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Exporting Perilous Pauline

Exporting Perilous Pauline: Pearl White and the Serial Film Craze

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Exporting Perilous Pauline
    Book Description:

    Exceptionally popular during their time, the spectacular American action film serials of the 1910s featured exciting stunts, film tricks, and effects set against the background of modern technology, often starring resourceful female heroines who displayed traditionally male qualities such as endurance, strength, and authority. The most renowned of these serial queens was Pearl White, whose career as the adventurous character Pauline developed during a transitional phase in the medium's evolving production strategies, distribution and advertising patterns, and fan culture. In this volume, an international group of scholars explores how American serials starring Pearl White and other female stars impacted the emerging cinemas in the United States and abroad. Contributors investigate the serial genre and its narrative patterns, marketing, and cultural reception, and historiographic importance, with essays on Pearl White's life on and off the screen as well as the serial queen genre in Western and Eastern Europe, India, and China. Contributors are Weihong Bao, Rudmer Canjels, Marina Dahlquist, Monica Dall'Asta, Kevin B. Johnson, Christina Petersen, and Rosie Thomas.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09494-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Why Pearl?
    (pp. 1-24)

    In 1913 four young men enjoyed what turned out to be an ostensibly historic luncheon. William deMille, who was not at the table, in hindsight encapsulates Arthur Friend’s attempt between courses to convince Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldfish, and Jesse Lasky that “there was a future in motion pictures”:

    He told them about Pearl White, then at the height of her popularity in “The Perils of Pauline”; he described the eagerness with which the country’s youth awaited each new peril as it appeared in serial form; he explained that the fair Miss White was, at the moment, the best-known woman...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Changing Views and Perspectives: Translating Pearl White’s American Adventures in Wartime France
    (pp. 25-45)

    Near the end of 1915, the French surrealist writer Philippe Soupault witnessed an unprecedented force of cinematic inundation that flooded Paris and left distinctive markers in daily life.¹

    One day you saw huge posters, as long as snakes, stretching out along the walls. At each streetcorner a man, his face covered with a red handkerchief, was pointing a revolver at the unconcerned passersby. You thought you heard galloping, a motor kicking over, screams of death. We descended on the cinemas and understood that everything had changed. Pearl White’s smile appeared on the screen; this almost ferocious smile announced the upheavals...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “The Best-Known Woman in the World”: Pearl White and the American Serial Film in Sweden
    (pp. 46-70)

    When Pearl White arrived in Paris in April 1921, she was awarded massive attention by the press. Hervé Lauwick’s article in the French newspaper Figaro bespeaks her fame: “Qui, en France, ne connaît Pearl White?” (Who, in France, doesn’t know Pearl White?)¹ This question would not have been posed in such a rhetorical fashion in Sweden—a country often cited in connection with Pearl White and her serials’ international success. Sweden is, of course, only mentioned to illustrate the extent of her stardom reaching even the most remote places imaginable—from an American perspective, that is. Despite all the hype...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Pearl, the Swift One, or the Extraordinary Adventures of Pearl White in France
    (pp. 71-98)

    The social blueprint for Pearl White’s film persona has often been identified in the figure of the American New Woman as it emerged in the popular press during the 1910s. For instance, Pauline Marvin’s craze for adventure and thrills in The Perils of Pauline (1914) stands as a perfect equivalent for the bravery exhibited by those famed “plucky girl reporters” whose daring exploits were offered in the form of first-person, highly sensational articles in contemporary newspapers.¹ In the same vein, in an intertitle in the first episode of the serial, Pauline Marvin declines her guardian’s request that she marry his...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “The Most Assassinated Woman in the World”: Pearl White and the First Avant-Garde
    (pp. 99-125)

    In the final moments of the first segment of Jean Epstein’s film, La Glace à trois faces (The three-sided mirror [1927]), the wayward and cruel protagonist pens a dismissive note to his current love interest. “Pearl,” he writes, “for my peace of mind, I need a change of scenery. You are as old-fashioned as your first name. I’ve had enough. I’ll see you the day after tomorrow.” Although Epstein lifted this dialogue wholesale from Paul Morand’s original story, it aptly sums up the filmmaker’s own thoughts about another Pearl, perhaps the most famous in film history: the serial star Pearl...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Fascinations for the Nation: American Serial Film, Czechoslovakia, and the Afterlives of Pearl White
    (pp. 126-159)

    A close study of the reception of Pearl White in Czechoslovakia uncovers an intricate tapestry woven from various threads of discourse and patterns of perception. White’s story is inextricably entangled within the context of a more general craze for American action serials in the early 1920s. The varied written sources from the period comprise a landscape in which multiple, often contradictory discourses work to describe, promote, and create meaning from the new American imports. Strands of discourse related to Americanism, modernity, aesthetics, gender, performance, mental and physical health, nationalism, anti-Germanism, and cultural fantasies combine in intricate and often unexpected ways...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Not Quite (Pearl) White: Fearless Nadia, Queen of the Stunts
    (pp. 160-186)

    It was June 1935 on a dark, monsoon-lashed Bombay night and J. B. H. Wadia was taking one of the biggest gambles of his film production career. His new venture, Hunterwali (Woman with the whip; dir. Homi Wadia [1935]), was premiering at the Super Cinema in downtown Grant Road. The film had been an unprecedented six months in the making and cost more than eighty thousand rupees, but no distributor had come forward to buy it. Rumors in the industry suggested it was a turkey: the film starred a large, blonde-haired muscle woman with fearsome fighting skills who thrashed Indian...

  11. CHAPTER 7 From Pearl White to White Rose Woo: Tracing the Vernacular Body of Nüxia in Chinese Silent Cinema, 1927–1931
    (pp. 187-222)

    In 1921 a prominently placed picture of Pearl White appeared in the first issue of one of the earliest Chinese film journals, Yingxi zazhi (The shadow play magazine), following an opening feature on Charlie Chaplin. White’s picture was framed by festive lanterns celebrating the inauguration of the journal, and the accompanying caption told of her popularity:

    Among the serial detective films [zhentan changpian] imported from America, Baolian’s [Pearl White’s] films comprise the greatest number. Films such as The Perils of Pauline, The Black Hooded Thief, The Circle of Trouble, and The Great Secret of Germany are all well known by...

  12. Contributors
    (pp. 223-226)
  13. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-238)