THE CINEMA OF ISOLATION: A HISTORY OF PHYSICAL DISABILITY IN THE
by Martin F. Norden
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994
ISBN 0-8135-2104-1 (paper), 0-8135-2103-3 (hardcover)
"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
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), and the
co-author of Movies: A Language in Light
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984). His
most recent books are Lois Weber:
Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2019) and
Culture Matters: Proceedings of the 39th Conference of the Northeast
Popular Culture Association (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge
Scholars Publishing, 2019). 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.
At this point, you may want to:
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