Making Film History

Dr. Cynthia Lucia, director of the Film & Media Studies Program, is the co-editor of The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film, an expansive, new, four-volume set that traces the evolution of the medium from its late-19th century origins to the present day.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It’s a common response to the question, “Have you seen that movie?”

“No, but I’ve read the book.”

In the case of Dr. Cynthia Lucia, however, she had to see the movie in order to write the book. Lucia, an associate professor of English and the director of the Film & Media Studies Program at Rider, is the editor of The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film, an expansive, new, four-volume set that traces the evolution of the medium from its late-19th century origins to the present day. An anthology of essays and other studies on the subject, The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film represents an exhaustive retrospective by a varied cast of cinematic scholars, including Lucia herself.

“It’s a mixture of top names and up-and-coming scholars,” explained Lucia of the anthology, co-edited by Roy Grundmann of Boston University and Art Simon of Montclair State University. “It’s a look at ‘bread-and-butter’ topics in American cinema, such as an essay on Orson Welles, and specialized topics such as avant-garde and independent films.”

To illustrate the point, Lucia identified more recognized contributors such as Paula J. Massood of Brooklyn College, whose chapter, “African Americans and Silent Films,” appears in Volume I: Origins to 1928, as well as Kenneth Chan, a current doctoral candidate who teaches at the University of Northern Colorado, whose essay, “‘Asia’ as Global Hollywood Commodity,” can be found in Volume IV: 1976 to the Present. The set also includes a chapter by Lucia’s Rider colleague, Dr. Richard Butsch, professor of Sociology, American Studies and Film & Media Studies.

While most of the anthology’s 90 works were written for inclusion in The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film, Lucia says that the series includes some other already notable works, such as “The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter,” by veteran Yale film scholar Charles Musser. Porter is the director of some of the seminal works of American film, including 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, considered to be a groundbreaking narrative film.

“We knew there were certain essential essays (to include), and there were others we wanted because of their names and reputations,” Lucia explained. “We tried to strike a certain balance.”

Readers of the series may be surprised to learn of the influence held by women in the early days of American filmmaking, according to Lucia.

“Women were producing and directing films in the silent era before they kind of disappeared,” she explained, adding that by the advent of sound in motion pictures, women had been relegated to secondary roles, such as costume designers. “They were absent for a long period of time, but we’ve seen them make a lot of inroads more recently.”

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film endeavors to provide a full, balanced look at cinematic evolution through a strictly historical lens, Lucia said. “These are history books that also include a close aesthetic analysis,” she explained. “We tried to combine a focused analysis through a historical context.”

Lucia cites a chapter by Mark Lynn Anderson of the University of Pittsburgh that focuses on “The Star System” and the stars who became emblematic of the era in the late teens and the 1920s.

Moving throughout the years, The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film also examines such topics and trends as the studio system, screwball comedies, Westerns, Hollywood unions and blacklisting, queer cinema, biopics, cinema in the age of television, digital animation, and American film after 9/11.

Lucia, who did extensive work on the book series during a sabbatical last spring, began her own formal education as an English scholar, earning a B.S. at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. in English at New York University. She taught English for 23 years in Westchester County, N.Y., but “always liked movies,” she said. She began taking courses in cinema at NYU, where she eventually earned a second master’s degree – this time in Cinema Studies – and eventually, a Ph.D.

Now with 20 years of experience as the film review editor for Cineaste, Lucia was approached by Wiley-Blackwell editor Jayne Fargnoli about working on the film history series.

“I contacted Art and Roy about it, and they found it appealing,” she said. “I knew we’d be good partners, so the three of us put it together.”

* * *

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

ISBN: 978-1-4051-7984-3

Hardcover

2,464 pages (in four volumes)

December 2011, Wiley-Blackwell

$595.00 in the United States

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Dr. Cindy Lucia co-edited the The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film, available this month.