Behind the Screen and Off the Stage: Film and Television Representations of American Entertainment
Two-Day Virtual Conference
12 and 13 November 2021
London Metropolitan University
Conference Convenor: Dr Karen McNally, author of The Stardom Film: Creating the Hollywood Fairy Tale (Wallflower–Columbia University Press, 2020)
Keynote Speaker: Professor Steven Cohan, Dean’s Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Film and Screen Studies, Syracuse University and author of Hollywood by Hollywood: The Backstudio Picture and the Mystique of Making Movies (OUP, 2019) and Sunset Boulevard (BFI–Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2022)
Movies and television shows set in the world of American entertainment have been a central feature of the big and small screens since the early days of Hollywood. From the backstage musical to the star biopic, and from the rise-and-fall narrative to critiques of the business of show, screen narratives have repeatedly sought to dramatize life behind the scenes of American entertainment. Their persistent allure is illustrated in film and television history ranging from Show People (1928) to All About Eve (1950), and from Valley of the Dolls (1967) to Fosse/Verdon (2019) and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). The ten Oscar nominations announced for David Fincher’s 2020 film Mank only reinforce the appeal of the genre for audiences, directors and the film and television industries as reflections on entertainment history in the digital age.
Narratives that take the audience behind the screen and off the stage combine the exposure of the practices and strategies of the entertainment industries and the production of American culture with the dramatization of the experiences of their personnel and the mythologizing of both. They traverse every genre of film and television, and tell stories of fictional and real-life characters, as well as many who occupy a position in between. These films and television shows illuminate moments of crisis and opportunity in the entertainment industries, and raise broader issues about what defines American entertainment and the nation’s culture and why.
This two-day virtual conference seeks to explore the history and significance of these self-reflective films and television shows, considering a wide variety of approaches to their production and reception and to their representation of American entertainment behind the screen and off the stage. The conference will be scheduled as an afternoon and evening event on both days to accommodate international contributors and attendees.
Topics may include but are not limited to:
- On-screen use of behind-the-scenes spaces, e.g. backlot, dressing room, recording studio, rehearsal hall, office
- Representations of entertainment traditions beyond the cinema or stage, such as the circus, fairs, nightclubs and casinos
- Stardom (off the screen and stage, stars playing themselves or other stars, the star system)
- Differing representations of American entertainment in international film and television
- The American entertainer overseas
- American entertainment on-the-road or out-of-town
- The mythology of entertainment
- Representing entertainment through gender, race, class or sexuality
- Narrative use of industry events
- The rise-and-fall narrative
- Documentaries about American entertainment
- The depiction of vaudeville and burlesque
- The business of American entertainment
- Non-star figures, e.g. the understudy, producer, director, composer
- Transitional moments in film and television history
- Biographic choices and inventions in the entertainment biopic
Proposals for both individual papers and panels are invited. Abstracts for individual papers of 20 minutes should be a maximum of 300 words. Proposals for panels of three papers should include individual paper proposals and a 100 word overview of the panel topic. Please include a short author biog or biogs with your proposal.
The deadline for submission of proposals is: Friday 11 June 2021.
Please send proposals and any questions to the conference convenor, Dr Karen McNally, at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.