I was among the last players cut during tryouts for the Barrington basketball team for three straight years (middle school and high school, mind you). In 1990 I was told that my outlandish trash-talking after blocking a shot during a game on the last day of tryouts showed that I wasn’t a good team player. In my defence, I was all of 5’6″ and the guy shooting was 6’+. I earned that! I turned my back on basketball to return to my first love, soccer, where someone 5’6″ and 148 pounds (that’s either me or Lionel Messi, although I went all of 125 in 1993), with a tendency to flop and scream and cry (but score goals) can find a welcome embrace.

My more recent experience with getting cut is in academia. Last year I made it through the school, but was cut before the faculty sent their top candidates. I met with people in the university’s research committees and they admitted that the people getting chosen had senior-lecturer-level cvs. For a postdoc. I don’t know how someone like me – an adjunct lecturer without any institutional support (ever) – is supposed to come up with a senior lecturer’s cv. If academia as we know it is dying, I don’t think I’m too heartbroken about that. But before it goes, I’d like to get a little bit of recognition (that is to say, money) out of it in return for all the super-cheap teaching I’ve done on its behalf.

To that end, here’s Section F, the proposal description, for my latest and probably last postdoc application.

Attach a brief Research Proposal, no more than four A4 pages,outlining the proposed program of work. Your Research Proposal must be written in 12 point font, with at least 2cm margins on each side. Structure your Research Proposal under the following headings:

F1            PROJECT TITLE

The Geographical Imagination of Hollywood Cinema, 1960-2000

F2            AIMS AND BACKGROUND

“The Geographical Imagination of Hollywood Cinema, 1960-2000” will combine digital cartography with close readings of representative films to write a history of late twentieth century Hollywood narrative cinema at the intersection of the geographies of narrative location, production, consumption and taste in the post-classical pre-digital era. The project will reorient and redraw the boundaries of film history both literally and figuratively by cataloguing films’ narrative locations on digital maps to examine where Hollywood locates and exhibits its narratives over time. When we think of Hollywood locations – where movies take place – we think places like of contemporary suburban Los Angeles, 1970s New York, 1950s Midwestern small towns, the Wild West, Civil War plantations, Victorian and Swinging London, battle fields in Europe and the Pacific, and outer space. But amidst this variety, including spaces beyond the borders of the United States, where are the privileged – and invisible – narrative locations in Hollywood’s popular and prestige productions?

This project begins with the hypothesis that changes in US demographics and regional geography, as well as those in film exhibition and consumption, shaped the post-War Hollywood cinema’s geographical imagination of the US, moving locations to emerging markets not only globally, but also within the US. This project has three central aims:

  • To write a diachronic spatial history of Hollywood cinema in the post-classical pre-digital era by investigating the relationship between the narrative locations of box office hits and award-winning films and the geography of the US audience and exhibition.
  • To connect Hollywood films’ narrative locations to US population and migration trends to determine the extent to which financially successful and award-winning films reflect national trends and the degree to which films provide a lagging indicator of trends.
  • To connect Hollywood films’ narrative locations to the movie-going audience in terms of the expansion of exhibition sites, tracing the extent to which the changes in exhibition – often understood as technological, but here treated as geographical – have driven changes in production.

While Hollywood is both an American cinema and a global cinema, a dual identity reflected in the worldwide reach of its narrative locations, the US has especial importance to Hollywood as its first and therefore most important market. Between 1960 and 2000, the US share of Hollywood’s total box office waned in the 1960s and early 1970s only to return in importance in the 1980s and 1990s. Hollywood cinema based its post-War global reach on expanding its narrative locations beyond the boundaries of the United States, with its earliest main footholds “abroad” in England and western Europe. This project will seek to understand how and when Hollywood cinema established similar footholds in the growing domestic market of suburbs, and in metropolitan regions in the south and west, and how it dealt with the shrinking of the northeastern and Midwestern markets.

To answer questions about the relationship between narrative settings, cinematic popularity, prestige, and regimes of taste, this project will first approach Hollywood cinema as a large data set, buildingThis project will spatialise the relationships between US/international box office, prestige, and region to build a corpus that will assist in understanding the importance of locations to Hollywood’s most popular and admired films at any one time. I will use the American Film Institute Catalog indices, Variety’s yearly box office reports, IMDb, and other historical sources, to collect box office and narrative location data for films in the yearly top-fifty US box office list, and on prestige lists such as the Oscars, National Board of Review, and New York Film Critics Circle year-end honours lists. I will then superimpose this cinema-location data onto maps of (then) contemporary US demographic, economic, political, and film exhibition and distribution data based on a number of research-archival sources.

In effect, this project seeks to combine textual analysis and audience analysis to write a spatial history of the American landscape and identity in terms of the narrative settings of films American audiences were most likely to see and to perceive as of high quality and thereby equate with American culture and values. There are three key components to the project: film history, audience studies, and film geography. A number of university presses have produced series on American film history, such as the University of California Press’s History of the American Cinema series, Rutgers University Press’s Screen Decades series, and Wayne State University Press’s Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Studies series. Among these books, Sheldon Hall and Steve Neale’s Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History investigates a film archive most similar to the one I will use. However, none of the California, Rutgers, or Wayne State publications devote much attention to audience studies as part of New Cinema History, a sub-field that has taken on increased prevalence in the last ten years. Richard Maltby is perhaps the most significant figure in the field, as the author of the influential essay “On the Prospect of Writing Cinema History from Below” and as the editor of collections such as Explorations in the New Cinema History and Identifying Hollywood’s Audiences. While New Cinema History returns audiences and exhibition to the discussion of film history, the approach tends to leave out close textual analysis of films, which this project will do in conjunction with analysis of national demographic changes and the spread of movie theatres across the country. Finally, film geography is a new field that seeks to apply the tools of geography to an understanding of the culture from which the films emerge. Chris Lukinbeal’s The Geography of Cinema and “Cinematic Landscapes” pay close attention to shooting locations and landscape analysis, while Sébastien Caquard’s “Cartography I: Mapping Narrative Cartography” and Google-based Cinema Atlas direct their attention to mapping narrative settings, both on screen and in dialogue. The shortcoming of these investigations is also their greatest strength: they concentrate on geography and do not use the particular tools of film studies to generate an understanding of the films as films and as expressions of particular national identities and ideologies. The interdisciplinary nature of my research combines the tools of geographic analysis with formal film analysis to generate a more nuanced spatial history of Hollywood cinema.

This project will expand work in film history and the digital humanities, one of the critical new areas for humanities research in the twenty-first century. Tracing the interactions of Hollywood cinema’s narrative locations and the historical-contextual maps of late twentieth-century America will reveal previously invisible connections – and gaps – in the popular and critical geography of Hollywood film, and direct more focused attention to the importance of location to the films that Americans and international audiences watch and admire. Hollywood films export “America” and the American Way of Life to the world, but their geography is both circumscribed and, as yet, unmapped. The geographies of popularity and prestige this project will map represent the first steps toward a new way of understanding the film narratives that inform and undergird the spatialisation of American identities and understandings of America throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

F3            SIGNIFICANCE AND INNOVATION

In the last ten years, there has been an increased critical interest in the intersection of landscape and location in cultural productions. Broadly speaking, spatial approaches either attend to the spaces in the text’s narrative, as in Tom Conley’s Cartographic Cinema and Barbara Piatti and Lorenz Hurni’s “Literary Atlas of Europe” project, or attend to the spaces of the text’s reception, as in Franco Moretti’s “Planet Hollywood,” Robert Allen’s historical maps of cinemas in North Carolina, “Going to the Show,” and Richard Maltby’s ARC Discovery Grant project “Mapping the Movies: The Changing Nature of Australia’s Cinema Circuits and their Audiences 1956-1984”. This project seeks to bridge the two modes of analysis within the new cinema history, with the historical changes in the spaces of the texts’ reception in cinemas – more specifically, the suburbanization of film exhibition – driving the selection of representative texts for filmic analysis. Histories of American film such as the Scribner-University of California History of the American Cinema bookseries, David Cook’s History of Narrative Film and David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Janet Staiger’s The Classical Hollywood Cinema have concentrated on the development of narrative and formal conventions. Setting has, for the most part, been touched on only lightly in these histories. However, setting matters in terms of narrative, form, and ideology, and this project seeks to locate the narrative, formal and ideological shifts in Hollywood cinema on the map.

This project is significant and innovative in three ways. The first two are methodological. This project will be the first spatial history of Hollywood film and will expand the local-level audience studies approach of New Cinema History to the national level, in terms of population geography and film exhibition geography. The third is formal: it would present its findings in not only an academic monograph, but also in a mobile app. By combining complex, historically- and geographically-informed readings of representative films, with textual analysis of the changing geographies of production, distribution, and exhibition, this project will write a new history of not just of the geography of the films that comprise Hollywood cinema, but of the physical locations that define and place the “on-screen” America and American identity.

This research will generate a variety of outputs, including a book-length research monograph with maps, and articles suitable for journals such as Film Quarterly, Continuum, New Review of Film and Television Studies,and Cinema Journal. These materials will be aimed at an academic audience, and EMSAH’s new digital humanities lab will provide the institutional support for the creation of these digital map-driven outputs. One of UQ’s strategic goals is to build mutually beneficial relationships with the wider community, and my publications in open-access, online academic journals such as Senses of Cinema and Post45 indicate that I too am also interested in making my research accessible to the wider cinephile public while maintaining the high calibre of scholarly work as required by A-ranked journals such as Senses of Cinema. To that end this project will produce a mobile app that will augment the monograph’s more traditional approach to cinema history by integrating animated maps and images into the project’s written account to create a publicly accessible form of the research that will increase public and industry engagement in a non-traditional way while still serving the needs of and interests of both scholars.

F4            APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY

The first step in the project will be the creation of maps in ArcGIS. To create the maps of film locations, it will be necessary to create a database that defines the significant narrative locations – not shooting locations – of films released in the United States. The key groupings for films will be: 1) the yearly top fifty grossing films in the United States, divided into the Top 25 and the “Next 25” 2) the films nominated for Oscars and cited by the National Board of Review and the New York Society of Film Critics year-end honours lists. I already have a representative sample of this data prepared, the top 30 box office hits and Oscar nominees, and would complete the data during the fellowship. A second set of maps based on Census demographic data will also be produced to profile the film-going audience on a national and regional scale, for example, the most populous, most affluent and most impoverished areas in relation to narrative locations. A third set of maps, based on information available through the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), will trace the distribution and growth of exhibition sites. These three sets of maps will then be superimposed onto each other both to place them in conversation and to demonstrate the shifting geographies of Hollywood cinema and American identity, creating maps that will chart the evolving popularity and prestige of story spaces geographically across the land.

In placing these three sets of maps in conversation with each other, a diachronic picture of the geography of film will emerge in a map-augmented research monograph. The project will be divided into chapters that offer broad investigations of the period’s box office hits and critical award-winners by decade. Each decade – or overlap of decades – will also feature short in-depth analyses of particular films that highlight significant trends in the history of American cinema, either as emblematic of a trend, or as a significant outlier. One example of this sort of chapter is my Post45 article “Burt Reynolds, Hollywood’s Southern Strategy.” The article first notes the contrast between the population and economic growth of the South and the rarity of its presence as a narrative setting and then identifies Reynolds as the figure who almost single-handedly brings images of the fastest-growing, economically vibrant region to the rest of the country.

While the maps for the project will be generated on ArcGIS, GIS is not the project’s raison d’être, nor is GIS the primary tool for analysis. Digital cartography is the first step toward a spatialisation of the history of Hollywood film. The maps I generate will be based on a number of research-archival sources. The freely available decennial United States Census, as well as the United States Statistical Abstract, will form the backbone of the demographic and economic contextual material. The research on exhibition will be centred on the back catalogue of industry publications such as The Film Daily, Motion Picture News, and Motion Picture Daily, andthe NATO’s Encyclopedia of Exhibition. Archival research will be necessary to investigate the major studios’ approaches to location selection. To that end I have arranged for access to archival materials at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library, the University of Southern California Special Collections Library, the University of California-Los Angeles Performing Arts Special Collections Library, and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

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