Regarding Frank Capra

Audience, Celebrity, and American Film Studies, 1930–1960

Regarding Frank Capra

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 31 illus. Published: January 2005

Author: Smoodin, Eric

Subjects
American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

In this innovative historical examination of the American movie audience, Eric Smoodin focuses on reactions to the films of Frank Capra. Best known for his Hollywood features—including It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—Capra also directed educational films, military films, and documentaries. Based on his analysis of the reception of a broad range of Capra’s films, Smoodin considers the preferences and attitudes toward Hollywood of the people who watched movies during the “Golden Age” of studio production, from 1930 to 1960.

Drawing on archival sources including fan letters, exhibitor reports, military and prison records, government and corporate documents, and trade journals, Smoodin explains how the venues where Capra’s films were seen and the strategies used to promote the films affected audience response and how, in turn, audience response shaped film production. He analyzes issues of foreign censorship and government intervention in the making of The Bitter Tea of General Yen; the response of high school students to It Happened One Night; fan engagement with the overtly political discourse of Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; San Quentin prisoners’ reaction to a special screening of It’s a Wonderful Life; and at&t’s involvement in Capra’s later documentary work for the Bell Science Series. He also looks at the reception of Capra’s series Why We Fight, used by the American military to train recruits and re-educate German prisoners of war. Illuminating the role of the famous director and his films in American culture, Regarding Frank Capra signals new directions for significant research on film reception and promotion.

Praise

“Eric Smoodin’s excellent study of the many ways the films of director Frank Capra were perceived by audiences is important not only because it extends the contemporary project to understand film reception but also because it is sensitive to the ways the mass audience was partially shaped by historical contexts and discourses.” — John Bodnar, American Historical Review

“Smoodin’s research effort was extensive. . . . [He] deserves high praise for seeing the unique opportunity this archival material provided. That is, in Capra’s case it is possible to trace the reception of his films in very concrete terms from early until late, in such a way as to offer a counter-account of the trajectory and meaning of his career. . . . Enthralling. . . .” — Leland Poague , Screening the Past

“Smoodin’s text stretches impressively across the full gamut of Capra’s output, from the classic films to the educational shorts of the 1960s. All in all it is an engrossing work and one that should contribute immensely to these prominent questions of audience reception and the academic film studies agenda. It is also a book worthy of the director’s contribution to American cinema and should be invaluable reading for film scholars of all persuasions.” — Ian Scott , Journal of American Studies

"Capra and his films have been studied extensively but Smoodin takes a fresh rewarding approach. . . . Fascinating. . . . Smoodin provides a well-documented, clearly written study that not only enhances understanding of this significant director but also adds to the burgeoning field of reception studies. Highly recommended." — J.I. Deutsch , Choice

Regarding Frank Capra opens important new lines of inquiry concerning the historical study of movie audiences, significantly expanding how we might think about specific contexts for moviegoing and what counts as empirical evidence of reception.” — Gregory A. Waller, author of Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896–1930

“In a delightfully readable book full of personality and wit, Eric Smoodin rethinks audience and reception theory. He demonstrates that film culture extends from the settings of the movie theater and film industry to other less obvious but equally important sites.” — Lisa Cartwright, coauthor of Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture

“This wonderful book demonstrates precisely the importance of cultural reception for film studies. Breaking down the traditional boundaries between production, text, and audience, Eric Smoodin’s study challenges us to think about the complexity and locatedness of the meaning of the cinema. This book combines rich historical analysis with an accessible style of delivery and an excellent feel for the changing field of American cinema studies. This is film scholarship at its best: rigorous, lively, original.” — Jackie Stacey, author of Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric Smoodin is Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis. His books include Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons From the Sound Era, Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Quarterly: Film Culture in Postwar America, 1945–1957 (with Ann Martin).

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Audiences, Film Studies, and Frank Capra 1

1. The National and the Local: Ballyhoo and the U.S. Film Audience 23

2. Regulating National Markets: Chinese Censorship and The Bitter Tea of General Yen 51

3. Film Education and Quality Entertainment for Children and Adolescents 76

4. The Business of America: Mr. Smith, John Doe, and the Politicized Viewer 119

5. Coercive Viewings: Soldiers and Prisoners Watch Movies 160

6. Politics and Pedagogy near the End of a Career: From Feature Films to Television Production 203

Conclusion: The Contemporary Capra 236

Notes 243

Bibliography 279

Index 291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3394-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3384-5
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