DowF14Bonnie J. Dow is an associate professor and chair of communication studies and an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Vanderbilt University. She answered some questions about her book Watching Women’s Liberation, 1970: Feminism’s Pivotal Year on the Network News.

Q: You mark 1970 as the year that saw second wave feminism get significant national media coverage for the first time. Why was this year the turning point?

Bonnie Dow: 1970 was a huge turning point because that was the year that women’s liberation became a focus for the national television network news divisions. The national print coverage had been building since 1968, and the networks finally recognized that the movement was an important story. Starting in January 1970, with the very first nightly network news story on women’s liberation activity—a protest at the Senate’s hearings on the birth control pill—the Big 3 network new divisions did more than 20 separate stories on the movement and its activities over the course of the year. This coverage made women’s liberation truly national news in a whole new way. NBC and CBS both did a multi-part series on the movement, and ABC produced a half hour documentary about it, in addition to coverage of different feminist protests.

Q: What differentiated the liberal and radical branches of the feminist movement? How were their media presences distinct?

Dow: The liberal branch of the movement, most visible through the National Organization for Women, or NOW, which formed in 1966, was interested in reforming existing institutions and in passing legislation or pursuing court cases designed to level the playing field for women. They were primarily interested in public discrimination in areas such as employment and education. The liberal branch was dominated by professional women who had experience in government, media, and politics, and they tended to be skilled in working with bureaucracy and in institutional contexts. As a result, they had a professionalized approach to handling mass media. They knew how to “work” the press, how to prepare effective messages, how to generate positive coverage, and they understood the importance of providing accessible spokespersons. In short, they saw media coverage as a useful tool for creating pressure on decision-makers, and they worked to exploit it, often quite successfully.

The radical branch, in contrast, was made up of women who were generally younger than those in the liberal branch, and many radical feminists had come to women’s liberation after working in the student, anti-war, and civil rights movements. They began to form their own groups around 1967. Generally, radical feminists were invested in revolution, not reform, and they had a goal of eliminating what were then called “sex roles,” which they saw as the root of women’s oppression. Unlike the liberals’ focus on public discrimination, radicals addressed deeply personal topics, such as sex, marriage, body image, sexual assault, and sexuality, and they often did their analysis of those issues through consciousness-raising. Radicals did not see mass media as a useful resource in the same ways as liberal feminists; they distrusted mainstream media, and they focused on developing their own independent publications to get out their message. Many had experienced the negative media treatment of other countercultural movements, and they were wary of reporters, especially men, that they thought would not understand their issues. Unlike liberal feminists, they did not try to adapt their messages to reporters. For example, most radical feminists saw hierarchy as patriarchal, thus they did not appoint leaders or spokespersons that would have made it easier for reporters to cover them. Journalists sometimes simply anointed certain radical feminists as leaders without their consent, treating them as representative voices for feminism, precisely what radicals were trying to avoid.

Q: What were some of the general trends in the portrayal of the feminist movement on network news in this era? Did network news coverage work distort the message of the movement at all?

Dow: What I found is that the network news coverage of feminism in 1970 was a contradictory mix of positive and negative reporting, although almost all of the coverage found liberal feminist issues easier to report, in the sense that those issues resonated with a public that understood demands for equality because of exposure to civil rights claims. In fact, reporters tended to rely on race/sex, racism/sexism, and feminism/civil rights analogies to make sense of feminist claims, in ways that were sometimes meant to legitimate feminism and sometimes meant to dismiss it as less important than racism. Radicals generally fared worse on television, as their claims were less familiar and more complex, and some stories were quite dismissive of radical feminism, depicting it as extremist and threatening while promoting liberal demands for equality of opportunity and wages as reasonable. Yet some reporters tried very hard not to sensationalize radical feminism, merely treating it as one facet of a diverse movement. One of the aspects of this reporting from 1970 that would surprise contemporary readers is that demands for abortion rights were generally treated as non-controversial.

One of the most interesting dimensions of the coverage from 1970 is how network news reporters used visuals. Some of the clearly negative coverage used images to make radical feminists appear wild-eyed and eccentric, generally using the camera to objectify women and to make feminist protest into a kind of spectacle while not interviewing feminists at all, as though simply seeing them in action was enough. On the other hand, some reporters used images quite strategically to offer support for feminist claims, such as by showing women capably performing the jobs that protective legislation assumed they could not do. This coverage makes very clear that the camera did important rhetorical work and was far from an “objective” reflection of what was going on. Reporters made all kinds of editing choices that made a real difference in how feminists and feminist ideas were portrayed. All news is a kind of distortion in that it always emphasizes some ideas at the expense of others. One clear example is that television coverage of the movement depicted women’s liberation as an exclusively white and middle-class affair, when women of color were active in feminism in a variety of ways.

Q: How was second wave feminism portrayed by the main stream media in comparison to the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement?

Dow: Gender made an enormous difference in reporting on women’s liberation. By that I mean that other countercultural movements had been fronted by men, and it wasn’t considered unnatural for men to be out in public making political demands. For women, in this case the middle-class white women on whom national news focused, it was very different. Reporters were fascinated by whether or not feminists were married, whether or not they “hated” men, and how they were like or unlike “ordinary” women. TV reporters commonly interviewed “ordinary women,” usually housewives, to ask them how they felt about women’s liberation, and such women generally dismissed the movement’s relevance for them.

Of course, civil rights coverage did not feature “ordinary” Black Americans dismissing the claims of the civil rights movement, but some coverage of feminism implied that since all women did not agree with feminist grievances, that those grievances must be without merit. Generally, these kinds of tactics were an indication of how unusual—and shocking—women who protested in public and made political demands were perceived to be. These women were deviant, the coverage implied, because their proper place was in the private sphere– at home, tending to their families. Although coverage of other movements had questioned the credibility of movement leaders, the questioning of feminists’ credibility as political actors was uniquely based in gender roles that held that such behavior was unseemly for women, and that feminists must be “unnatural” women who were psychologically unstable, who had been rejected by men, and who generally had personal, not political, motives for their grievances. Importantly, television news reporters and producers assumed that they were speaking to an audience of white, middle-class, and middle aged men, which made a profound difference in how they treated feminism. Male reporters in particular, even the venerable Walter Cronkite, often talked about women’s liberation as though it was bewildering and a kind of fad that would surely pass.

Q: How was coverage of the movement on TV news different from coverage in print media? What role did TV news have in shaping public opinion?

Dow: Print reporting in general was more detailed, included more interviews with movement activists—allowing feminists to speak for themselves was rarer in TV reporting—and included more context for making sense of movement issues, all of which can be traced to the greater space available in print outlets. Television news had to tell stories quickly, and often emphasized images at the expense of explanation. Another difference was that print venues were able to draw on a pool of feminist journalists, and many of the articles in newspapers and magazines in the early period I examine were written by women who were either sympathetic with the movement’s claims, or were actually active in the movement. Such journalists worked very hard to explain the movement to readers in ways that made sense, and they often published in women’s magazines, many of which (eventually) took the movement quite seriously. Thus, one of the distinctions of print coverage of the movement was that it, unlike network news coverage, often appeared in outlets that targeted women, the audience that the movement sought. Those outlets included not just women’s magazines, but also The New York Times, which did a great deal of informative and generally respectful coverage of the movement in the 1970s on their “Style” page (formerly the “Women’s” page).

How television news moves public opinion is difficult, if not impossible, to precisely measure, but the explosion in television coverage in 1970 drastically increased awareness of the women’s movement. After the August 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality, a CBS News poll found that 1 in 5 Americans over age eighteen reported that they had knowledge of women’s liberation, and interviews with movement members between 1969 and 1971 revealed that women who joined feminist groups before the end of 1969 did so because of personal contacts, but about a quarter of those who joined after 1969 attributed their interest in the movement solely to what they had learned from mass media.

 

Oft-imitated, rarely surpassed, The Best of Illinois: Vol. 1 catalog provides one-stop shopping for the best books on all facets of the ever-fascinating Land of Lincoln. Shrooms, the Mafia, music of every kind—BOIV1 offers the perfect gift for the hip reader in your life. But what about those un-hipsters who care about the world enough to want to fix it? Two words: you’re covered. The following titles finish top o’ the poll for anyone fascinated or frightened by that rough beast always slouching toward Springfield to be born: Illinois politics.

Available February 2015.GradelS15 Public funds spent on jets and horses. Shoeboxes stuffed with embezzled cash. Ghost payrolls and incarcerated ex-governors. Illinois’ culture of “Where’s mine?” and the public apathy it engenders has made our state and local politics a disgrace. Veteran political observers Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson take aim at business-as-usual by laying out a blueprint to transform our politics into an instrument of public good.

Corrupt Illinois is the most comprehensive account of corruption in our state ever published. It proposes cures, which will take decades to implement fully, but which deserve our attention now.” —Governor Jim Edgar

N--S14Hard-working, learned, utterly respectable: Jose Angel N. has built an honorable life. Yet he can’t get U.S. citizenship. A searing portrait of the indignities and petty political madness in the way of one man’s American dream, Illegal tells the story of living on the margins out of sheer necessity.

“There are ironies aplenty in this book. Perhaps the greatest irony is that he has been studying us and he knows us better than we know him.” —Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography

NowlanS14We hear the joke all the time. You have a book called Fixing Illinois? Is it 4,000,000 pages long? The answer: no, but that’s only because our crack editorial department can work miracles with space through the judicious use of long (if accurate) adjectives like “bloated,” “nefarious,” “foul-smelling,” “unscrupulous,” and “bamboozlicious.” James D. Nowlan and J. Thomas Johnson put aside cynicism to tackle the long list of problems plaguing the Prairie State. As Adlai E. Stevenson III said, “Fixing Illinois should be read by all concerned Illinois citizens and especially those who seek and occupy public office.” Invest now for a mere $11.97 and dare to see a new way ahead.

For a limited time you can purchase our regional Best of Illinois titles at a 40% discount with the promo code BEST40. Sale ends December 31, 2014. View the Best of Illinois catalog here.

Every December since 2007 we have posted an annual list of our pop culture faves. The University of Illinois Press Best of 2014 edition is in alphabetical order by staff member’s last name.

Jennifer Barbee, Account Tech I
Favorite Book: Veronica Roth Divergent Trilogy
Favorite CD/LP/Music Download: Aloe Blacc “Lift Your Spirit”

Favorite Film: Frozen; Feels as if this is the only movie I have seen this year!
Favorite TV Show: The Walking Dead and The 100
Favorite Live Performance: Winter Program at Kenwood (I have two kindergartners that were fantastic in this program!)
Website I visit every day: Facebook.com


Angela Burton, Rights & Permissions Manager

Favorite Book: Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See
Favorite CD/LP/music download: TV on the Radio – Seeds

Favorite Film I Watched This Year: Mud.  Director/writer Jeff Nichols has a unique voice, and I’m looking forward to his new film, Midnight Special, in 2015.
Favorite TV Show: Shameless
Favorite live performance: Blind Boys of Alabama, Illinois Blues Festival in Peoria. Incredible performance.
Favorite YouTuber:  The hilarious Tim Helbig at his channel TimWillDestroyYou  (one of my favorite TH videos: OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL READ ABOUT GOING!!)


Marika Christofides, Assistant Acquisitions Editor

Favorite Book: Caitlin R. Kiernan – The Drowning Girl
Favorite CD/LP/music download: SIA – 1000 Forms of Fear

Favorite Film: Gone Girl
Favorite TV Show: Broad City
Favorite live performance: Homo for the Holidays at Oddfellows in Seattle (this always happens just after this list comes out, but I know it will be just as good this year as it was last year!)
Favorite vegetarian chili slow-cooker recipe: Meatiest Vegetarian Chili From Your Slow Cooker
Favorite podcast:
Serial


Alexa Colella, Marketing Manager, Journals

Favorite Book: Not new, but I carry it everywhere, Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space. Another I carry around is David Foster Wallace, Life is Water
Favorite Music: Bronze Radio Return, Old Time Speaker

Favorite Film: Night Will Fall (a horrific documentary about Alfred Hitchcock’s documentary on the Holocaust), Days of Future Past was good, too
Favorite TV Show: Agents of Shield
Website I visit every day: sethgodin.typepad.com, design-is-fine.org


Kevin Cunningham, Copywriter and Catalog Coordinator

Favorite Book(s): Ian Morris – When Bad Things Happen to Rich People; Jennifer Michael Hecht – Stay; Carla Emery – The Encyclopedia of Country Living (an amazing book—I feel like I could butcher a pig with no problem now)
Favorite CD/LP/music download: Various 1950s-1960s hits for a friend’s birthday party
Favorite TV Show: Hockey games
Favorite live performance: Also hockey games; though my daughter’s dance interpretations of ABBA songs are growing on me
Favorite C-U pastry: Brownie at Pekara Bakery
Favorite scientific observation: The UIP staff prefers Entenmann’s glazed crullers to chocolate donnettes
Favorite line of marketing copy: “Acid Hype offers the untold tale of LSD’s wild journey from Brylcreem and Ivory soap to incense and peppermints.”


Dawn Durante, Acquisitions Editor

Favorite Books: Michael Agnew—A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland, Margaret Atwood—MaddAddam (the third book in the MadAddam trilogy)
Favorite CD/LP/music download: Micah McKee and Little Maker’s Patrons of the Saint
Favorite Films: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, The Lego Movie (because everything is awesome!)
Favorite TV Shows: Last Comic Standing season 8, Playing House, True Detective
Favorite Podcast: Serial hosted by Sarah Koenig
Favorite live performance: Yo-Yo Ma with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago at Christkindlmarket in The Loop
Websites I visit almost every day: Etsy, Lonely Planet


Steve Fast, Publicity Manager

Favorite Book: Jesse WalkerThe United States of Paranoia
Favorite CDs: Imelda May – Tribal, Spoon – They Want My Soul

Favorite display of Glam Rock Shoes: David Bowie Is exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art
Favorite TV Shows: Hannibal, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Favorite live performances: The National at the Chicago Theater. Gord Downie and the Sadies at Lincoln Hall, Chicago. Old 97’s at the Castle Theater in Bloomington, IL. King Crimson at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, WI.
Website I visit every day: I visit the Puck Daddy blog for all of my NHL news.


Jennie Holzner, Book Designer
Favorite Book:
Chip Kidd: Work 1986–2006, Book One, Chip Kidd
Favorite Book Cover Designer: Chip Kidd. Not only is he a great designer, but he’s funny as heck. Here’s a link to his TED2012 talk, “Designing Books Is No Laughing Matter”
Favorite Films: August: Osage County, St. Vincent
Favorite TV Shows: Orange Is the New Black, The Walking Dead
Favorite Live Performance: Garth Brooks at Allstate Arena, Chicago (very first concert of his world tour)
Websites I Visit Every Day: (besides Facebook?) Designspiration


Bill Regier, Director

Favorite Book: In 2014 I read a lot of Erasmus. I’d gladly recommend books by and about him if you please, but suppose you’d be more pleased by something else. So I recommend another book, a real stunner, brought to my attention by UIP Art Director, Dustin Hubbart. If you see no other novel this year you will thank yourself lavishly if you take a long look at a book called S. S. is a novel in a novel and a book in a box. It is a unique book and a masterpiece of art direction. Inside its slipcase S. looks like a book published in 1947 and apparently long overdue from a high school library. It is, perhaps, a theft. The book is the “inner novel,” named Ship of Theseus, its hero an assassin named S., its heroine a woman of mystery, its ship a ramshackle ocean-going hulk run by a nameless crew. S. sails to different parts of the world killing evil overlords and their agents. Without Ship of Theseus S. would be an empty box. The 472 pages of Ship of Theseus carry a cargo: a map on a napkin, postcards, a decoder wheel, handwritten letters, and photocopies are inserted here and there. They’re loose paper; they fall out. The book’s margins have handwriting in different hands and different inks. These scripts and pieces present the “outer novel,” a series of messages between a man and a woman figuring out the inner novel, its author, and each other. Ask Dustin or me to show you S. I doubt you’ve seen anything like it. If you want to try some Erasmus, let me know.
Favorite CD: Once again, my favorite CD of the years is a Michael Roux recommendation. He thought I might like Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Wanderlust and I liked it a hundred times. She has had several earlier albums but this is the best by far. Try “Until the Stars Collide” and “Wrong Side of the Sun.” Another that got a lot of play is Vienna Teng’s AIMS, from 2013. It is her best in years. The CD can only be ordered from her Web site, though Amazon vends the MP3 version. Both albums are diverse in tone and genres.

Favorite Live Performance: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Nielsen’s Symphony #4 at Krannert. I had never heard this symphony live before and it was wonderful. It led me to play Nielsen symphonies for weeks. Lyle Lovett at the Virginia Theater was #2. I would have liked it even more if I could have seen it. I wore the wrong glasses, only good for reading.
Favorite TV Show: I loved Fargo, was again fascinated by Dancing with the Stars, complained about flaws in The Bridge, grew tired of Big Bang Theory, was glad I stuck with Gotham, welcomed Blackish, agreed with the Emmys about Modern Family, and remain stubbornly loyal to Justified as my favorite series. It wasn’t its best season, but still had terrific characters and amazing moments. The final season starts in January. I already mourn its passing.
Favorite Movie (aka = Film): Christopher Nolan may be my favorite living director (Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight), and despite its several problems, his Interstellar is my choice for the best film of 2014. The soundtrack is too loud, Matthew McConaughy is too often unintelligible, and wormholes in space is only slightly less incredible than magic beans, but the storyline was well paced (important for a long movie), and the bid screen made the most of the big scenery. Poor Casey Affleck got a bum role. For sheer skill in cinematography and sequencing, Birdman was stupendous, worth seeing for that reason if no other. It also happens to have an all-star cast, who live up to their reputations and improve them: Michael Keaton, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis. Since much of the movie is about acting, it risked parodying itself; instead, it creates amusement with simple surprises and fabulous camera work.
Favorite 16th-Century Scholar: Erasmus, of course.


Tad Ringo, Senior Editor

Favorite Book: Russell Shorto – The Island at the Center of the World
Favorite CD/LP/music download: Christina Perri – Head or Heart

Favorite Film: Godzilla
Favorite TV Show: The Musketeers (BBC America)
Website I visit every day: Eurobricks (LEGO site)


Michael Roux, Marketing Manager

Favorite Book: Marisha Pessl – Night Film, Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch
Favorite CD: Temples – Sun Structures, favorite song from the album, “The Golden Throne”

Favorite music from 2013 that I discovered too late to make last year’s list: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away, favorite song from the album, “Jubilee Street”
Favorite Sophie Ellis-Bextor song not on her recent album Wanderlust: “Catch You” from the album Trip the Light Fantastic

Favorite Film: Boyhood
Favorite TV Shows: True Detective
Favorite live performance: Ume at House of Blues, New Orleans, LA – Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull at Sangamon Auditorium, Springfield, IL
Website I visit every day: Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish


Sandy Sullivan, Account Tech II

Favorite Book:  The Shining
Favorite CD/LP/music download:  Kenny Chesney (all of them)

Favorite Film:  Heaven is For Real
Favorite TV Show:  Revenge
Favorite live performance, theater/music/comedy/etc.:  Kenny Chesney (maybe a theme developing here.)
Website I visit every day: IPAY website


Amanda Wicks, Assistant Acquisitions Editor

Favorite Book: History of the Rain – Niall Williams, A Girl if a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Favorite CD/LP/music download: Leif Vollebekk – North Americana, Jon Batiste & Stay Human – Social Music, Robert Ellis – The Lights from the Chemical Plant, and Beck – Morning Phase

Favorite Film: Birdman
Favorite live performance, theater/music/comedy/etc.: Ryan Adams at Chicago Theatre, Chicago. IL
Website I visit every day: Ask the Past

SteinbergS11You should eat. In From the Jewish Heartland, noshers and freshers alike can explore Jewish culinary innovation, Midwest style. Ellen F. Steinberg and Jack H. Prost curate treasures uncovered in Jewish homemakers’ handwritten manuscripts and notebooks, published journals and newspaper columns, and interviews with Jewish cooks, bakers, and delicatessen owners. Go beyond grocery stores bagels and that unspeakable brisket your sister makes to sample regional delights like Tzizel rye breads coated in cornmeal, savory gefilte fish from Minnesota northern pike, and Kwogle that is to die for.

BerenbaumF10Honey. It’s not just for bears anymore. In fact, the healthy buzz surrounding honey has made it the most popular superfood this side of kale. In Honey, I’m Homemade, entomologist May Berenbaum harvests the history of the viscous gold treat and shares a wealth of recipes for cookies, breads, pies, puddings, and cakes that use honey as the essential ingredient. She also pays tribute to the honey bee, the insect ally that services three-quarters of all flowering plant species.

For a limited time you can purchase our regional Best of Illinois titles at a 40% discount with the promo code BEST40. Sale ends December 31, 2014. View the Best of Illinois catalog here.

Cover for KANFER: Chicagoscapes. Click for larger imageLarry Kanfer will sign copies of his latest book CHICAGOSCAPES in the Chicago Loop on December 17th & 18th.  This is a perfect gift for the holidays.

Join us for these free events sponsored by the Illinois State Museum’s Illinois Artisans Program at the JAMES R. THOMPSON CENTER, 100 W. Randolph St., Chicago.

Art Exhibit and Book Signing in the Atrium
Wednesday, December 17, 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday, December 18, 9 am – 3 pm

Reception in the Artisans Shop, 2nd Floor
Wednesday, December 17, 5 pm – 7 pm

Meet the UI Press is a recurring feature that delves into issues affecting publishing. Today, industry advice columnist The Bolshevik answers your questions.

bolshevik

Dear Bolshevik,
I have a scholarly monograph I wish to submit to an academic press, in the hopes that it will be bought by toilers and workers everywhere. Yet when I tell people of my plans they look confused or their eyes glaze over. Clearly I’m in danger of making the kind of bone-headed mistake that will vex an editor and diminish my chances. Help! Signed, Tenureless in Tashkent

Tenureless: Thank you for writing. Note first that one should only use monograph when talking to one’s colleagues or to an acquisitions editor. Why? The word monograph, though an accurate description of a specific kind of written work, is easily mistaken by the layman for (1) an order of egg-laying mammals native to Australia and New Guinea; (2) a primitive record-playing device only capable of emitting the sound of a single instrument or, as we used to say in the USSR, a modern record-playing device; (3) a geometric drawing toy with plastic rings that never seems to work properly. Thus, the confused expressions you’re seeing may be because the listener is trying to work out why you now own a platypus. That said, research shows the word monograph also belongs to a still-unclassified suite of terms—colloquially termed Casus ennui by linguists and educators—that for unknown reasons make a majority of humans want to put a fork in their eye. Steer clear of the word outside of professional circles and you should be fine.

Dear Bolshevik,
At present, my book is making its way through the marketing department at a university press. I have given it the tentative but straightforward title, Feminist Nose-Flutists of the Pir Panjal. Yet the marketers have pressured me to make the work more “accessible,” starting with the title. Their suggestion: Harlequin Hotties of the Himalayas. I resist, for obvious reasons. Can you provide me with fodder for a convincing counter-argument? Signed, Ethnoconfuseiologist

Ethno: Thank you for writing. You are encountering a phenomenon brought about by the noble clash of scholarly ideals against the always-ravenous hunger of the Capitalist System. The answer to your conundrum lies in your expectations for your book. Do you wish to reach just the small circle of experts in your field? Or do you dream of injecting the exotic musics of nose-flutists into the mainstream? I advise attempting to find a middle ground with your publisher. For example, using Feminist Nose-Flutists of the Pir Panjal as the sub-title, while conceding to Market Forces with an accessible main title that uses evocative but proven nouns like “blood,” “sexuality,” “explosion,” “cats,” or “ungodly amounts of money.” Good luck.

KoreskyF14Michael Koresky is staff writer and associate editor at The Criterion Collection and cofounder of the online film magazine Reverse Shot. He recently answered some questions about his book in the Contemporary Film Directors Series, Terence Davies.

Q: Davies has been called the most important British filmmaker of his generation. What is not commonly understood about his impact in film?

Michael Koresky: Well, I think it’s largely in the United States that he’s not widely understood or appreciated. For instance, Terence Davies’s three most important, most deeply personal films—The Terence Davies Trilogy, Distant Voices/Still Lives, and The Long Day Closes—have long been unavailable here at all, with only Long Day Closes being released on DVD for the first time, from the Criterion Collection, earlier this year. Because he’s been so underseen, and admired by only a handful of American cinephiles, it might be surprising to note that he is so immensely respected in the United Kingdom. For instance, in a recent poll in the major British film magazine Time Out, incorporating critics, filmmakers, journalists, and actors, Distant Voices/Still Lives was named the third greatest British film of all time! This was below only Don’t Look Now and The Third Man, illustrious company indeed. So his films do speak to people on a profound level. Once seen they are not forgotten, both because they’re so radically structured and shot and because they dare to go to some frighteningly personal depths most other filmmakers or artists of any kind wouldn’t even dare go.

Q: How does Davies’s work thrive on contradictions?

Koresky: In writing this book I tried to figure out just how Davies’s films create a particular and peculiar emotional response in me. What they do is hard to put into words, because they’re not for the most part depressing films per se, even though they’re immensely sad, and I often leave his films feeling strangely elated even though I’ve been subjected to some dark, gloomy content. So I realized that to best try to understand just what it is they accomplish, I had to wrestle with the contradictions at the films’ centers. I ended up structuring the book around these ideas: that they are autobiographical yet fictional, even sometimes dreamlike and fantastical; that they are across-the-board essentially melancholy yet that in their form they produce a sense of artistic, even musical elation; that they traffic in a sort of nostalgia for a time gone by (specifically the 1950s of his Liverpool childhood), but that they also reject that period as heinously conservative and restrictive; and that they are obsessed with the forward march and inexorability of time, yet they are all about stasis, of people caught in emotional and sometimes literal freeze frames. These all seemed to be essential things to investigate about an artist who is himself something of a contradiction: an out gay man who nevertheless refuses to accept his homosexuality as anything other than a negative, for the emotional havoc he claims it has wrought on his life.

Q: Davies seems to draw upon his childhood in his films. Is there a nostalgia factor in his work?

Koresky: Certainly, as noted above, there seems to be a certain nostalgia inherent in his work. And when he talks about his 1950s youth, and especially his sisters and brothers and mother, and neighbors, and holidays, and his sisters’ makeup routines, and the textures and sights and smells of his home, he just lights up like a Christmas tree. Yet because his father—who died when he was seven—was psychotically abusive, he also looks back on these times with terror. This complicated nostalgia has proven to be the most controversial aspect of his films, especially among queer scholars who don’t appreciate anything resembling rose-tinged glasses when it comes to restrictive, homophobic years. But these restrictions are so caught up with Davies’s sense of youthful abandon—before the terrors of puberty set it—that it makes sense he would look at it all with a certain sense of nostalgia. It’s perhaps one of the sadnesses of his life, in fact, and which makes his films so poignant: he longs for the simplicity of a time he knows was difficult and scary.

Q: How does Davies reckon with his identity as a gay man in his films?

Koresky: Over the course of the short films that comprise his trilogy—Childhood, Madonna and Child, Death and Transfiguration—Davies made an alternate-reality autobiography, which began with a close approximation of his childhood in Liverpool, including the death of his abusive father, the tyranny of school bullies, the love of his mother, continued on to show his miserable work as a clerk. In real life, Davies left this job and became, of course, a filmmaker and writer. In the film, he supposes what would have happened if he had no artistic outlet, and he stays in his miserable job for decades, and then in the last part dies alone in a nursing home. All of this is tied to his main character’s and thus his identity as a gay man, which he sees, in an old-fashioned way, as a curse of loneliness. Gay sex is viewed as illicit. Even when a grown man, the character sneaks out in the middle of the night from his mother’s home to engage in sexual activities with men in shadowy bars and bathrooms and corners. The character’s sexual taste runs to the sadomasochistic, also, which further marginalizes him in his own eyes. Gay desire is seen as constantly thwarted and loveless and unsatisfying. It’s what makes Davies an unfashionable figure in queer studies circles. The Long Day Closes is also about gayness, in that it shows a young boy’s sexual awakening, if subtly. Less dark than the Trilogy, but equally sad, it presents a boy’s life from the perspective of a grown man who knows that boy will never marry or fall in love.

Q: For those who are unfamiliar with Davies’s ouevre, what is the film you’d recommend as the first step into appreciating his work?

Koresky: I would always recommend the one-two punch of Distant Voices/Still Lives and The Long Day Closes to begin, since they’re so personal and they express so much of what he tries to put into all his work. Yet I know many people who began with his most recent, The Deep Blue Sea, a Terence Rattigan adaptation, and then worked their way back, and this seems to be fruitful as well. There’s a distinct style that runs through all his films, so that even those that seem so far afield from his own experience, like the American-set The House of Mirth and The Neon Bible, seem to emanate from the same artistic consciousness. Really, you could start anywhere and you’d be equally struck by his immense cinematic brilliance—his pacing, his compositions, his direction of actors. It’s a singular vision.

 

Today marks the 196th anniversary of Illinois becoming a part of the United States. Not yet the Land of Lincoln—the Railsplitter had just turned nine the previous winter—Illinois forever left behind its status as part of the Northwest Territory. State fathers thoughtfully stroked their beards and looked out from the majestic capital at Kaskaskia to a glorious future. The next year, they looked out from Vandalia, and eighteen years after that from Springfield. In future years, December 3 came to mark many other world-changing historic events. For instance:

  • In 1826, future Lincoln nemesis George B. McClellan was born in Philadelphia.
  • In 1927, MGM released the first Laurel and Hardy film, the intriguingly-named Putting the Pants on Philip.
  • In 1967, cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard headed a team that successfully transplanted a heart into terminally ill grocer Louis Washkansky.
  • In 1992, an engineer sent the first text message via personal computer.

The Best of Illinois: Vol. 1, catalog offers cutting-edge graphic design, striking photography, a shelf of essential books, and a closeup of a bullfrog. Oh, you’ve heard these superlatives? Here’s the chase, the gist, the nitty, and/or the gritty: 40% off the cover price of our most celebrated new and recent releases. For instance, eyeball the following art and architecture books, a series of guides to get you looking up, looking down, and looking all around Chicago, Illinois.

AIAS14Chicago’s lookscape changes as often as a game of Sim City. The AIA Guide to Chicago, Third Edition, highlights all the wonders recently added to the skyline while also offering neighborhood-by-neighborhood tours. It’s all here: the glimpse of the sci-fi future that is Aqua; the answer to the question, “Why does the Reebie Storage Company on Clark Street look like a pharaoh’s tomb?”; and the pinktabulous splendor of the Jazz Age-era Edgewater Beach Apartments.

For a limited time you can purchases our regional Best of Illinois titles at a 40% discount with the promo code BEST40. Sale ends December 31, 2014. View the Best of Illinois catalog here.

The University of Illinois Press will be welcoming the Journal of Sport History to its roster in 2015! We will be publishing the Journal on behalf of the North American Society for Sport History. From NASSH.org, “The Journal of Sport History seeks to promote the study of all aspects of the history of sport.”

The Journal is currently edited by Alison M. Wrynn at California State University, Long Beach.

This Journal is a wonderful compliment to the Press’s growing book list in sport history and we are very excited to be welcoming them! Check back with us soon, as we will continue to add new information about this exciting title as it becomes available.