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Not that long ago, film courses were frequently regarded--at least from the perspective of comedians, politicians, and other social critics--as something of a con. Lazy, overindulged students got credit for watching movies, and faculty got paid for showing them. What better proof was there that the whole higher education system was a costly sham?
Somewhere along the line, video culture took root and invaded every aspect of our lives. In libraries--where until recently the collection development policy toward video acquisition was cool at best--media collections have become the fastest-growing areas. Courses in modern languages, anthropology, performing arts, sociology, gender studies, literature, and history--most of them introduced within the last five years--are extensively dependent on the use of film as text.
In this evolving context, print volumes have become the complementary resources--not the primary ones.
The e-resources reviewed here facilitate film studies by providing access to both scholarly and popular literature. They stand out for not only digging below the moving images to the scripts upon which films are based but also for contributing to the process of producing a play in any type of setting and for actually putting film onto the desktops of our patrons.
American Film Scripts Online
Alexander Street Press
Content For the past century, the world's view of American culture--and maybe our view of ourselves--has come largely through the images we've projected on the silver screen. Until the release of American Film Scripts Online (AFSO), however, the scripts upon which these motion pictures are based were, for the most part, unpublished and inaccessible. Thanks to Alexander Street's efforts to obtain the rights to digitize, index, and make available the authorized versions of some of America's most instantly recognized masterpieces, subscribers to AFSO will ultimately have access to the full text of 1000 scripts from hundreds of screenwriters.
The timing for this review is a little off as Alexander Street will soon launch a new version of AFSO, which will feature a number of key enhancements to help make the database more consistent and the user experience more comfortable.
The first of these enhancements will involve formatting scripts according to standard screenplay conventions whenever this format is used in the original. For readability, fonts will be used consistently, and longer segments of text will be displayed for viewing. Navigation from the search results to a specific scene will also be improved. Through May 2006, the project was about halfway to completion.
Another 100 indexed and fully searchable scripts were scheduled for inclusion in the June update, along with 525 in PDF format. These image files would be available for viewing and then get the full indexing treatment in a subsequent release. What's particularly cool about the PDFs is that many will contain handwritten notes and comments from the director, screenwriter, actor, or producer who was the source of the script. Examples can be viewed in the Showcase area of the site, and it's hard to imagine any way to get a deeper, more personal look into the filmmaking process.
Searchability Alexander Street provides a wide array of routes into AFSO. The Tables of Contents approach is equivalent to Browse mode in most resources. Tables of Contents indexes include Writer, Script, Year (starting with The Great Train Robbery in 1903), Character (including a link to a brief profile of the actor who played the role), Subject, and People (comprised of Actors, Directors, Producers, and Writers).
The Subject listing is likely one of the most useful features for scholars and researchers and consists of Persons, Organizations and Institutions, Subject Terms (broad), and Subject Terms (narrow). Subject Terms (broad) allows the searcher to retrieve scenes having to do with themes like domestic life, economics, law, and relationships. Clicking on Religion, for example, retrieves 715 references from such films as The Last Temptation of Christ, They Call It Sin, as well as I Walked with a Zombie and Scooby-Doo. Currently, these hits link not to the scenes but to the script, although the intention with the upgrade is to establish direct links.
Subject Terms (narrow) is the more useful approach for looking at film as a representation of culture. From Abductions, Abolitionism, and Abortions to Yom Kippur, Zombies, and Zoos, the opportunities for exploration are extensive, inviting, illuminating, and, appropriately enough, a little wacky. The 1953 romantic musical comedy Dangerous When Wet includes a scene whose assigned subject terms are Flirting and Mosquito Problems.
Find mode provides a series of unique search templates geared toward exploring the database from the perspective of Writers, Scripts, Scenes, or Characters. A Terms button links to the controlled vocabulary for each field in those indexed, and, once selected, terms may be pasted into the search strategy.
Search Scripts mode has a Simple and Advanced template for searching for full text within a script. The chief distinction here is that Advanced Search provides on-screen hints on Boolean operations, a menu for choosing several proximity options, a way to add precision to the Writer search (i.e., by specifying Gender, Nationality, Race, or Ethnicity), and a Yes/No pull-down menu for the …