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Photo of Professor Helen Hanson

Professor Helen Hanson

Associate Professor


01392 724262

Twitter: @helenexeter

Helen Hanson is Associate Professor in Film History at the University of Exeter, and Academic Director of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

She is the author of Hollywood Soundscapes: Film Sound Style, Craft and Production in the Classical Era (2017),  Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female Gothic Film (2007) and co-editor (with Catherine O’Rawe) of The Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts (2010) and (with Andrew Spicer) of  A Companion to Film Noir (2013).

Professor Hanson’s recent research projects and publications are focused on histories of Hollywood cinema in the classical studio era. She explores Hollywood from a macro and micro perspective, researching how its studios were organised, how some of its classic films were produced, and how its key genres represented identity and subjectivity in the mid twentieth century.

Her recent research has explored film sound work below-the-line. She traces how innovation and creativity are both enabled and constrained within industrial structures and hierarchies, and in relation to changing technologies. This is explored in her monograph, Hollywood Soundscapes: Film Sound Style, Craft and Production in the Classical Era (BFI/Palgrave, 2017). You can see and hear Helen talking about this project here.

Her current project, funded by the British Academy, traces women's work in film sound in American cinema, from the 1940s to the present. Drawing on archival research and oral histories, Professor Hanson traces an invisible but important tradition in women's creative work for the screen, and aims to spotlight the contribution of women sound and music editors to some of Hollywood's best known films. Her approach to this research is showcased in her article 'Looking for Lela Simone', which traces the work of music co-ordinator Lela Simone, who worked on Singin' in the Rain. This work won 'Best Journal Article' in the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies publication awards, 2022.

Her work on classical and contemporary films noir and gothic films investigated the intersections of gender and genre through theories of narrative, agency and identification and offered fresh perspectives on these genres and their female figures.  The outcomes of this research were a number of publications, including a monograph: Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female Gothic Film (2007)

Professor Hanson also has wider research interests in film sound and music theory and history, in adaptation theory and practice, in feminist film theory and in archives, cultural and screen heritage and historiography. 

She is an experienced PhD supervisor and examiner.  She has supervised PhDs to successful completion in film sound design, female film culture in British silent cinema, male characterisation in Brönte adaptations, sonic immersion in sound art and new media, and girlhood in the contemporary fairytale film cycle.  All of her former supervisees now either have academic posts, or are working in creative industries.

She is currently supervising or co-supervising a range of exciting doctoral projects on topics such as widescreen innovations in the 1950s, Buster Keaton as a film editor, mid-life female stars in contemporary cinema, filmmaker Bill Douglas, characterisation in contemporary screenplay and writing suspense.

Helen has discussed her research on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, and her public appearances include talks given at the BFI’s Gothic season, and on adaptation at the Page to Screen Festival, Bridport.  She has collaborated and innovatated on a number of public engagement initiatives, she set up ‘Screen Talks’, a partnership between the University and Exeter Picturehouse in which academics present films for public discussion.  And recently she worked on the Object Stories Project, a collaboration with Dr Lisa Stead , Dr Joe Kember and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum to make short research films.

You can keep up with Helen’s activities on Twitter: @helenexeter

Research supervision

I am open to discussing research proposals on any relevant subject given my research expertise (see overview section).  

I am especially  happy to consider working with candidates with interests in the following areas:

  • Hollywood cinema - its history, industry, creative figures, stars, or institutions
  • Film technologies - invention, innovation, change
  • Feminist approaches to film - feminist film theory and historiography
  • Adaptation theory and practice
  • Any area of film sound and music


Research students

Research Students (Completed)

Amy McGill 'The Contemporary Hollywood Film Soundtrack: Professional Practicses and Sonic Styles Since the 1970s' (2008)

Lisa Stead 'Female Writing and British Silent Film Culture 1918-1928' (2011)

Sarah Fanning 'Changing Fictions of Masculinity: Adaptations of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights 1939-2009' (2012)

Ruth Farrar 'Creating Soundscapes: A Creative, Technological and Theoretical Investigation of Binaural Technology Usage' (2014)

Research Students (Current)

Aygul Bakanova 'Female characterisation in the screenplay' (Phd by Practice - Exeter-London Film School Doctoral Partnership)

Karrie Grobben 'Girlhood in the Contemporary Fairytale Cycle' (AHRC funded)

Kate Tresidder 'James Stewart: Star Persona and Performance'

Greg Loftin, 'Storyworlds and the Screenplay' (PhD by Practice)

Gemma Edney, 'Sound, Music, Voice and Girlhood in Contemporary French Cinema' 

Katie Newstead, 'Representations of Ageing in Fairytale Films'



I relish teaching, and find seminars a most rewarding place to work through research ideas with students.  

In 2014 I won a University Teaching Award in the Best Supervisor category.

I regularly teach on the following modules:

EAF 2510: Adaptation: Text, Image, Culture (Convenor)

EAF 1504: Introduction to Film History (Convenor)

EAF 2509: Shots in the Dark: American Cinema in Profile

EAS 1034: Film Studies: An Introduction

EAFM081: Hearing Film: Film Sound and Music (Convenor - PGT module)

EAFM200: Distribution and Markets (PGT module on MA in Independent Film Business)

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