Sarah G. Sussman's blog

Bringing "Rip Van Winkle to Life," Part III

Image credit: Joseph Jefferson as Rip

Just as there are as many interpretations of a text as there are readers, every new adaptation of a text weaves and builds a new story. Given technological constraints, the film version of "Rip Van Winkle" is necessarily short. As such, it’s important to consider the executive decisions made in paring out a new interpretation from the bones of Washington Irving’s 1819 tale. It’s also important to note that the film version was not an adaptation of Irving’s short story alone. The film was most likely created in part because of the popularity of the Jefferson stage play. The play was co-written by Joseph Jefferson and Dion Boucicault, the same Joseph Jefferson who starred in the film and worked with Laurie Dickson and American Mutoscope and Biograph Company to help to create the film.

Bringing "Rip Van Winkle" to Life, Part II

Joseph Jefferson as Young Rip Van Winkle Image Source: Wikipedia

In my last post, I began telling the story of how “Rip Van Winkle” came to be converted to film. The story is fraught with all of the workplace drama and power plays that one might expect from a nascent Hollywood industry. It’s a tale of stolen ideas, patents, and lawsuits, that led to an eventual motion picture industry monopoly. As I mentioned in my last post, most scholars credit Thomas Edison’s assistant, Laurie Dickson, with the creation of the Kinetoscope, an invention very similar to the Mutoscope on which audiences would have viewed Rip Van Winkle. The invention was essentially a peephole in a tall rectangular box with film running between two spools. Around the time of the invention’s 1892 patent, however, the relationship became rocky.

Bringing "Rip Van Winkle" to Life

Gif illustrating how a Phenakistoscope works Image credit: Wikipedia

In adapting a book for film, a number of executive decisions are made: scenes are cut, metaphors are made visual, and wardrobes are custom fit to match the era or character’s personality, all to the chagrin or pleasure of the audience. While the conversation around film adaptation often happens with full-length feature films, it should be remembered that this is not solely a conversation worth having after the twentieth century. Of course, plays and even early forms of cinema have at times made more drastic and noteworthy changes when adapting a text for the stage or screen. In the early days of cinema, these changes were especially pronounced. Largely due to technological constraints, cinema couldn’t always replicate a narrative anywhere near its entirety – though in some ways it could do more. One consequence, especially visible in the sample that I use here, the short film Rip Van Winkle, is that the resulting adaptation has to tell the story in five fleeting scenes. In this post, I’ll offer an informational and technical overview of how one of the first film adaptations of a work of literature came to be, and in my follow-up posts I’ll offer more details about the Rip Van Winkle film itself, with a comparative analysis between the story and film.

The Most Democratic Selfie?


Image Source: eonline 

"By bringing together and posing a pack of rascals, male and female, dressed up like carnival-time butchers and washerwomen,  and in persuading these ‘heroes’ to ‘hold’ their improvised grimaces for as long as the photographic process required, people really believed they could represent the tragic and the charming scenes of history" -Baudelaire

After last week’s Oscar’s ceremony, a number of critics lauded Ellen DeGeneres’s performance as “warm,” "accessible,” and most interestingly, “democratic.” The gimmick, of course, which earned her the most attention was the big Oscar’s Selfie. After all, what could be more charming than everyone’s favorite celebrities acting like ordinary people; seemingly thrilled at the mere chance to be on television? Thinking about this selfie, and the comment that Ellen was so “democratic” brought to mind the oft touted expression that photography is “the great democratic medium.” In an interesting way, the Oscar’s Selfie is the perfect encapsulation of that saying.

A Posthuman Selfie?

Image credit: Wikipedia, Mars Curiosity Rover's first selfie

In my last post, I recounted a history of some of the most iconic images of space which primed my reaction to the Mars Rover’s portrait of Earth. This led me to offer a short curation of ways key figures have pathologized space, and their eco-critical views of space inflected by Earth, but all of this talk of Earth as “home” begs another question: If photos of Earth from space are photos of a shared home, are they a kind of self-portrait? More importantly, if robots are taking these images, are these self-portraits of humanity, or something posthuman? Lastly, why do those rovers have to be so darn cute?

Before the Mars Curiosity Rover, There Was Earthrise

Image source:

Yesterday, an image tweeted by the Mars Curiosity Rover with the message “Look back in Wonder . . . My 1st Picture of Earth from the Surface of Mars” proliferated on the internet. As I stared into the screen, primed by half-a-century’s worth of cultural reference points, the oft-repeated excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1997) came to mind. Looking at the latest Mars Curiosity Rover images, I couldn’t help but think about how I navigate my connection to Earth through a series of more iconic images of space, and the things which have been said about those images. In this post, I’d like to briefly walk through some of the other iconic photos of Earth that inform our present viewing experience.

Destroyed Phantasmagorias in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inglourious Basterds

 Note: contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inglorious Basterds 

Image credit:

Hello viz. readers, it’s good to be back! In my last post (way back in 2013), I remarked upon the similarity between characters Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) and Shoshanna Dreyfus in Inglorious Basterds (2009). Though Catching Fire runs through a gamut of stylistic epochs, Katniss’s home in District 12 has an intentionally Hooverville 1930’s aesthetic, placing it in roughly the same period as Tarantino’s Nazi revenge flick Inglorious Basterds. Similarly, both characters are separated from their families by totalitarian regimes. Finally, both heroines are placed in a position to be simultaneously savvy yet reluctant centers of those same totalitarian regimes’ entertainment spectacles – which is what I want to talk about in this post.

The Great Depression, WWII, and “The Hunger Games”

Contains some spoilers for The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Inglorious Basterds

Image credit: "how to dress like Katniss Everdeen"

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the newly released adaptation of the sequel to Suzanne Collins’ novel and 2012 film The Hunger Games, President Snow’s cronies set out to torture and intimidate the citizens of the 12 districts. Their first step is to destroy one of the people’s few sources of pleasure, and hope-- the black markets. Soldiers clad like storm troopers file into the town eliciting screams and looks of terror, upturning chests of drawers, smashing picture frames, and attacking everyone in their path. As the camera pans the rubble, one notices a certain patina to the wood and the family photographs:they’re all roughly from the 1930s. Which begs the question, just how far into the future does The Hunger Games take place?

The Winter Garden Photograph and the Nine-Hundred Dollar iPhone Photo

Image credit (from left to right): and

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and tonight is the first night of Chanukah, holidays which, for most, are all about being with family. Even in the absence of family–whether you’re making phone calls, or talking on Skype—there’s no escaping the nostalgia of the holiday season. The farther one’s family members migrate for school or career, the more important it becomes to make the pilgrimage back to that original “place” that the family once was. Maybe Austin’s recent cold snap has me in a sentimental mood, but as the Thanksgiving and Chanukah double-hitter arrives this week, the main purpose of the holidays seems to be to create an emotional snapshot of how things were, but won’t ever be again.

“Walking in the Footsteps of Edward Sheriff Curtis”: Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away

Image credit:

In my last post I wrote about viral internet photo collections of people from around the world with their possessions. Perhaps because of these photos, or perhaps because of a general cultural zeitgeist, another much older genre of ethnographic portraiture has been receiving renewed attention on the web: portraiture of “tribespeople” from around the world. The most prominent series in the revival of this genre seems to be Before They Pass Away, a long-term project from British-born photographer Jimmy Nelson.

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