Twilight of the Idols: Hollywood and the Human Sciences in 1920s America

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Bad Film Histories is a vital work that unsettles the authority of the archive, examining the imprecisions and absences that define film history and its archives. Taking ethnographic cinema as a crucial case study, Katherine Groo challenges standard ways of thinking and writing about film history and questions widespread assumptions about what film artifacts are and what makes them meaningful.

Stimulating and necessary.

Twilight of the Idols

Bad Film Histories makes an important theoretical intervention into early cinema history. Katherine Groo prompts us to question our assumptions—to throw away the film-historical map—and to keep moving along multiple trajectories. Bad Film Histories is a vital work that unsettles the authority of the archive. Katherine Groo daringly takes readers to the margins of the film record, addressing the undertheorization of film history and offering a rigorous corrective.

hollywood : 1920

Taking ethnographic cinema as a crucial case study, Groo challenges standard ways of thinking and writing about film history and questions widespread assumptions about what film artifacts are and what makes them meaningful. Rather than filling holes, Groo endeavors to understand the imprecisions and absences that define film history and its archives.

Mark Lynn Anderson

Bad Film Histories draws on numerous works of ethnographic cinema, from Edward S. As Groo describes, ethnographic works are mostly untitled, unauthored, seemingly infinite in number, and largely unrestored even in their digital afterlives.


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In so doing, she boldly reexamines what early ethnographic cinema is and how these films produce meaning, challenging the foundations of film history and prevailing approaches to the archive. Katherine Groo is assistant professor of film and media studies at Lafayette College.

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With this book, Katherine Groo establishes the necessary and productive incoherence of film historical inquiry by insisting on certain structuring non-relations between artifact and historical knowledge, between ethnographic subject and scientific investigator, between film and its content, and between the world and its index. Early cinema reconfigured older erotic modalities, articulated new--though incoherent--sexual categories, and generated novel forms of queer feeling and affiliation. Potter draws on queer theory, silent film historiography, feminist film analysis, and archival research to provide an original and innovative analysis.

Taking a conceptually oriented approach, she articulates the processes of filmic representation and spectatorship that reshaped, marginalized, or suppressed women's same-sex desires and identities. As she pursues a sense of "timing," Potter stages scenes of the erotic and intellectual encounters shared by historical spectators, on-screen figures, and present-day scholars.


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The result is a daring revision of feminist and queer perspectives that foregrounds the centrality of women's same-sex desire to cinematic discourses of both homo- and heterosexuality. While film historical writing deeply aligned with both queer theory and the history of sexuality remains all too rare, Queer Timing might be the first study to so thoroughly pursue its project of lesbian emergence in precisely these terms.

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Publication of this book was supported in part by a grant from the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Susan Potter is lecturer in film studies at the University of Sydney. University of Illinois Press.