Showing posts from September, 2006

Confessions of an Auteurist

Sorry for the tease post headline, but I couldn't resist. No I'm not becoming an out-and-out auteurist, but for the intro class I've been rereading (first time in years) Andrew Sarris's The American Cinema. Even if one doesn't ascribe to his grand methodological pronouncements (I don't), the books still is impressive with the subtlety of argument lurking beneath the polemicism. A lot of people either misrepresent Sarris or treat him as straw man. I can think of no worse way to spend an afternoon than to peruse Sarris for his almost castaway insights that are worthy of full-fledged scholarly inquiry....

on Dreyer: "The late Robert Warshow treated Carl Dreyer as a solitary artist and Leo McCarey as a social agent, but we know now that there were cultural influences in Denmark operating on Dreyer. Day of Wrath is superior by any standard to My Son John, but Dreyer is not that much freer an artist than McCarey. His chains are merely less visible from our vanta…

The History Problem

Lately, I've been reading James Morrison's Passport to Hollywood: Hollywood Films, European Directors (SUNY UP, 1998). Partly because I once had the pleasure of being on an SCMS panel with him and was impressed by his work (then on Orphans of the Storm) and partly because research paths have directed me back to the question of European talent working in Hollywood. Anyway, it's been a fun and thought-provoking read.

First off, let me say that this is not an historical account of one main question I'm interested in: to what extent "Europeanness" adheres to the emigre director/cinematographer/writer, etc. and to what it extent it's a production imperative caught up in the social field the film industry is caught in.

Rather, Morrison is interested in reading larger socio-cultural formations (high culture, the art film, modernism) in certain key films, which if not representative moments are at least moments pregnant with significance. Murnau's Sunrise, Reno…

CFP: Cosmopolitanism

Cosmopolitanism: Thinking Beyond the NationFebruary 1-4, 2007
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FloridaIn his introduction to Cosmopolitics, Pheng Cheah writes, "The main purpose is to explore the feasibility of cosmopolitanism as an alternative to nationalism." Indeed, ever since Kant, the concept of cosmopolitanism has been central to thinking about social relations, culture, and the problem of war outside of the relations of the nation-state. As the nation-state has organized the fields of literary and cinema studies as well as the broader field of culture, questioning such categorization is crucial, as it opens up new ways of thinking about literary and filmic production as part of a larger context of interaction. It can also account for novel ways of describing the field of contemporary knowledge and experience.The question of the nation seems particularly important now because of two main transformations on the world scene: (1) economic globalization, in which the…

CFP: Europe and Its Others conference

from the wires...

An International Interdisciplinary Conference

6-8 JULY 2007


‘Europe and its Others’ is an international conference in the area of literary, film and media studies, covering the main European languages (English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish). It sets decipherers of Europe’s cultural traditions in interdisciplinary dialogue with historians, political scientists, social anthropologists, culture theorists, and international relationists. Through the mirroring representations of Europe’s cultural production, we aim to explore a nexus of particularly rich and complex self-and-other relationships: diverse in space, multiple in its scenes, actors, dimensions, and evolving in time. We wish to understand something about how the Other-encounters, perceptions and relationships of Europe function - …

Wittgenstein and Media Studies

Before I go too far down the slippery slope of snarkiness, with that last post, let me elevate the discourse a bit and say that one essay I've always found helpful in thinking through these issues is Maxime Chastaing's "Wittgenstein et le probleme de la connaissance d'autrui" - originally in Revue Philosophique de la France et de l'Etranger (1960), but translated in part and included in Bourdieu and Passeron's Craft of Sociology. Chastaing illustrates several of Wittgenstein's observations by demonstrating how certain philosophers' word games end up mistakenly positing a logical connection between unrelated phenomona. The Media and Culture journal is just an extreme instance of forcing two different concepts together because of the same word: jam as "preserves" and jam as "wedge into a tight space" or "gum up the works" have nothing in common other than the tendency of the English language, like French and many other…

From the Department of Self-Parody

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 5 September 2006

M/C - Media and Culture
is calling for contributors to the 'jam' issue of

M/C Journal

Call for Papers: 'jam'
Edited by Lawrence English & Jo Tacchi

What is Jam? How can we understand this cultural and culinary condiment? How does it exist on its own right? Can it exist without attachment, without some form of boundary giving this amorphous blob some understood form and shape?

As a condiment, the notion of jam exists attached to a more solid form - wedged between two pieces of bread or contained within a jar. Its creation (via various processes and transformations from raw material into something consumable, even desirable), housing, marketing and consumption all shape our understanding of this widely used, yet somewhat 'formless' term. Is it through this series o…

Screening on 16mm

[Cross-posted at Dr. Mabuse's Kaleidoscope.]

The current Cinema Journal (45.3) has an interesting and valuable forum on the death of 16mm. The problem is a familiar one: DVD has allowed vastly improved availability of film texts, both for personal research and classroom screening, but it has also given departments and university administrations the excuse to curtail their screenings in 16mm. There are partly nostalgic reasons to bemoan 16mm's demise, but some better ones, too: 16mm remains the primary gauge for distribution of experimental work; it gives students more than approximation of the formal characteristics of the photographic image itself; and it sets the tone for a more theatrical filmwatching experience rather than the distractedness of the home video setting.

Currently, I'm in an in-between situation. Thanks to lab/screening fees, Temple does have (modest) money that I can use for 16mm rental, for which I'm thankful, though as a rule they tend to prefer inv…


Since I'm currently trying to finish a paper on 1960s pseudodocumentary, my research has led me to some of the current scholarship on mockumentary and other documentary/fiction hybrid forms. There's not a lot out there yet, though I imagine there will be more. Docufictions (Macfarland Publications, 2006) scores points by being the first volume, to my knowledge, to consider hybrid forms in a systematic way. Its essays are eclectic, ranging widely in methodology and rigor, but the volume probably succeeds on its terms: it establishes docu-fiction as an object of study worth consideration against the tendency of narrative and documentary scholars each to consider hybrid forms outside her/his purview; the hybrids have become too popular and widespread to treat them as mere exceptions. At the same time, the book has the historical scope to suggest that much nonfiction filmmaking of the past - including examples of the documentary canon - are productively understood in the context o…

Pedagogical Films

I have never relied much on pedagogical films, i.e. films which themselves lecture on film studies. However, designing my syllabus this time around, a colleague had reminded me of a Noel Burch film/TV series, Correction Please, which really is a wonderful explanation of the development of narrative storytelling in cinema. Unfortunately, the film has never had a video release and only a smattering of university archives, departments and libraries have a closely-held copy. So far, I've been unable to obtain a copy anywhere.

The larger question I have is: what other useful pedagogical films might I be missing. Burch may well be an unusual case, as theorist and filmmaker who also took on the mantle of popularizing an genre overlooked in the larger film culture.

For that matter, are there any useful multimedia educational materials worth using? For all of the supposed media savvy and literacy of pop culture scholars, there's some pretty dire stuff I've seen. Then again, things …

Search Engine Ideological Analysis

Can anyone tell me why a search for "John F. Kennedy" at the A&E website pulls up tons of Avengers videos?

On the Shoulders of Giants

In anticipation for a week of the grad seminar dealing with the transition to sound, I've been taking a closer look at Donald Crafton's The Talkies. Not to color what my students might take away from it, but I found it an impressive work of scholarship. I've used a number of the other volumes of the History of American Cinema series, most of all Tino Balio's Grand Design. (Thomas Schatz's Boom and Bust, oddly enough, wasn't as helpful for the dissertation as Balio's book.) But the narrow historical period and topic allow Crafton to organize the history around a more emphatic argument about sound historiography - that is to say, of the volumes in the series that I've read, The Talkies works the best as a stand-alone book.

His argument? Namely that a) there is a disparity between the popular understanding of the coming of sound and the historical scholarship on it; and b) that in correcting the popular understanding, film historians like Douglas Gomery ma…

Classical bias

I have my departmental webpage up and running. Included are syllabi for my courses, Introduction to Film and Video Analysis and the graduate Film History and Theory seminar. As you can see, there were a lot of changes I'd made to my initial draft for the intro class, largely to scale down the screening and lecture time to match the schedule here at Temple.

Chuck Tryon offers his thoughts on the Intro course. Like him, I find myself wondering if the emphasis on classical Hollywood is a good thing, and like him, I've decided to go ahead with it. There are simply too many useful concepts in film studies formulated in reference to Hollywood in its classical period for me not to gravitate toward examples like Stagecoach or Casablanca. This is particularly exacerbated by the need I feel to use articles and readings to supplement the Bordwell and Thompson text; the best of these readings tend to deal with a finite subset of films. I'm always looking for suggestions of new articles…