Category Archives: READING

Lovers and Friends

It’s Saturday night at Middlebury College and a group of college students lounge around, order Chinese food and simply enjoy each others company. They sit on a sofa, directly in front of this sofa is a table, and on that is a MacBook playing Glee. Everyone in the room has already seen the episodes, but we are in the mood for some good clean fun. The dialogue going on over the show goes as follows:

Friend 1: Puck dated Santana.

Friend 2: That’s a hot couple. Who’s he dating now?

Friend 1: Don’t know.

Friend 3: Rachael is dating Mr. Shu supposedly. They’re actually close in age.

Friend 1: That’s just a rumor. And she’s like my age, 22 going on 23, and he’s in his thirties.

Friend 4: Quinn is so pretty.

Friend 1: Yeah she and Rachael are actually best friends in real life and they live together.

Friend 2: Who are Finn, Rachael and Puck dating in real life then?

Friend 1: Dunno.

Friend 3: I have a hunch Puck and Quinn like each other. I youtubed an interview of all of them and those two were giving each other the eye.

Friend 4: Can we just watch the show?

All this information (or should I say misinformation) has come from the Internet. Although we four friends are not at this moment surfing the web for answers of blogging our speculations, this conversation is a form of teleeparticipation. Essentially, if teleparticipation is the ways in which audiences engage with TV programming, then this is a clear example. In addition, the Internet changes this relationship by serving as a resource where fans can work out ideas surrounding shows and then share these ideas with the world (16). At the time, my friends continued to watch the show, but I feel confident in saying that at least one looked up something on Glee’s characters—or at least I did.

Lastly, think about the following statement: that which is not told to us is the most telling. The fact that we cannot readily state the relationship statuses of the show’s leads like we can for our friends (yes, facebook stalking is encouraged here) feels like a setup. The personal lives of these specific characters are held apart from the fans to create mystery and stimulate conversations like this one. As Ross states, the industry invites viewers to the teleparticipation party and therefore certain “behavioral expectations” and “rules” exist (21). These expectations take the form of maintaining the hype around the show’s characters, while giving the audience something to keep them hanging on.

No Longer a Theater Celibate

The first movie I saw at the theaters was Rugrats: In Paris. I was nine years old, a late bloomer to moviegoing simply because my family did not indulge in the activity. My neighbors, on the other hand were avid moviegoers, and decided to take the deprived child next door along with them one evening. I still remember getting my ticket, waiting in line for popcorn—hell even the smell of my first movie-magic popcorn. I remember finally sitting in the dim theater and waiting for the room slowly move into complete darkness. I remember saving, showing, and treasuring the “Rugrats Passport” I received with my ticket. It was my first theater paraphernalia, soon I would add limited edition Pokemon and Digimon cards to that collection, but for now this was all I had and I adored it.

In retrospect, I realize that I blindly followed my neighbors throughout the process that I have now come to know instinctively. I taken for granted my first experience because I engage in the activity so much now. It’s like learning to read—we can recall when we learned how to read, but every time we pick up a book, chances are, we don’t trace the process by which reading became second nature.  In fact, it wasn’t until I read Fuller’s last chapter when I remembered Rugrats: In Paris. The first generation of moviegoers, had to be educated to moviegoing (176); what’s interesting is that once fluent, we forget about the learning process. I am fortunate in that I began so late and therefore still hold the memory of the first time. So now, dig past years of moviegoing, pounds of popcorn, hundreds of ticket stub and ask, “How did I learn moviegoing?”

You Ain’t Speakin’ English Right

Unbeknownst to us, we often judge people by how they speak. Certain accents or ways of speaking slap a label of ignorance or intelligence on the speaker. Foreign accents are interpreted as less proficient in English. These beliefs have been used to remove non-native teachers from English instruction classrooms. These beliefs have forced students who speak a different language at home or who speak a different form of English that is not “mainstream” to assimilate or remain marginalized—to get with it or get lost. These beliefs have too much strength.

Indeed, how we speak does matter, but we need to recognize there are different ways to speak. Traces of the superficial demands for the appropriate way of speaking are evident in the coming of sound. Norma Talmadge’s Brooklyn accent forced her into early retirement because it did not match up with her classy image. Other actors and actresses were given vocal lessons, not for singing, but for speaking! Conversely, foreign silent stars were embraced as exotic.

The silent film actor Adolphe Menjou put it best, “I knew that unless I proved I could talk before my contract expired, I would be a dead pigeon.” Get with it or get lost (Juddery). Today popular culture often reiterates the mainstream style of English and therefore the aforementioned beliefs are further reinforced. It was too readily forgotten that even American icons once dealt with the same language issues average Americans are facing everywhere. The links here have been lost either because of disconnect between cinema studies and the classroom, or a lack of connection between literacy and mass media. Regardless, further investigation should be done to reinterpret the far reaching misconception of English and its relationship with Hollywood so that it can be used in schools, public policy and civil society.

I Want What She’s Getting

As we drive home, my friend imparts a bit of knowledge to me, “You know Jessica Simpson uses another product along with ProActive right?” No, I hadn’t known nor did I ever really think about Jessica’s acne treatment routine. It was clear there was something far more interesting at play here than a singer turned reality TV star’s acne. “Well she does, because sometimes you need more than just topical products for serious acne,” my friend continues but now I had moved on to a broader concept. It got me thinking about the use of celebrity endorsements and advertising. What are the chances of Britney Spears actually reaching over for the bottle of Curious or Fantasy? I’m putting my money on her spraying a higher quality, higher priced fragrance.

Celebrity advertising is inextricably linked to fandom. This is my choice of star and if they use it, I want to as well. Buying specific products brings the fan one step closer to their ideal. However, just because the star is the face of something does not necessarily mean they are putting it on their face. They just want you to believe they are.

Interestingly, this trend began as early as the 1920’s in the first movie magazines. Fuller writes, “Stars almost never used to promote expensive, upper-middle class goods like automobiles or refrigerators; instead, they sold small, impulsively purchased goods like candy, cosmetics and soft drinks (157-158).  Frankly, it is more profitable for industries to sell products the average consumer can afford. Although now celebrities advertise higher quality goods as well, this is strategic in that (let’s face it) once in a while everyone likes to splurge. Regardless of the item in question, the marketing is the same: if they have it, I want it.

Musical Interlude

I take bathroom breaks during song and dance numbers… or refill my drink… or check my email. It might as well say “interlude” on the screen because that’s what these musical performances are—breaks in the narrative. I cannot stomach this sort of discontinuity unless, of course, it proves itself worthy of disrupting the investment I put into the plot. Worthiness is measured by the quality of the tune, or the actors’ absolute beauty, or the acrobatic moves of the dancers, which have to be something exceptional because no one pays money to see an average dancer. I know, I have pretty high standards.

This is not to say I hate all musical numbers in films because I have seen many that were genius. The other day I watched a video of a hit Hindi song from the Bollywood film Dostana (2008). The number contains fun dance moves, three gorgeous stars, bright lights and what looks like a hundred back up dancers. It is spectacle to the max, and yet I could almost see myself walking away from the screen. The only trace of narrative in this musical piece is when the two men dance together to uphold the lie they created about their sexuality; the dance is not even funny. There are also instances where the men compete for the female lead, which also teeters on being more cheesy than funny.

However, a third man sings the last chorus, a third suitor who the female lead does not think is a gay and therefore he is a prime candidate for her affection. Also, he is her boss and as a result automatically at a better standing than the other men. Here, we are brought back into the narrative within this number. The two “homosexual” candidates panic while the actress and her boss flirt and exchange laughs. All the while, the backup dancers are still going on, the music is still heard. This is a complete Gene Kelly moment in which the narrative and spectacle are integrated naturally and seamlessly (Pattullo: 73). The characters’ facial expressions reveal their dismay while the continuing of the number in the background illustrates just how easily their mutual love interest has moved on to the next one or has never even noticed them. The song and dance has now taken on a greater meaning within the film text (79). Since this song adds significance to the film, how dare I check my facebook during it?

Let’s Just Say, “It’s Complicated”

The film industry and its audiences had a complex, one can even go out on a limp and say abusive, relationship since cinema’s inception. Here the term “relationship” is specifically used to highlight that the engagement of these entities is a two way street. One is not exclusively dominant the other, nor are any of these players passive. Stepping outside the realm of fandom, it should be made clear that audiences engaged in ways that diverged from the industry’s expected practices. Particularly, the church used films for their interests or made them suitable for their members.  To boost their attendance, churches used films as an attraction, but soon this became a short-lived conservative middleclass alternative to the cinema itself (Fuller: 86). Occasionally, a motion picture was used with and even as the sermon (89). Indeed, it was difficult to find films that were suitable for this particular audience. Covering the projection during unsuitable scenes or cutting out the film were not effective workarounds (91). It is not the decline of this practices that is significant here, instead we must acknowledge the initiative of the church.

Secondly, even with fandom, we can find a variety of interesting practices.  Not only were hoards of fanmade scripts sent to studios, but aspiring actors and actresses waited outside studios for their chance. And sometimes they got it. Surely, these practices still exist today, however it is interesting to discover that this has been going on since the 1920’s. In addition, although it does seem as though audiences are passive here, the reality is fans brought about the star system. It was in fact the industry that had to respond to fans’ increasing demands for actor paraphernalia. Fans demanded to know the identities of these stars, taking the lead in making them into household names.

Un-defining Stars

Sometimes we cannot help but develop a relationship with a film star. We’ve seen them on the big screen dozens of times and depending on the star, they take on a different role in each flick. Thus, it can so happen that with each role, another facet of this star’s persona becomes revealed to us. In time we have constructed a whole personality for our star of choice. They can be adventurous, humorous, courageous, and emotional all at one—like any other person. The ideal breaks when we are reminded that this is a persona that is constructed.

Nevertheless, we have extratexual material to prove that our mind’s creation has some legitimacy to it. Magazines, interviews and other appearances reinforce the construction. So then, we must ask where does the actor as a person end and the character begin? How interrelated are these two entities? Are the extratexual sources reinforcing the character or is the actor revealed through the film roles?

This exact paradox is underlying in Amelie Hastie’s Louise Brooks, Star Witness. Louise Brooks has convoluted her identity, particularly her sexual identity and life, with a combination of the statements she has made, her film roles and her memories. Initially, she stated that she could not write about her life truthfully because life is predicated on one’s romantic experiences and she was not willing to disclose the latter (Hastie: 3). Secondly, she starred as a sexually ambiguous  (possibly lesbian) character in Pandora’s Box, the role she is most famous for. As a result, viewers contemplate one of two things about the star: either she is a lesbian who is not willing to write upon it because it would define her indefinitely or she is not and the mystery associated with her persona would vanish. Finally, she reveals that she is neither opposed to the idea of being a lesbian and in fact may have had relations with women, but she loves men (10). As a result, we are still left where we have started. Because nothing was wholly denied, is she or isn’t she? Is her sexuality aligned with her character Lulu, or has she taken on this persona so that her role could be reinforced? She leaves this for her fans to decide, as do other stars, because ruling one thing out would breaking the enigma. And this enigma is often precisely what attracts fans to a particular star.

Music?…Well That’s Complementary.

“You know where this song is from?” says my friend as we lay out on the grass on the last of Middlebury’s spring days. I knew I heard the song; it was definitely from an epic movie.  I could see a tall, brunette hero preparing for battle, and before he leaves he plants one last kiss on his sleeping beloved. But no, I could not name the flick. “It’s Lord of the Rings,” my friend finally reveals. I guess I was close?

The issue here is not necessarily my lack of knowledge of movie scores, but the general opinion that sound accompanies the image. The former enhances the latter either by making the film more cinematic or realistic. Sound and music have become so fused with movies that it is impossible to separate the two, let alone identify a score without the images it was first associated with. It also does not help that moviegoers usually leave their seats right when the credits appear on screen, not bothering to wait for the soundtrack information.

This sentiment is rooted in the myth Rick Altman debunks: “There never was a silent film” (Altman: 648). Altman details this by first illuminating that a piano in the theater did not inevitably indicate that a pianist or singer were on shift or that the theater could even afford the musical accompaniment at the time (662). In addition, if there was music, it may have only surfaced between the films as a musical interlude (664). Moreover, often the music heard in the exhibition site filtered in from the “bally hoo” going on outside (664). This means that the music may not have been to quell the sound of the projector inside but to attract more customers outside.

The uncertainty surrounding early use of music and sound with film may arise from the notion that music has been seen as an accompaniment. If the song is not popular as a separate entity, it is difficult to extract the sound from the image. This might be an overstatement about music’s role in film but it does not change the fact that scholars need to dig deeper into sound’s role, and Altman can attest to at least this much.


I could never really get into theater. I find seeing characters at a distance disengaging and would often struggle keeping myself awake through the performance. I understand that actors feed off the crowd’s energy and there is something truly magnetic about having that direct, instant connection with one’s audience, but I would not consider myself one to reciprocate this bond. Instead, it was film and television that reached me at my seat, in my home or at the cinema.

Although the actors cannot feed off the crowd’s energy directly in a film, the audience is granted the luxury of a woman’s crying face, a transfer of a suspicious weapon into the pocket of an innocent man, or the holding of two forbidden lovers hands. These images have the ability to flood the screen so that our attention is focused on these acts for a similar effect of engagement. It was this lack of close-ups that limited my appreciation for theater.

So imagine my surprise when reading about the Laterna Magika Theater—a true, synchronized fusion of theatre and film (Burian: 33). Many critics have categorized film as an extension of theatre, as a method of mass reproduction of what already existed on stage. Upon studying film as an entity onto itself and not a limb of the theatrical arts, it is fascinating to finally visualize through Jarka Burian’s text how these two can complement each other. The camera is not a canned reproduction of the stage and the stage is not a live action version of a film. Imagine seeing a ball tossed on a colossal screen and then caught by a woman standing on the stage. The two have become one. Theater has acquired close-ups and film has acquired direct connection with its audience.

Why Vaudeville?

“Vaudeville: light entertainment…that consisted of 10 to 15 unrelated acts, featuring magicians acrobats, comedians, trained animals, jugglers, singers and dancers.”[1]

Peter Kramer, in his piece A Slapstick Comedian at the Crossroads, traces comedy star Buster Keaton’s beginnings in vaudeville to his breakthrough into cinema.  Aside from providing the reader this information, Kramer touches on the perceptions critics, audiences and performers had of the theater, vaudeville and cinema.

Keaton was born into the entertainment industry and had already acquired fame as a child vaudeville star. His father, a falling star himself, had despised the cinema. His reasoning was that the cinema took away from the audience’s enjoyment, which was rooted in the perfection of the performance. If the Keaton routine were placed on filmstrip, the mass production would take away from their unique performance and connection with the audience (Kramer: 137).

Evidently for artists, vaudeville required more skill than legitimate up market entertainment, or the theatrical musical comedy. Legitimate artists worked with scripts, stage managers, and other staff in order to complete their production, while the vaudeville star played all these parts and more himself (136).

Although Keaton was encouraged to “go legitimate,” he held off due to his father. His contemporary had stated that he found a legitimate audience to be easier to please, and more willing to wait for the laughs while vaudeville viewers sought immediate gratification.

So now we must question why the terminology “legitimate” is used to describe theater, while vaudeville, although revered, was not considered its equal. This could be in part to the fact that the musical comedy was larger, more stabilized and catered to a wealthier audience. Despite this, there was a sort of “body poetry” associated with vaudeville (141). Cinema, because of the mass reproduction inherent in its nature furthered it from comedy’s free rhythmic nature found present in vaudeville.