Monday, July 10, 2017

Dale Hudson's "Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods"

Dale Hudson is an associate professor in the Film and New Media Program at New York University Abu Dhabi and a digital curator for the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods, and reported the following:
From page 98:
The setting of these Vampire-Westerns in the Southwest demonstrates that the Hollywood Gothic was somewhat always about representing the contemporary United States. On Hollywood’s back-lots and sound stages, so-called exotic locations like China, Arabia, and Transylvania, alongside mythical heritage locations, like England, reveal their actual shooting location in southern California through inconsistent accents and costumes. With stars, personas also make reality difficult to differentiate completely from illusion. Lugosi’s performance of Count Dracula somewhat overlapped with his performance of “himself” as a political exile. In an interview at the height of his fame, he identifies as a “Hungarian by birth” and “an American now.” Few contested his patriotism despite his accent. Vampire hunters may have murdered the accented Count Dracula, but accents faded, particularly among its vampire-cowboys. The deathly departure of Mexican-born Drake renders him as a frontier fighter, a self-sacrificing figure of nation building. If “the saga of European immigration has long been held up as proof of the openness of American society, the benign and absorptive powers of American capitalism, and the robust health of American democracy” (Jacobson 1998: 12), classical Hollywood vampire films offer revisionist and alternative histories, albeit in supernatural terms, to acknowledge the nation’s transnational coordinates. Classical Hollywood vampire films address controversial questions. They serve as one means by which fantasies and anxieties about immigration were evoked on screen without representing them directly during moments of radical social transformation and redefinition of legal categories.
Page 99 contains only a few endnotes, so I’m cheating by looking at page 98, which provides a good sense of the reading strategy for Hollywood films that the book proposes. I try to understand how audiences, both at the time of the film’s original release and today, negotiate contradictions between images of “America” in vampire films and their own experiences of the United States.

Earlier in the chapter, I consider how Hollywood makes Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania appear strange by littering it with animals indigenous to southern California, such as armadillos and opossums. For me, the choice is less interesting as a marker of low-budget production than how it makes the story not only one about vampires, but also about immigrant experiences. The costumes and sets for Transylvania are actually similar to ones used in films, produced by private companies and public institutions, to recruit and assimilate European immigrants. The figure of the vampire also draws upon representations of Latin Lovers in Hollywood miscegenation melodramas. The films are about indirect representation.

What the page does not include is the book’s analysis of the political economies of film, television, and digital media, which I argue frame possible readings. The book disrupts the notion that Hollywood is unequivocally American any more than the U.S. history is unequivocally national. I look at various mechanisms by which Hollywood intervened in media production in Europe following the second World War, off-shored production to the Philippines in the 1970s and later to Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, México, South Africa, and elsewhere.

I selected the figure of the vampire due to its historical mutations and migrations, which I thought were an appropriate for thinking about Hollywood, which has mutated and migrated so much that it seems more accurate to refer to it in the plural as Hollywoods. I was also intrigued by the number of philosophers who turned to supernatural figures to conceptualize citizenship and nationality. I wondered whether vampire media might convey such ideas to wider audiences than books on political philosophy — or even journalism on immigrant rights, racial justice, nonhuman animal rights, environmental justice, and related issues.
Learn more about Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue