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The 10 Best Film-Studies Books of 2013

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The 10 Best Film-Studies Books of 2013

Several major university presses such as Duke, Texas, California, and Indiana continue to set the benchmark for scholarly film studies. However, none of the following books are for academics only, since their authors have clearly written them with a larger audience in mind—an encouraging trend that understands intelligent writing need not be impossible to decipher. Moreover, each of the following books isn’t just a stellar examination of a given director, genre, or cinematic trend, but an advancement of thought within the field, whether auteur theory, queer studies, documentary, or film history, and reaches beyond the bounds of the university setting by articulating how these films, both old and new, are still relevant and, even, essential to becoming fully cognizant of the daily constraints that must be undertaken in a media-driven, convergence culture.


Another Steven Soderbergh Experience: Authorship and Contemporary Hollywood

Mark Gallagher’s insightful discussion of Steven Soderbergh’s canon reveals as much about shifting exhibition landscapes as it does about the auteur himself. Not that the two are unrelated, which is precisely Gallagher’s point, as he deftly utilizes numerous Soderbergh films and their reception to explain how critical discourse, particularly that which can only view cinema through an auteurist lens, is simply behind the times. Included is a lengthy interview with Soderbergh about such matters, which serves as a perfect compliment to his state-of-cinema address at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.


Queer Bergman: Sexuality, Gender, and European Art Cinema

Utilizing a Freudian framework, Daniel Humphrey sets as his task the lensing of Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre through queer theory, and the result isn’t simply a series of close readings which reveal Bergman’s “queer work,” but a deeper investigation into how hagiographic cinephilia has prevented many canonical films and filmmakers from receiving a proper evaluation. Instead of continually lauding the usual suspects, Humphrey calls for more complex approaches to individual films in asking how its components reflect the larger aims of a given filmmaker. Moreover, Humphrey’s analysis primarily focuses on less-discussed Bergman films, such as 1944’s Torment and 1968’s Shame, which is an added delight.


The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television

Maria San Filippo shirks the trouble that often plagues survey-driven monographs by finding precise and acute similarities between the most seemingly disparate films and TV shows, even discussing Louise Brooks and Tila Tequila in the same sentence! Her deft pen is not merely quick, however, as the case studies contained here are long on theory and narrative comprehension (especially a chapter on Wedding Crashers which ranks with my favorite critical case studies of the year). If the book lacks discussion of formal traits within its given objects of study, those shortcomings are easily dismissed with the high level of textual analysis on display.


Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing

Who knew the opening credits of Friday the 13th were so meaningful? Caitlin Benson-Allott’s exquisitely argued and researched work here explains how studies in cinematic spectatorship have consistently neglected the format in which films are shown. Moreover, she’s selected films which themselves deal with the phasing of one technological format into another. In doing so, Benson-Allott provides case studies that range from Romero’s Dead films to Gore Verbinski’s The Ring to explain her case. An early discussion of “planned obsolescence” and its relation to Jack Valenti and the MPAA is daring, but even more provocative is a chapter on peer-to-peer downloading, which includes discussions of BitTorrent sites as KaraGara and the Pirate Bay.


Exporting Perilous Pauline: Pearl White and the Serial Film Craze

The global influence of Pearl White on both silent cinema femme nouvelle blossoming at the end of the 1910s is the subject of Marina Dahlquist’s diverse and historically rapturous edited collection, which globetrots in its articulation of the wide-ranging impacts of American cinema as early as a century ago (the book’s primary film of study, The Perils of Pauline, was released in 1914). Perhaps most refreshing is that the essays compiled here vacillate between history and theory, providing each frequently enough to satisfy those in both camps. That’s the mark of a significant collection and Dahlquist threads the individual pieces here to offer a thrilling whole.