Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000: Critical Approaches (Scarecrow Press, 2013), Shelley S. Rees, editor.
First broadcast in the not too distant past on a television station in Minnesota, Mystery Science Theater 3000 soon grew out of its humble beginnings and found a new home on cable television. This simple show about a man and two robots forced to watch bad movies became a cult classic, and episodes of the series continue to be packaged in DVD collections to this day. Before its final run, the show received Emmy nominations and a Peabody award for Television excellence, and in 2007, Time magazine declared MST3K one of “The 100 Best Shows of All-Time.”
In Reading Mystery Science Theater 3000: Critical Approaches, Shelley S. Rees presents a collection of essays that examines the complex relationship between narrative and audience constructed by this baffling but beloved television show. Invoking literary theory, cultural criticism, pedagogy, feminist criticism, humor theory, rhetorical analysis, and film and media studies, these essays affirm the show’s narrative and rhetorical intricacy. The first section, “Rhetoric and the Empowered Audience,” addresses MST3K’s function as an exercise in rhetorical resistance. Part Two, “Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Genre,” analyzes MST3K through distinct generic traditions, including humor studies, traditional science fiction tropes, and the B-movie. Finally, the third section addresses postmodern and intertextual readings of the show.
By providing an academic treatment of an iconic television phenomenon, these essays argue that Mystery Science Theater 3000 is worthy of serious scholarly attention. Though aimed at a discerning readership of academics, this collection will also appeal to the intellectual nature of the show’s well-educated audience.
The research group “Science Fiction and the Bible” meets for the second time at ISBL/EABS in Vienna (July 6th-10th). We invite proposals for papers which engage with the possibilities of discussing biblical literature informed by Science Fiction (SF) or closely related genres. Proposals for papers are invited that apply specific works, tropes, or theories from SF to consider whether new insights can be derived from applying concepts of SF to biblical concepts or passages.
Using the concept of SF is a multidisciplinary approach. We encourage proposals from Bible scholars with an interest in SF, but also particularly from scholars in disciplines such as cultural studies, literature, sociology, film/media studies or even engineering and physics. In 2014 we expand our scope to also include considerations about religion and ethics, which may not be directly linked to a specific biblical passage or concept.
Paper prize for students: graduate students, whose papers are accepted for the ISBL/EABS annual meeting, can choose to enter the student paper competition that is held in connection with this meeting (2 cash prizes of 250 Euros).
Abstract deadline: January 31st, 2014.
More information and abstract submission here or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the best writers analyzing contemporary genre film and television is John Kenneth Muir. His new volume adds to an impressive body of work with Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of the 1970s (The Lulu Show, 2013).
In this volume he follows a template used in his previous work. Following a helpful Introduction to films of the decade, Muir proceeds to consider each genre film during a given year as it came out in theaters and as it will be remembered by viewers. Prior to the discussion of the films for each year he includes a list of significant historical events that took place during that period, which helps place these films in their cultural and historical context. The discussions of the films include a sampling of critical commentary by others, a list of cast and crew, a synopsis of the story, followed by Muir’s review. Each film also includes a rating based upon a four-star system. The main thrust of volume wraps up with a Conclusion, but Muir doesn’t end his volume there. It also includes several helpful appendices, including a list of conventions of the genre, a hall of fame with actors who “appeared in at least three science fiction films” from 1970-1979, movie tag-lines broken down by year that helps the reader walk down memory lane, a discussion of some of the “most de-humanizing rituals of 1970s dystopias,” a chart that lists 1970s films and their more recent remakes or re-envisionings, and the author’s choice of the ten best films of the decade.
Some may wonder why Muir would devote 454 pages to a discussion of 1970s horror and fantasy films. But knowledgeable film critics, fans, and culture watchers, know exactly why. The 1970s were a significant time period for genre film. Following on the heels of the 1960s counterculture, the 1970s represented a time in which the seeds of the previous decade germinated and bore fruit which matured and expressed itself in human experience. As a keen student of film and culture, Muir recognizes some of these significant signposts, and he shares them with readers in his Introduction. This includes various dystopias, post-apocalyptic, fears related to science that included medicine as well as robots and computers, conspiracy, and nature out of control. the 1970s also saw many films that focused on outer space, and fantasy was alive and well during this period, with the two coming together in 1977 with Star Wars.
Muir’s analysis is always enjoyable, and he does a good job at teasing out elements that the viewer may not have seen in previous viewings. If a critique is to be offered it is a minor one. It involves an occasional disagreement over interpretation of elements of film. For example, in “Appendix D: The Five Most De-Humanizing Rituals of 1970s Dystopias,” Logan’s Run is listed as number 1 with its Carousel as the qualifying feature. Readers may recall that in this futuristic film hedonism is the order of the day as people live until 29 and attempt to achieve “renewal” once they reach their 30th birthday. Carousel is a ritual whereby individuals come dressed in robes and with masks and float into the air hoping to receive a new lease on life. In reality, no one is given renewal, and are instead the victims of state-run extermination in the interests of population control. Muir describes Carousel by saying that “it appears to be a joyous religious ritual,” and just a little later that “it masquerades as a mystical, religious tradition.” In my view the description of Carousel as religious in nature is inaccurate, unless secular civil religion is in view. But this is a minor interpretive disagreement, and an enjoyable one as the reader is able to reflect more critically on these important films from a previous generation through Muir’s analysis.
I have had the privilege of working with Muir by providing guest commentary in his Horror Films of the 1990s. Whether reading his material or working collaboratively, Muir’s writings are a pleasure to engage. Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of the 1970s is no exception, and it is highly recommended.
What does classical music composed in the wake of World War II and the attempt to grapple with massive death and human cruelty have to do with a popular horror film from 1980? Quite a lot as it turns out.
I should have known this, but to my pleasant surprise I just listened to a piece online at NPR by Arun Rath titled “A Sound of Fear, Forged in the Shadow of War,” where he discusses the music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki that is incorporated into Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Even if you’ve never heard of Penderecki, you will be familiar with the eerie music of his Utrenja or Polymorphia that add to the horror of the film. It turns out the real inspiration for their horror is not a silver screen adaptation of a novel by Stephen King, but instead a Christian composer wrestling with the human carnage of the Second World War. As Rath says in the NPR piece:
Penderecki is not Jewish — he’s not a survivor — but he is Polish. Auschwitz is basically in his backyard. A devout Christian writing authentically liturgical music, Penderecki seems to be wrestling directly with the question of how you can make peace with God after such horrors.
Given my interest in genre film and television scores I’m surprised this musical factoid evaded my awareness until now. The points of connection between horror film, the grotesque violence of war, and Christian liturgical music (related to Orthodox Easter celebrations of the death and resurrection of Christ) coming to grips with theodicy are fascinating.
“Music in the Horror Film: An Interview with Neil Lerner”
The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (Ashgate, 2014)
From vampires and demons to ghosts and zombies, interest in monsters in literature, film, and popular culture has never been stronger. This concise Encyclopedia provides scholars and students with a comprehensive and authoritative A-Z of monsters throughout the ages. It is the first major reference book on monsters for the scholarly market.
Over 200 entries written by experts in the field are accompanied by an overview introduction by the editor. Generic entries such as ‘ghost’ and ‘vampire’ are cross-listed with important specific manifestations of that monster. In addition to monsters appearing in English-language literature and film, the Encyclopedia also includes significant monsters in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, African and Middle Eastern traditions. Alphabetically organized, the entries each feature suggestions for further reading.
The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters is an invaluable resource for all students and scholars and an essential addition to library reference shelves.
The Works of Time Burton: Margins to Mainstream, edited By Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
Tim Burton has had a massive impact on twentieth and twenty-first century culture through his films, art, and writings. The contributors to this volume examine how his aesthetics, influences, and themes reflect the shifting cinematic practices and social expectations in Hollywood and American culture by tracing Burton’s move from a peripheral figure in the 1980s to the center of Hollywood filmmaking. Attentive not only to Burton’s films but to his art and poetry, this collection explores Burton’s popularity and cultural significance as both a nonconformist and a mainstream auteur.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Mainstream Outsider: Burton Adapts Burton; Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
PART I: AESTHETICS
1. Burton Black; Murray Pomerance
2. Costuming the Outsider in Tim Burton’s Cinema, or, Why a Corset is like a Codfish; Catherine Spooner
3. Danny Elfman’s Musical Fantasyland, Or Listening to a Snow Globe; Isabella van Elferen
4. Tim Burton’s “Filled” Spaces: Alice in Wonderland; J. P. Telotte
PART II: INFLUENCES AND CONTEXTS
5. How to See Things Differently: Tim Burton’s Reimaginings; Aaron Taylor
6. “He wants to be just like Vincent Price”: Influence and Intertext in the Gothic Films of Tim Burton; Stephen Carver
7. Tim Burton’s Trash Cinema Roots: Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!; Rob Latham
8. A Monstrous Childhood: Edward Gorey’s Influence on Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy; Eden Lee Lackner
9. It Came From Burbank: Exhibiting the Art of Tim Burton; Cheryl Hicks
10. “Tim is Very Personal”: Sketching a Portrait of Tim Burton’s Auteurist Fandom and its Origins; Matt Hills
PART III: THEMATICS
11. Tim Burton’s Popularization of Perversity: Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, and Corpse Bride; Carol Siegel
12. “This is my art, and it is dangerous!”: Tim Burton’s Artist-Heroes; Dominic Lennard
13. Tim Burton and the Creative Trickster: A Case Study of Three Films; Katherine A. Fowkes
British Gothic Cinema by Barry Forshaw (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
Forshaw provides a definitive, wide-ranging study of the British horror film produced by the Hammer studios and their rivals from the 1940s and 1950s up to the 21st century and the new popularity of the genre. Beginning with a lively discussion of the great literary antecedents, British Gothic Cinema discusses the flowering of the genre in the middle of the last century and the headline-grabbing critical and establishment revulsion over the unprecedented levels of violence and sexuality. It also explores the rude health of the field and its continuing influence throughout the world in film and television. With immense enthusiasm and scholarship, Forshaw celebrates the British cinema’s long love affair with the Gothic and the macabre, both still key characteristics of modern film and television.
Table of Contents
1. Gothic Fiction: English Terror and Carnality
2. Through American Eyes: Stoker and Shelley in US Cinema
3. Undermining British Cinema: Gothic Horror in the 1930 and 1940s, Censorship
4. Bloody Revolution: The Worldwide Impact of Hammer’s Cottage Industry
5. Beyond the Aristocracy
6. The Sexual Impulse
7. The Rivals: On Hammer’s Coat-tails
8. Nights of the Demon: The English Supernatural Story and Film
9. One-shots and Short Runs: The Black Sheep of Gothic Cinema
10. Fresh Blood, Exhaustion: The 1970s to the Turn of the Century
11. The Legacy: Gothic Influence on Television
12. The Modern Age: Horror Redux
“Sights and Frights: Victorian Visual Culture, Horror and the Supernatural”
University of Sussex
June 19 2014
Deadline: December 16, 2013
“Sights and Frights” is a one day interdisciplinary conference, aimed at both academics and post-graduate students, whose aim is to explore and interrogate cultural cross-currents between nineteenth-century visual culture, science and social practice, particularly where these concern attitudes to, and instances of, the supernatural and horrific.
The image of Victorian Britain in popular culture is synonymous with discipline, propriety and sentimentality, yet there was also a dark, subversive undercurrent to these mainstream ideals, manifest in such cultural phenomena as Gothic and ghost literature, freak shows, drugs cults and quasi-religious movements such as spiritualism and theosophy.
At the same time, the Victorians were engaged, more than ever before, in attempting to make the invisible world visible to the eye. Improvements in the manufacture of lenses led to the increased circulation of microscopes and telescopes, which, along with the invention of photography, led to a growth in empirical discovery and scientific innovation. The new visual technology of the panorama, diorama and magic lantern also proved to be highly popular forms of entertainment, enabling large numbers of Victorians to witness images, both real and imaginary, never seen before. In particular, the public demonstrated a voracious appetite for visual entertainment relating to ghouls, ghosts and Gothic horrors. Whilst the new ‘magic’ of optical technology appeared to promote scientific claims, it also served to stimulate a belief in the existence of invisible and occult forces.
We invite proposals for 20-minute papers from anybody working in this field. Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:
Spiritualism and spirit photography
Images of demonology and witchcraft
Parapsychology, the paranormal and the occult (i.e. mesmerism, hypnotism, alchemy, astronomy)
Death and mourning practices, memento mori, and death masks
The iconography of ghosts, hauntings and ghost stories
The Gothic in literature, art, photography, visual and wider culture
Imaging of supernatural beings such as fairies, vampires etc
Visual entertainment (magic lanterns, phantasmagoria, panorama/diorama) focusing on supernatural subjects
The visual presentation of horrific aspects of science and medicine
Images (photographs, illustrations, art) of opium dens and the drugs underworld
Violent crime, crime scene photography and the figure of the serial killer
We are fortunate to have two keynote speakers for this event: Dr. Tatiana Kontou of Oxford Brookes University and Professor William Hughes of Bath Spa University.
Please submit proposals of 300 words, along with a short biographical note, by Monday December 16, 2013 to email@example.com or use the form on our website sightsandfrights.com. If you have any questions about the Conference, or about a potential proposal, please do not hesitate to contact us by email at the above address.
Although the deadline for this has passed, I wanted to make readers aware of the conference and the subject matter, art and esotericism.
CALL FOR PAPERS
(Deadline for submission: 31 October 2013)
We invite proposals from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, provided that they present innovative insights into visual, symbolic or material aspects of the esoteric tradition.
Acceptable topics may include, but are by no means limited to, the following areas:
* Alchemy and Hermetic symbolism;
* Astrology and astrological illustrations;
* The iconography of the tarot game;
* The Sacred and the Profane;
* The visual and material culture of witchcraft, black magic and sorcery;
* Talismans, totems, fetishes and other apotropaic objects;
* The visual and material culture of divination;
* Occult and spiritual aspects of Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Hindu art;
* Theosophy and modern visual culture;
* The visual and material culture of other occult movements and societies;
* Surrealism and the politics of the occult;
* The influence of occultism on other avant-garde movements;
* Occult art, counter-culture and radical/subversive politics;
* Women artists and the occult;
* Gendered, sexual and ‘queer’ ramifications of esoteric art;
* Photography, spiritism, séances and automatic drawings/paintings;
* The supernatural in cinema, experimental films and video-installations;
* Occultism and magic in modern & contemporary visual culture.
Papers should be 20 minutes in length and will be followed by a 10-minute Q&A session. Abstracts of no more than 500 words and a short bio-sketch of no more than 150 words should be sent as a single Word.doc to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 October 2013.
We plan to publish the proceedings of this conference. Please indicate therefore whether you would be interested in further developing your paper for a publication of collected essays after the event.
Click here to download the CFP as a pdf-document. You can also download our two conference posters by clicking on Poster 1 and Poster 2.
Early applications are strongly encouraged.
Call for Participants:
“‘Oh Yes, There Will Be Blood’: A Roundtable on Contemporary American Horror Cinema”
Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) National Conference Chicago, IL USA
April 16-19, 2014
This roundtable discussion is centered upon recent scholarship, research and criticism concerning contemporary American horror cinema. Participants will read the volumes American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millenium by Steffen Hantke, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema by Kevin J. Wetmore, Remaking Horror: Hollywood’s New Reliance on Scares of Old by James Francis, Jr. and Horror After 9/11: World of Fear, Cinema of Terror by Aviva Briefel and Sam J. Miller. Participants will also engage in on-line discussions during January, February and March 2014 focused upon the texts. Participants (4-6 scholars) will write one short (3-5 pages) position/response paper regarding the notions posited in the volumes.
The roundtable discussion at PCA/ACA will serve as a public conversation as well as a reflection and summation of the on-line discussion. The roundtable will allow participants to present their position papers and to pose further questions regarding scholarship that considers contemporary American horror cinema.
If you are interested in participating in this discussion, please contact Shannon Blake Skelton at email@example.com by November 15, 2013.
Chair: Shannon Blake Skelton
The University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) National Conference will be held April 16th to April 19th, 2014 at the Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile in Chicago, IL. More information is available at http://pcaaca.org/national-conference-2/