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Sabine Haenni (Cornell University)

Short Bio

Sabine Haenni is associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts and director of the American Studies Program at Cornell University. She is the author of The Immigrant Scene: Ethnic Amusements in New York, 1880-1920 (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and co-editor of Fifty Key American Films (Routledge, 2009, co-edited with John White) and The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films (2014, co-edited with John White and Sarah Barrow). She has published in journals such as American Literature, Cinema Journal, Journal of Film and Video, Theatre Research International, New German Critique, and many anthologies. She is currently working on essays on William Selig's studio and zoo in the 1910s, the actress Kathlyn Williams, a special issue of the journal The Global South, and a book project tentatively entitled Cinematic Crossroads: Situating Film History in Urban Sites. 


Abstract: "Gender in the Jungle" 

When looking at the so-called "serial-queen melodrama" from the 1910s, cinema scholars have usually focused on questions of gender - the dialectic of "power and peril" as Ben Singer puts it - as well as on the melodramatically fragmented narratives that depended on written and simultaneously published tie-ins for coherence. However, questions of gender could be entangled with questions of empire, race, and animality. In this context, the Selig Studio's The Adventures of Kathlyn (1913-14), set in India, is particularly interesting. Made to showcase both its female star, Kathlyn Williams, and Selig's studio zoo, the serial is known to have introduced the "cliffhanger" ending. In this paper, I draw on the extant footage (fragments in the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam and the first episode preserved as the Cineteca del Friuli in Italy), the concomitant serialization in daily newspapers, as well as archival material at the Margaret Herrick Library (related mostly to Kathlyn Williams and the Selig Zoo). I am particularly interested in thinking through the implications of some of the operations the serial performs: the replacement of the British colonizer with the American hunter (which also replaces a human-human relationship with a human-animal relationship); the replacement of the American hunter with an intrepid female protagonist (which complicates questions of agency, not least because of her different, deeply electric connection to wild animals); the importation of wild animals into the U.S.; and the fragmentation of an imperial geography. Together these displacements and imaginative operations enable a meandering narrative that complicates historical, imperial, and narrative technology.