Judith Buchanan



Judith Buchanan had an academic background in Early Modern literature before retooling as a film specialist. She broke off in the midst of her Oxford doctoral studies to go to the US on a Fulbright to study film and make films in New York, in the process turning a private passion into her central academic interest. After returning to complete her Oxford doctorate she then held a Junior and subsequently a Senior Research Fellowship at Worcester College, Oxford and taught film in the English Faculty of the University of Oxford.

When, in 2000, the English Department at York expanded its areas of cultural enquiry to include film, she was delighted to come to York to be part of shaping the new enterprise. Since her work often straddles questions of both literary and filmic production and reception, she finds it an ongoing pleasure to teach and research film within a literary arena. She enjoys finding points of easy and organic relation between ways of theorising these two vibrant modes of cultural expression while equally valuing the precision of allowing film studies its own intellectual space as a separate discipline marked by its own histories, codes and conventions. These interests sit at the heart of the Film and Literature MA she convenes to promote ways of thinking about these two influential media in engagement with each other (through adaptation, imitation, dialogue, exchange, resistance).

She runs an annual international conference for the Film and Literature programme that draws on these interests. In 2009, this was the one-day symposium on 'Silent Cinema and Literature', in 2010 'The Writer on Film: Screening Literary Authorship' and in 2011 'Myths and Fairy Tales in Film and Literature post-1900'.  In September 2012, the Film and Literature programme will be hosting the 7th Annual International Conference of the Association of Adaptation Studies. The conference is titled 'Visible and Invisible Authorships' and the call for papers is at www.york.ac.uk/modernstudies/conferences/visible-invisible-authorships/.




Research interests range across British and American cinema and include:

  • questions of literary adaptation in the cinema (from 'high cultural' or 'pop cultural' origins, theoretical considerations, case-studies).
  • Shakespeare in performance (stage and screen) from the C19th to the present.
  • points of collaboration and cross-fertilisation between the cinema and the stage (adaptation, borrowing, imitation and response in both directions).
  • silent cinema and the uses of prestige sources (in particular Shakespeare, the Bible and Dickens) as an indicator of the cultural aspirations of the medium in relation to artistic status, target market and word/image relations.
  • The Bible in performance (stage and screen) from the C19th to the present.
  • British, American and Italian film production companies in the early cinema period.
  • questions of authorship in the cinema as individually/collaboratively/institutionally inscribed in a body of work: how theorised, mythicised and marketed. How questions of authorial designation in the cinema relate to questions of authorship in other artistic and commercial media.
  • the transmission of narratives across media and moment including the self-renewing life of myths and fairytales in film and literature.
  • the stability and mutability of some fundamental story pools and iconographies, and how ‘story’ is continually remade by 'history'.
  • cinematic genres - especially the Western and film noir.
  • British cinema of the 1940s.
  • British new wave (social realist) cinema of the 1960s.
  • the cinema of Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, Julie Taymor.
  • censorship in British cinema, with particular attention to notions of the sacred and the profane.
  • cinematic exhibition contexts of the early cinema period, including the role of the ‘lecturer’ at moving picture shows.
  • the meaning of an actor on screen - the relationship between actor and role: extra-cinematic identity and screen persona pitted against the local specifics of character and story.
  • the representation of women on screen (in particular, but not exclusively, in the silent era).
  • the pre-history of cinema (nineteenth century optical toys and visual amusements, theatrical contexts, music-hall/variety repertoires, the Magic Lantern etc).
  • the body on screen, and cinematic disruptions to the integrity of the body on screen.
  • cinema’s material legacies (programmes, commercial tie-ins, memorabilia etc).

Current projects

Current projects include:

  • collaborating with an Italian film archive on piecing back together a fragmented print of an early Shakespeare film.
  • research towards a monograph on bodies (absent, dismembered, desirable, mechanised, sacred and spectating) in silent cinema.
  • a paper on the biblical/apocryphal figure of Judith in film, art and literature (for the Screening the Ancient World AHRC-funded project).
  • a paper on early cinema's painterly 'quotations' and their contributions to debates about medium-specificity and inter-medial exchange in the period (for the forthcoming volume Framing Film).
  • a paper on aestheticised and politicised authorship in von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (2006).
  • editing a volume entitled The Writer on Film: Screening Literary Authorship (Palgrave-Macmillan, August 2012), forthcoming.


She warmly welcomes enquiries from potential research students. Students interested in studying any aspect of film history, theory or criticism that connects with her own research interests - in particular in relation to silent cinema, film genres, the cultural transmission of stories across medium and moment, Shakespearean performance and/or cinema's vibrant relations with other modes of cultural expression (literature/print cultures, theatre, fine art, music, photography, television) - should email her for a preliminary, informal discussion at: judith.buchanan@york.ac.uk.

In the past she has supervised research dissertations on, for example, American comedies of the early cinema period, 1940s film musicals, Stanley Kubrick, disaster movies before and after 9/11, Dickens on film, Stephen Poliakoff’s television drama, Akira Kurosawa, 1960s’ British social realism, Sergio Leone, Westerns and wordlessness, Iranian women’s cinema, psychoanalytic readings of horror films, Shakespeare on film, British documentary film-making, Dogme, cinematic configurations of literary authorship, Graham Greene on film, Powell and Pressburger.


Selected publications

  • Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse (Cambridge: CUP, 2009). A research monograph which analyses both well-known and very little-known silent Shakespeare films in the light of their original production, exhibition and reception contexts. It uses the striking popularity of the films to examine both the workings of the film industry of its moment and the cultural circulation of Shakespeare in this period.
  • Shakespeare on Film (Longman-Pearson, 2005). Part of the Inside Film series. A monograph that considers issues of adaptation from the earliest days of silent cinema to the present, from earnest treatments of Shakespearean source material to the most playful of parodic interventions.
  • Silent Shakespeare (British Film Institute DVD, 2004) - filmed introduction and audio voice-over commentary to seven silent Shakespeare films.
  • Guest editor for 'Silent Shakespeare', special issue of Shakespeare (peer-reviewed British Shakespeare Association journal) v.3, n.3 (December 2007).
  • (ed.), The Writer on Film: Screening Literary Authorship (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, forthcoming 2012).

Chapters in edited volumes and articles in periodicals include:

  • ‘“un cinéma impur”: framing film in the early film industry’, in Allen, S. and Hubner, L. (eds.), Framing Film: Cinema and the Visual Arts. Bristol: Intellect, forthcoming 2012.
  • ‘“Now, where were we?”: ideal and actual lecturing practices in early cinema’, in Davison, A. and Brown, J. (eds.), The Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain. Oxford: OUP, forthcoming 2012.
  • ‘Judith’s vampish virtue and its double market appeal’, in Wyke, M. and Michelakis, P. (eds.), The Ancient World in Silent Cinema. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2012.
  • ‘Documentary li(v)es: writing falsehoods, righting wrongs in von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others (2006)’, in Buchanan, J. (ed.), The Writer on Film: Screening Literary Authorship. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, forthcoming 2012.
  • ‘Literary Adaptation in the Silent Era’, in Cartmell, D. and Whelehan, I. (eds), Blackwell Companion to Literature, Film and Adaptation. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming 2012.
  • ‘Shakespeare and Silent Film’, in Thornton Burnett, M., Streete, A and Wray, R. (eds.), The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. 
  • 'Celluloid formaldehyde? The body on film', in Saunders, C., MacNaughton, J. and Maude, U. (eds.), Flesh and Blood: The Body and the Arts (Houndsmill, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009), pp. 270-286.
  • 'Shakespeare and the Magic Lantern', Shakespeare Survey v.62 (2009), pp.191-210.
  • Judith Buchanan with Alex Newhouse, 'Sanguine mirages, cinematic dreams: things seen and things imagined in the 1917 Fox feature film A Tale of Two Cities', in Jones, C., McDonagh, J. and Mee, J. (eds.), Charles Dickens, 'A Tale of Two Cities' and the French Revolution (Houndsmill, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009), pp.146-165. (Article written in collaboration with a PhD student.)
  • '"In mute despair": early silent films of The Tempest and their theatrical referents', in British Shakespeare Association journal Shakespeare v.3, n.3 (December 2007): 330-351.
  • 'Gospel Narratives on Film', in Cartmell, D. and Whelehan, I., (eds.), Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen (Cambridge, CUP, 2006), pp.47-60.
  • '"Orgies of gesticulation"?: pedigree and performance codes in Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson's and Ruggero Ruggeri's silent films of Hamlet', in British Shakespeare Association journal Shakespeare v.2, n.1 (June 2006): 24-46.
  • 'Early Shakespeare Films', in Abel, R., (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Early Cinema (London: Routledge, 2004), pp.588-590.
  • 'Forbidden Planet and the Retrospective Attribution of Intentions', in Cartmell, D., Hunter, I., Kaye, H. and Whelehan, I. (eds.), Retrovisions (London and Chicago : Pluto, 2001), pp.148-162.
  • '"Like this insubstantial pageant faded": Michael Powell's The Tempest', Film Studies, v.1, n.2 (March 2000), 79-90.
  • 'Virgin and Ape, Venetian and Infidel: Labellings of Otherness in Oliver Parker's Othello', in Burnett, M.T. and Wray, R. (eds.), Shakespeare, Film, Fin de Siècle (Basingstoke and New York: Macmillian, 2000), pp.179-202.
  • 'Cantankerous Scholars and the Production of a Canonical Text: the Appropriation of Hieronymite Space in Prospero's Books', in Stalpaert, C. (ed.), Peter Greenaway's 'Prospero's Books': Critical Essays (Ghent: Academia Press, 2000), pp. 43-85.
Judith Buchanan: (c) John Houlihan

Contact details

Prof. Judith Buchanan
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
Y010 5DD

Tel: 44 1904 323337