Fantasy Projections: Rear Screen Projection in Hollywood, 1940-1960


Mellon/ACLS Recent Doctoral Recipients Fellowships


For residence at the Davis Humanities Center


This project asks the question: why does the rear projection composite work in mid-century films by controlling directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Douglas Sirk, and Nicholas Ray look so bad? Rear projection is a special effect technique that involves projecting pre-filmed footage behind the actors on the set, and is seen most often in shots of actors speaking dialogue while in a car or other moving vehicle. It often looked as unconvincing to contemporary audiences as it does to us today. This project argues that the “imperfection” of rear projection, in spite of decades of work by highly skilled studio technicians, illuminates in specific detail the labor, problems, and limitations with developing Hollywood’s (aspired for) perfect seamless realism in the studio era.