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 in 1994, after receiving his Ph.D. in Film Studies from the University of Iowa in 1992.  He is currently Film Studies program director. His teaching assignment for 2013-2014 includes: a second-year course on film genre (“From Hollywood to Bollywood”); a fourth-year film course on research methods; and the core course for the Film Studies master’s program.  In December 2012 he accepted an invitation to teach a one-week course, “Studying Film Style: Songs in Cinema” at Masaryk University in The Czech Republic.

O’Brien’s 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; the statistical analysis of film style; film noir’s beginnings in 1930s France; the film-theoretical implications of Susan Sontag’s film criticism; voice-dubbing practices; digital restorations of early film colour; the reception of Hollywood musicals in 1930s France; 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 awards and fellowships including: 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.

O’Brien is now completing a book, “Transatlantic Style:  Movies, Songs, and Electric Sound,” which examines musical films made circa 1930 in the United States, Germany, France, and Britain. The investigation concerns techniques that enabled sound films to circulate across national and linguistic borders. Explaining the logic behind how export films were made, the book takes up topics such as the making of full-length “foreign versions”; the amount of source music in films relative to orchestral music; dubbing and subtitling, and the choices in framing and cutting they imply; and the use of song sequences in place of dialogue scenes and various methods for substituting song and visual action for speech. The book draws on a filmography comprised of 500 films made in Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. during 1927-1934; analyses of most of the films are available via O’Brien’s some 600 entries to the database at

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

“Griffith Goes West: The Move to California and the Style of the Biographs,” Forthcoming in The Blackwell Companion to D. W. Griffith, ed. Charlie Keil. [submitted in July 2013]

“Camera Placement in the Films of Pathé-Frères: the Case of Max Linder.” Forthcoming in an issue of Cinema et cie. devoted to the Pathé Workshop held in Montreal in October 2012. [submitted in April 2013.]

“Staging and Acting in the Griffith Biographs.” Forthcoming in Performing New Media 1890-1915 (Eastleigh, England: John Libbey Press), ed. Frank Gray et al.. [submitted in April 2013]

“Technology, 1920-1950.” forthcoming in The French Cinema Book, Revised Edition. [submitted in February 2013.]

“Sound-on-Disc Cinema.” Forthcoming in Richard Abel, Early Cinema: Critical Concepts. New York and London: Routledge. [submitted in August 2012]

“Cinemetrics and the Debate on Measures of Central Tendency.” Forthcoming in Technology and Film Scholarship: Experience, Study, History. eds. André Gaudreault and Santiago Hidalgo. New York and London: Routledge.

“The Exception and the Norm: Relocating Renoir’s Sound and Music.” In The Blackwell Companion to Jean Renoir, eds. Ginette Vincendeau and Alastair Phillips (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, ed. Simon Brown, Sarah Street, and Liz Watkins. New York and London: Routledge/American Film Institute, 2013. 37-46.

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

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

Coeur de Lilas:  Songs in French-Language Cinema, National and International Trends.”  In Studies in French Cinema 11, no. 2 (2011): 101-110.

“The ‘Cinematisation’ of Sound Cinema in Britain:  The Dubbing into French of Hitchcock’s Waltzes from Vienna.” In Je t’aime…moi non plus: Anglo-French Cinematic Relations, eds. Lucy Mazdon and Catherine Wheatley.  New York and Oxford:  Berghahn Books, 2010. 37-49.

“Lighting and Staging in Griffith’s Biograph Shorts: Electrification and Film Style, from East to West.”  In Domitor 2008. Ed. François Amy de la Bretèque (Perpignan:  Institut Jean Vigo, 2010: 39-50.

Sous les toits de Paris and French Film, at Home and Abroad.” In Studies in French Cinema 9; no. 2. (2009): 111-125.

“Sound-on-disc Cinema and Electrification prior to WWI:  Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.”  In Early Cinema and the “National,” eds. Richard Abel, Giorgio Bertellini and Rob King.  Eastleigh, England:  John Libbey Press, 2008:  40-49.

“Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar, Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture.”  [book review]  In Canadian Journal of Film Studies 17, no. 1 (2008):  98-102.

“Sound-on-disc Cinema and Electrification prior to WWI:  Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.”  in Early Cinema and the “National.”  eds. Richard Abel, Giorgio Bertellini and Rob King.  Eastleigh, England:  John Libbey Press, 2008:  40-49.

“Susan Sontag’s Erotics of Film Style:  Between Meaning and Presence.” In Post-Script 26, no. 2 (winter/spring 2007):  41-51.

“Film Color and National Cinema before WWI:  Pathécolor in the United States and Great Britain.”  in Networks of Entertainment: Early Film Distribution.  eds. Frank Kessler and Nanna Verhoeff.  Eastleigh, England:  John Libbey, 2007:  30-37.