Charles O'Brien

Associate Professor

Degrees:Ph.D. (University of Iowa)
Phone:613-520-2600 x 8319
Office:434 St. Patrick’s Building Carleton University 1125 Colonel By Drive Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6

Charles O’Brien came to Carleton’s Film Studies program in 1994 after receiving his Ph.D. in Film Studies from the University of Iowa in 1992. His teaching assignment for 2018-2019 includes: a second-year course on Chaplin and Keaton, a third-year course on digital cinema, a third-year course on silent cinema, and a graduate course on film music.

O’Brien’s new book, Movies, Songs, and Electric Sound: Transatlantic Trends (Indiana University Press) is to appear in print in April 2019. The book examines American and European musical films created circa 1930, when the world’s sound-equipped theatres screened movies featuring recorded songs, and filmmakers in the United States and Europe struggled to meet the artistic and technical challenges of sound production and distribution. The presence of singers in films exerted special pressures on film technique, lending a distinct look and sound to the films’ musical sequences. Rather than advance a film’s plot, songs in these films were staged, filmed, and cut to facilitate the singer’s engagement with her or his public. Drawing on a filmography comprised of 500 films made in Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. during 1927-1934, the book includes an examination of the export market for sound films in the early 1930s, when German and American companies used musical films as a vehicle for competing against one another for control over the world film trade. Movies, Songs, and Electric Sound thus delineates a new, transnational context for understanding the Hollywood musical, and it examines in detail the internationally successful German operettas of the early 1930s.

Other publications include Cinema’s Conversion to Sound:  Technology and Film Style in France and the United States (Indiana U. Press, 2005), as well as articles and book chapters on various topics, including: staging and lighting in D. W. Griffith’s Biograph films; French and German film versions of Weill-Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper; art deco’s impact on cinema; film noir’s beginnings in 1930s France; René Clair’s musical comedies; staging in Max Linder’s short films, the film-theoretical implications of Susan Sontag’s film criticism; voice-dubbing practices; French films of the German occupation; film and electrification in Europe and North America prior to WWI; and films set in the French colonies. His translations include Francesco Casetti’s Inside the Gaze (1996).

Since arriving at Carleton O’Brien has received a Chateaubriand Fellowship; a residential fellowship at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; and four research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. In 2006 O’Brien was appointed Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., where he spent the 2006-2007 academic year.

Recent publications, in print and forthcoming (last six years): 

Movies, Songs, and Electric Sound: Transatlantic Trends. Forthcoming from Indiana University Press in April 2019.

“Art Deco and Sound Cinema.” Forthcoming in Art Deco Research Companion. Michael Windover and Bridget Elliot, eds.. Surrey England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

“Dubbing in the Early 1930s: An Improbable Policy.” Forthcoming in “Splendid Innovations”: The Development, Reception and Preservation of Screen Translation. Carol O’Sullivan and Jean-François Cornu, eds.. London and New York: Oxford University Press and the British Academy. 180-191.

“Technology: Plant, Imported Technology, and Film Style.” In The French Cinema Book, Revised Edition. Michael Temple and Michael Witt, eds.. London: British Film Institute, 2018. 81-88.

“Griffith Goes West: The Move to California and the Style of the Biographs.” In The Blackwell Companion to D. W. Griffith. Charlie Keil, eds.. Hoboken and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2017. 150-173.

“Film Analysis and Statistics:  A Field Report.” In Technology and Film Scholarship: Experience, Study, History. André Gaudreault and Santiago Hidalgo, eds.. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press, 2017. 149-168.

“Film History.” International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences. London: Elsevier, 2015. 165-170.

“Staging and Acting in the Griffith Biographs.” In Performing New Media 1890-1915. Kaveh Askari et al., eds.. Eastleigh, England: John Libbey Press, 2014. 41-47.

“Sound-on-Disc Cinema.” In Early Cinema: Critical Concepts. Richard Abel, ed.. New York and London: Routledge, 2013. 42-51.

“The Exception and the Norm: Relocating Renoir’s Sound and Music.” In The Blackwell Companion to Jean Renoir. Ginette Vincendeau and Alastair Phillips, eds.. Hoboken and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. 33-52.

“Colour as Image Schema:  Technicolor Number 3 in King of Jazz.”

In Color and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive. Simon Brown, Sarah Street, and Liz Watkins, eds.. New York and London: Routledge/American Film Institute, 2013. 37-46.

“Camera Distance and Max Linder at Pathé-Frères.” Cinema & Cie. 13, no. 21 (Fall 2013). 49-57.

“Motion Picture Color and Pathé-Frères: The Aesthetic Consequences of Industrialization.” In The Blackwell Companion to Early Cinema, André Gaudreault, Nicolas Dulac, and Santiago Hidalgo, eds.. Hoboken and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2012. 298-314.

“Early Film Colour: Today and Yesterday.” In Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks, and Publics of Early Cinema. Marta Braun et al, eds.. Eastleigh, England: John Libbey, 2012. 195-199.