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Professor Michael Williams 

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Professor Michael Williams is Professor of Film at the University of Southampton.

My research examines cinema’s relationship with the past, including how screen stars since the silent era have drawn inspiration from a visual culture that reaches back to the idols of antiquity. By exploring these cinematic framings of history, we can further understand our relationship to the modern world, as well as the way we view the past itself.

Having been fascinated with images as long as I can remember, I have spent over twenty-two years studying and working in the field of Film Studies. My first degree was in Film and Literature BA (hons) at the University of Warwick, from where I graduated in 1995. I then took the MA in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia a year later, where I also worked as a part-time tutor. It was there that I developed a keen interest in film history, undertaking my Doctoral thesis on the actor, composer and playwright Ivor Novello, who was arguably Britain's first major screen star with an international profile.

I began teaching at the University of Southampton in 2001, specializing in the study of stardom, silent cinema and the representation of the past in cinema and popular culture. My work on Novello was developed into a monograph, Ivor Novello: Screen Idol, which was published by the British Film Institute in 2003. The book focused in particular on how Novello's association with the Great War through his composition of the song ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning' remained a key part of his screen persona in the 1920s. The significance of the war for British cinema in the silent period was also explored in a book I co-edited with my colleague Michael Hammond, which was published in 2011.

My interest in the use of mythology in the construction of stardom was pursued in a wider context for the first major study of ‘star divinization’, Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism: The Rise of Hollywood's Gods, published in 2013. This book examines how Hollywood appropriated the myth and iconography of antiquity to construct star images in the 1910s and 1920s for stars such as Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro, and establish foundational ideas about the nature of film stardom. My follow-up book, Film Stardom and the Ancient Past: Idols, Artefacts and Epics, looks at what happened to divinized stardom from the 1930s to the present, with examples ranging from Buster Crabbe to Beyoncé, and films including Mata Hari (1931),Alexander (2004) and Clash of the Titans (1981).

by Michael Williams (2003)
Ivor Novello: Screen Idol
By Michael Hammond and Michael Williams
British Silent Cinema
by Michael Williams
Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism
by Michael Williams
Stardom and the Ancient Past

Research interests

My research interests include: the cultural representation of the past; star studies; silent cinema; British film; film and the First World War, and gender and sexuality and popular film and television. I am currently undertaking research on the relationship between film stardom, history and classicism in contemporary cinema, including the use of stars in the current cycle of classical epics. I teach across all levels of the undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum at Southampton. My research feeds into all my teaching, including my MA option module ‘Screen Stars in Context’, and third year option module, ‘Stardom: History, Myth and Heritage in the Cinema’.

I have supervised and advised on PhD topics including: the Sherlock Holmes films of the 1930s and 40s; the First World War in inter-war cinema; Hispanic masculinity in contemporary Hollywood; masculinity and trauma in Korean cinema; early British television; time and space in the film musical; German cinematographers working in the British film industry in the 1920s and 30s; and heroic masculinity in the peplum film.

I would particularly welcome research proposals on stars and stardom; the representation of the past; masculinity and sexuality in cinema; silent film; and myth, heritage and antiquity in cinema.

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Professor Michael Williams
University of Southampton
Avenue Campus
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number: 65/1075

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