The reader reports for “Where Is France in French Cinema, 1976-2013” all noted that the tone was a bit….less than professional and academic. Thankfully, the editor of the special issue, Jane Stadler, didn’t mind me doing things like calling Brisbane a backwater and gleefully admitting that I hadn’t watched a bunch of movies and, probably most of all, saying that I’m not worried about being wrong because what I really care about it using visualizations of narrative settings to reconsider how we think of film history.

The marketing people at University of Edinburgh Press picked my inappropriate-tone article to highlight in the most recent issue of the hilariously named International Journal of Humanities and Arts ComputingIt’s right here.

I thought I’d find a way to include In the Company of Men to the chapter on small and medium sized cities, but it just didn’t fit.

In the Company of Men parking garage establishing shot

This little paragraph is as far I got into things:

Neil LaBute’s adaptation of his own play, In the Company of Men (1997), never declares where it is set, but it was filmed in what was at the time of its release the ninety-ninth-largest city in the United States, Fort Wayne, Indiana. An exterior long shot does not appear as an establishing shot until more than thirty minutes into the film; the first third of the movie pushes the buildings to the rear of the frame, making them barely visible through the blinds on office windows. When the film goes into the city, it marvels at the incongruity of an interesting space: Howard notes with some amazement that the town has such a good zoo – “really nice, for a place like this…a city this size.” While Fort Wayne does not have an extensive skyline, the Art Deco Lincoln Bank Tower and One Summit Square, which looks like a half-finished larger building because it is (the product of Fort Wayne’s faltering economy in the 1970s), provide the city some visual architectural identity. “Few contemporary films,” Stephen Prince claims, “have given us so ruthless a picture of the connections between personal and economic predation” as In the Company of Men, “an audacious and acidic portrait of sexual cruelty that links the callous behavior of its characters to the predatory ethic of corporate capitalism” (Prince 74, 73). The lack of identifiable buildings features or landmarks in In the Company of Men accentuates the (unnamed) city’s generic, anonymous office buildings and public spaces, foregrounding Chad and Howard’s misogyny and misanthropy as something universal in the white-American-male and embedded in the nation’s economic order, rather than a set of location-specific traits.

In the Company of Men first exterior establishing shot at 33 minutes

In the Company of Men nice for a city this size

An early version of the introduction to a chapter on Nashville, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Las Vegas in prestige films between 1980 and 2000.

My mother lived above a grocery store in Lincoln Park, Chicago until 1956. The Giallombardo family apartment was within a half-hour El ride of Oak Street Beach on Lake Michigan, the Magnificent Mile, and the (future site of the) John Hancock Building. A slightly longer El ride would take them to the (future site of the) Willis/Sears Tower and the Art Institute. Their pre-gentrification Lincoln Park neighbourhood was where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened; it’s where Dillenger was killed. That is to say, there are a number of physical locations in Chicago that are immediately recognizable, such as the tallest building in the world (for a while), major pieces of architectural history, public cultural amenities, and a popular history of gangsters. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, there were Chicago-set gangster movies like The Untouchables (1987, De Palma) and Mad Dog and Glory (1993, McNaughton), movies set in the city’s museums, like Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (1986, Hughes) and The Relic (1997, Hyams), films set in its public housing projects like Candyman (1992, Rose) and Judgment Night (1993, Hopkins), and films set in its working- and middle-class African-American community, such as Love Jones (1997, Witcher) and Soul Food (1997, Tillman). Chicago-set romantic comedies like My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997, Hogan) and period pieces like Eight Men Out (1988, Sayles) feature local sports stadiums and teams, an action film like Chain Reaction (1996, Davis) can be set at the birthplace of atomic weaponry, the University of Chicago, and some early (good) David Mamet films are also set in the city. Chicago may not have the cultural cachet of New York or Los Angeles, but its identity is as a major, world, city takes the form of this cinematic variety.

My father, on the other hand, grew up on Rockdale Street in Green Bay, Wisconsin. If you were to sit in the driveway of the house during a Packers home game, you would hear the public address announcer clearly, as the house is a little more than half a mile away from Lambeau Field. For the longest time the tallest building in Green Bay was St. Vincent’s Hospital (not named after Packers coach Vince Lombardi, and a ten minute drive from Rockdale Street) although after a recent upgrade, Lambeau Field is now the tallest building in Green Bay. I mention how close the Long family house is to Lambeau because the Packers are probably the only thing the majority of people in the US know about Green Bay. Two Hollywood films are set in Green Bay: Bingo (1991, Robbins) and Semi-Tough (1977, Ritchie). In Bingo, a family moves to Green Bay because the father, a football player, is traded from the Denver Broncos to the Packers, and in Semi-Tough the fictional football team the Miami Bulls go to Green Bay for a playoff game.* The Green Bay on view in Semi-Tough – snow banks, grey sky above – bears more than a passing resemblance to the Ice Planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Kershner), not only because it is, in the popular imagination, the Frozen Tundra, but also because it represents the single-biome planet written onto a small city.[2] The Star Wars films are full of single-biome planets: Coruscant (city), Dagobah (swamp), Endor (forest), Felucia (jungle), Hoth (ice), Kamino (ocean), and Tatooine (desert), and the United States is full of single-biome-planet cities.

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In Monkeys Go Home!, when Henry first arrives at his new Provencal house, there’s a short “Henry takes it in” low-angle shot that leads to a reverse shot of the house:

Monkeys Go Home first arrival with power lines

Every time I’ve rewatched Monkeys Go Home! (I had to quit for a while because I started thinking it was under-appreciated) this  image makes me laugh. The power line kind of ruins it. But in the end we’re so used to seeing power lines that they’re essentially invisible.

Except when they aren’t. Power lines act as a key part of the mise en scene in Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo e Outro, where they stand for the way in which the crooked police trap everything in their system:

Elite Squad 2 wires as a spider web

The mass of power lines tends to accompany scenes in the crowded, teeming streets of cities, as in The Bourne Legacy chase scene through Manila and an establishing shot from Gangs of Wasseypur:

Bourne Legacy Manila chase 3

Gangs of Wasseypur utilities

But not every big city has crowded thickets of electric power lines overhead. Some images from early Soviet cinema – Man With a Movie Camera – and a shot from Farewell, a recent French film set in Moscow, show a much less cluttered power infrastructure:

Man With A Movie Camera landscape 2

Farewell Moscow 6

There’s a similarly well-controlled set of power lines in Napoli, in Le Mani Sulla Cita, New York, in The French Connection, and in Los Angeles, in Lethal Weapon.

Hands Over the City Napoli 1

French Connection chase 16

Lethal Weapon LA streets 4

New York can generate its sense of crowding from the ratio of building height to street width (combined with pedestrian traffic) and doesn’t need tangled power lines, as we can see in In the Cut:

In the Cut NYC 3

One thing that makes Harlan County USA visually interesting is the way in which power lines are quite extensive, as seen in this wide shot of Brookside, Kentucky:

Harlan County USA Brookside KY 6

The power lines are more extensive, but not more intrusive in the mise en scene than in another coal-mining area, Clairton, Pennsylvania (or the Wasseypur, India in Gangs of Wasseypur) as seen in The Deer Hunter.

Deer Hunter Clairton PA 3

As I went through all the screen grabs from movies, power lines started to move out of the mostly unseen background, which made this image from The King of Marvin Gardens catch my eye. The Atlantic City, New Jersey we see in The King of Marvin Gardens is certainly on the downward slope and ramshackle, but it has a streamlined corner of downtown, and the total lack of power lines slicing through the sight lines does a great deal of work in this image:

King of Marvin Gardens Atlantic City 1

This is, if nothing else, an advertisement for alleys behind main streets, a place to put the infrastructure that makes the city run.

Henry & June is full of every cliché about Paris and writers – garrets and fog and life-as-art and the whole demi-monde business (no Eiffel Tower establishing shot). Clichés have to start somewhere and the Paris Anais Nin and Henry Miller wrote in had those qualities. I guess that the first-person nature of Nin and Miller’s writing makes much of this happen.

Henry & June garret 0 Henry & June Paris 1 Henry & June Paris 5

What I enjoyed in the film was the presence of plenty of dogs, which seems to fit a different, but less writer’s-life, set of Parisian cliches.

Henry & June dog de Anais Henry & June dog 1 Henry & June dog 3 Henry & June dog 4

It took them long enough – I submitted on 1 August 2014 and didn’t get any response until 25 March 2015, which is almost eight months – but PMLA finally made a decision on my submission, “Arthur Hailey as Richard Nixon. Workplace Safety in Airport.”

They said no, but their reader reports were, by leaps and bounds, better than any reports I’ve ever received. The “reject” reports said nicer things than the reports I’ve had that say “publish.” It’s certainly the first time I felt better after reading the reasons for rejection.

On the one hand, that feeling comes from the praise they embed in the rejection (more on that soon enough). But what really makes the reader reports good is that it’s clear they read my shit carefully and then wrote a clear and considered set of critiques.

First of all, there’s nothing worth quoting out of the positive, “publish” response. It makes a few suggestions about re-organization and further contextualization (which I did before I sent a revised version to another journal). When you can just pass over the report that thinks you’re just fine in favour of the reports that aren’t convinced of your overall greatness, you know you’re onto something.

From the negative pile, there’s the nice bit, “The section on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization is especially well developed and includes some useful sources. Finally, I think the writer does well to reflect on Hailey’s status as a best-selling, mass-market author and the place of his works in popular literature.” That’s a decent enough series of attaboys.

But the tie-breaking reader has some real gems that made me feel like I got rejected for good reasons: “This is a brisk, intelligent essay, and it has at its heart some very important “crux” issues….I learned a lot from this essay, and I came away pretty convinced on the third front — that there was a certain kind of ideological alignment or compatibility between Hailey and, if not Nixon (too large a figure to encapsulate this specific a commitment), at least a “Nixonian” approach to labor and, perhaps, workplace safety. The essay does a fine job reading the representations of labor, managerial stress, and well-being in Hailey’s fiction, and its political context is important and nicely sketched.” At this point in my first reading of the report, I double-checked that it indeed said, “reject.” But it did.

I particularly like the way in which my admittedly thin contextualization of the PATCO stuff gives the reviewer pause:

I think the economic and political historicizing of this essay is still a bit thin as well, in that the author works too much from inside-out: from PATCO to the debates over air traffic control and workplace safety, but without any broad scale contextualization of where capitalism or federalism are in the moment he or she is describing. Don’t get me wrong: the author has persuaded me the argument could be made. But to make a more convincing case about “hegemonic” thinking in the polity as a whole, one just would need a fuller sense of the moment, politically and ideologically

When I got to the “don’t get me wrong” part, I almost died of pleasure. I’d like to think it’s the briskness of my prose that carried this reader along, convincing her/him that I was on the right track. Maybe it was even the force of my rhetoric, limited as it was by my thin contextualization. But it’s plain that the reader liked but didn’t love the submission. For once I wish the readers weren’t anonymous so that I could thank them. I even like that it was just a rejection, and not a ticket for the revise-and-resubmit treadmill. I can’t name them, but at the very least these anonymous readers must be encouraged.

Rewatching Dirty Dancing for the book project – I’m going to pair it with The Flamingo Kid (with some other 80s nostalgia-comedies like Heaven Help Us) – I was struck by two curious moments.

The first is the opening of the film, which uses the Ronettes’ song “Be My Baby”. It’s a little embarrassing to put a character’s name so far up front so early and in so ham-handed a manner, but there’s something else. Another movie got there first, and it’s a really good movie: Mean Streets.

I must have been in an Italian-American filmmaker state of mind from the use of “Be My Baby”, because a scene at the end of Dirty Dancing seemed to quote from The Godfather Part II in such a way that I want to propose an alternate ending to the film. Jake Housman sits in the gazebo, looking out over the lake, crushed about the whole sex and abortion and dancing and class mixing that his daughter’s gotten involved in.

Dirty Dancing Michael Corleone

It may be that I’ve seen The Godfather Part II so many times that I always have it in the back of my mind and the corner of my eye, but that image reminded me quite a bit of the image of Michael after he has Fredo killed:

Godfather II Michael 2

When I went back to look for this shot, I realised that I’d combined it mentally with a shot from the outside of the house from before Fredo gets shot:

Godfather II Michael 1

Combining these two images creates the Dr Housman contemplates the changing mores of American society image. It also creates a seriously dark undertone to the apology Baby makes to him. The undercurrent of familial violence that the image brings with it makes me wonder what happens after the big “I Had the Time of My Life” number. (As an aside, what I like about Dirty Dancing is that, like another middling film, Little Miss Sunshine, it has faith in dance as an expressive form – it doesn’t talk you to death when the joyous dance sequence happens.)

Something terrible and predictable happens when you watch a film over and over and over to write about it, especially when it’s a film no one has written about. A film like Monkeys Go Home! I had to put the chapter away for a while, because I started to convince myself that Monkeys Go Home! was an unacknowledged masterpiece. I don’t want to give away too much, since Intellect will want the book to be as all-new as possible, but here’s an earlier draft of what I find kind of crazy about the movie: After dispensing with the political conflict underpinning the narrative conflict, Monkeys Go Home offers a magical, ideological solution to the narrative conflict itself – everyone works for Hank for free because he previously proposed to have his chimpanzees work at all the farms in the village gratis. Paired with this second-hand neighborliness is that old standby, the romantic couple. Not only do Hank and Marie pair off, but Marie provides a male chimpanzee for (one of?) the four female chimps. Father Sylvain, unlike Don Camillo, picks a side and overtly collaborates. He helps the American capitalist; for his efforts he is paired off with Paraulis, who finds religion, or at least finds sanctuary from the mob, in the church. The anti-imperialist communists, the village’s villains, are thus redeemed by the exposure of their faux-intellectual Paraulis (who does look a little like Jean-Paul Sartre). But Carlucci, the sincere communist who looked to have lost the argument about American imperialism, does not find religion, does not take part in the mass pro-American demonstration of volunteerism at the end of the film, and does not disavow his political beliefs. He just goes back, one assumes, to his dog-ravaged butcher shop to pick up the pieces, alone. The logic of the Hollywood/Disney happy ending mistakes Carlucci’s quiet departure and lack of romantic partner at the conclusion as being proven wrong, but otherwise Walt’s anti-union, anti-communist populism clearly and joyously wins the day. I will add some images later.

Added images:

Monkeys Go Home slogan 2

Monkeys Go Home slogan 3

Monkeys Go Home slogan reply 3

When I was a student at University of New Hampshire, I took a class co-taught by Jane Bellamy (who is now at University of Tennessee Knoxville). Two things she said that semester stick with me. The first is more a question of how she said things. She would talk about how a book is about concrete things (its plot/content), but about other things (its larger formal and ideological significance/s). When she said the second-meaning about, she would drop her voice an octave and add gravel to it. I stole this approach immediately, and use it to this day.

The semester after Bellamy’s class (which she co-taught with Sandhya Shetty), I took a class that Janet Aikins Yount taught. During one class, she told the class that anyone who does their standard reading on any and every text (what Jane Bellamy called “pouring the book into the theory grinder”) is doing the text and themselves a great disservice. Your reading of the text, she made quite clear, needed to emerge from the evidence in front of you. Thus, I wrote a not-particularly great seminar paper for that class. I took some solace in her comment that she was happy to see that I tried to stretch myself.

I’ve been thinking about Jane and Janet a fair bit as I’ve been watching Jack Nicholson movies for a chapter in Hollywood’s Imaginary Geography. I don’t really like Jack. If pressed, I’d probably say About Schmidt is my favourite Nicholson film. But so help me, when I sat down and looked at the films that get lumped together in the Hollywood Renaissance canon, I saw that he occupies a significant place in the canon. The empty space at the centre of the Hollywood Renaissance’s vision of America is especially clear in Nicholson’s films through 1980.

The pink dots are the more or less agreed-upon Hollywood Renaissance films, the grey the top 25 films from 1967-1980, and the green dots are Nicholson movies from 1967-1980. I can already see that I forgot to add in Richmond VA from The Last Detail and Estes Park CO from The Shining, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

Hollywood Renaissance Jack Nicholson Top 25

What we can see in the Nicholson locations is the road trips his films take up the coasts (Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail) and across the bottom third of the country (Easy Rider) with a few coastal locations (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Carnal Knowledge, Chinatown). There’s no middle America. In fact, the only distinctly middle American filmmaker in the Hollywood Renaissance is Peter Bogdanovich, who has Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show. But otherwise, the sense of “flyover country” is quite strong. To riff on the tagline for Easy Rider, when the film brats went looking for America, they couldn’t find it anywhere in the midwest.

Last Detail Portsmouth NH 3

Chinatown Echo Park 1

Five Easy Pieces derrick 2

I would never have consciously decided to write about Jack Nicholson (at least not like I was happy to write about Burt Reynolds), but what his movies are about, in terms of their locations/geography, emerges quite clearly out of the data.

I really wish I’d have given up on an academic position much sooner. When I tell people about my job now, I always say, “If I’d known I’d have liked this job so much, I’d have looked for it much sooner.” A while back someone I follow on twitter approvingly linked to “No End in Sight: Academic Research and “Time Off”” In it, Amanda Ann Klein writes about her search for a job “that might actually pay me a salary commensurate with my rank and experience,” which is what I went through for five years as a trailing spouse. It made me an increasingly miserable and unlikable person. Then she did something that I cannot praise enough:

What happens when a professor no longer has any incentive to work at the breakneck pace at which she has been encouraged to work since she first embarked upon that great and arduous journey towards a career in academia?

Nothing. Nothing happens. And, dear reader, it is glorious.

I had much the same experience in “leaving” academia. I still work in a university, but I’m professional staff. I work with international ESL students, mostly from science and engineering, to help them improve their writing. And I get paid a lot of money. Like a fuckton of money: twice as much as I have ever made in my life (which doesn’t say much for my previous earning capacity but then again it’s still more than a tenured professor makes at a state university in the US, so small victory there). I make this wonderful amount of HEW8-rank money for working all of four days a week. I work 9 to 5 and when I get home my time is my own. Monday through Thursday I read or watch movies or surf online. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, unless I have a soccer game, and when I’m not running errands, I do research during the day.

I get a lot done. Since March I’ve signed a contract for The Imaginary Geography of Hollywood Cinema, 1960-2000, returned proofs for two articles within 24 hours, finished/revised seven articles and one book chapter, finished the data-accumulation and written a two-page version of a book proposal about spy novels and clandestine geography that I will do after the imaginary geography book. I’ve also gone to two film conferences (one in town, one in Tasmania) because I make enough money as a not-contract-lecturer-without-institutional-support-of-any-kind to pay my own way to a conference. I did share a room with a postgrad to save money, but that’s more out of habit than anything else. I’ve also invited tp participate (travel and hotel paid for!) in the National Tertiary Education Union’s Insecure Work Conference. I got picked (and funded) because of my experience as an adjunct and, now, as a “soft-money”-funded professional staff member. It should be a combination of fury-inducing confrontations with the status quo and inspiring discussion of how the union can deal with it practically.

What I find most wonderful about this situation is that I do what I want to do because I want to do it. When we moved to New Zealand in 2008, I thought I just wanted to teach. But I found, in between hustling for tutor and lecturer gig and getting blacklisted by the PVC Arts that I kind of liked to do research. And that there wasn’t much that looked like mine. And that when I wrote about what I wanted to write about, I could write like a person rather than a research-unit-producing-staff-member.

So this is a rare happy story in the “adventures in academic publishing” category. I dusted off this draft because one of the editors I’m working with 1) praised my ability to turn around requested revisions quickly and 2) then asked for a very fast turnaround. When I felt OK with that, I knew that something was amiss, but in a positive sense.

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