Today@Sam Article

Professor Publishes Essay On Film And Progressive Era

June 12, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney

Grant Wiedenfeld copy

Story by Bri Smith

It’s no secret that film has been very influential to American culture throughout the years, which has deep roots going back to the Progressive Era of 1890 to 1920. During a time of industrialization, the Progressive Era sought to reduce corruption as well as counteract the negative social effects caused by rapid growth. D.W. Griffith is one contradictory example of how cinema has been used as a catalyst for social change during this period. He has been considered “the father of film editing” as well as an infamous advocate for racial segregation. D.W. copy1.

Grant Wiedenfeld, assistant professor of Mass Communication, has recently had a chapter published by Wiley in a new essay collection, “A Companion to D.W. Griffith.” His essay covers two lesser-known instruments of social reform, cinema and parks.

“A Companion to D.W. Griffith” collects essays from leading scholars on Griffith who has become a seminal figure in film history. It offers a look at the first acknowledged auteur of the cinema as well as providing an authoritative account of the director’s life, work and lasting filmic legacy.

“Griffith is as influential for cinema as Picasso was to painting,” Wiedenfeld said. “It is hard to summarize the significance of the essay collection. Griffith is important in so many ways and scholars continue to study the development of cinema as an art and mass media by examining this important figure from the past and the era when he was active.” 

In Wiedenfeld’s essay he touches on the topic of how parks played a key part in the solution of crowded, unsanitary housing conditions during this era. Wiedenfeld expresses how Urbanists saw parks and cinema as a way to promote a clean and healthy form of amusement for youth that could also be educational, which would help solve delinquency and crime. 

“My essay demonstrates all these Progressive Era themes in a handful of short films from 1908 to 1910,” Wiedenfeld said. “In particular, I interpret the American landscape in the films as a mystical origin of democratic reform. The idyllic valley in ‘1776, or the Hessian Renegades’ from 1909 connotes equality and opportunity for the underprivileged. From our vantage point today, the progressive character of his pastoral short films contrasts strikingly with his racial prejudice.”

In correlation with the topic of Griffith’s influence, Wiedenfeld will be attending a conference of Domitor, the international society for the study of early cinema this month. Hosted by The George Eastman Museum in Rochester New York, Wiedenfeld will be presenting related work on Griffith’s short films, demonstrating how Griffith conceived a new method that greatly improved efficiency in the film studio as well as enhancing storytelling techniques.

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