Professor Stanfield's primary area of interest is in American film cultures. His research focuses on film genres and cycles, which includes two monographs on the Western. He has also published extensively on gangster movies and co-edited a book on the blacklist era in American cinema. Connected to this work is a substantial body of research on popular music and American film, which ranges from Hollywood's fascination with America's gutter songs in the early sound period, 1930s singing cowboys, the figure of Stagger Lee in Westerns, and the fad for calypso and rock 'n' roll in 1950s teenpics.
His latest book, Maximum Movies ? Pulp Fictions, takes a long look at academics' fascination with pulp cultures, tracing their enthrallment with the work of Samuel Fuller and the film adaptations of pulpsters Mickey Spilliane (Kiss Me Deadly) and Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me).
Professor Stanfield teaches pulp cinema and American cinema in all its many guises at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. He is a co-director of the Centre For the Interdisciplinary Study of Film and the Moving Image, and helps lead the research group investigating the notion and actuality of repetition in the arts.back to top
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Before starting work at Kent I’d held the desire (but not had the opportunity) to teach a class that examined the tension between the competing concepts of film as art and film as commerce. Within my first year here I was given the go-ahead to write such a module. The premise was that I would consider film through a prism of low and high culture, a set-up that would help order the conversation between popular cinema and the avant-garde.
I wanted to examine the creative interventions of artists, critics and scholars who work with popular film to produce new cultural forms and ideas. To investigate the Surrealists’ play with the violent poetics of crime fictions; the Nouvelle Vague’s validation of American hard-boiled fiction; abstract painter and film critic Manny Farber’s theory of termite art; Lawrence Alloway’s concept of “maximum movies;” the art brut style of Samuel Fuller, and the crime-scapes and the genealogy of pulp. That was the premise, but to put all of this into play was not straightforward. There were no text books or pre-set readings for such a programme of study. I would have to research what I wanted to teach and my students would have to be participants in that project.
Together we set out across five years to explore the pulp landscape as it had been earlier travelled by avant-garde artists and critics. In the process I began to write the book that would become Maximum Movies ? Pulp Fictions: Film Culture and the Worlds of Samuel Fuller, Mickey Spillane and Jim Thompson (Rutgers University Press, 2011).
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this book would not have taken the shape it did without student input (through their own research carried out in preparation for our debates in seminars and as articulated in their essays). There was a perfect cycle of knowledge acquisition, dissemination and debate. At times I led the way; at other times the students set the path to follow. In the end, the book closed the circuit, but not before a new research project had begun on repetition and novelty in popular film. . .
Explosive! Amazing! Terrifying!
Such movie taglines were common in the 1950s, as Hollywood churned out a variety of low-budget pictures that were sold on the basis of their sensational content and topicality. While a few of these movies have since become canonized by film fans and critics, a number of the era’s biggest fads have now faded into obscurity. To be published in 2015, The Cool and the Crazy examines seven of these film cycles, including short-lived trends like boxing movies, war pictures, and social problem films detailing the sordid and violent life of teenagers, as well as uniquely 1950s takes on established genres like the gangster picture.
I reveal how Hollywood sought to capitalize upon current events, moral panics, and popular fads, making movies that were “ripped from the headlines” on everything from the Korean War to rock and roll. Within the broader historical and commercial contexts I consider how these films were produced, marketed, and exhibited. In the process, uncovering surprising synergies between film and other arenas of popular culture, like the ways that the fashion trend for blue jeans influenced the 1950s Western.
The Cool and the Crazy offers an insight into cinema as a “pop” medium, unabashedly derivative, faddish, and ephemeral. By studying these long-burst bubbles of 1950s “pop,” I reveal something new about what films do and the pleasures they provide.
I am interested in supervising research into any aspect of popular film, but particularly those that engage with the topic from an interdisciplinary or intermedial perspective. Research proposals that consider film production in terms of fads, cycles, and trends will be positively received.