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The Most Assassinated Woman in the World: Exporting Perilous Pauline: Pearl White and the Serial Film Craze

Given that there are seven essays plus an introduction, there are seven relatively distinct, internationally significant discussions, and a high quality remains consistent throughout.

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The Most Assassinated Woman in the World: Exporting Perilous Pauline: Pearl White and the Serial Film Craze

“Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy.” Thus begins famed cultural theorist Roland Barthes’s 1957 essay entitled “The Face of Garbo,” which concluded by claiming that Greta Garbo’s face, unlike that of the contemporary Audrey Hepburn, belonged to the realm of ideas, rather than events. One should take such a proclamation to mean that Garbo’s face—its projection on a large screen—transcended the bounds of nationalistic interest and attained a degree of universality: an idea. Barthes’s interests embody an Eisensteinian notion of cinematic signification, emphasizing individual frames and filmic components over narrative coherence. Such an aesthetic leaning will not be surprising, however, after reading editor Marina Dahlquist’s recently published collection of essays on silent serial queen Pearl White, who, much like Garbo in later years, was valued across the globe for her face and body—and, more to the point, what each of those stood for in relation to an articulation of the femme nouvelle blossoming at the end of the 1910s.

Of particular reference here is the serialized film The Perils of Pauline (1914), though various, subsequent films are discussed. Over the course of seven essays, White is discussed in a global context, trotting the globe from France, to Sweden, to Czechoslovakia, to India, and to China, respectively. Alone, each essay provides clear historical context. Together, they assemble an invaluable addition to the canon of what Miriam Hansen terms “vernacular Modernism,” and supplements previous understandings and articulations of this concept with rigorously detailed examinations of precisely how White’s body and persona impacted various cultural and nationalistic, artistic movements. In some cases, as with the surrealists and the French, the impact was exponential. In Sweden, censorship prevented Pauline and her serial sisters from frequenting screens. Yet, regardless of the degrees of impact, these essays conduct their historicity with a sensitive, keen eye for not just culturally specific detail, but together provide a comprehensive approach to the topic in ways that few edited collections manage.

Given that there are seven essays plus an introduction, there are seven relatively distinct, internationally significant discussions, and a high quality remains consistent throughout. Dahlquist begins by setting up these parameters by asserting White’s indisputable status as “the first international American film star.” Any skepticism over this argument is denounced throughout. Primarily, Dahlquist convincingly historicizes White in terms of the ways in which trade publications and newspapers targeted women to emphasize White’s burgeoning popularity. Dahlquist also emphasizes the ambiguity inherent to several of White’s films, such as her victimization, coupled with her “gender-bending negotiations” and “feminine glamour.” The combinations reflect just how loaded these films were already on domestic soil, while subsequent articles articulate even further how these issues became even more pronounced during translation and exportation.

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The articles vacillate between accounts of White’s reception in both an historical and theoretical context. With regard to the former, Rudmer Canjels explains the differences between France and American reception with emphasis on the serial format, which saw vastly different novelization tie-ins in France to make them explicitly anti-German, while the American novelization focused less on nationalism and served more as an extension of the on-screen image. Serialization enables such active play with peripheral materials, which changed significantly from country to country. In addition to this, Monica Dall’asta explains how White’s popularity in France wasn’t necessarily due to the recognition of the “American New Woman,” but that White was recognized in relation several French women of the day, particularly Marie Marvingt, whose aviation skills would have primed viewers for White’s athletic, active adventures. Outside of France, Kevin B. Johnson explains White’s reception in Czechoslovakia, where male intellectuals were fascinated by her, emphasizing the “art of spectacle” with regard to her on-screen movements and image-based renderings.

These readings saw an overlap between the physical and social body, thus aligning White’s physical health with a degree of moral strength. Likewise, Rosie Thomas explains how Indian audiences gravitated toward the same duality, though through a star of their own—Fearless Nadia—which producers the Wadia Brothers contentiously sought to mimic the success of White through the “postmodern hybrid man/woman” of Nadia. Similarly, Weihong Bao explains how White came to embody the figure of the “nuxia,” along with Chinese star White Rose Woo, which she pushes to question the “politics of cultural difference.” Ultimately, Bao draws on recent works like Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 to explain this figure’s prominence not just in the time, but its proliferation and appropriation within contemporary mainstream cinema.

The standout essays, however, are from Dahlquist and Christina Petersen, each of whom explores White’s popularity in ways which surpass purely historical accounts. Dahlquist explains how White’s image wasn’t only heavily censored in Sweden, but that audiences were already heavily geared toward features, and found serialization paled in comparison to the feature film. These insights suggest the burgeoning of aesthetic preferences in cinema as related to censorship, but also speaks to the technological urgency of the matter, since Swedish audiences saw features before serials, on the whole. With this in mind, the order of reception wasn’t only reversed (features before serials), but the censors enabled this sort of thinking through their refusal to allow “Pauline and her sisters” to receive screen time. Clearly, there’s a fundamental link between censorship and preference suggested here, which Dahlquist neatly articulates. However, the volume’s most fascinating essay comes via Peterson, who discusses the contentions conversations of Louis Dullac and Jean Epstein over both serialization and White. Dullac saw in White a ” marvelous emblem of modernity who possessed the uncanny ability to realize dream images on screen.” For him, White illustrated the famous avant-garde concept of photogenie. To Epstein, on the other hand, White was but another illustration of the ways in which narrative filmmaking tainted cinematic art form. Famously, Epstein proclaimed: “The cinema is true; a story is false.” The battle between the two delightfully contrasts viewpoints from within the same artistic movement, though for Petersen, speaks to the unrecognized influence White has on avant-garde filmmaking.

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These differing, though complementary perspectives, inform Dahlquist’s brilliantly edited collection on White without carelessly valorizing her status as an early screen icon. The historical accounts are vivid and convincing, while the influence on artistic and theoretical movements is superbly rendered. The whole of it is enough to incite one to start a petition to the Criterion Collection, demanding a White collection as soon as possible—with this book as a supplementary feature, of course.

Exporting Perilous Pauline: Pearl White and the Serial Film Craze is now available from University of Illinois Press; to purchase it, click here.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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