feminist and/or queer filmmakers, ranging from the classical era (Deren, Riefenstahl, Maedchen in Uniform) to luminaries of the 60's and 70's underground, avant-garde, and foreign cinemas (Akerman, Rainer, Schneemann, Michelle Citron, the still-sadly-obscure Sara Gomez, etc), many whom Rich played an active part in establishing critical reputations for in the US. But ostensibly functioning as introductions to the essays are Rich's remembrances and memories on the circumstances that led to these specific essays being written, which turn out to not only revealing peeks into important historical moments, but often veer into (generally good-natured) gossip, which makes for reading that is often as delightful as it is insightful--something which is not always a given with a book with the word "theories" in the title....more
I had the privilege of reading several of the essays included in this important collection in manuscript form in one of Prof. Nichols's seminars, andI had the privilege of reading several of the essays included in this important collection in manuscript form in one of Prof. Nichols's seminars, and it was with great pleasure I revisited those same essays and read the additional material now in its published form. Forgács is a Hungarian filmmaker and archivist whose primarily work primarily deals with various types of historical found-footage unearthed from Europe's past, and his most well-known and powerful films use the home videos depicting the everyday lives of middle-class Jewish families in the years leading up to the deployment of the Final Solution (in one utterly devastating sequence in The Maelstrom, for example, we actually see family members packing their bags for what they believe is a work assignment, but turns out to be the death camp where they will all perish). It's really a travesty, in my opinion, that Forgács's films are not more widely known and are almost completely unavailable (the majority are made for European television), and here's hoping that the publication of this book will raise awareness and attention, and perhaps greater access to his work.
As for the actual material, the two lengthy interviews with Forgács are fascinating, and the essays generally exemplify the best of theoretical film writing; that is, they regards the films as embodying a type of supple philosophical/theoretical statements in and of themselves, and while a diverse array of thinkers make appearances (including Barthes, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Benjamin, Balázs, etc, etc) they are used to illuminate rather than dictate or pontificate. For me, the standout essays are those by Kaja Silverman and Michael Roth, but nearly all are worth reading. And, more importantly, the films themselves are worth watching. ...more
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist womenVirginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist women writers, including H.D., Colette, Dorothy Richardson, Bryher, Stein, etc. The topics traversed—ranging from the Woolfs's personal albums to Bell's photographic experimentation to early, pioneering female film criticism and more—is unceasingly fascinating, which is why I was often frustrated with how dull Humm's analysis could become. It's pretty dazzling when it sticks to original research and close reading of a wide range of material (which accounts for the four stars), but all too often comes it lapses into ponderous strings of academese, and I quickly began to skip just about everything directly dealing with psychoanalytic theory (which is why I considered docking one of those stars).
The major highlight is the consideration of the Woolfs's personal photo albums as demonstrating a number of her literary techniques in visual form. Never chronological or even topically arranged, the five albums instead are largely associative constructions and often contain multiple photographs of a single subject from different visual perspectives (echoing cubist and other innovations of modernist visual art), and sometimes "superior" versions of photos can be found hidden behind ones that are less representationally perfect but contain flaws that are more artistically interesting and/or evocative (hinting that the albums were more than just personal records) . I wish Humm had explored a bit more Leonard's admitted contribution to the albums, but overall Humm makes a convincing case that Woolf's larger aesthetic project involves her "amateur" involvement in the photographic arts just as much as her "professional" achievements as novelist, essayist, and literary figure.
There's also a nice overview of the intimate connection many female modernists had to cinema and the photographic arts in general, opening up a number of avenues of inquiry I'm already researching and/or plan to pursue further.
[One of the images Humm includes from the Woolf albums]
Absolutely invaluable—I turned to this countless times for refreshers and ideas in how to present many of the key ideas, concepts and terms of cinemaAbsolutely invaluable—I turned to this countless times for refreshers and ideas in how to present many of the key ideas, concepts and terms of cinema studies to my students in ways that were both clear and meaningful (I honestly don't know what I would have done without the concise explanation of film semiotics). And I swear I'm not biased just because he was my thesis advisor! ...more