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About me

I am a first year DPhil student researching silent film intertitles at the University of Oxford, funded by the AHRC.

What is an intertitle?

‘The only place where the photodramatist may “spread” himself in clever verbiage and literary style is in the sub-titles, the inserts of printed matter flashed on the screen between photographed scenes. It is this matter of sub-titling which is winning the continuity specialist his place as an artist.’ (Anita Loos, How to Write Photoplays, 1920)

Anita Loos and John Emerson inspect the intertitle cards for their next 'picture'. With thanks to Kevin Brownlow

Anita Loos and John Emerson inspect the intertitle cards for their next ‘picture’. With thanks to Kevin Brownlow

From the first silent films to attempt more complex narratives in 1902 to the transition to synchronised sound in 1927-30, film production companies used intertitles to explain a film’s story and reveal the dialogue. Explanatory intertitles could set the place and time of the action, establish relationships, explain motivations or complex emotions that could not be conveyed in mime, pique curiosity or tell a joke. Working in a uniquely paratactic juxtaposition with the film ‘pictures’, intertitles profoundly affected audience experience; they manipulated audiences or invited interpretation, encouraging audiences to participate in building the film’s message. Intertitles became recognised as an important new written form. Their quality could determine a film’s failure or success and production companies paid their expert writers well: by the late 1920s, up to ten thousand dollars for a film.

My Project

My thesis will (hopes to!) demonstrate that the intertitle form stimulated a new poetics in the first decades of the twentieth century, in film, and in the modernist literature that was influenced by the new possibilities cinema offered. It will seek to restore intertitles (both popular and avant-garde) to their pre-1930 status as an art form, and, by introducing the intertitle form as an essential part of silent film experience into scholarship concerned with literary modernism and cinema, offer new readings of familiar and unfamiliar texts. It will establish, through interdisciplinary analysis: what intertitle poetics are and how they function; how far their development is connected to contemporary verbal-pictorial forms such as the articles, stories and advertisements in the illustrated magazines that were the source of most film stories; and what influence this poetics had on contemporary modernist literature.

 

Biography

2012-15 DPhil English at University of Oxford

I am Communications Officer for EGO (English Graduates at Oxford) and co-convene the C20th/21st Research in Progress Graduate Seminar.

2010-11 MA English: Issues in Modern Culture at University College London

Work included a dissertation on silent film intertitles, which begins to explore intertitle functions, with reference to Anita Loos, a Hollywood screenwriter famous for her ‘literary’ intertitles, and establishes the importance of film as an intertitled medium to the modernist author, Dorothy Richardson’s narrative strategies in Dawn’s Left Hand (1931). Also papers on Elizabeth Bowen and modern lighting; British Second World War art – particulalry Paul Nash – and Jill Craigie’s Out Of Chaos (1944), the first British documentary film on art; D. H. Lawrence and hats; Sylvia Plath and Greek Tragedy.

2006-9 BA English at University of Cambridge

Work included dissertations on W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Bowen and documentary film 1930-45; Virginia Woolf and cinema; Victorian woman travel writers in India.