The Film Doctor kindly invited me to participate in the “Reading the Movies” meme, originally started by movieman0283 at his blog, The Dancing Image. As The Film Doctor points out, there are already some incredible lists out there from smart and entertaining film bloggers like Campaspe, film critic Glenn Kenny, and New Yorker blogger Richard Brody, so I’m very happy to join in the fun.
There is also an interesting tension in some of the lists between bloggers who cite books that influenced them or “changed [their] lives” and, in the case of The Film Doctor, “favorite” film books. Many of the books that most influenced me, especially in recent years, are difficult, challenging books that may not offer traditional forms of reading pleasure. At the same time, as my own research has evolved, many books that were important to me as a young, initially tentative film scholar, have become less significant to my recent scholarly output. With that in mind, I’ve tried to balance between books I love, many of which are themselves about a love of cinema, and books that shaped my scholarly interests and inclinations. At the same time, this list might be considered a small repayment of the debts I owe to the scholars, critics, and thinkers who helped make my own book possible. Because most of these annotations run a bit long, I’ll divide this entry into two parts.
- Few books have been more important to me than Illuminations, a collection of some of Walter Benjamin’s more significant essays compiled and published posthumously, especially Benjamin’s groundbreaking “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” a profound meditation on cinema and modern subjectivity, one that assimilated everything from Georg Simmel’s sociological analysis to Dziga Vertov’s celebration of the camera’s ability to document and reveal hidden elements of everyday life. In my own personal, dog-eared copy of the book, the margins are littered with comments and virtually every word of that essay is underlined as I sought to grapple with Benjamin’s arguments. Another essay in the same collection, “Unpacking My Library,” also quietly influenced some of my thoughts on the practices of collecting DVD addressed in my book.
- When I first began my Ph.D. at Purdue, one of the first courses I took focused onfeminist film theory. Naturally, Laura Mulvey’s paradigmatic essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” anthologized in Visual and Other Pleasures, served as an important, if controversial, touchstone for discussions throughout the semester. Although Mulvey’s concept of the “male gaze” and her call for film texts that called for deconstructing visual pleasure have been challenged (quite often by feminist critics), her work helped convey to me the value and pleasure of film analysis. At the same time, her book helped to foster an incredibly productive cycle of scholarship on the concept of the spectator, inlcuding another book that had a major influence on me, Steven Shaviro’s The Cinematic Body. And even though Mulvey’s book is less frequently cited these days, I’d argue that her discussion of spectatorshiphelped make possible some of the more recent work on fan studies an active audiences, even if many of those scholars were actively working against her main arguments.
- When I first began writing seriously about film, I became increasingly influenced by scholarship that combined a focus on spectatorship with a growing body of scholars focused on postmodernism, especially as it was defined by Fredric Jameson. This interest helped me to identify time-travel films as crucial sites for thinking about films as “time machines” that altered historical consciousness. Because of these interests, I found myself grappling with, citing, and revisiting Anne Friedberg’s Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, a book that elegantly weaves together Benjamin-influenced analysis of shopping malls and multiplexes with careful considerations of how movies were creating a postmodern spectator lost in the funhouse of images. Not-so-faint echoes of Friedberg’s work can be heard in my book when I attempt to read my experience of watching Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at an Atlanta drive-in.
- Charles Acland’s Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture helped me to think about the importance of the locations where we view movies and also reminded me that movie theaters retain an important status in the cultural imagination when it comes to thinking about how movies are understood. Acland also offers a useful analysis of the pleasures of attending movies on opening night, linking that practice to what he calls a “felt internationalism,” a desire to be both “in-the-know” and part of a larger collective with shared interests, ideas that I tried to assimilate into my discussion of film blogs.
- Acland’s book was also an important bridge from some of the scholarship I read early in my career that was informed by cultural studies and some of the valuable work coming from a political economy perspective. A particularly important book for me was Global Hollywood, authored by Toby Miller, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell. Although the book misses some of the ways in which movies are used and acted upon by film audiences, the book also helped me to think more carefully about how movies circulate globally.
Stay tuned for Part II.