THE CINEMA OF ISOLATION: A HISTORY OF PHYSICAL DISABILITY IN THE MOVIES

by Martin F. Norden

New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994
ISBN 0-8135-2104-1 (paper), 0-8135-2103-3 (hardcover)
375 pages


"This book is about mainstream perceptions of society's largest minority (43 million citizens in the United States) as reflected in the movies." So begins Martin F. Norden's groundbreaking book The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies, which explores Hollywood's portrayal of people with physical disabilities.

Designated by The Chronicle of Higher Education as a "Nota Bene" book, The Cinema of Isolation is an insightful examination of society's attitudes and prejudices. It relays Hollywood's ongoing message to people with disabilities, which is, "You're different because one or more of your physical attributes doesn't work properly, and that makes me uncomfortable but intrigues me at the same time."

Filmmakers have often encouraged their audiences to regard people with physical disabilities in terms of pity, awe, humor, or fear -- as "Others" who somehow deserve to be isolated from the rest of society. Norden examines hundreds of Hollywood movies (and notable international ones) and uncovers the movie industry's practices for keeping people with disabilities dependent and "in their place."

Norden offers an array of physically disabled characters who embody or break out of the stereotypes. He shows us "sweet innocents" like Tiny Tim, "obsessive avengers" like Quasimodo and Captain Hook, variations on the disabled veteran, and many others. He observes the arrival of a new set of stereotypes tied to the growth of science and technology in the 1970s and 1980s, and underscores movies like My Left Foot and The Waterdance that display a newfound sensitivity. Norden's in-depth knowledge of disability history makes for a particularly intelligent and sensitive approach to this long-overlooked issue in media studies.

CONTENTS: Preface and Acknowledgments; Introduction: Politics, Movies, and Physical Disability; Emergence of an Impoverished Image; The Misbegotten Multireelers; Man of a Thousand Disabilities and His Brethren; Golden-Age Freakshows; The Road to Rehabilitation; The Path to Apathy; Moving Toward the Mainstream; High-Tech Heroics and Other Concerns; Conclusion: Reel Life after the Americans with Disabilities Act; Notes; Selected Bibliography; General Index; Film Index.

MARTIN F. NORDEN teaches and writes about film as a Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA. His articles have appeared in such journals as Film & History, Film Criticism, Journal of Film and Video, Paradoxa, and Wide Angle, and in numerous anthologies. He is the editor of The Changing Face of Evil in Film and Television (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2007), the author of John Barrymore: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995), the co-author of Movies: A Language in Light (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984), and the editor of a forthcoming anthology on the early American filmmaker Lois Weber. He has lectured on the topic of movies and disability in London, Paris, Prague, Munich, Bologna, Salzburg, Brno, Galway, Montreal, and many venues across the United States.

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SPECIAL NOTE: Marty is available for public presentations on The Cinema of Isolation and other film/TV topics. Contact him at norden(at)comm.umass.edu for more information.