First “Stars & Screen Conference” focuses on screen and sky

First “Stars & Screen Conference” focuses on screen and sky

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Radio, Television & Film Professor Sheri Chinen Biesen organized and hosted Rowan’s first “Stars & Screen Film & Media History Conference” Sept. 27-29, an interdisciplinary program that spanned the decades and, at times, the galaxies.

Dr. Biesen, a celebrated film historian whose most recent book, Film Censorship: Regulating America's Screen, was published by Columbia University Press in August, said the three-day program drew about 100 film scholars from as far as Australia as well as Rowan faculty, students and alumni now pursuing graduate film studies of their own.

A full professor of film history within the College of Communication & Creative Arts, Biesen collaborated with her husband John Gizis, a full professor of astronomy at the University of Delaware, in designing a program that would appeal to a wide swath of attendees, from undergraduate students to international faculty.

“I like the double entendre of stars and screen,” she said. “It could be stars in space or stars on TV or the big screen.”

In fact, she said, the conference’s many events, all of them held on Rowan’s Glassboro campus, included sessions in the Jean & Ric Edelman Planetarium in Science Hall featuring Planetarium Director Amy Barraclough, Emily Rice of the American Museum of Natural History (a colleague of world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson) and Rowan Professor David Bianculli, a famed television historian, who presented “Star Trek Through the Ages: A Video Voyage of Shows and Spoofs.”

Biesen said the conference, which was at least a year in planning, drew such leaders in her field as Thomas Schatz of the University of Texas at Austin, Charles Maland of the University of Tennessee and Matthew Bernstein of Emory University.

During a session in Bozorth Hall’s King Auditorium Friday, Biesen presented on women stars of Film Noir such as Rita Hayworth (“Gilda”) who lit up the screen despite wartime rations on electricity that forced the finished pictures to often look dark or shadowy.

The rationing did not stop Hollywood from making films, she said, but “there were blackouts, dimouts, in which they weren’t able to shoot with much light.”

In addition to rationing that limited production during the war, distribution was severely limited, especially overseas, and when the war ended, when noted French critics were finally able to view all the now-classic American movies they’d missed, they dubbed them as a group “Film Noir” because of their darkness, Biesen said.

Dr. David Blanke, a professor of history at Texas A&M University/Corpus Christi, said conferences such as “Stars and Screen” inspire lessons for faculty to bring back to their classrooms.

“Any time you have an ability to get out among colleagues doing similar research you can’t not be energized,” said Blanke, who recently published a book on 20th Century film giant Cecil B. DeMille.

In addition to writing about censorship, Biesen has published books on the effects of World War II rationing on the Hollywood film industry (Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir) and on musicals of the Film Noir period (Music in the Shadows) and will teach a special topics class during the Spring 2019 semester on Film Noir musicals.

For Biesen, part of the thrill of holding the conference was in hosting esteemed colleagues who may not have known much about the University before.

“Rowan is a really special place,” she said. “There’s an intimacy and warmth, a really special culture here, and famous scholars from around the world, not just in our field, were really impressed with it. It was a wonderful showcase for Rowan.”