Princeton University Press author and Charlie Chaplin aficionado (mustache included) Chuck Maland, along with hundreds of other black-and-white buffs, will flock to Bologna, Italy in late June to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic “Tramp” character.
Participants include British director Mike Leigh, Chaplin biographer David Robinson, David Totheroh (grandson of Chaplin’s long-time cameraman), Chaplin’s son Michael, and many Chaplin enthusiasts and scholars. It is, then, a perfect moment to revisit Maland’s book, Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image; in it, Maland recounts the rise and fall of Chaplin’s public reputation in America, including his rapid ascent to fame in the 1910s and 1920s, as well the rocky time Chaplin endured in the Red Scare of the early 1950s, which led to his decision to leave the U.S. and settle in Switzerland for the rest of his life.
Based in part on Maland’s research into 1700 pages of FBI files and other government documents, the book clarifies how and why Chaplin left the country in 1952, but it also traces Chaplin’s amazing popularity from 1915 to World War Two, as well as the ways that Chaplin’s star image lived on even after the filmmaker’s death in 1977 through the re-release of his films in home video formats and the use of the Tramp character’s image in ads for the early IBM PC’s.
The centenary celebrations, sponsored by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Association Chaplin, will begin on the evening of Wednesday, June 25th, with an agenda set to include film screenings, performances, and an art show, in addition to presentations. Paper topics for the latter will range from Chaplin’s imitators and his critical reception in the industry, to the Tramp’s global influence on art and philosophy.
See what it’s all about, with this trailer from the official Chaplin website:
You didn’t pick up an Oscar this year at the Academy Awards? Well, with Hollywood films in mind, here’s a book you’ll want to pick up: Working-Class Hollywood by Steven J. Ross. In addition, it’s this week’s book giveaway on Facebook.
Liberal and radical films declined in the 1920s as an emerging Hollywood studio system, pressured by censors and Wall Street investors, pushed American film in increasingly conservative directions. Appealing to people’s dreams of luxury and upward mobility, studios produced lavish fantasy films that shifted popular attention away from the problems of the workplace and toward the pleasures of the new consumer society. While worker filmmakers were trying to heighten class consciousness, Hollywood producers were suggesting that class no longer mattered. Working-Class Hollywood shows how silent films helped shape the modern belief that we are a classless nation.
“Steve Ross has written an absorbing and important book about a time when working-class life and working-class filmmakers occupied a central place in American cinema. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the politics of American film read this book.”–Michael Moore, Director of Roger and Me and TV Nation
Anyone who LIKES us on Facebook is automatically entered in our weekly draws. This Friday at 3:30 p.m. EST, check out our facebook page to find out, “And the winner is….”
Working-Class Hollywood by Steven J. Ross
On December 1, the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) declared Anton Kaes, author of Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War, winner of the ninth Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures. The award recognizes outstanding scholarly work on the linguistics or literatures of of the Germanic languages.
The committee’s citation for the winning book reads:
The thread count of Anton Kaes’s Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War is high. Selecting from all the filaments of the most innovative genealogies of media, politics, and psychoanalysis, Kaes has woven a central thread tying the epidemic breakdown of war neurosis to the expressive breakthrough of German film. Shell Shock Cinema is one of those enviable books that we can now not imagine being without. How did we not see before the ways in which aberrant mourning, the technical media, traumatic neurosis, and projective politics met and crossed over during the Weimar period? As a new standard work, Shell Shock Cinema will guide the study of German expressionist film in its many contexts for years to come.
The prize will be presented on January 7, 2011 during the association’s annual convention in Los Angeles.
To read the rest of the press release, click here.
Every year, the German Studies Association (GSA) gives out a book prize funded through the North American office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The prize alternates between two groups of academic disciplines represented by the GSA. During odd years, the award is offered to books in the fields of history, political science, and other social sciences. During even years, the award applies to books about German language and literature, cultural studies, and the humanities. This year, an even year, the prize was given to Anton Kaes’ book, Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War, which was declared the best work about German culture that was published in the past two years.
In Shell Shock Cinema, Kaes discusses the representation of cultural trauma in Germany following World War I in classical German cinema. The book has been declared “landmark in film studies” by Choice magazine and “cinema scholarship at its most mature and also most adventuresome” by author Tom Gunning.
Kaes will receive an award of $1000 for his hard work and excellent scholarship. Well done and congratulations!
To see a complete listing of other recent PUP award-winning books, please click here.
BOOK FACT: Up through the 1950s, American movies were regarded as a form of popular, even lower-class, entertainment. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, viewers were regularly judging Hollywood films by artistic criteria previously applied only to high art forms.
Today’s moviegoers and critics generally consider some Hollywood products–even some blockbusters–to be legitimate works of art. But during the first half century of motion pictures very few Americans would have thought to call an American movie “art.” In Hollywood Highbrow, Shyon Baumann for the first time tells how social and cultural forces radically changed the public’s perceptions of American movies just as those forces were radically changing the movies themselves.
Read chapter one online:
From Entertainment to Art
By Shyon Baumann
For more books in the online sale catalog, visit:
Do you know “Bluebeard”? Maria Tatar, Harvard professor and author several Princeton titles including Secrets beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives, is interviewed in an article about Catherine Beillat’s recent film adaptation of the dark European folk tale in this weekend’s New York Times:
“I’m always astonished at how few people know this story,” she said in a phone interview, “especially considering how many films and other works it has inspired.” Ms. Tatar noted that Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” and Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” owe something of their plots to the spirit of “Bluebeard.” And she devotes a section of her book to a raft of films made in the 1940s, including George Cukor’s “Gaslight” (1944), Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946) and Fritz Lang’s “Secret Beyond the Door …” (1948), that do not overtly reference the tale but nevertheless turn on a wife’s fear of her largely unknown husband and his possible desire for her throat. More recently, Jane Campion featured a Bluebeard pantomime in her 1993 film “The Piano.”
Read the full article here.
I admit, I had never heard of The Black List until I read Elizabeth Currid’s article in today’s Los Angeles Times.
So, for those of you not “in the know” either, here’s a quick description from Currid:
Known as the Black List, this annual ranking of the year’s most-talked-about unproduced screenplays has the power to catapult an unknown screenwriter into instant talks with a major studio. That’s how Diablo Cody, writer of “Juno,” got her break.
Currid, who previously examined the importance of cultural sites for economics in The Warhol Economy, looks at the box-office success of past black list scripts. This practical approach is fascinating.
Altogether, 67 Black List scripts from 2005 were turned into movies between 2006 and 2008, and they collectively generated $2.5 billion in U.S. box-office receipts. That figure is equivalent to the total of the top 10 earners in 2008.
Given this track record, why has the Black List achieved such inordinate influence?
Head over to the LA Times web site to read the complete article, and for a sneak preview of this year’s possible black list scripts, visit Indie Movies Online. The official list is circulated only to industry executives, though it almost always slips out into the media.
Al and Marilyn*
Film lovers over forty may remember the scene in Nicholas Roeg’s 1985 Insignificance where “The actress,” who bears an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, explains the theory of relativity to “The Professor,” whose wild hair leaves no doubt as to his identity. One wonders whether Roeg could make his film today with impunity, because Albert and Marilyn have more in common than relativity; they have in common celebrity.
Several years ago I had a book in press, Everything’s Relative and Other Fables From Science and Technology. Given the title, the publisher’s house artist not unreasonably designed a cover that included a photographic image of Albert Einstein. The publisher (Wiley) had properly licensed the photo from Bill Gates’ firm Corbis. One would have thought that would end the matter.
One would have thought. Six weeks before publication I received a frantic email from the editor. Albert was to be stricken from the cover. Why? For fear of being sued by the “Einstein estate.” To a physicist who grew up miles from Einstein’s home in Princeton, New Jersey, the phrase “Einstein estate” rang oddly. Albert died in 1955; his children and literary secretary are all dead. What Einstein estate? The editor didn’t know; evidently the attorneys did and despite my strenuous protests, Einstein vanished to be replaced by a locomotive and E=mc2.
A little investigation revealed that indeed no “Einstein estate” existed, but that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University Press owned the rights to all of Einstein’s writings which were not copyrighted by anyone else. Moreover, HUJ had authorized Beverly Hills’ Roger Richman Agency to license Einstein’s image for promotional purposes and to “prevent unauthorized use of the likeness and image of Albert Einstein.” Yes, a Hollywood agency specializing in protecting the rights of movie stars claimed to have exclusive rights to Einstein (and Sigmund Freud).
It wasn’t clear that Richman could prevent the use of a legally obtained photograph on a book jacket, so I phoned the agency and asked point blank whether use of Einstein’s photo on a book fell under its “jurisdiction.” The spokesman asked if the book was about Einstein. “In part,” I answered, to which he replied that I should follow the publisher’s attorneys’ advice, whatever that happened to be. I interpreted this to mean he didn’t know. While the cover was still in flux, I had the editors send Richman the chapters devoted to Einstein. What was there to lose? Eventually Richman answered: “We do not wish to participate in the publishing of the book entitled Everything’s Relative,” which presumably translates as, “we’re not sure we can sue you now; just wait.”
At issue, you see, is what has become known as the “right of publicity,” a.k.a. “right of celebrity.” A celebrity is entitled to financial gain from use of his or her image or likeness, and photographers must obtain releases before publishing such images. Complicating matters is that state, not federal, law governs publicity. In most common-law states publicity rights die with the celebrity, but in other states the rights are “descendible.” In California, post-mortem rights extend for seventy years (Hollywood) and in Tennessee, in perpetuity (Elvis). New Jersey, where Einstein resided, is a common-law state, which apparently means that New Jersey is so short of celebrities that no one has bothered writing down any statutes. There are, however, precedents. The most widely cited case took place in 1984 when a New Jersey court held that an Elvis impersonator violated the rights of Elvis Presley Enterprises. Celebrities and their rights do exist in NJ; the state, though, has not yet established a duration for prohibition on impersonating the King.
What of the Person of the Century? Several lawyers gave me several opinions: 1) The use of Einstein photos on a book jacket could be considered advertising (magazine covers are) and Richman might stake a claim; 2) As long as the book was about Einstein (several chapters) there should be no problem; 3) As long as the copyright was cleared from Corbis we were cleared too. A representative from Corbis said that a photo used inside the book was safer than on the cover.
Confused? Welcome. To muddy the waters further, there is the question of jurisdiction. Richman, in an attack on a website posting Einstein quotations, acknowledged that New Jersey law is the relevant one, but one lawyer thought that California law might apply because California is the location of the executor. Actually, Jerusalem is. I eventually queried the Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University by what law could they restrict the use of Einstein’s image and received no reply.
Richman’s tactic, of course, was one of “virtual litigation”: The agency flexes its muscle, publishers get cold feet and back off rather than fight out a real court battle. As a result Richman and HUJ accrue a monopoly on Einstein. In the case of my publishers it succeeded, but not without a large dose of irony: Shortly after my book appeared, the Richman agency was bought by Corbis, the firm that had authorized the use of the photo to begin with.
The battle over Einstein is a mere skirmish next to the one over Marilyn Monroe. Originally handled by Richman, Monroe’s images until recently were licensed through the agency CMG Worldwide and Monroe’s estate, MMLLC. The latter is controlled by Anna Strasberg, widow of Marilyn’s acting coach Lee Strasberg, to whom she willed the bulk of her property. Strasberg and CMG have accumulated over $30 million marketing Marilyn items.
In 2004, CMG and MMLLC sued the children of four photographers who had taken photographs of Marilyn during her lifetime; the children continued to license the photos on various items, including calendars, handbags and wine bottles. CMG, headquartered in Indianapolis, alleged that the sale of t-shirts bearing Marilyn’s image violated Indiana statutes, which recognize publicity rights for a full 100 years after death. One inevitably wonders whether CMG’s presence in the state and the nearly infinite monopoly period were coincidental.
But the photographers’ heirs did not roll over. They countersued in New York and California, claiming that Monroe was a New Yorker and her publicity rights expired upon death. In May 2007 judges in both states found for the photographers on the grounds that publicity laws simply did not exist in New York, California or Indiana at the time of Monroe’s death. Property that did not exist at the time of death cannot be transferred, including publicity rights.
CMG and MMLLC struck back. Since no law existed at the time in question, why not create one? In 2007 Sheila Kuehl (a former actress) of the California senate, spearheaded the assembly to gut stem-cell bill SB 771 and replace its contents by a bill whose avowed purpose was to “abrogate” the NY and CA decisions. The legislature passed the law, retroactively assigning publicity rights to celebrities who died before 1985.
The saga didn’t end there, however. In September 2008, a NY federal judge summarily ruled in favor of the photographers’ children. The court recognized that the California law specifically allowed retroactive transfer of publicity rights to spouses and children of the deceased but not to other beneficiaries. The bottom line: Strasberg and CMG do not own the publicity rights to Marilyn.
That’s where things stand at the moment; stay tuned.
So, where does all this leave us? About the only thing that is clear is that money, and money alone, is the name of the game. According to a lawyer quoted by Discover magazine about my case,* “Every living person has the right to protect his or her own image,” but according to other legal eagles, that right is reserved for celebrities: In which case, if a colleague snapped a photo of me and Al debating quantum mechanics at a scientific conference, I might have to license his picture from Corbis, but he wouldn’t have to license mine. For that matter, does Corbis own the rights to the photos in the Lotte Jacobi Archive at the University of New Hampshire, which Einstein gave to Jacobi? With the CA law in force, if impersonating Elvis Presley is illegal, should director Roeg be sued retroactively and are playwrights henceforth banned from writing comedies about Bill Clinton? It is left as an exercise for the reader to construct further legal absurdities.
The one other thing that is clear is that laws of the CA type are dragging us toward the “French” model, where an executor, nine times removed from the deceased, owns all the rights. Long ago we entered the realm of the ludicrous. If one believes the declarations page of the Dover Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, the copyright is owned by the executor of the estate of the fellow who in 1932 published a revision of the 1884 translation of the 1870 original, which appeared after the composer’s death and for which he never received a sous. Is this to be the right of celebrity, which unlike a memoir is not even the creation of an artist but conferred upon the personality by the public? The thought that a century from now a Paris Hilton impersonator could be sued by her estate is not only peculiar but frightening.