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The University of Southampton
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Professor Michael Williams 

Professor of Film Studies

Professor Michael Williams's photo

Professor Michael Williams is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Southampton. Michael’s research focuses on film stardom as well as the representation of the past, and particularly that of ancient Greece and Rome. He has a particular interest in the popular reception of stars since the silent era, as well as uses of the past in the constructions of gender and sexuality.

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 nearly thirty 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 to establish foundational ideas about the nature of film stardom. My 2018 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).


Appointments held:

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 representation and reception 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 continue to research 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, ‘Framing the Past: Stardom, History and Heritage in the Cinema’.

PhD supervision

I have supervised 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; reconstructing the 1980s on Contemporary American Television; 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 on screen.

Head of Research (Semester 1)

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Book Chapters


FILM3018: Stardom, History and Heritage in the Cinema

FILM6031: Screen Stars in Context

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

Room Number : 65/1075

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