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Paul Monaco

Paranoia to 'White Jazz': Faculty Publish Books in the Humanities

Films of the Sixties and paranoia in celluloid, the history of reading and the myth of Alaska deconstructed were the subjects of books published this year by professors Paul Monaco, Ray Pratt, Amy Thomas and Susan Kollin.

Cinema of the '60s

Memorable, colorful, fresh and witty, the films of the 1960s are recalled fondly by most filmgoers, especially Baby Boomers who remember the films of the '60s as coming-of-age movies.

However, Paul Monaco, head of Montana State University's Department of Media and Theatre Arts and author of "The History of American Cinema: The Sixties, 1960-1969" (Scribner's), says the films of the era are most notable to film historians for something else. The films of the '60s broke many of Hollywood's conventions and sent American filmmaking in a new direction.

"The Hollywood studio system, which began its decline in 1948 when the big Hollywood companies lost a federal antitrust case, unraveled during the 1960s," Monaco said. He said the production process shifted from company-owned films, made under tight in-house control, to a freelance system of producing one film at a time. Hollywood management shifted as well. By the end of the decade, each of the major studios had been bought out and made part of a larger conglomerate.

A good example of the changes in American film during the '60s may be best represented by the film that ushered in the decade - Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," (1960), a movie that Monaco claims to be one of the most influential films of the era.

"(Psycho) was the first film that announces a new film aesthetic," Monaco said of the film that introduced graphic scenes that impacted the senses in a way that no other film had previously.

Monaco called such movies "the cinema of sensation," a theory that is one of the breakthrough concepts of his book.

"If I didn't coin the term 'cinema of sensation,' at least I have better explained it as a basis for a new film aesthetic that has been enormously influential since," Monaco said.

"Before, American movies were almost all about sentiment or spectacle, or a combination of them. To this Hollywood mix, the 1960s added movies of sensation."

Audiences became younger as films were for the first time geared to adolescents and young adults. Monaco said the era also saw technical breakthroughs in unexpected areas. "For instance, Henry Mancini reshaped scoring. Symphonic scoring gave way to light, 'white' jazz."

Monaco's book is a part of a prestigious film history series: the History of the American Cinema series. It will be used as a reference book in college classrooms and libraries across the country and is expected to be popular with film historians and buffs. It includes a chapter on avant-garde films of the '60s written by Walter Metz of MSU's Media and Theatre Arts.

Conspiratorial visions

Ray Pratt

America's fascination with celluloid conspiracies inspired MSU political science professor Ray Pratt's book, "Projecting Paranoia: Conspiratorial Visions in American Film" (University Press of Kansas for its Culture America series).

"In the 1990s, trust in the government was at an all-time low," Pratt said. "I began to look at public opinion data. There was a lot of correlation between topics of films and public trust in government."

Pratt looked at post-World War II films and television shows from 1940 to 2000.

In the end, he found that film may not create paranoia, but it certainly mirrors it. For instance, "Seven Days in May" and "Dr. Strangelove" were spawned from the Cold War; "Chinatown," The Conversation: and "Missing" resulted from Vietnam and Watergate feelings.

The book has received excellent reviews from The Library Journal and Cercles Reviews. Cinaste, a magazine on the art and politics of the cinema, said "Projecting Paranoia is an unquestionably fresh addition to film and political theory."

Writing the book was great fun, Pratt said.

"One nice thing about being a political scientist is that you can look at all sorts of things from a political viewpoint," he said. In this case, he worked with what he called fantasy politics- "where people unable to live out political hopes and dreams project them onto images they see on the screen. I found that working with fantasy politics can, in a sense, be more 'real' than actual politics."

The paranoia book was written before the events of Sept. 11 and Pratt is thinking about adding another chapter to his book projecting the future after Sept. 11. He's also thinking of a similar book that would combine films about future tied with classical concepts of utopia and dystopia and science fiction films such as "Blade Runner" and "Matrix."

This is Pratt's second book. His first book, "Rhythm and Resistance: Political Uses of American Popular Music," published in 1990 by Praeger and republished in 1994 by Smithsonian Press, focused on the ways people use music to express themselves politically.

Imagining the frontier

Susan Kollin
Like the state from which she hails, MSU English professor Susan Kollin is a diverse subject. The former Alaska resident has written an acclaimed book about her native state ("Nature's State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier" published by the University of North Carolina Press) and is also an authority on western American literature, ecocriticism, film studies and feminist theory. She is considered one of the top three or four younger scholars in the country who are working in and developing western American literary and cultural studies as they intersect with gender and race/ethnicity. She is the only known scholar attempting to define a new genre, the Anti-Western.

"All of those fields contribute to 'Nature's State,' in which the approaches of environmental studies and cultural studies merge," said an article about the book that appeared in the "Chronicle of Higher Education."

Kollin said her Alaska book was rooted in the early 1990s when she was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and the Exxon Valdez grounded on Prince William Sound spilling 11 million gallons of oil. Kollin was interested with the reaction to the spill in the Lower 48.

"It was like nothing like that had happened before in Alaska," Kollin said. She knew differently and began studying the way those outside Alaska imagined or defined the state.

Kollin's book has already been used as a text in college and university classrooms across the country. She is at work on another book about Westerns and Anti-westerns, as well as expanding an article drawn from a chapter on her book on nature writing in the 1970s.

Reading acts

MSU English professor Amy Thomas combined elements of history and literary research in "Reading Acts: U.S. Readers' Interactions with Literature, 1800-1950" (University of Tennessee Press), a collection of essays she co-edited with Barbara Ryan, English professor at University of Missouri at Kansas City.

The two met at a panel discussion during a women's history conference on adolescent readers in the 1800s. They decided that if the discussion could be interesting, a book with two viewpoints might be even more so. They began to solicit essays. Their efforts resulted in chapters by 11 contributors including Thomas' chapter, "Reading the Silences: Documenting the History of American Tract Society Readers in the Antebellum South."

"Our goal was to bring together scholars from different disciplines whose work adds to our understanding of the history of reading," Thomas said. "We need the view of multiple disciplines for that history to be complete. We feel we achieved that, though there's much more work to be done."

The book, published last May, is expected to be used in courses on the history of the book, university libraries; English scholars, history and American studies, as well as those interested in the production and use of books.

Carol Schmidt

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