While carrying out online research for my thesis topic, American literature and the EN6016, Research Skills module, I discovered a very interesting documentary series titled “We Shall Remain” on the PBS website, which provides a contemporary rendition of Native American history.
Not only is this documentary series useful for providing a historical context for the Native American literature I am reading, but the PBS website also contains other webpages on American literature and film that are relevant to taught section of my course.
One website that is a part of the PBS website and is certainly worth mentioning is The American Novel. This website discusses the evolution of the American novel by covering a temporal trajectory of about 200 years. It also provides an in-dept discussion of about 50 authors and novel, along with acknowledging the literary movements they influenced or inspired.
What is particularly remarkable about this website is its easy-to-use interface. Everything is clearly laid out so navigation is simple. The website also divides its categories into 4 sections: ‘Literary Timeline’; ‘Six Novel Ideas’; ‘My Favorite Novel’; ‘Elements of the Novel’; and ‘Top Novel Lists’.
The ‘Six Novel Ideas’ section is exceptionally useful for any scholar of American literature as it uses six themes as a lens in order to discuss the American novel. The six themes are: American Dream, Melting Pot, The Colour Line, Crisis of Faith, Violence and The Forbidden. By exploring the American novel in this manner, it makes it very easy to draw thematic links and connections between other novels that share the same themes, which is what I am expected to do as a student of American literature and film.
The ‘Elements of the Novel’ section is also useful for building an in-dept knowledge of a novel or author as one can take an entertaining, interactive quizz that tests one’s knowledge of, as the title suggests, elements of the novel.
The aforementioned website is only one example of what the PBS website has to offer. Other interesting and educational website explore topics such as the American Civil War, slave narratives, American photography, ‘The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow’, and the Vietnam War, to name but a very few because there is a comprehensive list of program title from A-Z that can be viewed here.
Here is the rest of episode 1:
Part 10 (Credits):
“The longer we captivate someone and make them think about what they are seeing, the better chance we have of them understanding what it is we’re trying to say with the photography.” (Nighswander qtd. in Horton 223)
Figure 1: Kidnapping scene. The Black Hand (1906). 2011.
Early American films, photography and immigration from the Progressive era were the topics of discussion in today’s class. One of the silent films from what is known as the “primitive era” or “early cinema period” we examined is The Black Hand (1906). It is classed as the first gangster film and this is apparent from its titular connotations. The signing of the appellation “Black Hand” to a letter is associated with the Italian mafia’s means of communicating the significance of a threat, which will only conclude with death if requests are not fulfilled. The threat anxiety gangsters inflicted on society is symptomatic of a national xenophobia concerning the then-present mistrust of foreigners in the US. America’s treatment of white European immigrants in comparison to the treatment of blacks and Native Americans is a topic I am interested in because it exposes the racial inequalities of America’s race relations.
The film also differentiates between America’s perception of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant by juxtaposing the non-assimilated, gang affiliated criminal with the hard-working, partially assimilated, butcher.
The moral bifurcation of immigrants is also evident from Jacob Riis’s photography. Riis was one of the first photojournalists of America who later became known as “the great Emancipator of the slums” (qtd. in Quirke 561). Photography was the most important propagandist tool of the Progressive era because it could be utilised to reinforce social ideologies.
Figure 2: Jacob Riis’s “Bandits’ Roost” (1888). Web. 2011
The title of this photograph is “Bandit’s Roost” (1888) (see figure 2) which is the name of an alleyway in Manhattan’s Five Points neighbourhood, which is also the setting of the Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York (2002).
The criminality of the immigrants is conveyed through their body language, the light and dark contrasts of the background and the weaponry in the foreground of the photograph. Riis is particularly interested in the concept of illumination, which conveys connotations of revelation and religion. His photography is illuminating their situation, while the photographic usage of light and its absence suggests the divine intervention he intends from social reformation.
There is also a sense of community apparent from the tight knit, proximity of the immigrants’ residency, which is sustained by the loyalty-at-all-costs ethos cementing their social unity. Martin Scorsese’s films emphasize the importance of group morality and intergroup loyalty in his microcosmic depiction of the mafia ethos.
Consequently, early American film and photography capture the social issues concerning immigrants, occupying America’s social consciousness.
Horton, Brian. Associated Press Guide to Photojournalism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001. Print.
Quirke, Carol. “Picturing the Poor: Jacob Riis Reform Photography.” Reviews in American History 36.4 (2008): 557-565. Project Muse. Web. 05 Oct. 2010.
Posted in American Photography, American Society and Ethnicity, Film Studies, Films, Immigration, Jacob Riis, Martin Scorsese, Race, Task 3-American Society and Immigrant Experience
Tagged American Film, Bandit's Roost, Black, Black Hand, Film, Gangs of New York, gangster, Italian Mafia, Italian-American, Jacob Riis, Martin Scorsese, Native American, Progressive Era, Race