Media and Communication Studies

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Two New Books by MCS and Film Studies Professor Jennifer Fleeger

Dr. Jennifer Fleeger has had a busy year!  Not only has she been teaching Ursinus courses, she has also published two important books on Oxford University Press in 2014: Sounding America: Hollywood, Opera, and Jazz and Mismatched Women: The Siren’s Song Through the Machine. Both books explore unique historical perspectives on sound, film, and technological change.

From the Oxford University Press website:

In Mismatched Women, author Jennifer Fleeger introduces readers to a lineage of women whose voices do not “match” their bodies by conventional expectations, from George du Maurier’s literary Trilby to Metropolitan Opera singer Marion Talley, from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to Kate Smith and Deanna Durbin. The book tells a new story about female representation by theorizing a figure regularly dismissed as an aberration. The mismatched woman is a stumbling block for both sound and feminist theory, argues Fleeger, because she has been synchronized yet seems to have been put together incorrectly, as if her body could not possibly house the voice that the camera insists belongs to her. Fleeger broadens the traditionally cinematic context of feminist film theory to account for literary, animated, televisual, and virtual influences. This approach bridges gaps between disciplinary frameworks, showing that studies of literature, film, media, opera, and popular music pose common questions about authenticity, vocal and visual realism, circulation, and reproduction. The book analyzes the importance of the mismatched female voice in historical debates over the emergence of new media and unravels the complexity of female representation in moments of technological change.

Sounding American: Hollywood, Opera, and Jazz tells the story of the interaction between musical form, film technology, and ideas about race, ethnicity, and the nation during the American cinema’s conversion to sound. Contrary to most accepted narratives about the conversion, which tend to explain the competition between the Hollywood studios’ film sound technologies in qualitative and economic terms, this book argues that the battle between disc and film sound was waged primarily in an aesthetic realm. Opera and jazz in particular, though long neglected in studies of the film score, were extremely important in defining the scope of the American soundtrack, not only during the conversion, but also once sound had been standardized. Examining studio advertisements, screenplays, scores, and the films themselves, author Jennifer Fleeger concentrates on the interactions between musical form and film technology, arguing that each of the major studios appropriated opera and jazz in a unique way in order to construct its own version of an ideal American voice. Traditional histories of Hollywood film music have tended to concentrate on the unity of the score, a model that assumes a passive spectator. Sounding American claims that the classical Hollywood film is essentially an illustrated jazz-opera with a musical structure that encourages an active form of listening and viewing in order to make sense of what is ultimately a fragmentary text.