Cupboards of Curiosity

Women, Recollection, and Film History

Cupboards of Curiosity

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 12 b&w photos Published: January 2007

Author: Amelie Hastie

Art and Visual Culture, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

In Cupboards of Curiosity Amelie Hastie rethinks female authorship within film history by expanding the historical archive to include dollhouses, scrapbooks, memoirs, cookbooks, and ephemera. Focusing on women who worked during the silent-film era, Hastie reveals how female stars, directors, and others appropriated personal or “domestic” cultural forms not only to publicize their own achievements but also to reflect on specific films and the broader film industry. Whether considering Colleen Moore’s thirty-six scrapbooks or Dietrich’s eccentric book Marlene Dietrich’s ABC, Hastie emphasizes how these women spoke for themselves—as collectors, historians, critics, and experts—often explicitly contemplating the role their writings and material objects would play in subsequent constructions of history.

Hastie pays particular attention to the actresses Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks and Hollywood’s first female director, Alice Guy-Blaché. From the beginning of her career, Moore worked intently to preserve a lasting place for herself as a Hollywood star, amassing collections of photos, souvenirs, and clippings as well as a dollhouse so elaborate that it drew extensive public attention. Brooks’s short essays reveal how she participated in the creation of her image as Lulu and later emerged as a critic of film stardom. The recovery of Blaché’s role in film history by feminist critics in the 1970s and 1980s was made possible by the existence of the director’s own autobiographical history. Broadening her analytical framework to include contemporary celebrities, Hastie turns to how-to manuals authored by female stars, from Zasu Pitts’s cookbook Candy Hits to Christy Turlington’s Living Yoga. She discusses how these assertions of celebrity expertise in realms seemingly unrelated to film and visual culture allow fans to prolong their experience of stardom.


Cupboards of Curiosity is an ambitious work that challenges readers to view texts and stars in new ways and provides a plethora of secondary sources for film scholars to explore. By exploding traditional definitions of what constitutes film criticism, Hastie’s work asks us to see non-filmic productions as informative sources awaiting analysis by scholars.” — Pamel T. Washington, Rocky Mountain Review

“All readers will find themselves captivated by the historical detail and optimistic exegesis Hastie delivers in each chapter.” — Joanne Molina, feminist review blog

“[An] illuminating and original study. . . Hastie’s book is a substantial contribution. . .” — Kristian Moen, Screen

“[O]verall, Cupboards of Curiosity is enjoyable to read. The author skillfully navigates the concerns of heavyweights Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, and Gaston Bachelard to yield a generous interweaving of critical theory and anecdote, fact and narrative, history and historiography. . . . And in her most compelling argument, she offers these women their due credit, making explicit how the production of knowledge, indeed the authoring of history, is always the work of collaboration across time—past, present, and future.” — Sarah Resnick, The Moving Image

“[The book] takes a novel approach to understanding film and stardom by way of material culture and collecting.” — Bruce A. Austin, Communication Booknotes Quarterly

“Hastie has gathered a remarkable array of cinema-related artifacts. Equally remarkable is what she manages to do with and through this collection in Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection, and Film History, one of the most intriguing and well-written recently published books in film studies. Theoretically sophisticated, fully versed in scholarly debates about gender and history, and deeply—and reflexively—engaged with the mainly written texts she examines, Hastie brings precisely the right sort of curiosity to beat on the ephemera filling her cupboard.” — Gregory A. Waller, Nineteenth Century Theatre & Film

“There’s something quite wonderful about the innovative quality of Hastie’s work. It offers a significant new frame for the interpretation of the play of gender and sexuality in the discipline of film studies, something that might seem improbable given the way such issues have dominated over the last decade. But equally, each chapter offers an important intervention in the understanding of the workers she assembles: the collector, the historian, the critic, and the expert. These are types now available in fresh constellation for women in film, but equally her work explores the labour of scholarship itself.” — Melissa Hardie, Australian Feminist Studies

“[A] very interesting new book. . . . Vacillating between memoir and history, Hastie shows that these women's personal scrapbooks—often seen as tangential to film history—provide vital links between ‘women and the margins of history into which they are often placed.’ A look back you can look forward to.” — Chris Watson, Santa Cruz Sentinel

“[A]n enjoyable read and important scholarly work. Where Hastie excels is in the interstices of chapters—the ways in which women by historical and cultural necessity have had to negotiate the slippage between collector-historian-critic to ultimately, through collaboration, emerge as expert.” — Cara L. Cardinale, Women's Studies

“Amelie Hastie’s Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection, and Film History is agile and meticulous. Hastie ranges across materials and objects which have remained on the edge of most accounts of film history. In this way, Cupboards of Curiosity is engaging and revealing. . . . Hastie’s curiosity about her topic is instilled in her reader who is asked to look inside the neglected cupboards of film history and, in doing so, herself become a collaborator.” — Jane Simon, Media International Australia

“Feminist scholars have long been engaged in a project to recover lost female voices, and, obviously, this is especially challenging when looking at film actresses whose images were carefully manufactured by the Hollywood star system. Fortunately, these women left behind their own documents, as seemingly mundane as notes in the margin of a book, or as fantastical as a giant dollhouse. Their history resides in these records, and Hastie beautifully and respectfully lets them speak for themselves.” — Julie Anne Taddeo, Journal of Popular Culture

“There is much to commend in Amelie Hastie's imaginative, innovative, and feminist study of the intersections between memory, film history, and critical theory. Above all, Cupboards of Curiosity reveals new possibilities for recovering the oeuvre of women engaged in the creation of American film.” — Nancy J. Rosenbloom, Journal of American History

“This book transports easily and reads entertainingly. It examines important ideas from a conventional setting, reinventing them through a fresh perspective in a light, anecdotal tone.” — Maree Boyce, M/C Reviews

Cupboards of Curiosity is an enormously significant and important study. Amelie Hastie’s reevaluations of female authorship are brilliant, and her approach to the ‘archive’ encourages just the kind of rethinking of established ideas that one associates with the very best kind of academic work.” — Judith Mayne, author of Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture

“In Amelie Hastie’s meditative and original book, the era of silent film speaks through the writings and collections of the women who made the movies—stars, directors, writers—some forgotten, most remembered for their images, not their words. Hastie models her approach to writing and theorizing film history on the novel ways her subjects themselves made history: loving attention to the fleeting and the fragmentary illuminates theories of female agency within mass-mediated modernity.” — Patricia White, author of Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Amelie Hastie is Associate Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a member of the Camera Obscura editorial collective.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Collaborator: At the Cupboards of Film History 1

1. The Collector:Material Histories, Colleen Moore’s Dollhouse, and Ephemeral Recollection 19

2. The Historian: Autobiography, Memory, and Film Form 72

3. The Critic: Louise Brooks, Star Witness 104

4. The Expert: Celebrity Knowledge and the How-tos of Film Studies 155

Notes 195

Bibliography 225

Index 239
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3687-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3676-1
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