2nd – 8th April 2018
This week felt productive! After carrying that yuck feeling about the synthesis into the beginning of the week, my meetings with my supervisors really helped sort me out. It was reassuring and constructive to get the feedback that the synthesis was actually alright for what it was. I think through talking about it I had to address how much my perfectionism when it comes to my writing can be a bit of a straitjacket. I have to relax and realise that not everything has to be a perfect mini version of my thesis, especially not at this point. I sometimes expect far too much of myself which is not so good for my productivity or for my mental health to be honest. Anyway, this is something I’m going to keep trying to work on.
Putting in the abstract to present at our history faculty’s In House felt really good! To be honest, I’m still quite intimidated by the prospect of doing it so I’m a bit proud of myself for just getting in there with it. I have a terrible tendency to simply avoid things that make me anxious but as that is going to get me approximately no where in the future, I’m feeling good about taking some steps to quit doing that. Big up my supervisors for their help and encouragement in this regard.
On this note, I now have to pick some scenes from my films to start working up shot lists for so I can present a proper in depth analysis. Its hard to limit myself to only certain scenes because ideally there’s so many I’d like to do. As it is I’ll have to just focus on a few for now.
I’m still reading Mr Smith Goes to Tokyo which is actually becoming a touch of a problem. I’m finding it so interesting that I’m reading it too slow. I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty decent at effectively skimming things so that I don’t sit and try to read every word of every book because I obviously don’t have the time for that. However, with this one I’ve found myself reading it almost word for word which isn’t I guess a bad thing because it’s relevant but it’s also taking more of my time that I would normally spend on one book. At least I’m gathering a lot of notes and interesting information I suppose.
So my plan for this week is to work on getting my shots lists together so I can start really working on that analysis. I also want to get the Early Candidature Plan finished. I’m still working on putting that timetable together. I’ll finish Mr Smith this week and maybe have more of a look into the press for my films as well. Hopefully it will be another good week.
This book is an exploration of how British historical films have confirmed or confronted the idea of British national identity during their times. Chapman looks at a number of historical films spanning from the early 1930s to the late 1990s. Chapman places each film in both the context of the British film industry at the time and the wider social, economic, and political context. While I wouldn’t be looking at many of these same films, the contextual information for each decade from the 1930s to the 1990s is invaluable to me as I can apply it to my own analysis of the films that I look at that come out of Britain at these times, for example, Fire Over England (1937), Young Bess (1953), or Elizabeth R (1971).
Among the films Chapman discusses is Elizabeth (dir. Shekhar Kapur, 1998). This was a valuable chapter as it provided contextual, production, and reception information as well as analysis of the film itself. Interestingly, Chapman reads Elizabeth largely in the context of the legacy of Princess Diana who died tragically just days before the film began principal photography. He argues that outrage from historians and critics alike that the film depicted Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, as not a virgin at all can be seen as a desire to protect the national myth about Elizabeth I but also as a kind of proxy to defend the reputation of the late Princess Diana, another national icon. It is an intriguing reading that I will take into consideration. It would be interesting to think about how 16th century ideas about protecting a woman’s virtue and reputation are being invoked again at the turn of the 21st century for another female royal.
Chapman, James. Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film. London: I.B Tauris, 2005.
Richard Barsam and David Monahan
This is a introductory textbook to film studies. It introduces the basic concepts necessary for understanding and assessing film, from cinematography and editing, to film history and production and distribution structures. It is handy for its overviews and definitions and it is really easy to read. However, it doesn’t provide methods for evaluating films, nor information of approaches to film analysis. It’s a nice introduction and is excellent to have as a reference but I will need more detailed and specific information about methodologies.
Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. 4th ed. New York and London: W. W Norton and Company Inc. , 2013.
Edited by Robert Rosenstone & Alun Munslow
This book is a collection of works that experiment with writing history. These include experiments with the literary form itself, and with subjects, for example, focuses on narratives and the historians’ personal experience. This is in response to the growing trends in the field of history that suggest that the notion of history as an empirical, objective study of the past as it happened is no longer adequate. As this idea has been deconstructed, the literary and narrative elements of history have been acknowledged and this book represents attempts to fully explore these elements and what they can bring to the exploration and communication of history. As Rosenstone states in his introduction, “they all grow out of a desire on the part of the historians to express something about our relationship to the past which has hitherto been inexpressible, to include in history things which have long been excluded, to share information or insights or understanding that cannot be carried by traditional historical forms” (p. 2).
This book raises some crucial points about history as representation, for instance, Munslow in his introduction argues that “History is, in and of itself, a representation of something. It is not the thing itself and cannot by the magic of empiricism be transported as it actually was onto the page or the screen” (p. 7). This echoes the arguments of scholars like Hayden White and Rosenstone himself, that written history and film are not so different as they are both attempting to represent history in their own ways but both ultimately rely on a narrative form.
The book is divided into two parts: Self-Reflexive; which collects the chapters that include a focus on the historian themselves and the authorial process, and New Voices; which includes works that attempt to explore previously unknown or unheard histories or perspectives. Each chapter is accompanied by an Afterword in which the author describes what led them to want to write in this way, which provides valuable insight into their approaches.
There are no chapters that deal with film but one chapter in particular, Bryant Simon’s “Narrating a Southern Tragedy: Historical Facts and Historical Fictions,” examines the role of fiction in exploring silences in history. Simon takes a story of he found in an archived newspaper of a lynching of two African-American men who are alluded to having sexually assaulted a white man in South Carolina in 1912. The story was vague and passed over with minimal details and so Simon used a fictional narrative from three different perspectives to explore what may have happened that day. The narrative is preceded by the evidence from the newspaper. This felt similar to the ways that a film might explore history by using individual perspectives and narratives.
Rosenstone, Robert, and Alun Munslow, eds. Experiments in Rethinking History. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.