Film News

  • Women and the Movies they Make: Curated by UT Dallas Assistant Professor Shilyh Warren
  • Still from "Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)"

    Still from “Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)”

    Shilyh Warren, an assistant professor of film and aesthetic studies, is curating an event this Sunday (March 25) at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Richardson. The event focuses on female filmmakers and celebrates the works women have made since film began.

    The event will be split into two programs. The first program begins with “Women Who Made the Movies (1992),” a documentary that traces the careers and films of pioneer women filmmakers. It then continues with three short films:  “Meshes of the Afternoon (1943),” by Maya Deren; “Fannie’s Film (1979),” by Fronza Woods; and “An Island Surrounded By Water (1985).” by María Novaro.

    The second program will screen nine short films including “Sari Red (1988),” by Pratibha Parmar; “Measures of Distance (1988),” by Mona Hatoum; and “All Water Has a Perfect Memory (2001),” by Natalia Almada.

    Shilyh Warren was also interviewed about the event on “The Big Screen,” a podcast from KERA: Interview

  • Professor's Book Becomes Hollywood Movie
  • Dr. Matt Bondurant’s 2008 book, The Wettest County in the World, has made the leap to the big screen, and on Wednesday, Aug. 29, the film adaptation opened in theaters in a movie called, Lawless, starring Shia LaBeoufRead more.

  • Film Professor Unwraps a Box of Holiday Movie Classics
  • Dr. Adrienne L. McLean, professor of film studies at The University of Texas at Dallas, has compiled a list of her top movies for the holiday season.

    “The most significant films are likely to be those that you and your family have turned into traditions yourselves,” said McLean.

    She says some families might watch Stephen King horror movies every holiday, and others might be theater bound for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which opens Dec. 21 but which is obviously not a celebration-themed family flick.

    The holidays are also probably marked as much by favorite television shows or any one of the animated specials featuring Charlie Brown, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Grinch or Frosty the Snowman.

    “My favorite holiday movies have virtually always been experienced as television shows, in the living room, ideally with friends and family but not always, and maybe it’s the relationship of these movies to the living room that makes them traditional. They’re revived over and over, if you’re lucky, and seeking them out on the television schedule is itself part of the holidays to me,” said McLean.

    Her favorite “conventional canonical classics” are:

    Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn

    Holiday Inn (1942). Starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby at their peak, this black and white “putting on a show” musical is not strictly speaking a Christmas movie, in that it covers many other holidays as well. The Inn opens and closes during Christmas and New Year’s, and by far the most famous of its songs is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” which it, and Bing, introduced to the world here.  Other numbers are great too, but there is also a cringeworthy blackface “tribute” to Lincoln. And, rumor has it that the hotel chain got its name from the film.

    It's A Wonderful Life

    It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). The film did not do very well upon its initial release, and it’s not hard to see why – it is something of a film noir, and while there is a “happy ending” it takes many wrenching scenes to get us there.  In fact, the disturbing vision director Frank Capra gives us of an “alternative” postwar American culture, in which money and power are grabbed by the greedy who destroy families and communities for their own selfish interests, is arguably just as powerful as the message that it’s OK if your dreams don’t come true as long as you focus on what you do have.

    Miracle on 34th Street

    Miracle on 34th Street (1947).  This black and white film was for a time available only in a “colorized” version, but is now back in its original form.  Like It’s a Wonderful Life, it too is interesting for what it represents about postwar American life. The film depicts affluence and optimism as well as some cynicism about people’s beliefs and motives – there is also a loss of innocence. The later television version, with Mara Wilson, isn’t bad either, although it’s much more saccharine.

    White Christmas

    White Christmas (1954).  Another backstage musical with an over-the-top finale and a plot involving two song-and-dance men who try to save the inn of their former World War II Major General, who has fallen on hard times. The “girls” in the romance plot are singer Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and dancer Vera-Ellen. While the ending is ostensibly “happy” – the inn is saved by the snow that should bring in the skiers, the romances all survive the required misunderstandings – you can’t help but wonder whether good fortune is going to stick around through the new year and beyond.

    A Christmans Story

    A Christmas Story (1983).  Although this film exhibits something of the raunch and sarcasm of Scrooged or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it is also a sunny and very funny account, adapted from the novel by Jean Shepherd (who also wrote the screenplay), of a “typical” suburban Christmas.  Phrases like “You’ll shoot your eye out!” that lots of people of a certain age remember from their youth now resonate with modern-day kids as well. The same can be said for certain situations, like the tangled strings of lights and overloaded electrical sockets of the holiday season, the snow suits that are so padded you can’t move in them, the bizarre objects – the leg lamp – that your parents fight over.  It is sometimes called a cult film because it wasn’t originally all that popular.  Now there is a stage version, A Christmas Story, the Musical! (produced by the film’s Ralphie, Peter Billingsley), that may or may not be Broadway-bound.

     

    Full story available from the UT Dallas News Center.

  • Halloween Screenings: Film Prof Picks Top 5 Scary Flicks
  • To help make the most of the Halloween season, Dr. Adrienne L. McLean, professor offilm studies at UT Dallas, has compiled a list of her favorite horror films.

    “These films will, if you allow yourself to succumb to them, scare you rigid, not from blood or gore, but from what you sometimes cannot (and will never) see, what you must imagine, situations that are disturbing, things that may or not be real or possible,” said McLean.

    “Even when they make you giggle at one or another of their implausibilities or, in the case of the older films, general campiness, you will likely find yourself awake in the middle of the night at some point in the future remembering scenes from all of them.”

    Her recommendations are:

    Film: Cat People

    Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942).  “This film is in black and white and made on a tiny budget, but it contains one of the most influential horror scenes of all time — a woman being terrorized in a swimming pool by shadow and noise only.  A perfect example of how the monster (a young married woman who becomes a vicious black leopard) is to be both feared and pitied — we cheer when she kills the sleazy psychiatrist who finds her ‘exciting’ and thinks he can control her. We mourn her death.”

    Film: The Innocents

    The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961).  “An adaptation of Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, this film is about a governess who agrees to take care of two strange and possibly possessed children in a mansion in the middle of the British countryside.  Also in black and white, it is probably the scariest film I have ever seen, purely on the basis of its evocative and disturbing images—a cherub with an insect crawling from its mouth, a figure standing in a lake, a dead bird under a pillow.  The soundtrack is also terrifying.”

    Film: The Shining

    The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980).  “Most people are aware of this film thanks to Jack Nicholson’s performance as the unhinged proprietor of a remote resort hotel, but it remains one of the creepiest films ever made.  Your startle reflex will get a tremendous workout.”

    The Blair Witch Project (Daniel MyrickEduardo Sánchez, 1999).  “Yes, it has bizarre plot holes — why don’t the three lost students just follow the stream back to civilization instead of wandering around in circles? But, for dread created from very little (stick witches hanging from trees, piles of rocks, a blurry severed finger) this movie is hard to beat.”

    Film: Others

    The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001).  “A ‘twist’ film, sometimes compared to The Innocents for its creepy children and the fact that there may or may not be ghosts in the house.  Literally, it is quite a dark film because the children suffer from some disease that makes them sensitive to light, and all the scarier for it.  The sequence involving a photograph album containing actual images of dead Victorian and Edwardian children will stay with you for years.”

    McLean has a PhD in film studies from Emory University and is the author of many books on film including Dying Swans and Madmen:  Ballet, the Body, and Narrative Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 2008; second printing 2011).

    Full story available from the UT Dallas News Center.

     

  • University Celebrates Achievements of Recently Published Professors
  • Faculty members who are also published authors were the focus of a recent McDermott Library celebration. The  6th Annual Faculty Author Reception recognized 16 writers and nine editors of books published during the last academic year.

    Faculty Author Reception 2011Dr. David Patterson (left) celebrates publication of his book A Genealogy of Evil: Anti-Semitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad with Dr. Susan Chizeck and Dr. William Pervin.

    Dr. Nils Roemer, a professor of historical studies in the School of Arts and Humanities, had the busiest publishing year.  He wrote German City, Jewish Memory: The Story of Worms and co-edited two other volumes –Crossing the Atlantic: Travel and Writing in Modern Times and Jewish Longings and Belongings in Modern European Consumer Culture.

    Other recognized books ranged from strategies in chess education to the Western stories of Ned Buntline.

    Dr. Adrienne McLean, professor of film studies, was the editor of Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s. She was also the series editor for nine other volumes in the Star Decades series published by Rutgers University Press.

    Alex PiqueroDr. Alex Piquero, shown with his wife and colleague, Dr. Nicole Leeper Piquero, was honored as the co-editor of the Handbook of Quantitative Criminology.

    “The diversity of our faculty is shown in the wide range of subjects for which they publish each year,” said Dr. Ellen Safley, director of libraries, who organized the reception in cooperation with Executive Vice President and Provost Hobson Wildenthal.

    “We enjoy recognizing their significant commitment to scholarship. We are proud to add these publications to our collection.”

    As in past receptions, the authors and editors were showcased in a gallery of framed posters.

    Included in the festivities were faculty members who were promoted from assistant professor without tenure to associate professor with tenure – a milestone in a professor’s career. The newly tenured professors are invited to select books that have been meaningful to them, either professionally or personally, to be added to the library’s collection.

    The reception was held Thursday, Oct. 13,  in the McDermott Suite of the Eugene McDermott Library.

    Full story available from the UT Dallas News Center.

     

  • Video Showcases Faculty Member's Novel
  • Dr. Matt Bondurant talks about his book “The Wettest County in the World” and upcoming movie based on the book starring Shia Labeouf. Watch YouTube Video

  • Film Professor Takes a ‘Swan’ Dive into Ballerina Imagery
  • From White Nights to Billy Elliot, ballet has found its way, time and again, onto the silver screen and into the hearts of otherwise unlikely audiences. With Oscar nominations gracing Black Swan, ballet is once again on point in Hollywood and beyond. But the film isn’t all tutus and curtain calls – it reveals a darker shade of pink.

    In her 2008 book Dying Swans and Madmen: Ballet, the Body, and Narrative Cinema, Dr. Adrienne L. McLean, professor of film and aesthetic studies at The University of Texas at Dallas, explores the symbiosis of ballet and film. Drawing on examples that range from musicals to tragic melodramas, or “mellers,” she suggests that commercial films have produced an image of ballet and its artists that is associated at once with joy, fulfillment, fame and power – and also with sexual and mental perversity, melancholy and death.

    Dr. Adrienne McLeaneDr. Adrienne L. McLean, professor of film and aesthetic studies, explores the symbiosis of ballet and film in her book.

    McLean, who specializes in classical Hollywood film history and who has an MFA in dance, says the drama of the dance goes back a long way. “Variety used the term ‘ballet meller’ in the 1950s to refer to a film that was yet another in a long line of sometimes over-the-top and clichéd representations of ballet in the movies as something associated with death, illness, insanity, doom and so on,” she said. “The Red Shoes (1948) is probably the pre-eminent ballet meller, complete with narcissistic and domineering impresario, and a ballerina who wants to dance more than life itself and who dies because she is asked to choose between career and marriage.”

    But ballet is not just about melodrama – McLean says it was often present in classic Hollywood musicals as well. “Ballet was sometimes employed to raise the prestige or class value of a film, but it was often lampooned or criticized in the process in favor of more ‘popular’ dance forms,” she said. “ These dance forms often used ballet as their technical basis, but you wouldn’t know it from watching – think Gene Kelly doing pirouettes in khaki pants and loafers in Singin’ in the Rain.”

    The weight loss of Black Swan stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis to prepare for the film has been widely publicized, and at the time that the film came out, there was a controversy over a New York Times’ dance reviewer criticizing a principal dancer in a local production ofThe Nutcracker for having “eaten one sugarplum too many.” As McLean points out in her book, “the extreme thinness that we now expect of women dancers is, in ways that are amorphous and difficult to measure, likely a result of ballet’s intersection with forms of visual time-based media like film. There are all sorts of other reasons across the past century for the pressure for women to be extremely thin, but the way that bodies look in the movies has certainly been a factor, and not just in ballet.

    “There are certainly some driven and obsessive young women in the dance world, as there are in most high-profile or performance-based professions, and always have been,” McLean says. “But there are also plenty of regular folks who are devoted to ballet as their profession but who do not mutilate themselves, go insane, and so on. In general, the issue with all films about worlds that audiences may not have experienced extensively on their own in ‘real life’ is that films can construct our attitudes about that world, the people in it, and what art means and is. As [New Yorker dance critic] Joan Acocella wrote in 2004, ‘People don’t know about ballet from seeing it … people know about ballet from the movies.’ ”

    Full story available from the UT Dallas News Center.