Seven Great Film Studies PhD Theses from the University of Edinburgh

Framegrab from Jeux interdits/Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1952)

The classically idyllic, carefree world of childhood would appear to be diametrically opposed to the horrors of war and world-wide conflict. However, throughout film history, filmmakers have continually turned to the figure of the child as a prism through which to examine the devastation caused by war.
This thesis will investigate the representation of childhood experience of the Second World War across six fiction films: Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1947), René Clément’s Forbidden Games (1952), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night (1964) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985). [Pasquale Iannone, Childhood and the Second World War in the European fiction film PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2011: 11; hyperlinks added by FSFF]

Film Studies For Free went a-hunting at the research repository at the University of Edinburgh and found that seven great full-text PhD theses have been archived there.

Each of these works of original research has a huge amount to offer any student of cinema, and so it’s really great that their authors and their university have made them publicly available online.

FSFF hopes its readers will join it in saluting them!


"Between Past and Future": ROME, OPEN CITY Studies

Updated November 19, 2011
Frame grab from Roma, città aperta/Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)

Projected on the war torn landscape for a weary people, Rome Open City poetically serves the goals of unification and restoration. In many respects, this film both conforms to and promotes an ideal image of a courageous, Resistant and unified population – from communist intellectuals, to catholic priests, to working class women and their children. Open City maintains the comfortable melodramatic schema of Rossellini’s earlier Fascist-era films in which the forces of good (the Italian people) struggle triumphantly against the forces of evil embodied in the Nazi general Bergmann and his deviant cronies. The director’s fondness for his people culminates in an apologetic portrayal of Italian fascists as either wretched or unwilling collaborators. However, in the end, Open City’s epic scope effectively precludes the possibility of another film like it: all the “fathers” (Manfredi, Pina, Don Pietro) are dead and the child soldiers are abandoned to the city, suspended “between past and future”. The conclusion, the partisan priest’s execution, witnessed by the children of his parish, forewarns of the fragmentation, destitution, and moral poverty to come. With his last words, “non è difficile morire bene, è difficile vivere bene” (it’s not difficult to die well, it’s difficult to live well”), Don Pietro intimates the struggles ahead. [Inga M. Pierson, Towards a Poetics of Neorealism: Tragedy in the Italian Cinema 1942-1948′, PhD Thesis, New York University, January 2009  97-98] 

Another teaching week beckons, and Film Studies For Free‘s author looks forward to pondering, for the umpteenth, pedagogical time, that intensely strange film Roma, città aperta/Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945).

There are some excellent resources on this film, and on related issues of (neo)realism, that are openly accessible online. So, andiamo felicemente with one of FSFF‘s regular studies of a single film.

>Framing Incandescence: Elizabeth Taylor in JANE EYRE (1944)


“In a world of flickering images,
Elizabeth Taylor was a constant star.

This video offers an audiovisual introduction to issues of film performance, cinematic staging, and gender in relation to Elizabeth Taylor‘s brief, uncredited role as doomed-child character Helen Burns in the 1944 film Jane Eyre, directed by Robert Stevenson, and adapted from Charlotte Brontë‘s 1847 novel of the same name.

Film Studies For Free was far from home, just over two weeks ago, when the remarkable film actor and person Elizabeth Taylor passed away. It was very sorry not to be able to respond to this event as soon as it might have liked. Taylor was FSFF‘s author’s favourite Hollywood star by some distance.

David Hudson has worked hard to gather links to an astonishing range of online tributes to Taylor. FSFF wanted to add to these, but not simply with its own customary list of links to any related (in this case, rather scant) online scholarly resources.

It decided upon the creation of a relatively self-contained audiovisual memorial in the form of the above contemplation, Framing Incandescence – the second in FSFF‘s new, video primer series.

As befits a ‘Primer’, rather than aiming to generate completely new insights, this ‘rich text object’ attempts, within the time-space of the average YouTube fan clip, to assemble and combine quotations from existing film scholarship on its topic with sequences from the film in question in order to provide a meaningful, scholarly and affective, immersive experience. Making fair use of the possibilities for moving image studies offered by online accessibility, video primers might well profit from feeling a little like fan videos and introductory film studies all at once.

Framing Incandescence certainly comments on the fetishism and fetishisation of the star image of Elizabeth Taylor at the same time as it willingly deploys that fetishism in its own rhetoric and, indeed, it practices tactical forms of ‘possessive spectatorship‘, such as those Laura Mulvey points to, in her recent work, as characteristic of film viewing in the digital age.

For the quotations in this particular study, FSFF is especially indebted to the work of film scholar Gaylyn Studlar in her brilliant essay on Taylor’s performances as a child actor in her three 1944 films (Jane Eyre, The White Cliffs of Dover and National Velvet). This essay appears in Tamar Jeffers McDonald’s fascinating 2010 collection Virgin Territory: Representing Sexual Inexperience in Film (Wayne State University Press). Other sources and related texts of interest are listed below.

The makers of Jane Eyre cast two further, wonderful, child stars from the 1940s in more central roles than that of Taylor: Peggy Ann Garner (featured extensively in the video primer) and Margaret O’Brien. If you are interested in the concept, practices and history of the child actor/child star, and issues of juvenile performance more generally, you may well want to know about an upcoming conference precisely on this topic. Please scroll down further in this entry to find out more. 

Further related reading and texts cited by the ‘Framing Incandescence‘ video primer:

  • David Bordwell, Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)
  • Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic  (Manchester: Manchester University Press,1992)
  • Richard Dyer, White (London and New York: Routledge, 1997) [Dyer’s reference to tuberculosis as ‘White Death’ is on p. 209)
  • Delphine Letort,’ Diverging Interpretations of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): Franco Zeffirelli’s and Robert Stevenson’s Screen Adaptations’, Revue LISA/LISA e-journal online here
  • Susan McLeland, ”Elizabeth Taylor: Hollywood’s Last Glamour Girl’, in Hilary Radner and Moya Luckett (eds), Swinging single: representing sexuality in the 1960s (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)
  • Jane O’Connor, Cultural Significance of the Child Star (London and New York: Routledge, 2008)
  • Jane O’Connor, ‘Beyond Social Constructionism: A Structural Analysis of the Cultural Significance of the Child Star’, Children and Society, Vol. 23 (2009), pp. 214-225
  • Momin Rahman, ‘[Review] Jane O’Connor, The Cultural Significance of the Child Star…‘, Canadian Journal of Sociology 33(3) 2008, pp. 752-754: online here
  • Diana Serra Cary, Hollywood’s Children (Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1978, 1997)
  • Gaylyn Studlar, ‘Velvet’s Cherry: Elizabeth Taylor and Virginal English Girlhood’ in Tamar Jeffers McDonald (ed.), Virgin Territory: Representing Sexual Inexperience in Film (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010)
  • Emma Wilson, Cinema’s Missing Children (London: Wallflower Press, 2003)


Child Actors/Child Stars: Juvenile Performance on Screen

A conference co-hosted by the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, and the School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex. 

To be held at the David Puttnam Media Centre, University of Sunderland

8-9 September, 2011

 This conference seeks to build on recent scholarly interest in screen performance by focusing on the contribution of child actors to the history of international film and television. From the popular child stars of Hollywood to the child actors working in popular television and the non-professional children ubiquitous throughout ‘world cinema,’ the child performer is a prominent figure across a diverse range of media. However, the child actor is rarely considered in discussions of screen performance or of the representation of childhood: this conference will be the first of its kind to be focused exclusively on the work of children in and for film and television. We welcome papers that discuss particular child stars and performers and/or particular performances by children, as well as papers that consider more general historical and theoretical questions related to the child actor’s presence on the screen and their position in film and television cultures and industries. 

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Dr. Karen Lury (University of Glasgow), author of The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairytales (2010).

Confirmed Special Guest: Jon Whiteley, the former child actor, will talk about his film career and his experiences making Hunted (Charles Crichton, 1952), The Little Kidnappers (Philip Leacock, 1953), Moonfleet (Fritz Lang, 1955) and The Spanish Gardener (Philip Leacock, 1956).

(Further Speakers/Special Guests to be announced)

The conference will comprise both traditional panels (consisting of papers of 20-25 minutes) and workshops (consisting of 10 minute long position papers that outline a key idea/theme/ argument or offer close analysis of a moment of child performance in film). Please clearly mark your submission ‘panel’ or ‘workshop’. We hope the conference will both represent existing scholarship and inspire and encourage further work, and so we welcome contributions that are speculative and experimental.  We are interested in papers on the following topics but would also welcome proposals on other areas as well:

the training and schooling of child actors; the craft and labour of the child actor; notions of agency and control; different traditions of child acting and how child acting operates within different national/historical/cultural contexts and on the small (tv) as opposed to big screen (cinema); the critical reception of children’s performances/the child as actor; the relationship between child acting and child stardom (e.g. the contribution that performance makes to the formation/articulation of child star identity; the notion of the child star as performer); the child actor’s transition to child star; the transition from child to adolescent (or adult) performer; adolescent performances in film and/or television; how child performance operates within the context of genre; the child’s voice as an aspect of performance; voice/body relations in child performance; the dynamics involved when children perform with adult actors/stars; the work of the child actor in children’s vs. non-children’s cinema/television;  children performing with animals; ensemble child acting;  the performative spaces in which children find scope to act; child acting during the silent vs. sound era;  the notion of the child as performer in the animated film;  collaborations between child actors and particular directors or stars;   professional vs. non-professional child acting.

 It is hoped that selected papers from the conference will be published in the form of an edited book collection. Please send abstracts (no more than 250 words) to our conference email address by 15 April 2011. Pre-constituted panels of 3 speakers are welcome. Acceptance notices will be issued by 6 May 2011. Our conference website is available at and will be updated with registration and other details in the coming weeks. 

Any general enquiries should be addressed to the conference co-organisers: Susan Smith and Michael Lawrence.

>Young and Undead: On Child and Teen Vampire Movies


Images from Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008 – above) and Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

Film Studies For Free loves a good vampire movie, like the two relatively unconventional examples of the genre pictured above. 

In fact, FSFF doesn’t turn its nose up at bad vampire movies, either. Let’s face it: this blog is just not that fussy when it comes to vampire movies.

Both kinds of films are represented below, in a fairly short, but terrifyingly good, list of scholarly and other online studies of the recent flourishing of teen and pre-teen varieties of undead cinema (along with their literary sources). 

Please note that the list does not dabble in studies of the televisual versions of the genre. For those, you could no better than to visit the complete archive of Slayage articles on, inter alia, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.

Season’s greetings and happy holiday wishes from Film Studies For Free

No Man’s Land (Scotland, 2004) directed by Clara Glynn, score by Sally Beamish, cinematography by Mike Eley, edited by (an old Glasgow friend) Colin Monie, and featuring Julie Austin, Liam Brennan, Louise Ludgate, and Euan Mackay as Rory.

Thank you for visiting Film Studies For Free. See you in the New Year with lots more links lists and video essays, too…