Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

12 Star Wars facts from a galaxy far, far away

On 25 May 1977, a small budget science fiction movie by a promising director premiered on less than 50 screens across the United States and immediately became a cultural phenomenon. Star Wars, George Lucas’ space opera depicting the galactic struggle between an evil Empire and a scrappy group of rebels, became the highest-grossing movie of the year and changed the course of movie history and American pop culture.

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Analyzing genre in Star Wars

Inaugurating the most financially successful franchise in the history of entertainment, the original Star Wars (1977) has become one of the most widely and intensely loved movies of all time. Film scholars, however, lambasted Star Wars for its simplicity.

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Analyzing “Expressiveness” in Frankenstein (1931)

In Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema, film studies professor Todd Berliner explains how Hollywood delivers aesthetic pleasure to mass audiences. Along the way, Professor Berliner offers numerous aesthetic analyses of scenes, clips, and images from both routine Hollywood movies and exceptional ones. His analyses, one of which we excerpt here, illustrate how to study […]

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The critical role of race in John Cassavetes’ first film

Shadows is the first film John Cassavetes directed and, regarding the version he released in 1959, it is the only film he created that distinctly explores themes of Blackness and Black identity in an American urban landscape. Too Late Blues, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Love Streams all depict identity and race in different and attention-worthy ways as well, but none of Cassavetes’ directorial work after 1959 engages with these topics to the same degree or with the same immediacy.

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Libraries: The unsung heroes in A Series of Unfortunate Events

This January, Lemony Snicket’s first four critically acclaimed novels of the A Series of Unfortunate Events were adapted as a Netflix original series, starring Neil Patrick Harris. Although famously known as a book series built upon three children’s misery and misfortune, the stories do contain one consistent factor on which the kids can always rely: the library.

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How well do you know the Hollywood Western? [quiz]

In Hollywood Aesthetic: Pleasure in American Cinema, film studies professor Todd Berliner explains how Hollywood delivers aesthetic pleasure to mass audiences. The following quiz is based on information found in chapter 12, “Complexity and Experimentation in the Western.”

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Falling in love with the national security state

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, however, I decided to take a risk by departing from my standard viewing practice to watch Oliver Stone’s Snowden, a political thriller about the whistleblower who pulled back the curtain of the surveillance state by exposing how the NSA threatens the privacy of just about everyone. Would this movie set me on edge, making me fearful and paranoid for the remainder of the flight?

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Celebrating Samuel Barber and his Adagio for Strings

Today we celebrate what would have been American composer Samuel Barber’s 107th birthday. Upon the composer’s death in 1981, New York Times music critic Donal Henahan, penned an obituary that asserted “probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.”

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The role of the death-mother in film

Hitchcock’s famous Psycho (1960) has an enduring legacy in the slasher-horror genre. Its impact on this genre is an enduring one, as suggested by the A&E series Bates Motel, culminating with Rihanna cast in Janet Leigh’s indelible role (Figure 1). Perhaps its most striking contribution, however, is its thematization of a figure I call the death-mother.

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2017 Oscars represent a shift, but Hollywood is still disproportionately white

In 2017, the winners of two of the four Oscars given to actors were African Americans. This represents a remarkable turn in the history of the Oscars. It is not, however, a historical accident. Instead, it is due to social media campaigns and activism. In 2015, an activist named April Reign started the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in response to the overwhelmingly white Oscar nominees that year.

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The globalization of the Hollywood war film

For a long time, people in other countries had to watch American war films. Now they are making their own. In recent years, Russia and Germany have produced dueling filmic visions of their great contest on World War II’s Eastern Front. Paid for with about $30 million in state money, Stalingrad, directed by Feder Bondarchuk grossed around $50 million within weeks of hitting Russian screens in October, 2013.

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The poverty of American film

Some decades ago, British film scholar Laura Mulvey showed us that movies possessed a male gaze. That is, the viewer was assumed to be a man — a straight, white one — and films were created by men to entertain men like them.We’ve made some progress. Among this year’s Academy Award nominees are eighteen African Americans, five Asian Americans, and one native-born Hispanic American.

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