Erik Barnouw (Tube of Plenty et al.) tells an engaging story to introduce this scholarly lark: in high school, Barnouw catalogued magician John Mulholland‘s books on magic and, meeting him decades later, mentioned “how often, in exploring film history, I had come across names I had first met in his books. Had magicians had a larger role in the evolution of motion pictures than was generally recognized?”. A rhetorical question, it quickly seems, as Barnouw conjures up–to the accompaniment of eerie posters and other archival troves–an era when “every new scientific invention had magic possibilities”; the magic lantern made apparitions materialize, and one after another future filmmaker experimented with optical trickery. Then came the Cinematographe (1895), and the scramble “for wealth and glory”–led by magician/impresario/master of special effects Georges Melies. Also in the running were Billy Bitzer, D. W. Griffith‘s chief cameraman-to-be; Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, founding partners of American Vitagraph; and the great Houdini himself–who turned his celebrated stage feats into film climaxes. . . which, by camera magic, anyone could now perform. The irony, as Barnouw notes, was that the films displaced the magicians. Looking at the films themselves (thanks to another happy accident–the Paper Print collection at the Library of Congress, Barnouw’s present base), he traces the magic/ film intersection through several stages–from the first “”actuality bits”” (which people “readily accepted as magic””), through filmed magic “”beefed up by film trickery,”” to the trick film: ghosts, vanishings, metamorphoses, “”cheerful”” mayhem–the realm of severed heads and severed limbs. Plus: devices special to the film, like reversals, slow motion and accelerated motion. A few concluding words ponder–with reference to the “media”–the acceptance of illusions, now, as “something real.” A spiffy little addition to early film history, with outsize implications.
Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn all made lasting impressions with the cinematic cross-dressing they performed onscreen. What few modern viewers realize, however, is that these seemingly daring performances of the 1930s actually came at the tail end of a long wave of gender-bending films that included more than 400 movies featuring women dressed as men.
Laura Horak spent a decade scouring film archives worldwide, looking at American films made between 1908 and 1934, and what she discovered could revolutionize our understanding of gender roles in the early twentieth century. Questioning the assumption that cross-dressing women were automatically viewed as transgressive, she finds that these figures were popularly regarded as wholesome and regularly appeared onscreen in the 1910s, thus lending greater respectability to the fledgling film industry. Horak also explores how and why this perception of cross-dressed women began to change in the 1920s and early 1930s, examining how cinema played a pivotal part in the representation of lesbian identity.
Girls Will Be Boys excavates a rich history of gender-bending film roles, enabling readers to appreciate the wide array of masculinities that these actresses performed—from sentimental boyhood to rugged virility to gentlemanly refinement. Taking us on a guided tour through a treasure-trove of vintage images,Girls Will Be Boys helps us view the histories of gender, sexuality, and film through fresh eyes.
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“Horak has produced a meticulously researched, astutely argued, and highly readable text … her use of archival materials is impeccable and herfilmic and historical analyses clearly display a nuanced understanding of her topic.” Publishers Weekly
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“Girls Will Be Boys is an excellent work of film scholarship, meticulously researched and expertly presented, while still being an approachable and enjoyable read for the diligent non-academic reader. This is a wonderful book for those cinephiles who take an interest in how gender and sexuality have been presented throughout film history, and for social historians who recognize the important role cinema has played over the last century in shaping popular perspectives on gender and sexuality. Laura Horak has written an informative and necessary book.”
“Fresh and intriguing, Hidden in Plain Sight offers a wealth of fascinating historical information on the myriad ways and contexts in which moving images have evoked experiences of wonder from audiences. Williamson’s interest in the material is infectious.” Stephen Prince author of Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality
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“In answering questions that date back at least a century in movie-making, Williamson looks at how movie magic has inspired people to learn more about the techniques and technology behind the images. ” Flicksided
This short film, released by the Writers Guild Foundation in 1987, honors the craft of screenwriting and the writers behind our favorite lines and cinematic moments. Written and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman, it was screened at film festivals and college campuses around the country to inspire writers and celebrate the importance of the written word in entertainment.
Williamson offers an insightful, wide-ranging investigation of how the cinema has functioned as a “device of wonder” for more than a centurywhile also exploring how several key filmmakers, from Orson Welles to Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese, employ the rhetoric of magic. Examining pre-cinematic visual culture, animation, nonfiction film, and the digital trickery of today’s CGI spectacles, Hidden in Plain Sight provides an eye-opening look at the powerful ways that magic has shaped our modes of perception and our experiences of the cinema.
“Fresh and intriguing, Hidden in Plain Sight offers a wealth of fascinating historical information on the myriad ways and contexts in which moving images have evoked experiences of wonder from audiences. Williamson’s interest in the material is infectious.”
—Stephen Prince, author of Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality
“In answering questions that date back, at least, a century in movie-making, Williamson looks at how movie magic has inspired people to learn more about the techniques and technology behind the images. “