Two New Books Highlight History of Cinema; Film as History


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University film professor Jon Lewis has two new books for movie fans and film scholars.

One is a comprehensive guide to the history of American cinema, complete with glossy images from such landmark films such as “Raging Bull” and “Gone with the Wind.” The other is a book edited by Lewis that focuses on alternative historical materials, elaborating approaches to film history that do not take movies as their primary source.

In “American Film: A History,” Lewis explores the history of Hollywood cinema from its early days to the present. The 575-page book features more than 250 images. In the book, Lewis looks at early pioneers of cinema, including D.W. Griffith and Edwin S. Porter, as well as the role of women in film in those years. He then guides readers through the silent era into sound and color, explores censorship in film and how the industry started to drastically change in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Lewis also explores the rise of pornography, the “auteur renaissance” of the 1970s and the new corporate Hollywood of the 1980s and ’90s. In the final chapter in the book, titled “The End of Cinema As We Know It,” Lewis ponders what the future of film, or whatever emerges in its place, might look like.

“American Film: A History” is published by W.W. Norton & Company.

A book edited by Lewis, “Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method,” is a collection of case studies by leading film historians reflecting on cinema as a social, political, and cultural phenomenon.

Focusing on Hollywood cinema from the 1910s to the 1970s, these case studies show a range of historical materials in developing interdisciplinary approaches to film stardom, regulation, reception, and production. The contributors examine State Department negotiations over the content of American films shown abroad; analyze the star image of Clara Smith Hamon, who was notorious for having murdered her lover; and consider film journalists’ understanding of the arrival of the auteur in Hollywood as it was happening during the early 1970s.

One contributor chronicles the development of film studies as a scholarly discipline; another offers a sociopolitical interpretation of the origins of film noir. Still another brings to light sophisticated Depression-era film reviews and Production Code memos that touch on the homoerotic undertones of certain films – a perception thought to be a recent development.

Lewis, who serves as co-editor of “Looking Past the Screen,” contributes a chapter titled, “The Perfect Money Machine(s): George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Auteurism in the New Hollywood.”

“Looking Past the Screen” is published by Duke University Press.

Lewis is a professor in the English Department at Oregon State University, where he has taught film and cultural studies since 1983. His past books include: “The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture” (Routledge, 1992); “Whom God Wishes to Destroy . . . Francis Coppola and the New Hollywood” (Duke UP, 1995); “The New American Cinema” (Duke UP, 1998); Hollywood v. Hard Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Saved the Modern Film Industry (NYU Press, 2000); and “The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties” (NYU Press, 2001).

In the past two years, Lewis has appeared in two documentaries on film censorship, “Inside Deep Throat” and “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” From 2002 to 2007, he served as editor of Cinema Journal, a leading scholarly film journal.