Cinema and Media Studies Poems, Novels, and Plays About Film
Laurence Goldstein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0184


From the beginnings of film technology in the last decade of the 19th century, creative writers have commented descriptively and speculatively on this new “sister art.” As the movies became an important social and cultural phenomenon around the world, authors of narrative and lyric forms assessed the impact of both the industry and its products on the behavior and consciousness of the general population. For novelists and dramatists, “Hollywood” became the keyword to represent not only the most significant geographic site of moviemaking but also the power and influence of the film medium in general. Poets examined the changes in modes of perception and sensibility wrought by a kinetic art form constituted so massively of pictorial imagery rather than language. The first impulse among authors was to celebrate the new medium for its ability to resurrect the sense of wonder and religious feeling that had declined during the late 19th century. Hollywood was praised as a city of art, a new Florence, and an opportunity for people to realize the American Dream of success and fame. Vachel Lindsay’s upbeat nonfiction book The Art of the Moving Picture (Lindsay 2000, cited under Theories of the Relation of Poetry and Film) and Parker Tyler’s writings (Tyler 1970a, Tyler 1970b, both cited under Theories of the Relation of Poetry and Film) exemplify this enthusiasm. However, a countercurrent began almost immediately, as the city came under attack for vulgarizing the social codes by its decadent lifestyles, and movies were deplored for their trashy fantasies and sinister social effects. Nathanael West’s corrosive novel The Day of the Locust (West 2006, cited under Seminal Texts: 1915–1949) and theorists such as Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin signaled anxieties about the powerful influence of film technology in an era of violent social and political change. In a feedback cycle beginning in the earliest period of filmmaking, public fascination with movies led to the production of a vast number of literary texts about movies, which were adapted on many occasions for re-creation as films. The resulting increase of media attention at each stage of the process guaranteed that the film medium would move gradually to the forefront of public awareness in the literary community as elsewhere in society. Scholars in this field must focus at first on primary literary texts to understand the commentaries that draw from them. The abundance of entries under Individual Poems, Individual Novels, and Individual Plays constitutes a database for the overviews and analyses produced in this relatively new field of study. All of the texts in this bibliography are available in the English language. Most are American in origin with a smaller contingent from the United Kingdom. The various lists include a sampling of material from other countries translated into English.


All kinds of film criticism and film theory are relevant to a full understanding of the complex representations of film in literature. Likewise, bibliographies assist the reader in locating relevant resources. The references included here direct attention toward the interaction and shared aesthetics of the three artistic modes and offer especially good contexts for reading the creative writing surveyed in this bibliography. Ross 1987 provides a wide-ranging bibliography of critical studies of literature about the movies, whereas Geduld 1972 collects seminal nonfiction commentary by imaginative authors early in the film era. Harrington 1977 offers a showcase of theoretical documents, including canonical essays that draw attention to the methods of exchange and influence among film, fiction, poetry, and drama. Monographs that survey the entire scope of the topic include the formalist approach of Richardson 1969 and the psychological exposition of Durgnat 1967. Barnard 1995 focuses on the 1930s for a historicist case study of creative literature on the Left that critiqued the outpouring of visual culture emanating from Hollywood, whereas Marcus 2008 traces the interaction of literary forms with the movies in the first generation of modernism. Mitchell 1994 provides the most capacious theoretical analysis of the “pictorial turn” in global communications, enabled and enhanced paradoxically by the linguistic tradition. Such books keep literature steadily in view as they construct models for evaluating the significance of movies as cultural expression. Journals such as Literature/Film Quarterly maintain an ongoing commentary on significant debates in the field that proceed from major texts referenced in this bibliography.

  • Barnard, Rita. The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance: Kenneth Fearing, Nathanael West, and Mass Culture in the 1930s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Using historical and theoretical materials, this study provides extended readings of significant fiction and poetry of the 1930s about the movies. It establishes a plausible ideological context for postwar novels, films, and plays in America and elsewhere, using popular culture of all kinds as illustrations.

  • Durgnat, Raymond. Films and Feelings. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1967.

    Using theoretical texts by Sergei Eisenstein, Rudolf Arnheim, and André Bazin, among many others, Durgnat credits “the mongrel muse” for effecting in film an integration of “literary content” and “visual style.” In the midst of analyzing many films, he constructs a cultural and aesthetic ecology of the media in general and film in particular.

  • Geduld, Harry M., ed. Authors on Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.

    A compendium of writings about the nature and impact of the movies by some thirty-five authors, beginning with Maxim Gorky, Leo Tolstoy, and Frank Norris. Reviews, memoirs, and editorial commentary are among the forms of praise or critique.

  • Harrington, John, ed. Film and/as Literature. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977.

    A compilation of useful essays, including sections on theater, novels, and poetry, that examine the relationships between cinema and its sister arts. Chapter 6, “Message, Medium, and Literary Art,” with essays by Virginia Woolf, Marshall McLuhan, and Erwin Panofsky, is especially useful.

  • Literature/Film Quarterly. 1973–.

    A superb research source for essays on all aspects of the relation of literature and film, including the treatment of movie topics in novels, poetry, and plays.

  • Marcus, Laura. The Tenth Muse: Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    The presence of film form in the writings of the generation of the 1910s and 1920s—James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), and T. S. Eliot—is a central topic. The long chapter on Virginia Woolf’s essay “The Cinema” (pp. 99–178) is especially subtle and provocative.

  • Mitchell, W. J. T. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

    A prolific commentator on the relation of image and text, Mitchell argues that visual images already contain verbal elements and that “all arts are ‘composite arts’ (both text and image); all media are mixed media” (pp. 94–95). His book complicates the reader’s/spectator’s sense of meaningfulness and narrative coherence in literature and movies alike.

  • Richardson, Robert D. Literature and Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.

    A pioneering study of the interrelations between theater and film, poetry and film, and fiction and film. Attentive to matters of montage, imagery, spectacle, flashback, and representation of reality as well as how some literary texts, such as Hart Crane’s “Chaplinesque” and James Agee’s A Death in the Family (1957), respond to specific films.

  • Ross, Harris. Film as Literature, Literature as Film: An Introduction to and Bibliography of Film’s Relationship to Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1987.

    An essential guide to journal articles on the attention to film in fiction, theater, and poetry, among many other topics. Extensive author and subject indexes facilitate scholarly use of the bibliographies.

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