Williams, Linda 1946-
WILLIAMS, Linda 1946-
PERSONAL: Born December 18, 1946, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of Keneth (in sales) and Lorelle (a nurse; maiden name, Ruhr) Williams; married Paul Fitzgerald (a teacher), December 14, 1968. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1969; University of Colorado, Ph.D., 1977. Politics: Socialist. Religion: None.
CAREER: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Chicago, IL, assistant professor of English and film, 1977-89; University of California, Irvine, professor of film studies and director, Program in Film Studies, 1990-97; University of California, Berkeley, professor of film studies and rhetoric, director of film studies, 1997—. Visiting assistant professor at University of Colorado, 1980-81, and Northwestern University, 1982. Public speaker.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, Society for Cinema Studies, Society for Education in Film and Television.
AWARDS, HONORS: First place award from Mountain States Competition of Academy Awards of Student Films, 1975, for "Axolotl"; Fulbright fellowship for France, 1975-76; grant from Illinois Arts Council, 1978; awards from Filmex, American Film Festival, London International Film Festival, and Field Museum Annual Festival of Anthropology on Film, all 1981, all for "Maxwell Street Blues"; grant from American Council of Learned Societies, 1982-83; Mary Ingraham Bunting fellowship for Radcliffe Institute, 1982-83.
Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of SurrealistFilm, University of Illinois Press (Chicago, IL), 1981, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1991.
(Editor, with Mary Anne Doane, and contributor) Revision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism (monograph), University Publications of America (Frederick, MD), 1983.
Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of theVisible," University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1989.
(Editor and author of introduction) Viewing Positions:Ways of Seeing Film, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1995.
Creator of films "Axolotl," 1975, and "Maxwell Street Blues," 1981. Contributor to Chicano Images in Film, edited by Don Cardenas and Suzanne Schneider, Denver International Film Festival and Bilingual Communications Center (Denver, CO), 1981, and Cinema and Language (monograph), edited by Stephen Heath and Patricia Mellencamp, University Publications of America (Frederick, MD), 1983. Contributor of articles and reviews to film and literature journals. Associate editor of Jump Cut: A Journal of Contemporary Film, 1977—, Journal of the University Film Association, and Cinema Journal.
SIDELIGHTS: Linda Williams specializes in and teaches courses on Surrealist film, feminist critique, and moving-image pornography, violence, melodrama and explicit sex acts. Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film is a psychoanalytic study of Surrealist cinema, while Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible," her controversial and groundbreaking feminist study of pornographic film, is unique in that it takes a serious look at the history and form of this enormously popular and muchmaligned genre.
In a faculty profile from Berkeleyan Online, a University of California at Berkeley Web site, Fernando Quintero noted that Williams was drawn to her academic specialization in the late 1970s, during her undergraduate education in comparative literature. He quoted her mention of the famous opening sequence of Un Chien Andalou, a film by Luis Buñuel, in which a razor blade is seen slicing into a woman's eyeball. The extreme and profoundly disturbing violence of this scene ultimately led to Williams's investigation into "the figural formations of desire throughout the most surrealist works of Buñuel," she said.
Quintero commented that Williams's interests developed over time from "high modernist, avant garde movements such as Surrealism, to the lowest forms of popular culture: pornography, horror and melodrama." Williams told him, "We understand very little about why and towards what end these moving pictures affect us. How should we go about addressing the brute, remarkably little discussed fact of our bodies' vulnerability to the moving bodies on the screen? And what is the role of gender, sexuality and race in this vulnerability?" She believes that, unlike Surrealism, pornography, horror, and melodrama have been rejected by critics as "excessive, mindless and gratuitous. Nonetheless," she told Quintero, "they are a physically, crudely disturbing veneer of civilization. I realized they were greatly neglected in academic work. And I thought we were taking something really obvious for granted: the representation of sexuality and pathos and fear in visual terms."
Williams spoke to Quintero about her series of essays on horror and melodrama in films. "My work was fueled by an early feminist response to the misogyny of horror films—it was (Alfred) Hitchcock who once said that if you want to make a horror film, torture a woman—and the excess of emotion of melodrama—make a woman cry. I soon began to see a greater complexity in the gender roles played out in both," she said. She also noted that she employs psychoanalytic, Marxist, and Foucaultian theory to her analysis of these genres, and that the seriousness of purpose with which she approaches the study of these lower forms of popular entertainment allows her to "get away with it."
When reviewing Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson for the New York Times, Jonathan Rieder wrote: "Williams examines white images of blacks and white efforts to adopt black culture, as depicted in melodramatic works like Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, and Show Boat, Gone with the Wind, and Roots—and she even includes the trials of O.J. Simpson and the police officers who beat Rodney King. Williams . . . rightly argues that melodrama is serious business. By presenting characters who embody titanic struggles between good and evil, melodrama provokes ordinary people to think about virtue and vice. It has also offered an occasion for Americans to confront the moral issues of slavery and segregation....Williams's achievement [in this book] is to recapture the complexity of our tangled racial history without sanitizing racism."
Commenting on the book for Library Journal, Edward McCormack wrote: "By examining a variety of melodramas . . . Williams unfolds the 'Tom/anti-Tom' dialectic, exposes the logic of race- and gender-based victimization, and shows how both white and black have maneuvered the race card to great moral advantages. Playing the Race Card is simply part and parcel of the racial power games in U.S. culture. For any honest discussion about race relations in America, she argues, we must first acknowledge the indeterminate influence of melodrama." McCormack commented that the book was "conscientiously researched" and "insightful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, May, 1995, review of Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film, p. 1458.
Film Quarterly, summer, 1990, review of Hard Core:Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible," p. 62.
Library Journal, April 1, 1995, review of Viewing Positions, p. 97; June 1, 2001, Edward G. McCormack, review of Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson, p. 188.
New York Times, September 16, 2001, Jonathan Rieder, "Imagining Black," review of Playing the Race Card.
New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1990, review of Hard Core, p. 31.
Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, summer, 1997, review of Viewing Positions, p. 65.
Publishers Weekly, April 23, 2001, review of Playing the Race Card, p. 59.
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, autumn, 1992, review of Hard Core, p. 173.
Times Literary Supplement, August 28, 1992, review of Hard Core, p. 6.
Women's Review of Books, December, 1989, review of Hard Core, p. 17.
Berkeleyan Online,http://www.berkeley.edu/news/ (July 22, 2002), Fernando Quintero, "New Faculty Profile: Linda Williams."*