Michigan State University

I am co-editor, with Jennifer Fay, of the Contemporary Film Directors book series at the University of Illinois Press. The series presents short, theoretically and historically sophisticated commentaries on films by living directors from around the world.

Since assuming editorship in 2012, Jen and I have worked with a wonderful group of authors to publish 15 books.

Recent CFD books

Lana and Lily Wachowski | Sensing Transgender, Cael Keegan, 2018

Lana and Lilly Wachowski have redefined the technically and topically possible while joyfully defying audience expectations. Visionary films like The Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas have made them the world’s most influential transgender media producers, and their coming out retroactively put trans* aesthetics at the very center of popular American culture.

Cáel M. Keegan views the Wachowskis’ films as an approach to trans* experience that maps a transgender journey and the promise we might learn “to sense beyond the limits of the given world.” Keegan reveals how the filmmakers take up the relationship between identity and coding (be it computers or genes), inheritance and belonging, and how transgender becoming connects to a utopian vision of a post-racial order. Along the way, he theorizes a trans* aesthetic that explores the plasticity of cinema to create new social worlds, new temporalities, and new sensory inputs and outputs. Film comes to disrupt, rearrange, and evolve the cinematic exchange with the senses in the same manner that trans* disrupts, rearranges, and evolves discrete genders and sexes.


“This captivating book does more than argue persuasively for the centrality of the Wachowskis’ oeuvre in the recent history of cinema: it demonstrates how their embodied transgender experience is a central component of their aesthetic vision, and how transgender experience has become paradigmatic of visual semiotic practices in the increasingly ubiquitous digital media environment. Keegan offers lucid close readings of the entire Wachowski filmography, while also mapping generative points of overlap and intersection between cinema studies and trans studies. It makes a significant contribution to both fields.”–Susan Stryker, founding coeditor, Transgender Studies Quarterly 

“This book is a revelation! Leaving behind the more pedestrian methods of examining cinematic narratives of transgender lives, Cael Keegan goes one huge step beyond. With this book on Lana and Lilly Wachowski, we have in our hands the first book to consider the transgender content of the Wachowskis’ massively influential cinematic practice. The trans* cinema of the Wachowskis is, according to Keegan, not just disruptive and wildly imaginative, although it is definitely that, it also represents an expansion of the popular imagination and a very different sense of life in and beyond the matrix. Keegan gives a masterful account of the Wachowskis’ world and drops his readers down the rabbit hole of a trans* altered reality. Bon voyage.”–Jack Halberstam, author of Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal

Cáel M. Keegan is an assistant professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies and liberal studies at Grand Valley State University.

Michael Bay | World Cinema in the Age of Populism, Lutz Koepnick, 2018

If size counts for anything, Michael Bay towers over his contemporaries. His summer-defining event films involve extraordinary production costs and churn enormous box office returns. His ability to mastermind breathtaking spectacles of action, mayhem, and special effects continually push the movie industry as much as the medium of film toward new frontiers.

Lutz Koepnick engages the bigness of works like Armageddon and the Transformers movies to explore essential questions of contemporary filmmaking and culture. Combining close analysis and theoretical reflection, Koepnick shows how Bay’s films, knowingly or not, address profound issues about what it means to live in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. According to Koepnick’s astute readings, no one eager to understand the state of cinema today can ignore Bay’s work. Bay’s cinema of world-making and transnational reach not only exemplifies interlocking processes of cultural and economic globalization, it urges us to contemplate the future of moving images, of memory, matter, community, and experience, amid a time of rampant political populism and ever-accelerating technological change.

An eye-opening look at one of Hollywood’s most polarizing directors, Michael Bay illuminates what energizes the films of this cinematic and cultural force.

“Compelling. The brilliance of this new book lies in the way that it grasps Bay’s cinema not as the diametrical opposite, but rather as the dialectical counterpart, of ‘slow cinema.’ Exemplary in the way that it takes full measure of its subject without naive enthusiasm, but also without critical condescension.”–Steven Shaviro, author of Post Cinematic Affect 

“This book is for everyone who loved the film classes they took in college, then watched Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and thought ‘I give up.’ Lutz Koepnick’s study of Michael Bay is a clear-eyed assessment of the oeuvre of Hollywood’s hyperkinetic trash-virtuoso, but it is also a joyful demonstration of what film criticism and film theory can accomplish when they don’t capitulate before the new cinema of confetti-cuts and incessant franchise service. The thinking person’s guide to Bayhem.”–Adrian Daub, coauthor of The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism

 


 

Lutz Koepnick is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of German, Cinema and Media Arts at Vanderbilt University, where he also chairs the Department of German, Russian, and East European Studies and directs the joint PhD program in Comparative Media Analysis and Practice. His books include On Slowness: Toward an Aesthetic of the Contemporary and The Dark Mirror: German Cinema between Hitler and Hollywood.

Jan Švankmajer | Animist Cinema, Keith Leslie Johnson, 2017

Jan Švankmajer enjoys a curious sort of anti-reputation: he is famous for being obscure. Unapologetically surrealist, Švankmajer draws on the traditions and techniques of stop-motion animation, collage, montage, puppetry, and clay to craft bizarre filmscapes. If these creative choices are off-putting to some, they have nonetheless won the Czech filmmaker recognition as a visionary animator.

Keith Leslie Johnson explores Švankmajer’s work as a cinema that spawns new and weird life forms—hybrids of machine, animal, and non-organic materials like stone and dust. Johnson’s ambitious approach unlocks access to the director’s world, a place governed by a single, uncanny order of being where all things are at once animated and inert. For Švankmajer, everything is at stake in every aspect of life, whether that life takes the form of an object, creature, or human. Sexuality, social bonds, religious longings—all get recapitulated on the stage of inanimate things. In Johnson’s view, Švankmajer implores us to reprogram our relationship with the vital matter all around us, including ourselves and our bodies.

“Keith Johnson’s Jan Švankmajer is a triumph: a bold, synoptic, and elegantly written conceptual survey that brings fully to life the animating ideas of the Czech surrealist artist-filmmaker. Attending to the work of animation as a philosophy of life rather than an aesthetic technique alone, Johnson’s book lucidly presents Švankmajer’s art as the bearer of ‘a vital, emergent, biopolitical, ethical, and ecological outlook.’ Featuring detailed analyses of the artist’s full body of cinematic, artistic, and curatorial work, as well as an illuminating set of interviews, Jan Švankmajer presents the Czech artist in vital, living color.”–Jonathan Eburne, author of Surrealism and the Art of Crime


Keith Leslie Johnson is a lecturer of English and film and media studies at the College of William and Mary.

Kelley Reichardt | Emergency and the Everyday, Katherine Fusco and Nicole Seymour, 2017

Kelly Reichardt’s 1994 debut River of Grass established her gift for a slow-paced realism that emphasizes the ongoing, everyday nature of emergency. Her work since then has communed with–yet remained apart from–postwar European realisms, the American avant-garde, independent film, and the emerging slow cinema movement.

Katherine Fusco and Nicole Seymour read such Reichardt films as Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves to consider the root that emergency shares with emergence–the slowly unfolding or the barely perceptible. They see Reichardt as a filmmaker preoccupied with how environmental and economic crises affect those living on society’s fringes. Her spare plots and slow editing reveal an artist who recognizes that disasters are gradual, with effects experienced through duration rather than sudden shock.

Insightful and boldly argued, Kelly Reichardt is a long overdue portrait of a filmmaker who sees emergency not as a break from the everyday, but as a version of it.


“The organizational structure is superb, as the concepts they’ve isolated seem excitingly to cut to the heart of Reichardt’s motifs. . . . These pages dazzlingly force their readers-as Reichardt’s films force their viewers their viewers- to reflect on the political implications of our empathy, or lack thereof, to imagine other kinds of relationships beyond empathy and judgment.”–Cineaste

“An engaging and thoughtful book. Fusco and Seymour persuasively use political theory and affect studies to analyze Reichardt’s unique deployment of realist traditions and the politics of temporality in her films. The authors’ striking insights illuminate the filmmaker’s style and her importance not only in contemporary art and indie cinema spheres but for American cinema more broadly.”—Elena Gorfinkel, coeditor of Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image


Katherine Fusco is an assistant professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the author of Silent Film and U.S. Naturalist Literature: Time, Narrative, and ModernityNicole Seymour is an assistant professor of English at California State University, Fullerton. She is the author of Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination.

Wes Anderson | A Collector's Cinema, Donna Kornhaber, 2017

The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom have made Wes Anderson a prestige force. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums have become quotable cult classics. Yet every new Anderson release brings out droves of critics eager to charge him with stylistic excess and self-indulgent eclecticism.

Donna Kornhaber approaches Anderson’s style as the necessary product of the narrative and thematic concerns that define his body of work. Using Anderson’s focus on collecting, Kornhaber situates the director as the curator of his filmic worlds, a prime mover who artfully and conscientiously arranges diverse components into cohesive collections and taxonomies. Anderson peoples each mise-en-scéne in his ongoing “Wesworld” with characters orphaned, lost, and out of place amidst a riot of handmade clutter and relics. Within, they seek a wholeness and collective identity they manifestly lack, with their pain expressed via an ordered emotional palette that, despite being muted, cries out for attention. As Kornhaber shows, Anderson’s films offer nothing less than a fascinating study in the sensation of belonging–told by characters who possess it the least.


“A readable and insightful analysis of a vital contemporary filmmaker . . . Highly recommended.”–Choice

“A decisive account of Anderson’s movies, alive to their obvious charms, undaunted by their limits, and dedicated to activating their hidden potentials. This slim volume is both a sure introduction to Anderson’s cinema and an authoritative reframing of the critical consensus. Anderson is the cinematic collector par excellence, and in this beautifully written study, Kornhaber plunges into the causes and consequences of that obsession in new and trenchant ways.”–J. D. Connor, author of The Studios after the Studios: Neoclassical Hollywood, 1970–2010


Donna Kornhaber is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Charlie Chaplin, Director.

Christi Puiu | Ineffable Experiences of the Profane World, Monica Filimon, 2017

Cristi Puiu’s black comedy The Death of Mr. Lazarescu announced the arrival of the New Romanian Cinema as a force on the film world stage. As critics and festival audiences embraced the new movement, Puiu emerged as its lodestar and critical voice.

Monica Filimon explores the works of an artist dedicated to truth not as an abstract concept, but as the ephemeral revelation of the fuller, ungraspable world beyond the screen. Puiu’s innovative use of the handheld camera as an observer and his reliance on austere, restricted narration highlight the very limits of human understanding, guiding the viewer’s intellectual and emotional sensibilities to the reality that has been left unfilmed. Filimon examines the director’s ethics of epiphany not only in relation to the collective and personal histories that have triggered it, but also in dialogue with the films, texts, and filmmakers that have shaped it.

Informed and enlightening, Cristi Puiu is the first book-length study of an important twenty-first century filmmaker.


“Monica Filimon’s concise and helpful study of the director’s oeuvre, background, and aesthetics is such a welcome publication. . . . Apart from her highly readable and well-argued accounts of Puiu’s films . . . Filimon offers a convincing account of the director’s evolution.”–Cineaste

“Cristi Puiu is, undoubtedly, the most important filmmaker in contemporary Romanian cinema. His masterpieces have made their mark not only in the national film industry, but also in the European film culture. Monica Filimon’s book, the first comprehensive analysis of all of Puiu’s works until now, provides a thorough overview of the inner mechanisms of a complex and influential cinema-maker.”–Doru Pop, author of Romanian New Wave Cinema: An Introduction 

“An original and highly competent investigation.”–Dina Iordanova, University of St. Andrews


Monica Filimon is an assistant professor of English at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.

Paul Thomas Anderson | George Toles, 2016

Since his explosive debut with the indie sensation Hard Eight, Paul Thomas Anderson has established himself as one of contemporary cinema’s most exciting artists. His 2002 feature Punch-Drunk Love radically reimagined the romantic comedy. Critics hailed There Will Be Blood as a key film of the new millennium. In The Master, Anderson jarred audiences with dreamy amorphousness and a departure from conventional story mechanics.

Acclaimed film scholar and screenwriter George Toles approaches these three films in particular, and Anderson’s oeuvre in general, with a focus on the role of emergence and the production of the unaccountable. Anderson, Toles shows, is an artist obsessed with history, workplaces, and environments but also intrigued by spaces as projections of the people who dwell within. Toles follows Anderson from the open narratives of Boogie Nights and Magnolia through the pivot that led to his more recent films, Janus-faced masterpieces that orbit around isolated central characters–and advance Anderson’s journey into allegory and myth.

Blending penetrative analysis with a deep knowledge of filmic storytelling, Paul Thomas Anderson tours an important filmmaker’s ever-deepening landscape of disconnection.


“Part of the increasingly influential ‘Contemporary Film Directors’ series published by the University of Illinois Press. . . . [Paul Thomas Anderson] is full of literary shine and sparkle.”–Los Angeles Review of Books 

“Tole’s detailed, close readings of these three films provide a lens to look at Anderson’s work, and his insights into the director’s creative process are keen. A model of cinema scholarship, this is another solid entry in Illinois’s “Contemporary Film Directors” series.”–Choice 

“With Paul Thomas Anderson, Toles raises many insightful points about one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers to emerge from the ’90’s indie boom.”–Shepherd Express

“George Toles is film studies’ most astute close reader and its finest prose stylist. This book captures the ineffable strangeness of P. T. Anderson’s films–their unusual forms, unsettled soundscapes, and characters wanting unmet connections. Toles explores the subjective interiors and cultural terrain these blinkered selves–and we viewers–cannot fully see. It’s been said that actors are our substitutes, avatars who test unplumbed psychic depths. So it is with Toles, our guide to these miraculous films.”–Carol Vernallis, author of Unruly Media: Youtube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema 

“Scriptwriter for films by Guy Maddin, George Toles is also one of the most insightful and articulate critics writing today. Tackling the enigmatic Paul Thomas Anderson, Toles probes these dramas of isolation, revealing both desperate violence and the possibility of communion.”–Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity 

“Here, caught within its covers, is the inimitable George Toles’s richly challenging and brilliantly lambent voyage into the world of P. T. Anderson. Always turning and returning, always leaping and quivering with thought, the book opens Anderson to a new sense of value and depth that reveals his poetry, his multiplicities, and his touch upon our lives.”–Murray Pomerance, author of Moment of Action: Riddles of Cinematic Performance


George Toles is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of A House Made of Light: Essays on the Art of Film.

Close Menu