I have a new video out today in the Frame by Frame series, directed and edited by Curt Bright, which I wrote and appear in, on the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s. About the Blacklist, the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of its most celebrated personages, had this to say in 1970, when the Blacklist had begun to wane: “The blacklist was a time of evil, and no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil. Caught in a situation that had passed beyond the control of mere individuals, each person reacted as his nature, his needs, his convictions, and his particular circumstances compelled him to. There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides. When you who are in your 40s or younger look back with curiosity on that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims. Some suffered less than others, some grew and some diminished, but in the final tally we were all victims because almost without exception each of us felt compelled to say things he did not want to say, to do things that he did not want to do, to deliver and receive wounds he truly did not want to exchange. That is why none of us – right, left, or center – emerged from that long nightmare without sin.”
Posts Tagged ‘Film History’
Film historian Neil Roughley has been doing research into the incredibly prolific career of film director Sam Newfield, who is, as Roughley says on his impeccably researched website, “the most prolific feature film director of the American sound era.”
As he adds in his prefatory remarks, “because of his amazing output, no Newfield filmography will ever be complete. The following is an attempt to accurately catalog all of his known features and shorts. Originally online in 1998 and last updated in 2001, I have finally revised the filmography with more accurate information and notes, plus the addition of images. The entire filmography has been revamped from the ground up, and is still a work in progress to some degree.
Although somewhat unorthodox, order is now based on the Production Code Administration (PCA) certificate number instead of the earliest release date. This method generally adheres to the release order anyway, and provides a more accurate and indisputable chronology as the films became available for general distribution. A film could be certified and held back, of course, which was not uncommon; or, rarer, a film could be completed but not submitted for certification until later. Some films were previewed before certification, too. This method, however flawed, provides a balance between production order and release, although exceptions do exist.”
They’re not the same thing. Film reviews are served up by daily critics, who no matter how knowledgeable they are, are writing for a day-by-day audience, who want a plot outline, a brief overview, and then some opinion on the film at hand, advising readers whether to see the film or not.
Film criticism and theory, in contrast, “unpacks” a film to see what makes it tick, and uses various theoretical approaches, such as feminist film theory, or auteurism, or structural film theory, or numerous other approaches — far too many to list here — to take the film apart in detail, and see how it works.
Film reviews are mainly an opinion pieces, but film criticism proceeds from a large base of historical, critical and theoretical information, and offers a detailed understanding of the director’s history, past projects, the history and practice of the genre in question (if it’s a genre film), of others working in the field, possible precedents for the film, shot structure, editing, choreography, lighting, acting styles, camera movement, framing, deep focus, costumes, and whatever else might apply; it deconstructs the film in detail.
So there’s a world of difference here, and it seems to me that sometimes people get the distinction blurred; anyone can have an opinion, and give you a thumbnail review of a film, or a book, or anything else; but it’s just their point of view.
In order to really understand a work of art (or even a commercial film, or perhaps I should say, especially a commercial film – they really need careful discussion), you need to really examine it, in an absolutely detailed fashion, and have the background in history, theory and criticism to really understand what’s going on. That’s the beginning of film criticism, and the beginning of a real understanding of the film (digital or otherwise) medium.
Here’s a sad, sweet little film shot in the early 1930s about the collapse of backlot Hollywood from the silent era — more than a little nostalgic, but an interesting glimpse into a world that existed before CGI, when one actually had to build a set in order to get the image on screen.
From the lost film Sleep is Lovely, 1968
While film may seem eternal, in fact it’s highly ephemeral, as this list of 75 lost British films compiled by the British Film Institute clearly indicates. Some of the films on the BFI list are from the 1970s, and one would think that films of such relatively recent vintage would be readily available, but no — they’re lost, negatives and all prints. In most cases, only stills and press materials survive. They may eventually turn up in a vault somewhere, or in someone’s attic or bedroom closet, but for the moment, these films are only memories — moving images that once had life, but now exist no more.
This list, in itself, is one of the best arguments one can make for the essential nature of film preservation. Without proper archival care, all films will cease to exist eventually. Our job is to keep them with us, as part of our shared cultural heritage. The films on this list are all British productions, but such a list could easily be expanded to include films around the world — films that are now just memories. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever, and you can’t bring them back — so we must act now.
Boxoffice is one of the film industry’s most respected business journals, and they’ve recently put more than 3,000 back issues of the magazine online, free, as pdfs. Better still, they post five new back issues of the journal every week. It’s a fascinating look back at film history, and right now covers the years 1925 -2010, with a few years missing in the middle, but nothing major.
As the site says: “Welcome to the home for nearly 3000 back issues of Boxoffice Magazine, the theatrical film business’ premier trade publication since 1920. Each week we post five issues from our vast archive which covers everyone from John Barrymore to Drew Barrymore. (Before 1933, Boxoffice was published under different names in various parts of the U.S.)
Once, you had to go to a library and spend days digging through the stacks to find what you wanted; now, here it is, all at your fingertips, the complete commercial history of American film in the 20th century, and the start of the 21st. This is what the web was made for; free access, no ads, a complete and unabridged historical record. Essential reading, and lively browsing, as well.
Salvador Dali and Man Ray, photographed in Paris by Carl van Vechten, June 16, 1934
One of the earliest cinematographic poets, Man Ray was a still photographer, painter, sculptor, who created a series of dazzling Dada films which still delight and amuse the viewer. Here’s a link to one of my favorites: Le Retour à la Raison (Return to Reason, 1923), 2 minutes in length, silent, which consists of random live images intercut with “Rayographs,” made by sprinkling salt, pepper, thumbtacks, pins and other materials directly on the film in the darkroom, then exposing it to controlled amounts of light.
As Man Ray said of the making of the film, “Acquiring a roll of a hundred feet of film, I went into my darkroom and cut up the material into short lengths, pinning them down on the worktable. On some strips I sprinkled salt and pepper, like a cook preparing a roast, on other strips I threw pins and thumbtacks at random; then I turned on the white light for a second or two, as I had done for my still Rayographs. Then I carefully lifted the film off the table, shaking off the debris, and developed it in my tanks. The next morning, when dry, I examined the work; the salt, pins and tacks were perfectly reproduced.”
“I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence.” (Undated interview, circa 1970s; published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)
While there is a lot of writing on film available on the web today, much of it is fan-based, or of highly variable quality. And the really intelligent, thoughtful work on the web is often locked behind a pay wall, on a “download by article” basis. That’s why it’s so important that Senses of Cinema, one of the first, and certainly one of the most prestigious, online journals continues to flourish. Senses of Cinema brings together some of the most accessible and informed writing on film that’s available today, in a format that is accessible to all. As the journal says in its mission statement,
“Senses of Cinema is an online journal devoted to the serious and eclectic discussion of cinema. We believe cinema is an art that can take many forms, from the industrially-produced blockbuster to the hand-crafted experimental work; we also aim to encourage awareness of the histories of such diverse forms. As an Australian-based journal, we have a special commitment to the regular, wide-ranging analysis and critique of Australian cinema, past and present.
Senses of Cinema is primarily concerned with ideas about particular films or bodies of work, but also with the regimes (ideological, economic and so forth) under which films are produced and viewed, and with the more abstract theoretical and philosophical issues raised by film study. As well, we believe that a cinephilic understanding of the moving image provides the necessary basis for a radical critique of other media and of the global “image culture”.
We are open to a range of critical approaches (auteurist, formalist, psychoanalytic, humanist…) and encourage contributors to experiment with different forms of writing (personal memoir, academic essay, journalistic report, poetic evocation…). We commission and accept articles from academics and journalists, internationally-known authorities and previously unpublished cinephiles alike; our only criteria are that they should shed new light on their subjects, and be informed by a broad knowledge and love of cinema. Likewise, our readership is a genuinely diverse group, bringing together people from a wide range of backgrounds, professions and interests but bound by a single common element: an informed, passionate and serious attitude toward cinema as an art.
We recognise that an art as ephemeral and ethereal as cinema continues to fascinate, provoke, inspire, turn on, and evolve. Above all, we seek to facilitate approaches to cinema that present new possibilities for exploring, experiencing and imagining the world we live in.”
The journal also has an excellent series of essays on the “great directors” which is continually expanding; if you’re doing research for a project, or just want to read some truly informed and intelligent film theory and criticism, Senses of Cinema is one of the few web-based film theory journals that can consistently be relied upon for accuracy, quality, and depth.
Here’s a link to a collection of short, 2-3 minute videos I do for the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, directed and edited by Curt Bright; this page is regularly updated, and lists all of them, in reverse chronological order. There are about 47 right now, with more added nearly every week.
Just click on the box above, or here, and happy viewing!
About the Author
Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Frame By Frame - Hollywood ComposersUNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon highlights the most prolific Hollywood film composers. […]
- Frame By Frame - Film CriticsUNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon explains why there's more to reviewing films than just "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." […]
In The National News
National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/