The Crank: ‘Crime and Punishment’ Program Notes (4/11/13 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.

Following the box office disappointment of The Scarlett Empress (1934) and the political controversy of The Devil is a Woman (1935), director Josef von Sternberg parted ways not only with Paramount but also with his frequent collaborator and muse, Marlene Dietrich. According to von Sternberg, he was “liquidated by Lubitsch,” an ironic musing since the latter did little to interfere as production manager on the film except change the title.

Luckily, Ben Schulberg, who had just signed a production deal with Harry Cohn at Columbia, enlisted von Sternberg after his ousting at Paramount, offering him a two-picture deal and a fresh start. Soon von Sternberg’s fortunes became tied with another European émigré signed with the studio, the Hungarian-born actor Peter Lorre. Known primarily for his theater work in Germany with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Lorre had left his mark as the murderer in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and had just starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935) in London. Eager to establish himself in Hollywood, Lorre presented Cohn with the idea of adapting Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a vehicle for him to star in as its conflicted and murderous criminology student, Roderick Raskolnikov. As Hollywood legend has it, Lorre had his secretary type a monosyllabic synopsis to prove to Cohn that translating Dostoyevsky’s novel from page to screen was possible. Allegedly, Cohn, who was enraptured with the idea, only had one question for Lorre: “Tell me—has this book got a publisher?” Continue reading “The Crank: ‘Crime and Punishment’ Program Notes (4/11/13 Screening)” »

Script Clearance and Research: Unacknowledged Creative Labor in the Film and Television Industry

The importance of script clearance and research to film and television production—from the classic Hollywood era to the present day—has long been uncharted territory for media scholars. Fortunately, UCLA alumnus Michael Kmet has begun thoroughly examining not only the everyday realities of this type of work but also the greater importance that firms such as de Forest Research have had on the overall structure of creative content both past and present. The scope of this project, including a substantial amount of primary research at archives around Los Angeles, requires more than just one researcher, and I am very pleased to state that I will be assisting Michael in the expansion of his already impressive research.

This blog post is an overview of the research Michael has already conducted as well as a discussion of the project’s future trajectory.  I am looking forward to assisting Michael with his fascinating and exciting project, and I will be posting updates to the Mediascape Blog as our research progresses.  —Jessica Fowler

Historically, the world of primetime commercial fictional television has been described as “the producer’s medium.” Since the mid-2000s, for example, television producers of programs as diverse as Gossip Girl (2007–2013), Battlestar Galactica (2003–2009), and Eureka (2006–2012) have recorded online podcasts in which they assume creative responsibility (as well as creative credit) for the television programs they produce.1 However, as many subscribers to the auteur theory of motion picture authorship (especially the kind popularized by the late film critic Andrew Sarris) have discovered, such individualistic conceptions of authorship are problematic when it comes to the collaborative nature of the film and television industry.

To date, little attention has been given to the critical (and, as I will argue, creative) role performed by script clearance and research departments working in both film and television production. Script clearance and research has been the subject of only a handful of newspaper and magazine articles, has been marginalized or totally ignored by popular “making of” books, and has never, as far as I’ve been able to determine, been the subject of a dissertation or an academic essay. The purpose of my project is twofold. First, I want to begin to map out the history of script clearance and research in the film and television industry, focusing on de Forest Research, the most dominant research firm. Second, I want to argue that script clearance and research is an act of fundamentally creative labor, and it should be recognized as such by media scholars. Continue reading “Script Clearance and Research: Unacknowledged Creative Labor in the Film and Television Industry” »