Words … Film and Narratives

Back to Words

I believe our lives are deeply affected by the narratives – the stories we create out of words and images –  that we tell ourselves and each other about our world. So, I took every opportunity I could to explore, research, and write about this idea from a variety of perspectives, including anthropology, geography, and history. I considered how narratives affect our identities and as well as how they can be affected by the culture and technology of the day, and I delved into how narratives themselves can have an impact on our overall culture.


    Creating New Dialogues About Race, Gender, and Class Through Nonfiction Films 

    There is a growing interest in the role that narratives can play in the construction of individual and cultural identities, in part, because as Michael Graesser argues, “perhaps the easiest way to understand the mind of a culture is to understand its stories” (Graesser 2002:229). Narratives range from personal, oral stories told within families or communities to public narratives – the stories we read, hear, and see every day in books or periodicals, in the media, on television and films or presented by societal institutions. Narratives are an integral part of the dialogue we have with others that refines our personal sense of self, as well as our sense of the larger society in which we live (Schank 2002).The stories we tell and those that are told to us have great power: to inform, to mislead, to unite, to divide, to reinforce existing beliefs, to change opinion. As I worked toward my degree in liberal studies, my focus was on nonfiction visual narratives, with a concentration on documentary films. I was interested in exploring how to use the power of narratives to create nonfiction films that introduce others to both the beauty as well as the ugliness in our world – opening up new dialogues of discussion about how we define who we are and how we relate to others in the world around us. Read pdf »


    ploring the implications of how visual messages in our modern world affect the way we represent, create, and reinforce cultural expectations

    Today we learn a great deal – both facts and impressions – about the world through all types of visual communication. One way to study the role of non-fiction films in portraying our world is to consider their role within the context of how the vast array of images we are exposed to affects how we receive and interpret information. I found a growing wealth of information on this topic, as scholars in many disciplines have begun to acknowledge that the vast number of images we are exposed to each day can both enhance and undermine the knowledge we gain about the world.As I became more deeply involved in my research, I found that despite – or perhaps because of – the developing research on this topic, there is very little current information that is conclusive on the effect of images on our lives. I explored several different aspects of the topic: what is visual culture; the role of images in creating cultural meanings; visual memories and meaning; images and narratives, or cultural texts; and how images can be used by scholars in different disciplines. Read pdf »


    Frederick Wiseman’s Law and Order (1969)

    For my research paper in a class on the 1960s, I wanted to examine the documentary filmmaking style, direct cinema (sometimes called cinéma vérité), which came of age and evolved in America in the 1960s. Direct cinema is often called “fly-on-the wall” filmmaking, which means that the filmmaker starts the camera rolling and allows it to run, without stopping and starting or interfering or directing. There is no narration and there are generally no titles on the screen. Viewers are asked to come to their own conclusions about the film’s message. I focused on one filmmaker – Frederick Wiseman – and one of his films – Law and Order (1969) – which was filmed in Kansas City after the civil disturbances in 1968.This particular paper helped give me a better understanding of the growth of documentary filmmaking during this decade, as well as techniques that continue to be used today, both in non-fiction and fiction films. By reading what Wiseman had to say, I also gained the perspective of what this particular documentary filmmaker was trying to accomplish – and some of the issues that arise when creating nonfiction films.This brings up the role of the filmmaker in creating a narrative that people can follow and that will engage them, despite the efforts to avoid direct manipulation as much as possible – especially during the filming itself. There are no easy or certain answers. All filmmakers, and virtually anyone who watches films, has an opinion. What is certain is that the debate will continue, and writing this paper opened my eyes to the issues and discussion. Read pdf »

    Web Site

    I designed this Web site in 2002 around five interrelated sections: Overview, The Decade, Film Noir, Unexpected Noir, and Resources. The underlying theme is that the American film noir movement – characterized by deep, moody shadows, violent death, moral uncertainty, determined women and conflicted male heroes – reflected the darker undercurrents of anxiety found in American society during the 1940s and on into the 50s. Open Web Site »

    Filming a Controversial Novel in 1940s Hollywood

    This paper explores some of the differences between textual and visual narratives by examining the differences in John Ford’s popular and critically-acclaimed 1940 dramatic film, The Grapes of Wrath from the hard-hitting Steinbeck novel of the same name – and illustrates how both forms of narrative were effective and successful in their own right. I argue that the changes that soften the film from the novel illustrate the influences of the personal visions of the filmmakers and as well as the realities of dealing with a controversial subject in 1940s Hollywood, but that the changes don’t cause the film to be a failure. Read pdf »

    A Preston Sturges Comedy for a War-Weary Audience

    This essay examines how a satirical 1944 comedy, Hail the Conquering Hero – which poked fun at American politics, small-town life, the sanctity of motherhood, and America’s fascination with glorifying its war heroes – not only came to be produced in wartime America, but also became widely popular. I conclude that it was a particular combination of factors – the reputation and public expectation of writer-director Preston Sturges, along with war-weary American audiences who believed that victory would eventually be theirs – that allowed a film such as Hail the Conquering Hero to poke fun at cherished American institutions during the middle of World War II. Read pdf »

    Britain’s Mrs. Miniver as the Epitome of the American Middle Class

    In this essay, I discuss how the situation in America and the world when the film was created and released had a great impact on the film’s outlook and message. By examining how America’s identity as a democratic, classless, courageous society in 1941 and 1942 was reflected in the British middle-class world created in Mrs. Miniver, I show how the film is a reflection of the time and place in which it was created and how that reflection helps affects the audience’s acceptance and belief in its message. Read pdf »