Fag: NORAM 4500

Oppgavetype: Hjemmeeksamen

Tidspunkt: Høsten 2003



I choose to write about American popular culture for my research proposal. Of course, since this topic is too wide, I have to narrow it down. The field of popular culture encapsulates popular music, comic books, films, television, popular literature and sports. I choose to write about films, which gives me a new set of alternatives to choose from. I can concentrate on films of a particular genre, of a particular time period, films that deal with American historical landmarks etc.

            I choose to work with the films of director Frank Capra, because of his fascinating portrayals of American society and values. There are almost countless ways in which his films can be analyzed and discussed. The different alternatives would imply wathcing different films (as primary sources) and using different secondary sources on Capra’s work, film theory and film semiotics and, particularly, different theme-specific literature. Naturally, all the alternatives would also imply reading general, standard works on Capra and his films like Raymond Carney’s American Vision -  The Films of Frank Capra.

            I can look at Capra as a feminist. That would involve adopting a feminist approach to academic writing (and the arts in general), reading books about feminism in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, reading books and articles about Capra’s feminist approaches (particularly Leland Poague’s Another Frank Capra) and studying Capra’s films with prominent female characters (for example The Bitter Tea of General Yen and Platinum Blonde).

            I can focus on Capra as a Hollywood auteur, which would involve reading about the auteur theory (particularly the essays and books by André Bazin (particularly his What is Cinema?), Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard), reading about the development of auteur directors in Hollywood and analyzing the films most closely associated with Capra’s auteur style (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, for example).

            I can study him as a pioneer in the genres of whimsical fantasy and screwball comedy. That would mean that I would read books and articles on the development of these genres (for example Ted Sennett’s Lunatics and Lovers), read books and articles that emphasize Capra’s pioneer work in these genres, and focus on his films of these genres (Lady for a Day, It Happened One Night and Broadway Bill, for example).

            Capra can be studied for his visual expression, which would imply reading literature on visual film theory discussing ideas like montage and mise-en-scéne (especially the writings of Sergei Eisenstein, since both Capra and his montage director, Slavko Vorkapich, were very influenced by Eisenstein), and books that emphasize Capra’s visual expression (like parts of Carney’s American Vision - The Films of Frank Capra and the Capra discussions in Barbara Bowman’s Master Space: Film Images of Capra, Lubitsch, Sternberg, and Wyler), and analyzing the Capra movies in which the visual aesthetics are very important (for example Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

            The role of ethnicity in his movies is also an aspect I could highlight. That would imply reading books on ethnicity in movies, reading analyses of the Capra films most concerned with this aspect, and watching films that deal with ethnicity, such as The Younger Generation and The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

            I could also concentrate on Capra’s period as a purveyor of wartime propaganda. This would imply reading books about Hollywood during World War II (for example Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg’s Hollywood in the Forties), books on film as propaganda and psychological manipulator (for example Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler and André Bazin’s What is Cinema?), and books and articles about Capra’s propaganda films (for example Thomas William Bohn’s An Historical and Descriptive Analysis of the “Why We Fight” Series). Of course, it would also imply studying his Why We Fight series, which comprises Prelude to War, The Nazis Strike, Divide and Conquer, The Battle of Britain, The Battle of Russia, The Battle of China and War Comes to America, and the other, shorter films Capra made for the US War Department.

            For my project, I choose to focus on his depiction of the American notion of the individual and the individual’s relation to society. This means that I will have to watch the films most concerned with the theme of individualism, which I take to be Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe and It’s a Wonderful Life, and perhaps also It Happened One Night and Lost Horizon. I will have to read books that discuss the theme of individualism in Capra’s work, books that deal with Hollywood and its portrayal of American values generally in the 1930s and the 1940s, books on individualism in America in general and books on film theory. The annotated bibliography and the bibliographic and historiographic assessment will discuss which books and articles that are relevant in each of these respects.

            The subject of this research proposal, the movies of Frank Capra, is important to American Studies because the cinema was the most important of the American mass media in the 20th century at large, and was without a doubt the most influential and dominant of the mass media at the time when the films most relevant to the discussion of this paper were made and distributed. American movies both reflected and influenced the way America and Americans were understood within, but also outside of, the USA. They discussed and defined what their makers thought about American ideals, and remain documents of how American society has been reflected in its art. Capra is often compared to American icons like Horatio Alger and Norman Rockwell due to his similarly positive and optimistic understandings and representations of American society. Frank Capra is often said to be the “most American” of all Hollywood directors because of his persistent appraisal of American ideals and ideas like democracy, honesty, hard work, family life, integrity, individualism and many more. The thematic focus of my thesis research will be his portrayal of the notion of individualism, which is also very important to American Studies. Although European thinkers had traditionally been sceptical of individualism, in America the idea became an ideal denoting a certain set of social, cultural and political values. Individualism, throughout American history, has had immense ideological influence on the American society and its inhabitants.

Annotated bibliography



Relevant literature about Capra and Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s



Basinger, Jeanine. “America’s Love Affair with Frank Capra” in American Film 7(5) March 1982. pp. 46-51, 81.


Basinger, Jeanine. The “It’s a Wonderful Life” Book. Alfred A. Knopf. 1986.


Bowman, Barbara. Master Space: Film Images of Capra, Lubitsch, Sternberg, and Wyler. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1992.


This is a unique study of the use of cinematic space by four important directors in American cinema from the 1930s to the 1960s: Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, and William Wyler. Bowman examines each of their distinctive styles and diverse backgrounds and shows how these unique visual styles complement each other--representing the best in classic American cinema, from Ninotchka and Shanghai Express to Best Years of Our Lives to It's a Wonderful Life.


About the author:

Barbara Bowman is Director of the Humanities Division and Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois.


Braudy, Leo (editor); Dickstein, Morris (editor). Great Film Directors. Oxford University Press. 1978. pp. 145-172.


Browne, Nick. “The Politics of Narrative Form: Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in Wide Angle 3(4). 1979. pp. 4-11.


Capra, Frank. The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. Vintage Books. 1971.


Although Frank Capra (1897-1991) is best known as the director of It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can't Take it With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, and It's a Wonderful Life, he was also an award-winning documentary filmmaker as well as a behind-the-scenes force in the Director's Guild, the Motion Picture Academy and the Producer's Guild. He worked with or knew socially everyone in the movie business from Mack Sennett, Chaplin and Keaton in the silent era through the illustrious names of the golden age. He directed Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis and others. In The Name Above the Title he reveals the deeply personal story of how, despite winning six Academy Awards, he struggled throughout his life against the glamours, vagaries and frustrations of Hollywood for the creative freedom to make some of the most memorable films of all time.


Carney, Ray. American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra. Cambridge University Press. 1986.


The first interdisciplinary study of America's best-known filmmaker.


From Library Journal:

In our nation's great movie lore there is nothing more American than the films of Frank Capra? Undoubtedly the Norman Rockwell of American cinema. Carney here, however, asserts that although Capra's films promote traditional American values, there is an underlying “uncertainty about whether an individual can express imaginative dreams within the repressive norms of society”.


About the author:

Ray Carney is Professor of Film and American Studies at Boston University. His books include The Films of John Cassavetes (1994) and Speaking the Language of Desire: Films of Carl Dreyer (1989).


Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Harvard University Press. 1981. pp. 71-109.


Christensen, Terry. “‘We’re the People’: Reel Politics in the Late Thirties.” in Reel Politics: American Political Movies from Birth of a Nation to Platoon. Blackwell Publishers. 1987. pp. 43-53.


Dickstein, Morris. “It’s a wonderful life, but...” in American Film (May 1980). pp. 42-47.


Estrin, Allen. Hollywood Professionals, vol. 6: Capra, Cukor, Brown. A. S. Barnes. 1980.


Gehring, Wes D. Populism and the Capra Legacy. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1995.


Traditionally identified with “screwball” comedies, Frank Capra has seldom been considered a conduit for populist concerns and issues. In this book, Gehring examines the influence of both Will Rogers and Frank Capra on modern populist movies, providing important background on Capra's links to the crackerbarrel personality of Rogers. He follows this theme forward, examining the populist roots in such films as The Electric Horseman, Field of Dreams, Dave, Grand Canyon, and others. A final chapter is a close-up of the contemporary, Capra-like director, Ron Howard. The inclusion of a bibliography and selected filmography makes this book an important contribution to film studies, popular culture, and American humor.


From Book News, Inc.:

Sets the comedy films of Frank Capra (1897-1991) firmly in the populist tradition of Will Rogers during the 1930s and 1950s, shows how populism came under attack during the McCarthy era, explores a film movement that built on Capra's legacy in the 1970s and 1990s, and profiles Ron Howard as a contemporary example of pushing Capra's principles into new areas. Includes a selected filmography. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.


About the author:

Wes D. Gehring is Professor of Film at Ball State University, and the author of nine previous books. His essays, poems, and humor pieces have appeared in numerous publications.


Girgus, Sam B.Hollywood Renaissance: The Cinema of Democracy in the Era of Ford, Capra, and Kazan. Cambridge University Press. 1998.


From the late 1930s to the early 1960s, American film helped reinvigorate and renew American culture. In this lively and original book, Sam Girgus offers a fresh look at films such as The Searchers, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's a Wonderful Life, High Noon, and On the Waterfront. He shows how they are part of the cultural and historic debate that examines, structures, and questions what modern America means to its people, the world, and history.


Glatzer, Richard (editor); Raeburn, John (editor). Frank Capra the Man and His Films. University of Michigan Press. 1975.


Griffith, Richard. Frank Capra. British Film Institute. 1951.


Hanson, Patricia King. Meet Frank Capra: A Catalog of His Work. Stanford Theatre Foundation. 1990.


Hargrave, H. S. “Interview with Frank Capra” in Literature/Film Quarterly IX (No. 3). 1981. pp 189-204.


Henstell, Bruce (editor). Frank Capra: “One Man - One Film”. The American Film Institute. 1971.


Hochman, Stanley (editor). American Film Directors. Fredrick Ungar. 1974. pp. 29-37.


Lourdeaux, Lee. Italian and Irish Filmmakers in America: Ford, Capra, Coppola and Scorsese. Temple University Press. 1990.


Maland, Charles J. American Visions: The Films of Chaplin, Ford, Capra and Welles, 1936-1941. Arno Press. 1977.


Maland, Charles J. Frank Capra. Twayne. 1980.


Maland, Charles J. “Frank Capra at Columbia: Necessity and Invention” in Columbia Pictures: Portrait of a Studio. University Press of Kentucky. 1992. pp. 70-88.


Mcbride, Joseph. Frank Capra the Catastrophe of Success. Simon & Schuster. 1992.


Moviegoers often assume Frank Capra's life resembled his beloved films: as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It's a Wonderful Life, a man of the people faces tremendous odds and, by doing the right thing, triumphs. But as Joseph McBride reveals in this meticulously researched, definitive biography, the reality was far more complex, a true American tragedy. Using newly declassified U.S. government documents about Capra's response to being considered a “subversive” during the post-World War II Red Scare, McBride adds a final chapter to his unforgettable portrait of the man who gave us It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Meet John Doe.


From Library Journal:

Capra is largely remembered today as a director whose films champion all-American optimism in a world where good ultimately triumphs. This exhaustively researched and densely--perhaps overly--detailed biography uncovers the man behind the camera and simultaneously debunks much of what Capra wrote in his autobiography, The Name Above the Title (LJ 4/15/71). The director's flag waving concealed shame about his Sicilian heritage, writes McBride, and he was not adverse to being one of the greedy rich his films derided. The analysis of Capra's oeuvre, including his days as a gag writer, reveals much about his psyche. The author of well-regarded biographies of Howard Hawks (Hawks on Hawks, LJ 12/15/81) and John Ford (John Ford, Da Capo, 1975) has written the definitive work about another major American director. For general audiences. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/91.

- Roy Liebman, California State Univ. Lib., Los Angeles


About the author:

Joseph McBride is a film historian and critic whose books include Orson Welles, Hawks on Hawks, and Steven Spielberg: A Biography. His next book, Searching for John Ford, will be published by St. Martin's Press.


Neve, Brian. “Populism, Romanticism and Frank Capra” in Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition. Routledge. 1992. pp. 28-55.


Poague, Leland A. Another Frank Capra. Cambridge University Press.1994.


Another Frank Capra offers a new interpretation of the great Hollywood director beyond the patriotic sentimentalist or the cynical opportunist he has been taken for. Often cast as a cinematic simpleton or primitive, Capra's exploitation of the stylistic and narrative resources of cinema was, in fact, extremely self-conscious and adventurous in ways typical of artistic modernism. Informed by recent work in genre theory and feminist psychology, this study shows Capra to be a “proto-feminist” director whose feminism has been neglected by previous critics.


About the author:

Leland Poague is Professor of English at Iowa State University. He is the author of The Cinema of Ernst Lubitsch: The Hollywood Films, Film Criticism: A Counter Theory, and The Hollywood Professionals, vol. 7: Billy Wilder and Leo McCarey, among other titles.


Poague, Leland A. The Cinema of Frank Capra. A. S. Barnes. 1975.


Poague, Leland A.; Capra, Frank. Frank Capra: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. 2004.


Price, James. “Capra and the American Dream” in London Magazine. 1964. pp. 85-93.


Ray, Robert B. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980. Princeton University Press. 1985. pp. 179-215.


Richards, Jeffrey. “Frank Capra and the Cinema of Populism” in Cinema no. 5 1970. pp. 22-28. Reprinted in Bill Nichols (editor). Movies and Methods: An Anthology. University of California Press. 1976. pp. 65-77.


Scherle, Victor; Turner-Levy, William. The Complete Films of Frank Capra.  Citadel Press. 1977.


Schickel, Richard. “Frank Capra” in Schickel, Richard (editor). The Men Who Made the Movies: Interviews With Frank Capra, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincente Minnelli, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, and William A. Wellman. Ivan R Dee, Inc. 1975. pp. 57-92.


From Library Journal:

First published in 1975, this is a who's who of great film directors. The book offers interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, King Vidor, and Raoul Walsh, all of whom were among the Hollywood elite who just about invented what we know as "the movies." Each interview covers numerous subjects and is accompanied by photos. Essential for film collections. Immensely readable and informative...it provides an education in how movies are made...one of the best introductions to cinema.


Shindler, Colin. Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society 1929-1939. Routledge. 1996.


The Stock Market Crash of 1929 threw American society into complete turmoil. As millions of Americans became unemployed and the standard of living plummeted, a turn onto the road to recovery required a concerted effort of government and private industry resources. This detailed study of the workings of the American film industry during the 1930s looks at Hollywood as an agent of Roosevelt's New Deal, and the attempts film moguls and moviemakers made to withstand the political turmoil that threatened to engulf America. It illustrates how the studios and their products, from the glamour of MGM stars and escapist musicals to gangster movies and Westerns, even the “radical” films of the Warner studios, helped foster ideas of social unity and patriotism. Drawing from studio archives and interviews with such prominent figures as Henry Fonda, Frank Capra, and even the Hollywood Communist Party leader John Howard Lawson, Schindler's study redefines the way in which this segment of Hollywood's Golden years will be viewed.


Sklar, Robert (editor); Zagarrio, Vito (editor). Frank Capra: Authorship and the Studio System. Temple University Press. 1998.


Frank Capra's films have had a lasting impact on American culture. His powerful depiction of American values, myths, and ideals was central to such famous Hollywood films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life. These pre-war films are remembered for their depiction of an individual's overcoming adversity, populist politics, and an unflappable optimist view of life. This collection of nine essays by leading international film historians analyzes Capra's filmmaking during his most prolific period, from 1928 to 1939, taking a closer look at the more complex aspects of his work. They trace his struggles for autonomy against Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn, his reputation as an auteur, and the ways in which working within studio modes of production may have enhanced the director's strengths. The contributors also place their critiques within the context of the changing fortunes of the Hollywood studio system, the impact of the Depression, and Capra's working relationships with other studio staff and directors. The contributors' access to nineteen newly restored Capra films made at Columbia during this period fills this collection with some of the most comprehensive critiques available on the director's early body of work.


About the authors:

Robert Sklar, Professor of Cinema at New York University, is the co-editor (with Charles Musser) of Resisting Images: Essays on Cinema and History (Temple), and the author of numerous books on film, including Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, and Garfield, and Film: An International History of the Medium, winner of the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award. Vito Zagarrio teaches film history at the University of Florence and film analysis at the University of Rome III, Italy.


Toles, George. “‘No bigger than Zuzu’s Petals’: Dream-Messages, Ephiphanies, and the Undoing of Conventions in It’s a Wonderful Life” in North Dakota Quarterly 52(3). 1984. pp. 43-66.


Willis, Donald C. The Films of Frank Capra. Scarecrow Press. 1974.


Wolfe, Charles. Frank Capra: A Guide to References and Resources. G K Hall. 1987.


Wolfe, Charles (editor). Meet John Doe. Rutgers University Press. 1989.


Wolfe, Charles. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Democratic Forums and Representational Forums” in Close Viewings: An Anthology of New Film Criticism. Florida State University Press. 1990. pp. 300-332.



Relevant literature about individualism in America



Bellah, Robert Neelly; Madsen, Richard; Sullivan, William M., Swindler; Tipton, Steven M. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. University of California Press. Updated edition 1996.


About the authors:

Robert N. Bellah is Elliott Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, and the author of several books, including The New Religious Consciousness (with Charles Y. Glock) (1975). Richard Madsen is Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego; his most recent book is China and the American Dream (California, 1995). William M. Sullivan is Professor of Philosophy, LaSalle University, Philadelphia; his most recent book is Work and Integrity: The Crisis and Promise of Professionalism in America (1994). Ann Swidler is Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Organization Without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools (1980). Steven M. Tipton is Professor, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and author of Getting Saved from the Sixties: Moral Meaning in Conversion and Cultural Change (California, 1982). The authors also collaborated on the writing of The Good Society (1991). In 2000, Robert Bellah was one of twelve recipients of the National Humanities Medal.


Bellah, Robert Neelly; Madsen, Richard; Sullivan, William M., Swindler; Tipton, Steven M. Individualism and Commitment in American Life: Readings on the Themes of Habits of the Heart. HarperCollins. 1987.


From Library Journal:

A companion volume to Habits of the Heart (LJ 3/1/85), this anthology can also stand alone. It contains extracts from the writings of educators, philosophers, sociologists, poets, theologians, and politicians, giving a panoramic look at how America has lived and felt from John Winthrop's time on. The writings of Emerson and Norman Mailer, Jefferson and Jerry Falwell, Tillie Olsen and David Riesman represent an astounding range in era, style, and subject. The book probably comes as close to capturing the transcendent, ever-escaping reality of American life as collections of readings permit. A.J. Anderson, G.S.L.I.S., Simmons Coll., Boston.


Brown, R. Philip. Authentic Individualism: A Guide for Reclaiming the Best of America's History. Rowman & Littlefield. 1996.


Drawing from the development of individualism in western philosophy and American history, this book constructs a normative theory called authentic individualism. Using the precepts of that theory, it urges organizational leaders to change the way they think about their organizations and their organizations' social function. Students and scholars of political science, social science, public administration, moral theory and organizational theory will find this a useful work. Contents: Introduction to Individualism; PART ONE: A Model of the Individual from Western Philosophy; The Individual of the Ancients; The Individual of the Dark Ages; The Individual of Modernity; PART TWO: A Model of the Individual in the United States; Rugged Individualism of the Revolutionary U.S.; Rational Individualism After Romanticism and Reform; Radical Individualism from Disillusionment and Loss of Faith; PART THREE: Synthesis of Philosophies Toward a More Socially Responsible Individualist in the Third Millennium; Need for a New World View; Changing the Paradigm; Soul of the Third Administrative State; Notes; Bibliography; Index.


About the author:

R. Philip Brown is Assistant Attorney General in the Michigan Department of Attorney General.


Newfield, Christopher. The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in America.


This work presents a revisionist account of Ralph Waldo Emerson's influential thought on individualism, in particular his political psychology. The author analyzes the interplay of liberal and authoritarian impulses in Emerson's work in various domains: domestic life, the changing New England economy, theories of poetic language, homoerotic friendship, and racial hierarchy. Focusing on neglected later writings, Newfield shows how Emerson explored the tensions between autonomy and community - and consistently resolved these tensions by "abandoning crucial elements of both" and redefining autonomy as a kind of liberating subjection. He argues that in Emersonian individualism, self-determination is accompanied by submission to authority, and examines the influence of this submissive individualism on the history of American liberalism. In a reading of Emerson's early and neglected later works, the study analyzes Emerson's emphasis on collective, or “corporate”, world-building, rather than private possession. Tracing the development of this corporate individualism, he illuminates contradictions in Emerson's political outlook, and the conjunctions of liberal and authoritarian ideology they produced.



Relevant literature on film theory and film analysis



Andrew, James Dudley. The Major Film Theories: An Introduction. Oxford Press. 1976.


Monaco, James. How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia: Language, History, Theory. Oxford Press. 3rd edition 2000.


Looking at film from many vantage points, Monaco discusses the elements necessary to understand how a film conveys its meaning, and more importantly, how the audience can best discern all that a film is attempting to communicate. Richard Gilman referred to How to Read a Film as simply “the best single work of its kind.” Janet Maslin of The New York Times Book Review marveled at James Monaco's ability to collect “an enormous amount of useful information and assemble it in an exhilaratingly simple and systematic way.” And Richard Roud, Director of the New York Film Festival stated, “Anyone who writes about film, who is interested in film seriously, just has to have it.” Clearly, few books on film have met with such critical acclaim as How to Read a Film. Since its original publication in 1977, this hugely popular book has become the definitive source on film and media. Now, James Monaco offers a completely revised and rewritten third edition that brings every major aspect of this dynamic medium right up to the present day. Looking at film from many vantage points, Monaco discusses the elements necessary to understand how a film conveys its meaning, and, more importantly, how the audience can best discern all that a film is attempting to communicate. He begins by setting movies in the context of the more traditional arts such as the novel, painting, photography, theater--even music--demonstrating that film as a narrative technique is directly comparable to these older mediums. He points out that much of what we see and experience in film can be traced directly back to other art forms. Accordingly, as film is a technology as well as an art, he examines the intriguing science of cinema and follows the development of the electronic media and its parallel growth with film during this century. A new chapter on multimedia brings media criticism into the late 1990s with a thorough discussion of such topics as virtual reality and cyberspace and their relationship to film. Monaco goes on to show how film operates as a language, describing the various techniques and concepts responsible for the often visceral reactions that only film can elicit.


Stam, Robert. Film Theory: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishers. 2000.


Written in a sophisticated yet accessible language, Film Theory: An Introduction provides a lucid and coherent introduction to a rich and varied field. A comprehensive history of film theory during the “century of the cinema,” this volume moves all the way from silent-era theorists like Vachel Lindsay and Hugo Munsterberg through to the latest developments in film theory and cultural studies (cognitive theory, Deleuze, queer theory, postcolonial theory, digital theory). International in scope, the volume covers developments in such countries as France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, always stressing the links between these developments. The book also contextualizes film theory within larger historical and philosophical currents.


About the author:

Robert Stam is a Professor in the Cinema Studies Department at New York University. His many books include Tropical Multiculturalism: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture (1997), Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media with Ella Shohat (1994), which won the Katherine Singer Kovocs ‘Best Film Book Award’; and Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film (1992).



            Early writings on Capra include The Making of a Great Picture, which was a promotional book on Lost Horizon that was published in 1937; Experiments on Mass Communications by Carl I. Hovland, Arthur A. Lumsdaine and Fred D. Sheffield, which was a study of the effects on soldiers of the Why We Fight series published in 1949, and The Distinguished Library of Frank Capra from 1949. In 1951 came the first major work dealing with Capra’s films by Richard Griffith, simply called Frank Capra. He made a schematic description of the typical Capra movie as a “fantasy of goodwill in which a messianic innocent...pits himself against the forces of enctrenched greed.” (This description has later been challenged, mostly by McBride.) 1951 also saw the publication of a Dutch work on Capra called Frank Capra: Leven en Werken [Frank Capra: His Life and Work] by Hans Saaltink. No further major writings on Capra appeared until after he had retired from the movie business and published his own autobiography The Name Above the Title in 1971. It is a highly readable, somewhat illuminating and very entertaining work, but has later been criticized of being boastful and incorrect. Nonetheless, it is the only extensive “Capra on Capra” source, and is indispensable as such. A near-deluge of work on the filmmaker followed his autobiography. Bruce Henstell’s Frank Capra: “One Man - One Film” from 1971 was a transcript of an American Film Institute seminar on Capra’s auteuristic filmmaker ideas. Donald Willis’s The Films of Frank Capra from 1974 was the first major general work since Griffith’s 1951 book. Among other things, Willis explains how and why Capra’s films can be interpreted to support almost any political agenda and concludes that he finds his films basically apolitical. The following year’s Frank Capra: The Man and His Films edited by Glatzer and Raeburn was a collection of essays and reviews on the director and contains several interviews with Capra. It provided insight into the Capra legacy and influenced writing on the filmmaker for years to come. 1975 also saw the publication of The Men Who Made the Movies: Interviews With Frank Capra, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincente Minnelli, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, and William A. Wellman edited by Richard Schickel, a volume that provided insight as to how these director’s movies were made. Leland Poague’s The Cinema of Frank Capra was also published in 1975, and was Poague’s doctoral dissertation. It is a general discussion of Capra’s work. In 1977 came Charles Maland’s American Visions: The Films of Chaplin, Ford, Capra and Welles, 1936-1941, which was a study of the social messages in some of these director’s films, and Victor Scherle and William Turner Levy’s The Films of Frank Capra, another general discussion of his films. Maland’s Frank Capra from 1980 is described as being the “best general discussion of Capra’s films to date” by Raymond Carney in his American Vision - The Films of Frank Capra from 1986. Carney’s book, the next large-scale interpretation of Capra’s films, was the first interdisciplinary work on the filmmaker. He draws a line between two distinctly different traditions of American artistic and popular consciousness and expression. On the one hand, there is the “visionary, idealistic, romantic” strain, represented by for example Edwards, Henry James, Hawthorne, Emerson, Whitman, William James, Faulkner, Mailer and Capra. On the other hand, there is the strain that advocates “a commitment to the authority of practical and realistic forms and forces that exclude or resist the individual imagination,” in which Carney places Franklin, Byrd, Wharton, Dreiser, Dos Passos, Hawks, Cukor, Lubitsch, Stevens, Wellman and Wyler, for example. Carney claims that even though Capra's films argue in favor of traditional American values, there is an uncertainty about how and whether the individual can express itself within a society of linguistic and social limitations and norms. Carney dissects views held by earlier scholarly works on Capra, and leaves virtually no element of his movies undiscussed. The book represents a watershed in the history of scholarly work on Capra, and is referred to in all subsequent major literary undertakings on Capra. 1986 also saw the publication of the first book to deal with only one of Capra’s films, Jeanine Basinger’s The It’s a Wonderful Life Book. It is an extremely close look at this American filmatic icon, and provides new views on ideas and ideals in the movie. Charles Wolfe’s A Reference Guide to the Films of Frank Capra was published in 1987, and is deemed by Leland Poague as being an indispensable companion to the study of Capra and his films. The first major French study of Capra’s films (many articles had appeared over the years) was made in 1988 by Michel Cieutat in his Frank Capra. Wolfe’s 1989 effort, Meet John Doe, was an entire volume dedicated to analytical and critical writings on Capra’s 1941 film. Lee Lourdeaux’s Italian and Irish Filmmakers in America: Ford, Capra, Coppola and Scorsese from 1990 was a work that emphasized the ethnic backgrounds of major American directors, some of which are claimed to be among the “most American” of them all. Barbara Bowman’s Master Space: Film Images of Capra, Lubitsch, Sternberg, and Wyler from 1992 gave thorough examinations of how these directors used visual space in their movies. Joseph McBride’s 1992 book Frank Capra The Catastrophe of Success was a revisionist account of Capra and his films that portrayed Capra as a man whose films represented nothing of his personality. He claimed that Robert Riskin, not Capra himself, was the person most responsible for “the Capra touch”. He harshly attacked Capra’s autobiography from 1971 and dismantled many of the arguments and assertions presented by Capra. Leland Poague’s Another Frank Capra, published in 1994, was mainly a book written to display Capra as a modernist, proto-feminist director, which was an aspect of his movies that had hardly been mentioned at all by previous Capra writers. However, Another Frank Capra also included an entire chapter (out of seven) on what Poague found to be the problems of McBride’s book from 1992. He dissects arguments and statements by McBride, and provides alternative readings and understandings. Wes Gehring’s massive Populism and the Capra Legacy from 1995 was devoted to analyze and discuss Capra as a Populist and his influence as such on later filmmakers. This notion of Capra had previously been briefly discussed by other writers, but this is the only volume dedicated to this aspect alone. Sklar, in his Movie-Made America (second edition from 1994), denounces the understanding of Capra as a Populist to be wrong. Sklar also edited a book called Frank Capra: Authorship and the Studio System in 1998, about Capra’s struggle for independence and auteurship at Columbia Pictures. Two volumes published in the late nineties, Sam B. Girgus’s Hollywood Renaissance: The Cinema of Democracy in the Era of Ford, Capra, and Kazan and Colin Shindler’s Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society 1929-1939, give descriptions and analyses of how Hollywood expressed American ideals and values during the Great Depression. Leland Poagues forthcoming Frank Capra: Interviews is due for release in March 2004, and will hopefully provide even more insight about Capra and his films.

            When it comes to primary sources, naturally I will use the movies of Frank Capra. His filmography is enormous, but not all his films are relevant to a discussion of individualism. The ones that are traditionally regarded as dealing with individualism in a profound manner, are Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). A handful of others, like It Happened One Night (1934), Lost Horizon (1937) and You Can’t Take It With You (1938), are also often understood to be thematically concerned with the individual and its relation to society. I will watch all these seven films at least once more before I decide which ones (if not all) are going to be discussed in my thesis paper. The sources, the films, are already in my possession. I will analyze these sources by using the books on film theory and film analysis mentioned in the bibliography earlier. The dialogue as well as the visual-aesthetic expression will be analyzed.

            As for organization, there seems to be two rather obvious alternatives. I can either discuss ideas of individualism and how they are expressed and evaluated in the movies, which would give approximately this chapter outline:

Chapter 1 - Introduction. Explanations on what American individualism is

Chapter 2 - (Idea 1 about individualism and the treatment of it in the movies)

Chapter 3 - (Idea 2 about individualism and the treatment of it in the movies)

Chapter 4 - (Idea 3 about individualism and the treatment of it in the movies)

Chapter 5 - (Idea 4 about individualism and the treatment of it in the movies)

Chapter 6 - Conclusion

Or I can use the chronological order of the movies as chapter structure, and discuss ideas about individualism in one feature at a time. That would give this chapter outline:

Chapter 1 - Introduction. Explanations on what American individualism is

Chapter 2 - How are individualist ideas portrayed and discussed in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town?

Chapter 3 - How are individualist ideas portrayed and discussed in Lost Horizon?

Chapter 4 - How are individualist ideas portrayed and discussed in You Can’t Take It With You?

Chapter 5 - How are individualist ideas portrayed and discussed in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

Chapter 6 - How are individualist ideas portrayed and discussed in Meet John Doe?

Chapter 7 - How are individualist ideas portrayed and discussed in It’s a Wonderful Life?

Chapter 8 - Conclusion

The second alternative seems to me to be the most sensible one, as it gives a chronological overview of Capra’s development as a champion of individualism. But the first alternative also have its advantages, as it provides a seemingly more structured overview of the ideas of individualism.

            I can’t really  think of any ethical concerns that might enter into this research.