Archives for category: maps of cinema

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.

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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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.

Sometimes there’s a map that could be just about anything. This map, from kinomatics, is one of those maps:

ScreeningsMapAus-300x209

This map is part of a piece that is completely dead right about the never-ending calendar of film releases. Hobbit movies come out in December, but stay in theatres longer. Does that make them movies from their year of release, or the next one? The “Hobbit Year” solves the problem nicely, and you can also imagine an overlapping Marvel Universe year.

I’ve run into this micro-periodizing problem myself – I’ve opted to solve it by using Variety’s calendar-year grosses. My approach creates some problems — it pushes some December-release hits lower on the list — but release patterns were a little different between 1960-1975 or so, which made me opt for calendar year.

Release patterns are really the problem I have with the map of places The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug played. The map of Hobbit locations looks almost exactly the same as a map of Australia’s population (from here):

Australia_Population_Map

In the end, the two messages of Kinomatics’ Hobbit map is, “every theatre in Australia played it” and “the major urban centres played it before regional locations.” I’m all for saying the things we leave unsaid, but…

The Hobbit map shows the booking pattern for any blockbuster: open wide, on multiple screens in the biggest theatres you can find, and try to get as much in the first weekend as possible, while it’s an event, not a slog ruined by word of mouth. In Australia you’d then move out to the regions (and maybe whatever remote locations you can find a bit later). For a prestige film you’d hit Melbourne and Sydney and ignore/skip Launceston and Cairns.

Similarly, you could make a map of prestige films being released in North America and every map would have really dark circles for the first cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Toronto. Similarly, the really light circles for later playdates would be in smaller less film-buffy cities like Nashville, Cleveland, and St Louis.

While I’m having trouble getting Tableau Public to do anything resembling co-operate, here’s a screen grab of the narrative locations of Disney’s live action films from 1960-1999.

Disney Live Actions 1960-1999

Compare that to the locations of the top 25 films set in the US during the same time period:

Top25 1960-2000

There’s much less of a focus on New York for Disney, and quite a bit of the SoCal locations are more or less speculative – it’s not quite clear where the films actually take place. For instance, a number of Disney live action films, like The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) take place in a fictional location – Medfield College. In cases like this, I combine shooting location and fictional location to say that the film takes place in Pomona. Disney featured a fair number of mountain west locations, in contrast to a relative lack top 25 films set there (although the next 25 have quite a few mountain west/southwest settings). In addition, the upper midwest features quite a bit more in Disney – again in speculative locations like “Hickory, Iowa” in Follow Me, Boys! (1966) (which was a film they showed to all of us at Hough Street School one year – a 16mm print that was in pretty good shape, seeing as how it never once broke or melted) and in real locations like the Dakota Territory ones in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968).

Perhaps most interesting to me is the way in which the Disney live action films don’t linger anywhere. It’s a smaller set of locations, but no place appears more than two or three times, with the exception of the fantastic Medfield. To preview the argument in the book, it’s this set-all-over-ness (and this includes the rest of the world) , combined with a general avoidance of avowedly urban settings, that makes Disney films so powerful as hegemonic white suburban texts – they’re set where those kinds of people are – various anonymous suburbs and small towns all across the country. But more or less minus the south. The chapter after the Disney live action chapter will cover that – first in terms of Burt Reynolds as a necessary movie star and then in terms of prestige films after the Civil Rights Act.

Comments like this from peer reviewers:

Overall, the article is very readable, but there are a number of sentences which are somewhat clumsily put together. These have been indicated using track changes. Also, the tone veers away from the academic to the more journalistic on a number of occasions.

I would guess that the moments this reader doesn’t like look like this: “Bienvenue is not a great film; instead, it’s a perfectly acceptable comedy that seems to have appealed to nearly everyone in France, selling more than 21 million tickets in a country of 66 million.” Evidently it’s best to avoid this kind of overstatement in an academic article.

A similar complaint arrives in response to my claim that,

Hollywood films set in Paris will, inevitably, begin with an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower; see, for example, An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minneli), Sabrina (1954, Billy Wilder), Anything Goes (1956, Robert Lewis), as well as later films like An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, Anthony Waller), The Bourne Identity (2002, Doug Liman), and The Devil Wears Prada (2006, David Frankel), among many others.

To my peer reviewer, this is a gross generalization. It is a gross generalization that is also true (I had a longer list – three films from the 50s-60s-70s-80s-90s-00s-10s – but cut it for space).

And a great one, that admits that I’m right, but for the wrong reasons: “Lyon, in fact, is only invisible in terms of the criteria chosen for mapping. Nonetheless, I think this is a valid point, that Lyon isn’t seen as a cinematic location in the way the other two major French cities are.” 

 

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.

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I’m whacking together a poster for the Australian Society for French Studies conference. It’s in Brisbane, which makes for an easy trip. I promised a poster with maps of my usual interests – box office hits and prestige/award winners – that would reveal…something….about French cinema between 1976, the first year of the Césars, and 2013.

Here’s the top 36 French films at the French box office (a list that has to go way way down the all-time top 100, not just because of American and British films, but also because of pre-1976 French films)

France box office 1976-2012 Then there’s the Cesar-winner for best film:

France Cesars 1976-2012A third category is the film the French send to the Oscars as the official French candidate for Best Foreign Language Film:

France Oscars 1976-2012The Oscars people don’t always pick a French film to include in the nominees. Here are the narrative locations of the French entries that weren’t, in the end, one of the final nominees:

France Oscars not nominatedFinally, a more or less continent-level look (excepting Australia-New Zealand and Antarctica, with no French films set there) at all the other narrative locations in French films from all four categories:

France Africa France Asia France N:SAmFor my money the most interesting phenomenon is in the huge empty space across France.

big emptyThe combined population of Bretagne, Pays de la Loire, Centre, Bourgogne, Alsace (that’s where I stuck 8 Femmes, which is “in the country”), Lorraine, Franche-Comté, Poitou-Charentes, and Corse is more than a quarter of France. One-third of the French regions – forty percent of the land – and a quarter of the population doesn’t appear in any film. And the only time Normandy appears in is a WWII movie, not for a contemporary-set film.

In addition, overseas regions don’t appear at all – no French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, or Réunion – nor do any overseas collectives (French Polynesia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre et Miquelon, Wallis and Fortuna).

To bring Hollywood in as a comparison – large chunks of the US certainly do not appear in films (the Dakotas, Vermont, and Rhode Island are especially rare) but the less-populated areas aren’t as rare as in French movies – thanks mostly to westerns, which include wagon trail films that cross the prairies. Hollywood has a similar empty-blind spot when it comes to Africa and South America.

Rachel Toor has a nice enough piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about writing. Much of her advice is the exact stuff that I hammer into my students. However, one of the anecdotes she uses combines suburbia and maps in a gloriously infuriating way:

During a workshop with our graduate students, a visiting writer said, “Don’t write like a suburb.” He talked about how he always flipped through the pages of a manuscript to see what the look of the thing could tell him. I did the same thing when, as an editorial assistant, I had to choose which manuscript I wanted to read and report on next. I avoided the drafts that looked like they would be no fun because the text presented itself as boring blocks, with long uninterrupted paragraphs made up of endless sentences—the manuscript equivalents of army bases or grid cities. Instead, I went for those that presented themselves as appealing and interesting, more like maps of Paris or lower Manhattan.

Sure sure grey space is deathly. But when I open a Henry James novel I see lots of grey space, lots of really long sentences, and – here comes a shock – great fucking literature.

Manhattan is set up on a grid system. The map of lower Manhattan shows this grid system with slight variations:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.40.30 PM A grid system allows you to navigate the city. That’s how good, well-organized writing works too. The map of lower Manhattan, I’m happy to report, looks a little bit like a map of that midwestern metropolis Green Bay, Wisconsin:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 12.52.32 PMBoth cities turn their grid to the northeast. This is the reason that my brother-in-law always gets lost when he drives in Green Bay. It’s just slightly off. For some reason the visiting editor didn’t use Green Bay as an example. I’d say that’s because of the thing that bugged me the most about the anecdote.

“Don’t write like a suburb” is, like almost every catchphrase, a bit too facile. I doubt the writer meant a suburb like my home town, Carpentersville, Illinois. When I was moved there in 1977, it was an almost entirely white working-class suburb. By the time I moved to New Hampshire in 2001, Carpentersville was 40% Hispanic, and now it’s 50% Hispanic. It’s still working-class, but one corner of the town fancies itself, and they have found it hard to understand C’Ville’s identity. I was absolutely mortified to read about my home town as the poster town for anti-immigrant sentiment in the New York Times Magazine.

If I want to be kind to the visiting writer (and mix up the editor’s suggestions and hers/his), it’s the map of a suburb that drives the critique. Suburbs, with their culs-de-sacs and winding “aesthetically pleasing” roads, take you nowhere, in circles. Here’s the part of Carpentersville I lived in:

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 1.06.24 PMAs you can see, Carpentersville doesn’t have a lot of “grey space” – it’s broken up by empty spaces. The long sentence of Route 25 is broken up by the shorter sentences of the bending Kings Road, the 45 degree Amarillo, and the weird half-loop of Sacramento Drive (none of which are my old neighbourhood – I lived on Papoose). True, the limited-access nature of each subdivision seems to preclude the kind of interconnections that an interesting piece of writing would achieve.

But what “write like a suburb” means is “boring,” for people who have boring jobs. I don’t know if Carpentersville even registers in the editor’s world: a working-class new-immigrant suburb where property values have remained stagnant. Places like Carpentersville – multilingual, multicultural – should be where the new and interesting writers emerge from. We can’t all live in Park Slope, after all.

The difference between a shitty rejection and one you can live with boils down to some small amount of kindness. I hereby submit a rejection notice from Anna Sloan at Sussex as evidence of how to be a decent person in a rejection notice. I hope she doesn’t mind my quoting from her email to me:

I hope that you will consider submitting it to the conference committee as a stand-alone paper, and I very much hope that you will have success with it.

That’s all it takes. As far as I’m concerned, Anna Sloan goes to the front of the line.

This was my proposal, which, as per usual, is a pretty great idea that I feel like I don’t explain as well as I ought to:

The Geography of Prestige: Narrative Settings and The Oscars, 1929-1976 (the map of locations)

Where is an Oscar-winner? This presentation will consider the location of Oscar-nominated films to understand the where of prestige in Hollywood. Setting matters in terms of narrative, form, and ideology, and this presentation will locate the narrative, formal and ideological shifts in Hollywood cinema on the map with Hollywood’s autobiographical account of Quality Cinema – the Best Picture nomination – as its metric.

This presentation will begin with a map of the narrative locations of the films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar from 1929 through 1976. A second set of maps based on US Census demographic data will profile the film-going audience on a national, state, and regional scale, for example, the most populous, most affluent and most impoverished areas in relation to narrative locations. Placing these two sets of maps into conversation across three broad periods – 1929-1944, 1946-1960, and 1961-1976 – I will trace the history of the locations of prestige in relation to changing American demographics, and speculate, with close readings of representative films, on how and why their setting signals quality to the contemporary audience. By mapping the locations of Oscar nominees, I will consider the locations that classical Hollywood prestige pictures used to position a particular set of American landscapes to prominence, and the degree of change caused by the breakup of the old system.