Synopses & Reviews
Long before Batman, Flash Gordon, or the Lone Ranger were the stars of their own TV shows, they had dedicated audiences watching their adventures each week. The difference was that this action took place on the big screen, in short adventure serials whose exciting cliffhangers compelled the young audience to return to the theater every seven days.
Matinee Melodrama is the first book about the adventure serial as a distinct artform, one that uniquely encouraged audience participation and imaginative play. Media scholar Scott Higgins proposes that the serialandrsquo;s incoherent plotting and reliance on formula, far from being faults, should be understood as some of its most appealing attributes, helping to spawn an active fan culture. Further, he suggests these serials laid the groundwork not only for modern-day cinematic blockbusters like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but also for all kinds of interactive media that combine spectacle, storytelling, and play.
As it identifies key elements of the serial formandmdash;from stock characters to cliffhangersandmdash;Matinee Melodrama delves deeply into questions about the nature of suspense, the aesthetics of action, and the potentials of formulaic narrative. Yet it also provides readers with a loving look at everything from Zorroandrsquo;s Fighting Legion to Daredevils of the Red Circle, conveying exactly why these films continue to thrill and enthrall their fans.and#160;
andquot;Scott Higgins offers an incisive and compelling analysis of the Hollywood sound serial as a distinct film genre--the form, story world, and style of which has much to tell us about enduring elements of popular American cinema.andquot;
andquot;Stanfield's vivid prose, his attention to intellectual subtlety, and
andquot;Maximum Movies, Pulp Fictions
is a well-researched, well written and deeply felt tribute to the films and cinephilic writers that laid the foundation for the discipline.andquot;
Covering everything from Batman
to Zorroandrsquo;s Fighting Legion
, Matinee Melodrama
is the first scholarly study of the cinematic adventure serial as a distinct artform, one that uniquely encouraged audience participation and imaginative play. It suggests that the serialandrsquo;s incoherent plotting and reliance on formula, far from being faults, should be understood as some of its most appealing attributes, helping lay the groundwork for todayandrsquo;s blockbuster action movies, interactive videogames, and active fan cultures.and#160;
Probably no decade saw as many changes in the Hollywood film industry and its product as the 1930s did. At the beginning of the decade, the industry was still struggling with the transition to talking pictures. Gangster films and naughty comedies starring Mae West were popular in urban areas, but aroused threats of censorship in the heartland. Whether the film business could survive the economic effects of the Crash was up in the air. By 1939, popularly called andquot;Hollywood's Greatest Year,andquot; films like Gone With the Wind
and The Wizard of Oz
used both color and sound to spectacular effect, and remain American icons today. The andquot;mature oligopolyandquot; that was the studio system had not only weathered the Depression and become part of mainstream culture through the establishment and enforcement of the Production Code, it was a well-oiled, vertically integrated industrial powerhouse.
The ten original essays in American Cinema of the 1930s focus on sixty diverse films of the decade, including Dracula, The Public Enemy, Trouble in Paradise, 42nd Street, King Kong, Imitation of Life, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Swing Time, Angels with Dirty Faces, Nothing Sacred, Jezebel, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Stagecoach .
In the words of Richard Maltby . . . "Maximum Movies--Pulp Fictions describes two improbably imbricated worlds and the piece of cultural history their intersections provoked." One of these worlds comprises a clutch of noisy, garish pulp movies--Kiss Me Deadly, Shock Corridor, Fixed Bayonets!, I Walked with a Zombie, The Lineup, Terror in a Texas Town, Ride Lonesome--pumped out for the grind houses at the end of the urban exhibition chain by the studios' B-divisions and fly-by-night independents. The other is occupied by critics, intellectuals, cinephiles, and filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Manny Farber, and Lawrence Alloway, who championed the cause of these movies and incited the cultural guardians of the day by attacking a rigorously policed canon of tasteful, rarified, and ossified art objects. Against the legitimate, and in defense of the illegitimate, in an insolent and unruly manner, they agitated for the recognition of lurid sensational crime stories, war pictures, fast-paced Westerns, thrillers, and gangster melodramas were claimed as examples of the true, the real, and the authentic in contemporary culture--the foundation upon which modern film studies sits.
The 1940s was a watershed decade for American cinema and the nation. Shaking off the grim legacy of the Depression, Hollywood launched an unprecedented wave of production, generating some of its most memorable classics, including Citizen Kane, Rebecca, The Lady Eve, Sergeant York, and How Green Was My Valley. In 1942, Hollywood joined the national war effort with a vengeance, creating a series of patriotic and escapist films, such as Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, The Road to Morocco, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.
With the end of the war, returning GIs faced a new America, in which the country had been transformed overnight. Film noir reflected a new public mood of pessimism and paranoia, in such classic films of betrayal and conflict as Kiss of Death, Force of Evil, Caught, and Apology for Murder, depicting a poisonous universe of femme fatales, crooked lawyers, and corrupt politicians.
With the threat of the atom bomb lurking in the background and the beginnings of the Hollywood Blacklist, the 1940s was a decade of crisis and change. Featuring essays by a group of respected film scholars and historians, American Cinema of the 1940s brings this dynamic and turbulent decade to life. Illustrated with many rare stills and filled with provocative insights, the volume will appeal to students, teachers, and to all those interested in cultural history and American film of the twentieth century.
About the Author
Peter Stanfield is a reader in film studies at the University of Kent, U.K. He is coeditor of Mob Culture: Hidden Histories of the American Gangster Film and andquot;Un-Americanandquot; Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era (both Rutgers University Press).