The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, November 09, 2015

The First American Martial Arts Film Stars

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there is an interesting article on martial arts themed mainstream American films from the 30's and 40's. The first American martial arts film stars were James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn!

An excerpt is below. The full article, with many entertaining film clips, may be read here.


Upon the gracious invitation from Dr. Judkins, I thought about what I could add to a historical perspective on the martial arts. After considering various topic ideas, I settled on the topic of martial arts in the context of American cinema, in particular the classical Hollywood cinema. In academic film studies, classical Hollywood cinema refers to the period of time from the late-1920s/early-1930s (when synchronized sound replaced the practices of silent filmmaking) to the late-1950s/early-1960s (when the fallout from the infamous 1948 Supreme Court case known as the “Paramount Decree” led to changes in the way films were produced, distributed, and exhibited).  At this time Hollywood studios controlled all aspects of the filmmaking process and these efforts were conducted in accordance with a standardized “mode of production” (the standard academic text on this period remains The Classical Hollywood Cinema by David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson).

This was the era of Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, Singin’ in the Rain, and 12 Angry Men. It was also the era of ‘G’ Men, Behind the Rising Sun, Blood on the Sun, Tokyo Joe, and Pat and Mike. If most people haven’t heard of the films on the second list, that’s to be expected.

They haven’t been canonized in the academic literature nor have they managed to secure a place in the popular cultural imagination. The history of cinema has for the most part lost track of these films, while the history of martial arts cinema has yet to even recognize them, but thanks to TV, DVDs, and the Internet, history is always a mouse click or channel change away from being (re)discovered.

In typical historical accounts of martial arts cinema, Hollywood tends to be either ignored or denunciated on the basis of a confirmation bias which precludes the possibility of there being an American inheritance of cinematic martial arts. In the first issue of the Martial Arts Studies journal, I will attempt to counter a number of theoretical claims against American cinematic representations of the martial arts throughout Hollywood history, but here, I would like to show on historical grounds that there is, indeed, an American inheritance of cinematic martial arts with a lineage that can be traced back nearly a century through a number of intriguing and ambitious films

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