Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood

Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood

Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood

Cinematic Flashes: Cinephilia and Classical Hollywood

Synopsis

Cinematic Flashes challenges popular notions of a uniform Hollywood style by disclosing uncanny networks of incongruities, coincidences, and contingencies at the margins of the cinematic frame. In an agile demonstration of "cinephiliac" historiography, Rashna Wadia Richards extracts intriguing film fragments from their seemingly ordinary narratives in order to explore what these unexpected moments reveal about the studio era. Inspired by Walter Benjamin's preference for studying cultural fragments rather than composing grand narratives, this unorthodox history of the films of the studio system reveals how classical Hollywood emerges as a disjointed network of accidents, excesses, and coincidences.

Excerpt

In a Moment

Her Hollywood debut is a fleeting farewell. Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) is to wave a melancholy goodbye from a mock-up train window. On set various technicians prepare for the shot by gearing up the artificial lights, wind, snow, and steam. After Esther is quickly wrapped into a burly fur coat, the camera begins to roll. Then, there is a glitch. What is meant to be a memorable shot of a handkerchief trembling in the wind as the train leaves the station reveals a face. During the shoot, Judy Garland’s bewildered visage inadvertently peeks through the window, a disruption that cannot be afforded at this point in the narrative. The moment is cut; the shot will have to be redone.

During a second take, we see what is necessary to keep the plot rolling: just a solitary hand, waving adieu. Made at a time when the studio system had already begun its slow but ceaseless crumble, it is understandable why George Cukor’s A Star Is Born (1954) struggles with goodbye. Fortuitously, the next shot is better choreographed, so it carries the narrative along. But there is something about this other goodbye that always overwhelms me. Whereas the first take is clearly designed to be memorable, the second take has a startling irresistibility. In comparison to the former’s poetic exterior shot of a frozen train window, enhanced by a glimpse of the troubled star’s sorrowful face (Figure 0.1), this frame is highly cluttered and yet almost mundane (Figure 0.2). Next to the unglamorous inner workings of the studio system that take up more than half the frame, I am always struck by Judy Garland’s discombobulated . . .

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