About

Join us in a two-day conference about all things Bette Davis, from the industries that created her, to the actress herself as an industry. Davis remains emblematic of the historical era of Classical Hollywood Cinema (1929-1960), the aesthetic practices we describe as modernist, and the political practices we describe as feminist. What would it mean to read Bette Davis as modernist? How does Davis operate as a node that allows us to think about the reach of mass culture in shaping (and historicizing) early twentieth century conceptions of femininity, sexuality, embodiment, and agency?

An actress unafraid to play unlikeable women, Davis regularly wrested directorial and production power away from men, earning her the title of “the Fourth Warner brother” and transforming her from star to auteur. While there is a significant body of work on Davis in film and media scholarship, she has made only a few appearances in literary and cultural studies, primarily in feminist and queer discussions of this period, as in Lauren Berlant’s and Theresa de Lauretis’s readings of Now, Voyager.

Bringing together an international group of media, film, gender, literature, and arts scholars, this conference seeks to build on that work, exploring the many ways in which Davis was central to mass and popular culture during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Keynote lecture, October 5, 5pm by Dr. Martin Shingler, Senior Lecturer in Radio and Film, University of Sunderland, UK: “From Heartbreaking Sincerity to Desperate Self Parody: The Critical Reception of Bette Davis’s Acting from 1939 to 1949″

Forum and talk, October 6, 4pm, with Kathryn Sermak, personal assistant to Bette Davis for the last decade of her life, co-founder of The Bette Davis Foundation and co-executor of The Bette Davis Estate, author of MISS D & ME: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis (Hachette Books, 2017). Ms. Sermak will be addressing the conference on Saturday, October 6.

Screening and Panel Discussion of Old Acquaintance (1943), October 6, 6pm, Evanston Public Library


All About Bette is sponsored by the Northwestern University Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University Department of English, Department of Radio/Television/Film, and the programs in Gender and Sexuality Studies and American Studies and the Loyola University Chicago College of Arts and Sciences and Department of English.

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