I first studied English at Somerville College, Oxford, before turning to cinema and taking a diploma (Birkbeck), MA (Westminster) and then PhD (Warwick) in film. My thesis at Warwick was on filmic strategies for representing virginity in 1950s Hollywood, considering the emergence of the then-topical figure, the desirous virgin, and contrasting this figure with the sexually experienced Career Woman, often played by Doris Day.
Having taught part-time sessions at Birkbeck and Warwick, I began teaching film full-time in September 2003 at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. In 2006 I joined the film department at Oxford Brookes and in 2007 arrived at Kent.
Between leaving Oxford and starting at BCUC (now Bucks New University) I worked as Administrator for an architectural charity, and then was Managing Editor for a social science journal, Human Relations, for nearly a decade. This latter job provided me with a useful range of skills transferable to academia, including giving me a very sharp proof-reading eye.
In my work I am always interested in challenging assumptions and questioning tired truisms. My 2013 monograph therefore posed as a central question, amongst others, “Why do we assume Doris Day always plays a virgin?” In previous work (the edited collection Virgin Territory, 2010, and the 2007 Rock Hudson article) I examined what ‘playing a virgin’ might mean and consist of; in Doris Day Confidential: Hollywood, Sex and Stardom (2013) I turned my attention to how this dominant idea was initiated and circulated, through studying the film fan periodicals which advanced and then froze Day’s stardom.
The in-depth examination of the movie magazines this necessitated showed me what a fascinating, and under-researched area these magazines are, and they now form one of main areas of my current interest for research. I am co-editing an edited collection on movie magazines for Iowa University Press, arising out the conference I co-organised in Ghent in November 2015. This was the first major event held by my research network, NoRMMA.
My previous monograph, Hollywood Catwalk, examined the role of the sartorial transformation in American mainstream film, finding that exactly the same tropes and visual effects had been used to tell the story of the transforming woman since it is usually a woman who changes from the beginning of Hollywood until the most recent examples. My interest in the symbolic and narrative functions of costume, as well as its ability to give audience members enormous pleasure, continues to feed into my research and informs my current teaching on the Gothic.
Overall I have four main areas of interest, all of which are approached from a historical point of view, all of which involve Hollywood cinema and many of which overlap. These are:
Genre, especially romantic comedy - see, for example, my first monograph, subsequent chapters and articles, and my latest book, the BFI Classic on When Harry Met Sally… (2015) - and the Gothic – I created a module on this in 2010 and have taught it since then, and am currently co-editing a collection on The Gothic Heroine on Screen for Routledge (forthcoming 2018).
Film costume – my on-going interest in film costume has resulted in my 2013 monograph, Hollywood Catwalk, and several chapters, including the recent one on costume in “The New Hollywood (1981-1999)” in Adrienne McLean (ed), Costume, Makeup and Hair, Rutgers University Press.
Stars and stardom – work in this area mostly centres around Doris Day, as per various articles, conference papers and the monograph Doris Day Confidential: Hollywood, Sex and Stardom (2013).
Movie magazines – this is my latest area of research, arising out of the work for the Doris Day book. In 2013 I was involved in an exhibition on these publications at the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, which travelled to Kent in autumn 2014. It was a privilege to explore the Library’s extensive periodical collection and to select some of its gems for display. I have also presented conference papers on movie magazines and in autumn 2014 established an international network of researchers interested in these publications, NoRMMA. We had our first international conference in Ghent in 2015, and an edited collection will be published from this.
As a Hollywoodian, I teach modules in American cinema, and, as a historian, I attempt in all of them to return the films studied to their particular historical and social contexts. Close analysis of individual scenes and moments therefore sits alongside historical contextualization in my seminars. All my current teaching at Kent links to my research interests, ensuring that students are being taught with up-to-date knowledge and real passion in areas that particularly fascinate me.
Previous modules I have taught at Kent include Film Style, and a module looking at the work of Female Performers. In Film Style we worked not only to discuss and analyse the specific aspects of each film being examined (such as performance, camera work, sound, mise-en-scene, costume) but also to put this in its precise time period, so that, for example, The Public Enemy (1931) was viewed in line with contemporary developments in sound technology and Footlight Parade (1933) in the context of the Hays Code. In the performance module we sought to address the performance modes and actions of the female performers studied but also to look at how their performances fitted – or clashed – with then-contemporary assumptions about appropriate behaviour, goals and desires for women.
Currently my modules include The Gothic in Film, an undergraduate course that continues my fascination with specific historical contextualization and combines it with tracing the persistence of tropes and images concerning the figure of the Woman in Jeopardy. I also teach the Masters module Film History, in which students and I explore various ways to conduct historical investigations of film topics.
I am particularly interested in supervising projects in the following areas: movie magazines; stardom, and performance, especially of female actors; film genres, especially romantic comedy and the Gothic; film costume.
Currently I am supervising several PhDs on different aspects of Hollywood stardom, one on British contemporary horror, one on movie magazines and a M-Res on costume.