PERSONAL: Female. Education: Texas Tech University, B.A. (music); University of Southern California, M.A. (music), Ph.D. (communication), 1984.
CAREER: Film scholar, author, and educator. Emory University, Atlanta, GA, associate professor; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, professor of women's studies and director of program in film and video studies, 1995–, Rudolph Arnheim Collegiate Professor of Film Studies, 2000–. American Museum of the Moving Image, New York, NY, guest curator.
In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic, University of Illinois (Urbana, IL), 1988.
(With Matthew Bernstein) Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1997.
(With Kevin S. Sandler) Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1999.
(With Matthew Bernstein) John Ford Made Westerns: Filming the Legend in the Sound Era, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2001.
Contributor of critical essays to scholarly periodicals and books, including Mob Culture, edited by Esther Sonnet and Lee Grievson, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2003, and Interdisciplinary Literary Studies: A Journal of Criticism and Theory.
WORK IN PROGRESS: From Girls to Women: Female Transformation in Classical Hollywood and Harem Envy: Hollywood Orientalism and American Sexuality, 1919–1929.
SIDELIGHTS: Theorist Gaylyn Studlar has written and edited several works of film criticism focusing on issues of gender and ethnicity. Her publications evince a highly theoretical approach to film and are based on the author's understanding of different schools of psychoanalysis, semiotics, colonialism, and feminist theory. Studlar specializes in American film, particularly from the 1910s and 1930s, but she has also edited critical collections that deal more broadly with twentieth-century film history in the United States and abroad.
In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic examines the subject of masochism in six 1930s-era films—including Morocco (1930) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935)—all directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich. Influenced by the work of French theorist Giles Deleuze, Studlar contends that the films exhibit a type of masochistic pleasure different from that identified by earlier film theorists, notably Laura Mulvey and her view of women as passive objects of a voyeuristic male gaze. As reviewer Nancy Warring explained in the Women's Review of Books, "Studlar argues instead that cinematic pleasure belongs to everyone who has ever been an infant…. [Her] account of visual pleasure is a far cry from the male-sadistic, controlling pleasure commonly associated with spectatorship in modern film theory." Choice reviewer J. E. Gates found Studlar's work to signal "an important redirection in feminist film study that could lead the way to further questioning of the Freudian bias existing in current theories of gender difference." Likewise, Film Quarterly contributor Vivian Sobchack observed that, "despite it's flaws," In the Realm of Pleasure "is an important and extremely valuable [book] and should be read—no less for its rigorous and provocative argument than for its model applications of Peircean semiotics and rhetorical tropes to the von Sternberg/Dietrich films."
In This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age Studlar examines the films of four male stars from the silent era—Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Rudolph Valentino, and Lon Chaney—and places their respective embodiment of masculinity in the American social context of the time. In particular, Studlar suggests that the masculine identities acted out by each of the actors reflect a transformation of gender roles and underlying social expectations during the 1920s.
As Film Quarterly critic Shari Roberts wrote, "Studlar's central argument is that Fairbanks works hegemonically to enforce normative masculinity, while the other three stars progressively function to transgress and, with Chaney, to negate this norm." Summarizing the significance of Chaney in Studlar's analysis, Roberts wrote, "Chaney's grotesque performances constitute an anti-modern, masochistic, self-reflexive, and subversive revelation of the Other, which is the masquerade that is masculinity." Though finding fault in Studlar's theoretical reticence and conspicuous neglect of race, class, and sexual orientation as integral issues, Roberts commended the book's "exemplary" self-contained chapters, noting that the work "certainly serves as a useful contribution to the continually growing wealth of scholarly studies on stars, spectatorship, and social constructions." Choice reviewer J. I. Deutsch called This Mad Masquerade a "well-documented and incisive analysis of how the roles and performances of these four stars represented changing notions of masculinity."
Studlar has also served as an editor of several critical collections. Reflections in a Male Eye: John Huston and the American Experience, coedited with David Desser, is a collection of twelve essays on the films of American director John Huston. The volume provides positive and negative takes on the director's work, as well as an interview with Huston and two short stories by the filmmaker. Though best known for his films of the 1940s and 1950s—notably The Maltese Falcon (1941), Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and The African Queen (1951)—Huston worked up until his death in 1987. Reflections in a Male Eye focuses on academic debates concerning the significance and lasting value of Huston's oeuvre. According to Sight and Sound contributor Peter Matthews, "Studlar's and Desser's anthology is the more welcome in that it attempts—partially and with mixed success—to wrestle free from the deadening grip of structural determinism. Nearly all the contributors treat Huston not merely as the reflex of this or that ideological formation or institutional setting, but as an artist with specific traits whose films can be distinguished, argued over, liked or disliked." However, commenting on the critical perspective suggested by the book's title, Matthews argued that Huston is "too complicated an animal to be pinned down by the terms of a 'masculinity' debate."
Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film, which Studlar edited with Matthew Bernstein, is a collection of essays that examine the presentation of North African, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures in Western films. Studlar contributed an essay on "fan magazine orientalism," according to Library Journal reviewer Robert W. Metlon, who noted that "the audience for this book is clearly academic." While acknowledging several outstanding selections, Film Quarterly commentator Gina Marchetti found shortcomings in the volume's lack of focus and inadequate elaboration of Edward Said's postcolonial theory, notably his influential concept of Orientalism, which ostensibly frames the collection's theoretical perspective. "Rather than having a clear sense of the issues and theoretical approaches to Orientalism to be covered by the anthology," wrote Marchetti, "the editors seem to have taken a haphazard approach, too much on some topics and films, not enough on others, and absolutely noting at all on certain key issues."
Studlar has also coedited critical collections on director James Cameron's Titanic and on the work of noted filmmaker John Ford. Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster, edited by Studlar and Kevin S. Sandler, contains fourteen critical essays on the 1997 box-office phenomenon Titanic, directed by Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. As Artforum International critic Vernon Shetley observed, "the extraordinary popularity and monumental banality [of Titanic] cries out for the sophisticated skepticism that the best practitioners of cultural criticism bring to mass-media texts." However, Shetley remarked, "revelations" of this order "are in short supply" in Studlar and Sandler's collection. Dismissing the volume as an academic instant book that seeks to seize upon a "'hot' topic," Shetley found the majority of the collection's selections jargon-ridden and superficial.
In John Ford Made Westerns: Filming the Legend in the Sound Era, edited by Studlar and Matthew Bernstein, the volume's academic contributors selected consider Ford's Westerns in light of ideological issues involving gender, class, and race. Among the book's nine essays is one by Studlar, "Sacred Duties, Poetic Passions," in which she addresses the issue of femininity in Ford's Westerns. While noting that some readers might object to the book's ideological emphasis, reviewer David Boyd praised the collection in the online journal SensesofCinema.com. According to Boyd, "the overall standard of this volume is very high indeed: every one of the essays has something to say, and says it clearly and persuasively."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Artforum International, October, 1999, Vernon Shetley, review of Titanic: Anatomy of a Blockbuster, p. 32.
Choice, March, 1989, J. E. Gates, review of In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic, p. 1176; January, 1997, J. I. Deutsch, review of This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age, p. 804.
Film Quarterly, spring, 1990, Vivian Sobchack, review of In the Realm of Pleasure, pp. 43-46; summer, 1994, Doug K. Holm, review of Reflections in a Male Eye: John Huston and the American Experience, p. 52; spring, 1998, Shari Roberts, review of This Mad Masquerade, p. 62; fall, 1998, Gina Marchetti, review of Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film, p. 93.
Library Journal, March 15, 1993, Richard W. Grefrath, review of Reflections in a Male Eye, p. 80; February 1, 1997, Robert W. Melton, review of Visions of the East, p. 81.
Sight and Sound, August, 1993, Peter Matthews, review of Reflections in a Male Eye, p. 36.
Women's Review of Books, December, 1988, Nancy Waring, review of In the Realm of Pleasure, p. 15.
SensesofCinema.com, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/ (December, 2001), David Boyd, review of Titanic.