Monday, November 7, 2016

Research, rewriting, and revisiting the beginning

Today I sent off my application for a fellowship to do research in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, specifically to work in the David O. Selznick Archive on Lionel Barrymore and Duel in the Sun. It was positively nerve-wracking to do so, and I edited and altered right until I hit submit. Three pages, one for project description, one on what materials I would use, one a shortened CV. A 100-word summary.  A short lifetime of agonizing over it all for a couple of weeks.

Now, in two days I'll be at the University of Notre Dame. I'm comfortable in academic worlds, and of course I'll head my lapsed Catholic self off to the Grotto for prayer, especially for perseverance. I am pleased with what I submitted, and I know I have a unique niche occupied only by myself. I have no idea why I'm so stressed about it. Here's a "gist" version of  what "it" is:

Disability, a relatively new field in critical analysis, has been defined as both "the attribution of corporeal deviance--not so much a property of bodies as a product of cultural rules about what bodies should be or do" (Thomson 1996) and theorized by Siebers as an identity which, among all possible ones, destabilizes "norms" of what society thinks human means. I posit that Lionel Barrymore is an unacknowledged pioneer in destabilizing representations of physical disability in film, from the time he required a wheelchair starting in 1938 until the end of his life. Due to the archive's extent, I am going to use Duel in the Sun as a microcosm of how Mr. B's career was managed to great success via accommodation of his wheelchair-use for a very popular actor. I can show public appeal via film gross and polling, and I can show in the archival material how the studio and actor collaborated to create strong roles (in this case Senator Jackson McCanles). As such, I place Lionel Barrymore in disability history as a pioneer both in his roles and in his very public image and almost constant work: his value as an actor led to studios making huge adaptations to films and roles in order to have him even in the smallest parts. Duel in the Sun just has a tremendous amount of material to show how those vast changes were made.

Don't worry, I"m actually quite fun at parties ! :) And thank you, Mr. Barrymore.

Mr. B on the set of Duel in the Sun with friend

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