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"Crowd coming out of Regal movie theater. Southside of Chicago, Illinois" (Detail)
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University of Chicago Research Projects

Student Research Projects

Terri Francis (PhD, English, 2004)
Current Position:  Assistant Professor, African American Studies and Film Studies, Yale University
"Under a Paris Moon:  Transatlantic Black Modernism, French Colonialist Cinema, and the Josephine Baker Museum
In my dissertation, I consider the history of black women's visibility as performers and authors in an international context. I do this primarily through close analysis of Josephine Baker's films of the Harlem Renaissance because various aspects of the films' mise-en-scene, particularly Baker's dancing and acting style, trace the genealogy of Baker's stardom back to nineteenth century ethnological entertainment. I envision each of Baker's performance sequences as a museum of black stardom, race and representation and the dilemmas of black female creativity.

Tanji Gilliam (Ph.D Student, History of Culture)
My research is on visual representations of hip hop culture from 1979-2004. This project is interdisciplinary by nature and by necessity. It examines photography, music video and film as primary documents. Also, the project analyses these media, traditionally only understood as secondary to the music of hip hop, as co-dependent forces. Towards these aims, I read these media through the secondary lens of black cultural studies criticism. Hip hop operates as a culture, rather than disparate vocal, instrumental, visual or kinetic forms. The culture represents a multitude of aesthetic genres, in dialogue with one another, all speaking to related topics and/or themes, such as cultural nationalism, sex and sexuality, geographical representation, nihilism. There have been many hip hop historiographies, aimed at isolating and affording a comprehensive knowledge of one particular “element” of hip hop culture (Djing, Mcing, Graffiti or Breakdancing). My work, perhaps in keeping with the photographic impulse, seeks to offer snapshots of related genres in dialogue with one another, related thematically. The theme that I plan to investigate is black history/black memory.

Brendan Kredell (MAPH, 2003-04)
My research focuses on the late 1960s and early 1970s as a period of transition in America, and how the social and racial upheaval of the period is reflected in the cinema. Particularly, I focus on cinema produced in and representing Chicago during that era, as a way of assessing the ways in which the cinema both responded to and impacted the world in which it was made. At stake in the cinema of this era was the very notion of the city itself, and I attempt to trace the construction of "the city" through the eyes and lenses of filmgoers and filmmakers by exploring notions of modernity and postmodernity and their connection to the idea of urbanity. In the process, ancillary issues, including the use of film as a protest medium, the emergence of new genres of filmmaking, and the relationship between politics and art, are raised. Films considered include Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969) and Michael Schultz’s Cooley High (1975).

Kristin McGee (PhD, Music, 2003)
“Imaging the Gender of Jazz: All-Girl Bands in Film, 1928-1946”
Kristin McGee’s recent dissertation “Some Liked It Hot: The Jazz Canon and the All-Girl Bands in Times of War and Peace” investigates a number of “all-girl” bands featured in music films from the late 1920s to the 1940s, which have until now, been mostly forgotten and seldom viewed since their initial releases (Tucker 2000, Rosetta Records 1990, Jezebel 1986).  All-girl bands first appeared during the 1920s in short-subject films and later, in the forties, as Soundies, three-minute music films played in mini-film boxes strategically positioned in ballrooms, theatres, cafes and hotels (Terenzio 1995).

The various feminine representations of all-girl bands reveal a range of gendered assumptions put forth by the industry through the revolutionary medium of soundfilm including the cult of “white” womanhood, the patriotic service girl and the “hot” and glamorous jazz band director. The few extant reviews of the original, pioneering all-girl musical films betray the double burden experienced by women musicians who performed in the public domain from the 1920s on. The industry’s obsession with female attractiveness and the more damaging assumption that good-looking women or “ringers” were not capable of playing professionally further perpetuated the notion that all-girl music was merely a novelty, a gimmick or a commercial ploy.

In the early days of soundfilm, many of those all-girl bands presented on film also performed in theatres as openers to feature-length films. Phil Spitalny and his Hour of Charm Orchestra, for example, opened for several Paramount features in New York City, including Artists and Models (1937) starring Jack Benny and featuring Louis Armstrong in a musical cameo, while Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears provided the overtures in New York for a Hollywood adaptation of Marie Antoinette (Buckley 1989). The number of all-girl bands performing live in theatres both before talkies and after in the 1930s suggests that their role as professional musicians was firmly established prior to their assumed “novelty” appearances in short subject films in the 1930s and 1940s.

Jennifer Meresman (MAPH 2003-04)
“Chronicle of a fractured world: The Subversive Potential of Spike Lee’s 25 th Hour
25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) was the first full length mainstream American production clearly set in a post–9/11 New York City and its honest depiction of the fragmented city becomes a document of this post–apocalyptic historical moment. Unlike most mainstream Hollywood films released at this time, 25th Hour foregrounds our fractured national ideology and actively refutes a polarized conception of good and evil. In this paper, I argue that 25th Hour is a subversive film that wages an attack both at the level of the transcendental subject, and at the level of our dominant national ideology itself. The film is particularly interesting not just because of its subversive potential, but also because, at the level of the transcendental subject, the sense of tension and unease created in the viewer mirrors the real emotions triggered by the experience of 9/11 and its aftermath. It thus documents this historical moment both through content and through form. Lee uses a number of different techniques to manipulate the film’s form and thus upset viewer expectation in order to simulate this sense of fragmentation, destabilization and loss. Specifically, Lee uses generic evocation to encourage the viewer to expect a plot-driven narrative. Far from plot-driven, however, the structure of the film turns out to be only loosely narrative, using the progression of time as its fundamental ordering principle, and ultimately withholding narrative closure. For this reason, the film is better understood as a historical chronicle, which documents the strange limbo-like moment in which it takes place.

TreaAndrea M. Russoworm (PhD Student, English)
The working title for my dissertation is “Blackness is Burning: Narcissism,
Destructiveness, and the Popular Fictions of the Civil Rights Era.” 
This project is concerned with popular fictions (representations of blackness) as they surface in film, television, and mass marketed literature throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  Specifically, I am investigating some of the most popularstars and cultural production of the 60s and 70s—stars like Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier, cultural artifacts like black-cast made-for-television movies, popular fiction like the ever-popular “ghetto fiction” or “blaxploitation” fiction of Donald Goines.  Throughout my perusal of the cultural history of this fascinating epoch, I am discovering that the most popular works appear to be invested in the psychological motivations of black people and that this investment is compulsively staged in patterns of aliveness and destructiveness.  The dissertation further suggests that there are certain psychoanalytic thematic strains that may enhance interpretations of the role race plays in the popular works of this period.  For often over-looked but wonderfully charted theories on narcissism and destructiveness, I will primarily engage the work and rhetoric of Heinz Kohut, D.W. Winnicott, and Melanie Klein. Part of what these other theories will help yield are new visions of the role that race plays in popular subject formation as it is repeatedly offered to us through mass fictions—visual and otherwise.