This blog will expand on themes and topics first mentioned in my book, "The Automobile and American Life." I hope to comment on recent developments in the automobile industry, reviews of my readings on the history of the automobile, drafts of my new work, contributions from friends, descriptions of the museums and car shows I attend and anything else relevant. Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 , 2016, 2017, 2018, by the author.
a.m., W 2-2:50 p.m., or by appointment.
It has been said that the automobile is the perfect
technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to
level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social
and otherwise. In this seminar we will explore together the place of the
automobile in film, and how the two technologies developed together from their
early 20th century origins. This story is most complex, demanding
insights and expertise from a host of disciplines, including cultural social
history and the history of technology and business. From the late 18th
century to the present, the automobile influenced the foods we eat; music we
listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; stress
we endure; and, the air we breathe, and in this offering as we shall learn
about, the movies we watch..
John Heitmann, The
Automobile and American Life (McFarland, 2009).
My book The
Automobile and American Life is our key common reading in this class and
the touchstone for our discussions. While you will not be tested on this
reading, you will be responsible for reading this book and critically
commenting on it in class.
Course work will consist of seminar lectures, discussions, presentations,
films. Grades will be based on class discussion, an assigned article class presentation (15%) and a research paper (40%).
In this class we will define the
seminar as a shared learning experience in which one of its purposes is to
create new knowledge. Therefore, the research paper is the most significant
assignment of this course. It should critically explore an area of knowledge
related to the automobile and American life, and ideally should be 10 pages
double spaced in length, with additional footnotes and bibliography, and
furthermore draw on minimally 15 sources, primary and secondary. I plan to meet
with you individually and collectively during the semester to ensure that your
topic has a proper focus and that sources are readily available for your project. A late paper will be penalized one-half
letter grade per day.
the term paper topics are the following suggestions:
The Love Bug1962
Back to the Future1981
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off1961
Ferarri 250 GT California
Risky Business1981 Porsche
National Lampoon’s Vacation1983 Wagon Queen
Smokey and the Bandit1977
The Blues Brothers1974
Chitty Chitty Bang BangZborowski Race Car
Rebel Without a Cause1949 Mercury Eight
Aston Martin DB 5
Ford Mustang GT
Ford XB Falcon GT 351
The Fast and Furious1970 Dodge Charger
The Lively Set1964
Chrysler Turbine Car
The Yellow Rolls Royce1930 Rolls Royce Silver
important thing to remember when watching a film critically is that every
single frame and moment has been specifically crafted to have an effect
on the viewer. In theory, nothing is an accident — whether it’s the way in
which an actor is saying a line, the method in which the shot is setup for that
moment, or even the specific type of lamp that might be sitting in the
background.Altogether, the construction of
a film can be incredibly complicated, but the reasoning behind every
decision nearly always comes down to how it is working with the story and how
it is affecting the viewer. With that in mind, here are seven essential ways to
break down a film in order to begin thinking about it from a critical
to think of the director like a general. He or she hires all the key
creative department heads and pushes them to fulfill his vision, but can’t
possibly be in full control of every technical aspect that goes on the
film set. Instead, the director must keep a keen eye on the overall vision and
make sure that it is being realized to the fullest extent at every moment.A good
example of a director’s role might be in a key, dramatic turning point in
a film. Depending on how he or she imagined the scene, maybe the scene
doesn’t seem to have the energy that was originally envisioned. The
director would then go into problem solving mode: if it’s something
performance-related, a discussion with the actors would be had; if the
scene could be lit or shot a little differently, a discussion with
the cinematographer will follow;
or maybe a line needs to be changed because the script isn’t working as
intended.Even though the areas that
follow are critical to a film’s success, it’s important to note that it is
ultimately the director’s responsibility to communicate what he or she wants.
It is the reason why the director is the first person to be praised for a
film’s success and also the first person to take the heat if it is a failure.
While a director could have the most talented actors and crew available, it is
still the director’s job to make sure those pieces fall into place and to know
when to make any necessary changes.
comes to looking at a film’s story from a structural viewpoint, it’s important
to keep in mind that the vast majority of films fall into the three-act
structure: a beginning, middle, and end. This isn’t because screenwriters are
lazy, but because the structure simply works for telling stories and it’s
difficult, but not impossible, to tell a story that falls outside of this
structure.In screenplays, the first major
moment you should be on the lookout for is the inciting incident.
Generally, around the ten-minute mark there will be a moment that drives the
protagonist toward the story that will dominate the remainder of the film.
Around the thirty-minute mark, there is usually a major turning point — the
moment in which there is no going back for the protagonist — that signals the
beginning of the second act where the majority of the film will take place.
Finally, around the ninety-minute mark, the second turning point will signal
the film’s drive towards both its conclusion and resolution.Now, there are absolutely films that don’t fit
perfectly into the three-act structure, but the vast majority of films do and
you can start to get a sense of when important moments or changes will occur
when you know the general format. For films that don’t follow the
three-act structure, knowing when they are breaking the rules can help a
viewer to analyze how they are eschewing the three-act structure and why.
cinematographer, or director of photography, is the key creative head tasked
with translating the director’s vision to the actual film or digital recording.
This may include picking the camera, choosing lenses, lighting the scene,
or any other photographic choice that can best produce the vision of
the director.The relationship between the
cinematographer and director varies widely depending on how much technical
knowledge the director possesses — Stanley Kubrick
famously knew what he wanted out of his cinematographer down to the smallest
details — but cinematographers are generally given creative reign to
fulfill their role: putting the image to film.Next time you’re watching a film, pick
out a scene and think about what the intended tone of that scene is. Is it a
romantic scene? Dramatic? From there, then take a look at how the lighting and
the way in which the scene is shot emphasizes that tone or the story. If it
doesn’t match, think about why that decision was made and what the effect is as
is often the unsung hero of a film production; he or she can
fix continuity problems, modify the story in helpful ways, and even fix
bad performances. At its basic level, editing is the actual cuts — back in the
days of film it was literally physical cuts in the film — that exist in the
film, both within scenes and from scene to scene.Under the watchful eye of the
director, the editor is tasked with creating a visual rhythm in the film that
fulfills the director’s vision. An example in a film might be a scene in which
a protagonist reveals something to another character. The editor might begin
the scene from further away and slowly cut to closer and closer shots as the
protagonist reveals his secret. Alternatively, the editor might decide just the
opposite, or something in-between — this is ultimately the director’s decision.Editing
can have a huge impact on viewer experience, but its hidden qualities (if the
editor is good) can also make watching for it a tough task. In many ways,
watching for editing relies very much on keeping in tune with your physical
experience watching a film. A scene like the one outlined above might slowly
change the way a scene feels to you, but the opposite is also true. A hard cut
might make you feel a slight jolt or the combination of two shots following one
another may result in an experience different than either shot by itself. To
start getting a feel of what the editing is doing to the viewer’s experience,
it’s important to start with your gut.
script, the actors might be the most important piece of the film puzzle. Just
like a great script can produce great performances from mediocre actors, great
actors have the ability to push a mediocre script to new heights. But it’s the
job of the actor, under the direction of the director, to make sure that
the performance is consistent with whatever the goal of the film is.Acting is
probably the easiest thing to be on the lookout for when watching a film
critically, simply because the actors take front-and-center in the viewer’s
experience of the film. Many of the things to consider when it comes to
acting are similar to what you can watch for
in the screenplay. What is the character’s goal? What is his or her character
development? Is the character’s filmic journey satisfying? From there, you
might start to think about whether the actor achieved these goals successfully
and why or why not.Acting is notoriously hard to quantify; some actors just seem to
“have it.” But the believability factor can go a long way in starting to
break down a performance when it is compared to what his or her goal was as an
actor in the film. As a viewer, do you completely believe the existence of a
character no matter how normal or insane that character is? From there, you can
start to break down aspects of the performances that worked or didn’t work, but
the biggest thing is always believability.
6. Production Design
unsung hero of film production, the production designer or art director is the
person tasked with building up the world where the characters exist. He or she
collaborates with both the director and director of photography to achieve the
aesthetic demands of the project while guiding the costume designer, make-up
stylists, and other similar departments in order to achieve the director’s
overall vision.If a character lives in a shabby apartment in 1960s New York
City, the production designer is the person who will painstakingly recreate
what that apartment may have looked like, setting up the apartment to reflect
the look and era, guiding the costume designer toward a style that feels
consistent, and doing anything else that’s necessary to make the viewer
feel as though this is taking place in the 1960s and not in the present day.Along with
the director and director of photography, the production designer is also an
essential creative force in driving the film’s visual consistency. This can
mean choosing a color palette to stick with throughout the film or choosing
locations that best reflect the tone of the film. Many directors of
photography will admit that no matter how good their work is, it always
comes down to what the production designer puts in front of their lens.
be a visual medium, but there’s no doubt that sound is one of the most
important aspects of a film and has been ever since 1927′s The Jazz Singer
heralded the onset of the “talkies.”Sound
can be used in a variety of ways for dramatic effect. A director can
employ music, sound effects, or even the lack of sound altogether to produce an
effect on the viewer. The use of music in a film is more or less
straightforward, although music can sometimes be used in ways that clash with the
visuals rather than go along with it. But sound starts to get interesting when
the director employs it in ways that emphasizes a character’s subjective
great examples of stylized sound are found in Steven Spielberg’s
Saving Private Ryan. As soon as the American soldiers arrive at
Omaha Beach, Spielberg follows them as they dive off the boat and underwater,
with the sounds becoming muted and distant to reflect the physical sensation of
going underwater. Spielberg also uses subjective sound to emphasize dramatic
moments. When Tom Hanks’ character first arrives at the beach in a daze, the
sound of the battle around him grow distant and hollow to
show his personal experience to the events unfolding around him
Schedule of Assignments and
Week 1 — January 14
Introduction; The History Documentary
Week 2 — January 21
What our cars tell us about ourselves. The
automobile and its inherent contradictions.The automobile in art and as art;the Pioneers
Film: “Wild Wheels;” Edison, “Automobile Parade (1900);
Thomas Mack Sennet, “Gussle’s Day of Rest (1915);” D.W. Griffith, “Intolerance
Article Report(s): James J. Flink,
"Three Stages of American Automobile Consciousness," American Quarterly, 24 (October, 1972),
451-473; Julian Smith, “A Runaway Match: the Automobile in American Film,
1900-1920,” in Lewis and Goldstein, eds., The
Automobile and American Culture (Ann Arbor, 1983).
Week 3 — January 28
Henry Ford, Fordism,
and the Model T.
Article report(s): Christopher Wells, "The Road to
the Model T: Culture, Road
Conditions, and Innovation
at the Dawn of the American Motor Age," Technology
& Culture, 48 (July, 2007), 497-523.
Week 4 — February 4
The Rise of General
Motors and Sloanism
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 3.
Hands (1936);" “Turnabout Man (1936);” “The Crowd Roars (1932);” “Burn Em
Up Barnes (1933).”
Article report(s): Brian Oakes, “Building Films for Business:
Jamison Handy and the Industrial Animation of the Jam Handy Organization,” Film History, 22 (March 2010), 95-107.
Week 5 — February 11
America on the
Road: The Highway and the City;
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 4
Article Reports: David
Laderman, “What a Trip: The Road Film and American Culture,” Journal of Film and Video, 48
(Spring-Summer, 1996). 41-57.
Film: “Grapes of Wrath (1940);” "Route 66;" “Detour
Week 6 -- February 18
Women behind the Wheel; Religion, Sex, and the
Readings:Heitmann, Chapter 5
Article reports: Harvey R.
Greenberg, Carol J. Clover, etal., “The Many Faces of ‘Thelma and Louise’”, Film Quarterly 45 ((Winter 1991-19992),
20-31; Cathy Griggers, “Thelma and Louise and the Cultural Generation of the
New Butch-Femme,” in Jim Collins, etal., Film Theory goes to the Movies (New
York, 1993), 129-141; Jennifer Parchesky, “Women in the Driver’s Seat: The
Auto-Erotics of Early Women’s Films,” Film
History, 18(2006), 174-184.
Films: “Thelma and Louise;”
Week 7 — February 25
The Chase Movie
Article Reports: Donald W.
McCaffery, “The Evolution of the Chase in Silent Screen Comedy,’ Journal of the Society of Cinematologists
4 (1964-65), 1-8.
Films: “Bullit;” “Ronin;” ”The Bourne
Identity;” “The Road Warrior;” ”The Blues Brothers;” ”Vanishing Point;” ”The
Week 8 -- March 4
The Interwar Years;
The Great Depression
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
Article report: Peter Norton, "Street Rivals:
Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street, Technology and Culture, 2007, 331-359.
Films: “It Happened One
Night (1934);” “They Drive by Night (1938).”
Week 9 – Emeriti Lecture – a visit from a Hollywood Director and Actor
Week 9 — March 18
WWII and the
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 7.
Article report(s): Cotton
Seiler, "Statist means to Individualist Ends: Subjectivity, Automobility,
and the Cold War State," American Studies,
44 (Fall, 2003), 5-36.
Film: “Tucker (1988).”
Week 10 — March 25
Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Readings:Heitmann, Chapter 8
Article report: Karal Ann
Marling, "America's Love Affair with the Automobile in the Television
Age," Design Quarterly, 46
without a Cause.”
Week 11 — April 1
Muscle Cars of the 1960s; Jan &
Dean and the Beach Boys
Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 9
Article report:John Heitmann and Todd Uhlman, "Stealing Freedom:Auto-Theft and
the Rebellious Revitalization of the Masculine American Self in Visual
of Popular Culture, forthcoming.
Film: “American Graffiti;” ”Gran Torino.”
Week 12 — April 8 -- The 1970s: Truckers and Science Fiction
Readings: David Laderman, Driving Visions, Chapter 4; Uhlman,
Films: “Smokey and the Bandit;” “The Great
Article Report: Andrew
Horton, “Hot Car Films & Cool Individualism,” Cineaste
8 (Summer, 1978), 12-15.
Week 13 -- April 15 – No
Class – Stander Symposium
Just prior to Christmas 1953 yours truly wasn't expecting much in the way of presents for Christmas. Times were tough at our home in southern West Virginia, especially since my parents had just divorced.
Perhaps under the tree I might receive a flannel shirt, a bag of oranges, and maybe some hard candy at church (recall Dolly Parton's classic song "A Hard Candy Christmas?") But, lo and behold, what I did receive for Christmas 1953 but my first set of wheels (see attached photo).
Pointedly, surprise sometimes exceeds expectation. As you can imagine, as a future "car guy" I polished those wheels every day and never let a speck of dust surround those spokes!
Why is our first set of wheels (even with trainer wheels on) so special to young boys and girls?
"Wheels" -- our invitation to both the journey of life........... and freedom.
Not because of the cars, but because he followed his yearning to roam. Back in 1916 he and pals Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and conservationist John Burroughs set out on the first of several annual road trips in Model Ts outfitted in the style of “glamping” (glamor camping).
Henry had designed a car with a built-in stove and cooler, and a truck with show-quality custom bins for tents, beds and lawn chairs. Destinations were mountains and back roads of New York, Vermont (where the four stopped in at President Calvin Coolidge’s home), New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and northern Michigan.
Most believe that the road trips of these four, known as the Vagabonds, were intended to promote road construction so people would buy and use more cars. And it worked: By 1919 the federal government came up with 50/50 matching road building funds for states. I think, however, that Henry also knew a bit more about us humans — we seem compelled to move around, and that means many road miles on Turkey Day.
America had five million registered cars in Henry’s Vagabond days, while the rest of the world had less than one million. The U.S. had about 100,000 miles of highways, compared to about 4 million miles today. Railroads and their adjacent station hotels of the early 20th century were too expensive for common folk. Car campers, however, evolved into RVs as people yearned to leave their communities, and gain new ones, according to expert social analyst James B. Twitchell’s new book “Winnebago Nation.” Today more of us are seeking “unsettlements,” or communities continuously on the move.
Twitchell notes the modern RV industry spun off from Detroit’s Ray Frank (who created the first Dodge motorhome) in the 1950s and culminated in the RV building mecca of Elkhart, Indiana, because parts could be shipped from Detroit out of state without tax. Winnebago evolved long ago in Iowa from the efforts of an undertaker trying to create local jobs, the book explains.
Today there are growing clubs so RVers can belong to a mobile community, but still be able to detach from any permanent communities. There are amazing signs these mobile communities are growing.
Each year 1.5 million people park RVs in the warm Quartzsite, Arizona, desert landscape which officially has just 3,500 permanent residents. This dwarfs the Burning Man festival’s Black Rock City which swells from zero to 65,000 for one week each year in the Nevada desert.
Says Twitchell’s “Winnebago Nation”: It’s a psychological desire that’s growing. There are an estimated one million full-time residents now on the road in RVs in the U.S.
So what’s this psychological desire? In the 1950s Airstream inventor Wally Byam — famous for his worldwide caravans of hundreds of RVers in shiny, aluminum trailers — discovered that a community connection is key to travel, explains Twitchell. Connected yet mobile is a mantra we hear daily about our new habits with smartphones and social media. Other books have recognized the growing trend to live on the road: Author Douglas Keister in his 2008 book “Teardrops and Tiny Trailers” says “RVers are a naturally gregarious lot for the simple reason that if things don’t work out with their neighbors, they can easily move.”
One theory is that mankind is better off nomadic, rather than agrarian and therefore settled, according to Harvard professor of evolution Daniel Lieberman’s new book “The Story of the Human Body.” Farmers tend to grow simple starches that produce high yields, he observes. The ancient hunters and gatherers consumed a much greater variety of different foods and nutrients. This evolutionary biology claims that agriculture has produced a population boom and rapid human progress that we haven’t had time to evolve into, which results in Type 2 diabetes, cavities, and dozens of other diseases. In an evolutionary sense, us humans are still designed to be hunter-gatherers. Wanderers, in other words.
In fact, Twitchell’s book suggests RV living as a lifestyle of the future — called Leisure Nomads. It’s not just because of the increasing number of people forced to live on the road because of the mortgage crisis and recession, but because we actually might be chasing an instinct to roam. Just like Henry.
Against the team of hackers, the poor car stood no chance.
Meticulously overwhelming its computer networks, the hackers showed that ? given time ? they would be able to pop the trunk and start the windshield wipers, cut the brakes or lock them up, and even kill the engine.
Their motives were not malicious. These hackers worked on behalf of the U.S. military, which along with the auto industry is scrambling to fortify the cyber defenses of commercially available cars before criminals and even terrorists penetrate them.
"You're stepping into a rolling computer now," said Chris Valasek, who helped catapult car hacking into the public eye when he and a partner revealed last year they had been able to control a 2010 Toyota Prius and 2010 Ford Escape by plugging into a port used by mechanics.
These days, when Valasek isn't working his day job for a computer security firm, he's seeing how Bluetooth might offer an entry point.
Automakers are betting heavily that consumers will want not just the maps and music playlists of today but also Internet-enabled vehicles that stream movies and the turn dictation into email. The federal government wants to require cars to send each other electronic messages warning of dangers on the road.
In these and other connections, hackers see opportunity.
There are no publicly known instances of a car being commandeered outside staged tests. In those tests, hackers prevail.
One was the Defense Department-funded assault on a 2012 model American-made car, overseen by computer scientist Kathleen Fisher.
Hackers demonstrated they could create the electronic equivalent of a skeleton key to unlock the car's networks. That may take months, Fisher said, but from there it would be "pretty easy to package up the smarts and make it available online, perhaps in a black-market type situation."
The project's goal is more than just to plug vulnerabilities ? it is to reconceive the most critical lines of computer code that control the car in a way that could make them invulnerable to some of the major known threats. The model code would be distributed to automakers, who could adapt it to their needs. That should take a few more years.
The industry is participating ? and not waiting.
One major association representing brands including Honda and Toyota is helping establish an "information sharing and analysis center" patterned after efforts by big banks to try to thwart cyberattacks.
"Before, when you designed something, you looked at how might components fail," said Michael Cammisa, director of safety for the Association of Global Automakers. "Now, you have to look at how would somebody maliciously attack the vehicle."
The so-called Auto-ISAC will allow participating companies to evaluate the credibility of threats and, in the event of an attack, let one warn others so they could test their own systems. The effort was announced this summer at the Cyberauto Challenge in Detroit, one of an increasing number of programs focused on auto hacking. Several days later, in China, organizers of a cybersecurity conference announced success in their challenge to hack a Model S made by Tesla Motors.
Another American company, General Motors, has checked how Boeing and defense companies create systems to repel hackers, according to Mark Reuss, GM's executive vice president of global product development.
Cybersecurity is "one of the highest priority things that we have," Reuss said. "We have got to make sure that our customers are safe."