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.
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)
In 1974, Teshome Gabriel, who was at the time a [UCLA] Ph.D. student but who would later be widely credited with introducing Third Cinema theory to Euro-American film scholars with the publication of his 1982 dissertation, Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetic of Liberation, organized a weekly Third World Film Club. Through 1976, the club screened the work of radical filmmakers mostly from Latin American and Africa including Miguel Littín (Chile), Jorge Sanjinés (Bolivia), Solanas and Getino (Argentina), and Ousmane Sembene (Senegal). The Los Angeles School was especially influenced by the classics of Cuban and Brazilian cinema including Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomas Gutierrez Alea, 1968), Lucía (Humberto Solás, 1968), The Last Supper (Gutierrez Alea, 1976), and the work of Nelson Pereira dos Santos (Brazil) and Glauber Rocha (Brazil), who, invited by Gabriel, visited UCLA in 1978.
[Footnote 15: Teshome Gabriel’s importance should not be underestimated. In a recent assessment of Third Cinema, Anthony Guneratne refers to the appearance of Gabriel’s book as a “watershed,” “the first work in English to undertake a comprehensive exposition of Third Cinema theory in relation to the social and political situations it addressed.” See Guneratne and Dissanayake, Rethinking Third Cinema].
Official history tends to arrest the future by means of the past. Historians privilege the written word of the text – it serves as their rule of law. It claims a “center” which continuously marginalizes others. In this way its ideology inhibits people from constructing their own history or histories.
Popular memory, on the other hand, considers the past as a political issue. It orders the past not only as a reference point but also as a theme of struggle. For popular memory, there are no longer any “centers” or “margins,” since the very designations imply that something has been conveniently left out.
Popular memory, then, is neither a retreat to some great tradition nor a flight to some imagined “ivory tower,” neither a self-indulgent escapism, nor a desire for the actual “experience” or “content” of the past for its own sake. Rather, it is a “look back to the future,” necessarily dissident and partisan, wedded to constant change.
A study of style alone will not engender meaning … Style is only meaningful in the context of its use – in how it acts on culture and helps to illuminate the ideology within.
[T]he principle characteristic of Third Cinema is really not so much where it is made, or even who makes it, but, rather, the ideology it espouses and the consciousness it displays. In one word we might not be far from the truth when we claim the Third Cinema (as) the cinema of the Third World which stands opposed to imperialism and class oppression in all their ramifications and manifestations.
- Teshome H. Gabriel, ‘Xala: A cinema of wax and gold’, from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp. 31-3
- Teshome H. Gabriel, “Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics.” Questions of Third Cinema. Ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen. London: British Film Institute, 1989. 53-64
- Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky, The Ethnic Turn: Studies in Political Cinema from Brazil and the United States, 1960-2002, 2009
- Homi K. Bhabha, ‘The Commitment to Theory’, New Formations, No. 5, Summer 1988
- Mbye Cham, ‘Official History, Popular Memory: Reconfiguration of the African Past in the Films of Ousmane Sembene’, Contributions in Black Studies, Vol. 11 
- Michael Chanan, ‘The Changing Geography of Third Cinema’, Screen Special Latin American Issue, Volume 38, number 4, Winter 1997)
- Catherine Grant, ‘Studies of ‘Third Cinema’ and anti-Eurocentric film culture’, Film Studies For Free, August 10, 2009
- Teresa Hoefert de Turegano, ‘On Questions and Critical Methodology of African Cinemas:Ukadike’s Questioning African Cinema’, Film-Philosophy, Vol. 8 No. 13, April 2004
- Nicola Marzano, ‘The Art of Hunger: re-defining Third Cinema’, 16:9, November 2009 – 7. årgang – nummer 34
- Nicola Marzano, ‘Third Cinema Today’, Offscreen Journal, Vol. 13, Issue 6, 2009
- LaShonda Naté Long, ‘Evoking the Kuxa Kenema: Reconstructing History and Memory through Cinema Novo in Mozambican Cinema’, Powerlines, 2002
- Carrie Peplinski, ‘Oral Traditions and Weapons of Resistance: The Modern Africa Filmmaker as Griot’, Culture, Communication and Media Studies, (date unknown)
- Antonio Sison, ‘Perfumed Nightmare and Negative Experiences of Contrast: Third Cinema as Filmic Interpretation of Schillebeeck’, Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 6, No. 1, April 2002
- Robert Stam, ‘Hybridity and the Aesthetics of Garbarge’, E.A.I.L, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1998
- Tia Wong, ‘Eyeing Resistance: Alanis Obomsawin’s Third Cinema/Gaze/World’, Cinephile, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2006
- Jonathan Wright, ‘Re-remembering History in Contemporary Film’, Film-Philosophy, 10.1, 2006
Film Studies has lost two of its giants.
On Monday, Professor Teshome Gabriel of UCLA, a leading theorist and scholar of African, Third and Third World Cinema, and memory and cinema, passed away in Los Angeles.
And, just yesterday, Peter Brunette, Reynolds Professor of Film Studies at Wake Forest University, author of important books on film theory, Italian cinema and the work of individual film directors, and a very well-known and popular film critic, died while in attendance at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy.
Film Studies For free will post full, individual, tributes of its own to each of these scholars very shortly, but in the meantime is gathering together, below, a list of links to some of the online tributes to both men. If you know of any you would like to see included, please email FSFF, or link to them in the comments section of this post.
The author of this blog would like to pass on her sincere condolences to the families and friends of both men.
Tributes to Teshome Gabriel
- UCLA obituary
- Ethiopian Review obituary
- Friend, Master Storyteller, Scholar, and Humanist Par Excellence: Reminiscences of Teshome H. Gabriel, June 16, 2010 by Vinay Lal
- Teshome H. Gabriel dies at 70; UCLA professor and Third World cinema expert, by Dennis McLellan LA Times, June 17, 2010
Tributes to Peter Brunette
- Gerald Peary, ‘Peter Brunette, In Memory’, Indiewire.com, June 21, 2010
- Wake Forest University obituary
- The Hollywood Reporter report and obituary
- Writer Peter Brunette Dies at Italian Festival by Eugene Hernandez, Indiewire, June 16, 2010
- Film Scholar Brunette Dies at Taormina by Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood, June 16, 2010
- Peter Brunette by Glenn Kenny, Some Came Running, June 16, 2010
- R.I.P. Peter Brunette, by Joe Leydon, MovingPictureBlog, June 16, 2010
- RIP Peter Brunette, by Movie Cricket, Salt Lake Tribune, June 16, 2010
- Film critic Brunette dies by Rachel Abrams, Variety.com, June 16, 2010
- Nick James, ‘Peter Brunette, 1944-2010’, Sight and Sound, June 17, 2010
- Issa Clubb, ‘Remembering Peter Brunette’, The Criterion Collection, June 23, 2010
- Peter Keough, ‘Peter Brunette 1944-2010’, Outside the Frame, The Boston Phoenix, June 22, 2010