Bibliographical Essay Populism Cinema

Early overviews of fantasy film tended to be brief, typically a few pages in wider discussions about the history and development of film rather than focused studies. Writing in 1960, Kracauer’s chapter addressing (in part) fantasy film (Kracauer 1997, cited under Audio-Visual Style) was extensive for its time and demonstrated awareness of a wide range of exponents and techniques of cinematic fantasy, from Méliès, Chaplin and René Clair to Disney and Powell and Pressburger with particular emphasis on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Vampyr (1932). Fantasy film would not receive an extended book-length overview until Von Gunden 1989, which provides critical commentary and production details on fifteen “great fantasy films,” each representing a separate subgenre of fantasy. Von Gunden’s case studies range from 1933 (King Kong) to 1982 (Conan the Barbarian) and with the exception of La Belle et la bête (1946), Time Bandits (1981), and The Dark Crystal (1982) are all Hollywood productions. A much more extensive account of fantasy cinema is provided by Worley 2005, which provides critical commentary on a far wider range of films, going back to the earliest years of cinema and taking in examples from around the world as well as not being restricted to perceived classics or great films. In the late 2000s, Butler 2009, Fowkes 2010, Walters 2011, and Furby and Hines 2012 appeared in quick succession, offering contrasting introductions to the subject and reflecting the growing recognition and prominence of fantasy in (popular) culture as well as the softening of academia toward the validity of fantasy (film) as something meriting serious analysis. Each book provides an overview of fantasy film in terms of how to approach its study and the key issues and debates surrounding it as well as its history. All four acknowledge the difficulty in defining fantasy and address dismissive attitudes toward fantasy, but each has its own particular strengths. Butler emphasizes archival research and audio-visual style, Fowkes offers the most extensive case studies of individual films, Walters’s chapters are grouped more around conceptual discussions with Furby and Hines offering discussion of the widest range of theoretical approaches.

  • Butler, David. Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen. London: Wallflower, 2009.

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    Covers defining fantasy (noting industry and scholarly definitions), “fantasy violence,” major genres (e.g., fairy tale), special effects and audio-visual style, and the social value and function of fantasy. The range of films discussed is the widest of the recent introductions in terms of examples outside Hollywood, including Czech, French, and Japanese cinema.

  • Fowkes, Katherine A. The Fantasy Film. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444320589E-mail Citation »

    Engaging but weighted heavily toward contemporary Hollywood productions. Addresses defining the fantasy genre (including Fowkes’s own definition), a brief historical overview of fantasy film, major critical and theoretical approaches to studying fantasy film before the book’s core content: a series of readings of individual films (e.g., The Wizard of Oz) and franchises (e.g., Shrek, Harry Potter).

  • Furby, Jacqueline, and Claire Hines. Fantasy. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    Thorough overview of the history of fantasy film and major approaches to its study. As with Fowkes, the emphasis is on Hollywood, but there is a more substantial account of the debates around definition and key theoretical discussions, including psychoanalysis, adaptation, realism, narrative, gender, violence, special effects, and the monstrous. Case studies include The Dark Knight (2008).

  • Von Gunden, Kenneth. Flights of Fancy: The Great Fantasy Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989.

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    Covering fifteen “superior” films representing separate subgenres of fantasy (e.g., sword and sorcery) with clear synopses and overviews of each film’s production before discussing their respective merits. These genres are not always defined with critical rigor, however, or semantic and syntactic depth (e.g., the somewhat hazy “other worlds, other times”).

  • Walters, James. Fantasy Film: A Critical Introduction. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2011.

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    Addresses the problem of defining fantasy with insightful chapters on the relationship between fantasy and concepts such as authorship and genre (discussing the films of Vincente Minnelli), childhood and entertainment, the interior imagination and space and audio-visual style/coherency with Watership Down (1978) and The Lord of the Rings as closing case studies.

  • Worley, Alec. Empires of the Imagination: A Critical Survey of Fantasy Cinema from Georges Méliès to The Lord of the Rings. Foreword by Brian Sibley. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005.

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    Extensive critical commentary on the history of fantasy cinema, taking in major films and lesser-known examples. Chapters address defining fantasy film (emphasizing the presence of magic), the birth of fantasy cinema then more substantial chapters on major forms of fantasy: fairy tales, earthbound fantasy, heroic fantasy, and epic fantasy.

  • Considered both a landmark romantic comedy and an example of “the Capra touch,” It Happened One Night has garnered attention from film critics, cinema scholars, and movie buffs. For a well-researched introduction to the film’s significance in social and film history, Maltby 2005 is a good start. Hicks 1993 and Nochimson 2001 offer short, scholarly analyses of the production and the film’s major themes, while Gehring 2004, Kimmel 2008, Schneider 2013, and Stables 2010 provide overviews for the general reader. Mizejewski 2010 is the only book-length analysis of the film.

  • Gehring, Wes D. “Screwballs of the Silver Screen.” USA Today Magazine, March 2004: 62–65.

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    Hails the 1934 films It Happened One Night and Howard Hawks’s Twentieth Century as the launching of screwball comedy, Hollywood’s popular enactment of the battle of the sexes. Highlights the impact of the Depression and the Motion Picture Production Code (film censorship), the latter of which resulted in the conveyance of sexual material through wit and innuendo.

  • Hicks, Jimmie. “Frank Capra (Part 2).” Films in Review 44.1–2 (1993): 8–23.

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    Provides details of the film’s production and short summary of some of its contemporaneous reviews.

  • Kimmel, Daniel M. “It Happened One Night.” In I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind the Scenes of the Great Romantic Comedies. By Daniel M. Kimmel, 25–40. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2008.

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    An entertaining account of the film’s production, focusing on how Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert, and Clark Gable came to the project and how the film was a turning point in the career of each.

  • Maltby, Richard. “It Happened One Night (1934): Comedy and the Restoration of Order.” In Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. Edited by Jeffrey Geiger and R. L. Rutsky, 216–237. New York: Norton, 2005.

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    Excellent overview of the film’s position in the development of screwball comedy and within the cultural, historical, and political issues of its day. Describes impact of the Hays Production Code and emphasizes the importance of the casting of Gable as masculine assertion of social order. Ideal for undergraduate film courses.

  • Mizejewski, Linda. It Happened One Night. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

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    Analyzes the film as the blueprint for romantic comedy and parses out its various, often-contradictory interpretations. Covers the film’s origins, the auteurship issues surrounding Capra, and effects on the stardom of Gable and Colbert. Also discusses the movie’s censorship issues, historical contexts, class controversies, and meanings as romantic comedy. Includes one extensive scene analysis per chapter. Targeted for undergraduate film courses.

  • Nochimson, Martha P. “It Happened One Night.” Cinémathèque Annotations on Film 12 (February 2001).

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    Analyzes the importance of this film for the development of romantic comedy and points out its contradictions about gender and class, noting that despite the film’s populist reputation, “Working class solidarity doesn’t get anyone anywhere.”

  • Schneider, Dan. “It Happened One Night, Frank Capra.” Alt Film Guide, 19 January 2013.

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    For a general audience, an overview of the film’s production history and significance.

  • Stables, Kate. “Hitch, He Said.” Sight & Sound 20.12 (2010): 48.

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    Lauds the film’s grittiness and lack of sentimentality, arguing that it offers a playful treatment of sexuality but still taps into the bleakness of the Depression.

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