Thursday, November 30, 2006

Jon Lewis on Intellectual Property

Jon Lewis's talk at today's seminar was on Hollywood's public relations and lobbying practices to secure intellectual property enforcement. Taking a Jack Valenti quote, its title, "'If You Can't Protect What You Own, You Don't Own Anything': Piracy, Privacy and Public Relations in 21st Century Hollywood" may suggest some of Lewis's polemic: that the universalizing rhetoric of Hollywood's public relations around both piracy and the ownership of the text merely disguises Hollwyood's lobbying efforts and the multiple forms the text takes in the current Hollywood. As in other of his work he shows how a censorship body, the MPAA, actually has the charge of an industrial promotion and public relations arm. I suspected that Lewis was preaching to a converted audience who already view intellectual property claims with high suspicion. Nonetheless, his talk had a knack for giving a seamless overview of the industry's public relations practices over the last two decades and their place in an overall economic trajectory of the industry. Since I've at times wrestled with how to treat Hollywood's public relations practices of the postwar years in my own scholarship, I appreciated hearing his approach for understanding contemporary political activity of the industry.

In his response, Peter Decherny (whose book I reviewed recently), agreed with Lewis's overall picture but offered some counterevidence of moments in which the industry's hold on Congress and the public has been less than ideal from its perspective.

These are all interesting questions to tease out, certainly to make me realize how premature and half-baked my recent posts on policy questions were. Scholars, including Decherney across town, are very much working on policy concerns of intellectual property within the framework of film studies.

On a related matter, I should point to the news that Chuck Tryon is all over: the US copyright office has announced an exemption to allow film and media professors to copy clips from DVDs for educational compilations.

Jon Lewis on Academic Publishing

As the first half of today's Philadelphia Cinema & Media Seminar, Jon Lewis (of Oregon State, current editor of Cinema Journal) talked about academic publishing in film studies. Not all of what he said was new to me, but as a junior scholar beginning to submit material to journals, I really appreciated hearing nuts and bolts advice about how to place scholarship at journals or even book publishers. I can't capture all he said, but at a high level, his advice for submitting to a journal was as follows.

Read the journal before submitting. An obvious directive, perhaps, but one apparently many do not follow. Get a sense of what the journal publishes and what they do not. Current essays can give a sense of length, tone, and scholarly approach. If reviewed by editorial board, look to see who's on the board. Find a journal that fits what you write and how you want your research identified.

Send a brief, simple cover letter with the submission. Editors rarely read the essays until their review, so complicated summaries in the cover letter are a waste of time.

Follow submission guidelines. Be sure to match the style manual specified.

Get good at waiting. Peer or editorial board review takes time. Journals will often specify the time frame for consideration. After a reasonable amount of time, feel free to send a polite query about the status. The process will take several months for review; just note that if accepted, expected turnaround for revisions, illustrations, etc. may be short.

Be willing to revise. If rejected, take time to digest the reader's report. If accepted, do not dig heels in at every stylistic suggestion.

Additionally, Lewis advises the following:
  • Avoid jargon where possible
  • Do not argue by namedropping
  • Keep literature survey to a minimum
  • Contextualize quotes (e.g. "political historian Richard Hofstadter")
  • Ask - and answer - the "so what?" question
  • Find your voice
  • Always revise your work before submission
Sorry for the programmatic summary, but I imagine folks out there might find these reflections helpful. By the way, the more quantitatively minded out there might be interested to know that Cinema Journal receives about 300 submissions a year (with 50-60 clearly inappropriate and rejected without review), out of which 16 articles a year get published.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

CFP: Real Things Conference

5-8 July 2007

Proposals for twenty-minute presentations or panels of three to four presenters are invited for a conference entitled “Real Things: Matter, Materiality, Representation, 1880 to the present,” to be held at the University of York, England and co-sponsored by the University of Sussex.

Keynote speakers: Bill Brown, Mary Ann Doane, Hal Foster, Patrick Keiller, Hermione Lee, Edmund White

This conference proposes a re-engagement with representational realism and its objects and effects across a wide range of aesthetic, critical and theoretical practices. We seek to engage cutting-edge work that raises new questions about the status of the object of representation; representations as archives of material history; the shifts in representational practices associated with modernism and postmodernism; the changing status of real bodies and lives (as opposed to their representations) as objects of analysis in the humanities; and the politics of these transitions. Topics of interest include but are not limited to the following:
  • Realism as modernism/modernism as realism
  • Rethinking photographic indexicality; cinema and/as archive
  • Paintings, documents, realism: literary and visual representation
  • The turn to science
  • Postmodernism, realism and the real
  • Representation and the psychoanalytic Real
  • Evidence, document and representation
  • New philosophies of nature
  • Documentary film practices
  • Biopolitics, biopower, bodies
  • Forensics, indices and popular culture
  • Performance, theatricality and materiality
  • Success and/or failure of representation
  • Presentation vs. representation
  • New technologies, representation and embodiment
  • Anti-sublimation and resistance to metaphor
Please send 250-word paper abstracts and 1000-word panel abstracts to by 1 February 2007. Organisers: Victoria Coulson (University of York), Jane Elliott (University of York), John David Rhodes (University of Sussex).

Our Professional Organization

I've been wondering why the Society for Cinema and Media Studies has been seemingly uninterested in presenting a public voice on policy issues. To my knowledge, there is currently no caucus of SCMS devoted to the policy issues I was alluding to in my previous post. However, on the TV studies caucus website, I came across this action item:
Media Policy Committee—Jason Mittell, chair
As reported by Jason, SCMS hopes to take a more activist role in policy, and an organization-wide committee has been formed for this purpose, working primarily on intellectual property, copyright, and fair use; this group hopes to issue policy statements for the organization, updating Kristin Thompson’s document; wants to support testimony and amicus briefs; hopes to facilitate scholars who want to participate in policy initiatives.
Anyone, it seems, interested in serving on or contributing to this committee can contact Jason Mittell directly (follow the link above for contact info). The other action items, too, seem like worthy directions for SCMS to follow as a professional organization.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Policy Aims

As part of the Nineteenth Century Reproductions Conference that Temple's humanities departments have been hosting, I saw a presentation by Victorianist Jay Clayton arguing for humanists' increased engagement with policy applications of their research. On one hand, he argued, humanists have something valuable to add to the public conversations that goes on in various . On the other hand, such venues can provide a funding stream that can elevate humanities scholarship in the eyes of increasingly corporatized administration. (I know "corporatized" is a slur that can be loosely tossed around - but I think most readers will know what I'm talking about.)

I had the feeling his suggestions were falling on polite but deaf ears. For my part, it's tough to parse out the extent that policy panels are formulated in good faith and the extent they render legitimacy to a reverse-engineered panel, say, of bio-ethicists chosen to match the impertives decided from the outset. More than lack of instrumentality of our disciplines keeps us marginalized from the public sphere. On top of this, it really takes imagination to fit humanities scholarship into a policy orientation. Perhaps we should have more imagination than we do; perhaps we should defend the value of non-instrumental scholarship.

At the very least, though, Clayton's paper made me wonder about a relative silence of film and media scholars in two policy issues that affect us profoundly: intellectual property and media regulation. True enough, scholars outside the humanities are weighing in on these topics, from the perspective of legal scholarship or social science. But we probably have something to contribute to the conversation. I can think of a couple of things stopping us from doing so.

First, as I mentioned, the policy "conversation" seems rigged. Intellectual property and media regulation in particular are seen as special interest political spoils. No one is going to listen to humanities academics for the same reason no one is going to listen to anyone not contributing campaign funds.

Second, our theories sometimes discount small-scale decisions in favor of a broad-brushstroke conception of ideological systems. Whereas individual scholars can be very engaged in particular political votes and decisionmaking, as a discipline we seem to have walled ourselves off from political science, law, and media economics. The big exception here is political economy approaches in television studies, but even here the tendency among humanists is to read political economy research as evidence that the media landscape is all doomed as corporate structure, rather than to imagine certain corporate practices as better than others, certain monopolistic configurations more beneficial than others.

Finally, as media scholars we need the good will of the culture industries. For all the times media companies' litigious nature hampers intellectual ferment (think of the difficulty of extracting and organizing media clips for pedagogical use), there are the many ways that private, profit-driven activity has its benefits, such as the creation of a home-video market with restored, digital versions of a wide selection of narrative films. It's hard to bite that hand that feeds your research.

For all the impediments, though, we could stand to reflect more thoroughly on what exactly our disciplinary knowledge - textual, theoretical, and historical - tells us about the two main policy battles over contemporary media culture.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Joys of the Screen Capture

David Bordwell has come out with some interesting posts (here and here) weighing in on Dave Kehr's Times article on Soderbergh and Retro Classicism. His conclusions probably won't be too surprising to those who have read any of his historical work on deep focus or classical narration. Nonetheless, I appreciate the ease with which he marshalls visual evidence to exemplify whatever he's talking about. Mind you, we don't all have Bordwell's and Thompson's vast repository of frame enlargements or screen captures at our fingertips. Getting, formatting and using images in a blog post frankly takes significant time and work for most of us. Still, it's interesting how undertapped this weblog format is for doing the kinds of textual analysis that many of us were, presumably, trained to do. Perhaps my New Years' resolution will be to start taking a closer look at individual film and television texts here at Category D.

Philadelphia Film & Media Studies Seminar

From Temple colleague Oliver Gaycken, I recently found out that there's an ongoing local film and media studies seminar gathering scholars from area schools on a (usually) monthly basis. The next meeting is Thursday, November 30. Guest speaker will be Jon Lewis giving a talk titled "'If You Can't Protect What You Own, You Don't Own Anything': Piracy, Privacy and Public Relations in 21st Century Hollywood." Talk to be preceded by a workshop on publishing in film studies. Details from the host, UPenn's Cinema Studies department. I'm looking forward to attending and hopefully can report back a little on what I learn.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is Hitchcock (or Welles) Necessary?

I've talked a bit before about the canon and the choices we make in introductory classes - do we model and discuss an appreciation of cinema as an art or do we model and discuss instead the (mostly) nonevaluative scholarship that defines the field of film studies in the humanities? Well, the Film Vituperam's blog-a-thon on Alfred Hitchcock gave me an opportunity to address specifics. A friend of mine told me recently that he thought an introductory education in film which didn't show Citizen Kane was lacking. Is that true? Can we say the same about Hitchcock?

On the plus side, Hitchcock's films can be remarkably multi-layered. Even showing a clip from Notorious this semester, I couldn't help but notice how perfectly it exemplified analytical and continuity editing - exemplified because such classical editing organized the form, but also because Hitchcock exaggerated the form: he pushes invisibility as far as it can go before it becomes visible. Furthermore, non-formal approaches, whether genre or ideology are fruitful to understanding films both as art and popular culture, and with Hitchock we have no shortage of prior scholarship to use as examples.

On the downside, the exaggeration and self-consciousness of Hitchcock, especially the later work, can make the films distractions rather than examples. Rear Window seems to exemplify cinematic voyeurism, but it's so explicitly thematizes voyeurism that the notion of classicism as a voyeuristic enterprise might get lost. The Birds mixes classical and montage editing to the point where it might fail to adequately illustrate either.

Also, students can come to Hitchock with a lot of baggage. His reputation as the "master" can shut down critical engagement. He can exemplify auteurism, but sometimes it's hard to get beyond the auteur in Hitchcock.

Finally, we have to ask if we want to communicate how a "genius" makes films or how a studio configuration and film language solidified into what Andre Bazin and Thomas Schatz called a "genius of the system." I'm tending more to the latter approach, and thus am happier with choosing well-done but less canonical examples of classical cinema. Of course, those approaching the field from a more purely oppositional stance to commercial cinema - including those who find the whole idea of educating in any canon whatsoever - may well have no truck with "genius" in any guise, other than to destroy it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Intro Textbook: A Comparison

A few months back, I’d wondered about various Introduction to Film textbooks. Well, I’ve decided to order exam copies of the leading contenders and compare them. What did I learn? There’s real competition in the introductory textbook market now. Several leading contenders all offer distinct advantages and foci. Whether more basic or advanced, geared more toward film appreciation or toward introduction to film scholarship, each adds something new.

The following are some of the major introduction to film analysis texts I have found. I’ll add more textbooks as I get copies. I have not considered other books intended for introductory courses: television or media studies texts, film history surveys, analysis compilations, etc. Similarly, I have not considered here CD-ROMs, websites and supplemental material. I hope to write on these separately. These notes simply reflect my opinion and what I think is useful in the classroom; obviously, people’s experiences aren’t the same on that score. Still, I’ve tried to suggest what each book does best and who the audience might be.

It’s been humbling to read other scholars attempt to express the major concepts of the field in clear, inspiring, yet serious language. It’s hard not to be impressed by the breadth of knowledge and depth of intellectual verve of all of these books.

Film Art: An Introduction, by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson (McGraw-Hill). (Note: comments are based on 7th edition, not the forthcoming 8th.) $66

To my knowledge, this is still among the most widely used introductory textbooks in the field. Two things have kept it that way: 1) sheer path dependence, since this was one of the first to do what it does, and 2) its clear and thorough explanations of formal terminology. It’s the one I’ve always used, but more and more misgivings are having me seriously reconsider. It simply marginalizes too many valid areas of the field and does not match with the introductory course as I teach it.
PROS: Thousands of frame enlargements from an impressive range of films really model an approach to cinema that both appreciates its artistry and looks well beyond just the accepted masterpieces. Discussion of formal terms is thorough. Certain chapters (such as on genre) are strong summations of the scholarship to date, in terms accessible to beginning students.
CONS: Too many of the concepts are idiosyncratically Bordwellian (e.g. categorical and associational form), even silly (“cat acting” was the final straw for me). Major topics in film analysis get overlooked: star image, for instance. The political aporeas are odd: how one doesn’t adequately address the fact that film stereotypes minorities is beyond me. Sample film analyses leave a lot to be desired; it’s as if Bordwell and Thompson’s non-interpretation-based approaches to cinematic study mean that they refuse to model film interpretation.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: The move to mostly color is very nice, but the cheap paperback cover curls the minute you crack open the book. On the plus side, McGraw-Hill is generally very reliable to work with; they sent me desk copies in record time. Comes bundled with student guide and CD-ROM.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Courses in film appreciation, advanced classes looking for an intro book as reference for terminology.

Understanding Movies, by Louis Giannetti, 10th edition (Prentice Hall) $82.20

This stalwart text, now in its tenth edition, claims on its website to be the best-selling on the market. An all-purpose text, it straddles film appreciation and film theory perhaps more gracefully than some of the other contenders from its generations (the James Monaco How to Read a Film, for instance).
PROS: Perhaps some scholars would find Giannetti's realism-classicism-formalism model too simplistic, but his explanation of the model is very clear, even for an introductory readership, and goes a long way to tying together the book's chapters. Other discussions, such as his overview of theories of realism, are impressive in their clarity. I also like the final chapter, which reads Citizen Kane as a case study for all of the analytical elements discussed in the book. Captions for illustrative films (canonical and contemporary) give students more context for the films.
CONS: The illustrations and captions are ultimately distracting from the text. Instead of frame enlargements illustrating concepts, they tend to be publicity stills taking up most of each page. Captions also too informal, even flip, for my taste: I really don't want a textbook that nonchalantly refers to characters as "crack whores." The chapter organization is also whimsical: there might be reasons to separate out "Movement" or "Drama" as key analytical concepts in textual study, but that's not how I organize my syllabus.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Layout is rudimentary, where a better organization of information hierarchically (in sidebars, marginalia, etc.) would really help with the text's clarity. Like others in the Pearson publishing group, the book is not cheap.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: I tend to think this would fit film appreciation courses better, though its strengths in talking about narrative might appeal to those working out of a literary studies tradition.

The Film Experience, by Tim Corrigan and Patricia White (Bedford/St. Martin’s) $72

Blurbs normally don’t mean much, but Patrice Petro’s proclamation on the back cover – “I have been waiting for this textbook” – is not overstatement. A lot of more theoretically oriented scholars have been waiting for an alternative to Film Art, one that doesn’t marginalize history and political readings. Corrigan and White’s volume covers much of the same formalist approach, but broadens it to look at theoretical, film-historical and culturalist currents in film scholarship. Anecdotally, I gather this has been adopted as a primary contender for Film Art among those in the field.
PROS: If anything, this volume is even more thorough than Film Art. Much of the field’s terminology is introduced, an impressive range of popular, oppositional, and canonical cinema is considered, and up-to-date discussion of theoretical models is included. Inclusion of smart insights into the racial and sexual politics of movies is a welcome addition. Also, I can appreciate not dumbing down discussion; the book, for instance, includes fairly advanced discussion of point of view with the Editing chapter. In short, the erudition of this book is impressive. Like Film Art, the book uses plenty of frame enlargements, though the (presumably) digital sourcing has both advantages and disadvantages compared to Film Art’s analog reproduction; fewer are in color, incidentally.
CONS: Despite its claims to accessibility, I found the book’s level to be quite advanced for an intro book. Even the chapter titles string together several polysyllabic words. I have enough trouble speaking in clear terms that right now I don’t need a textbook that exacerbates the worst of my pedagogical faults. Also, the material covered is ambitious: instructors should decide whether a textbook that highlights terms like syntagma or antinomy is a good or bad thing for the context. It’s telling that the book has both a brief and an extended table of contents.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: I hate the layout. In fact, I think half of the accessibility issues are layout issues. Too weak a half-tone fill make it hard to distinguish the sidebars from the main text, and I frequently found myself confounded as reader. Also, there is a lot of highlighted vocabulary in the book, but much of it is not included in the glossary, some not even in the index.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: More ambitious introductory courses with well-prepared student body; intro courses that are part of a structured curriculum including a significant film theory or cultural studies orientation; advanced classes looking for an intro book as reference for terminology.

Film: A Critical Introduction, by Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis (Allyn and Bacon). $80

This one isn’t without limitations but felt like a liberation to me. After scrounging up supplementary readings and trying to jerry-rig Film Art into a syllabus it wasn’t designed for, here comes a book whose organization is nearly identical to my syllabus: formal terms, then considerations of genre, ideology, authorship and stars.
PROS: Includes very current scholarship on the topics it covers, excerpting useful and accessible insights from essays and books that might be out of purview for an intro course. Deals with a deeper level of analysis - ideological, post-semiotic, or cultural-studies in orientation - with a minimum of scholarly apparatus. Has the best integration of instruction on how to do textual analysis with instruction on the formal and cinematic terms themselves.
CONS: Chapters are short. Fewer frame enlargements (all digital, I suspect) and more reliance on film stills. Some stills are really poor illustrations - the examples of wipes and dissolves show only the full image before the edit. Not as thorough in its terminological coverage as Film Art or Film Experience. Expensive price tag.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Solid binding, nice color illustrations. The big drawback is the font and layout, which emphasizes white space and means far less space for content. Price seems steep, too.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Humanities-oriented film courses seeking to introduce students to basic but substantial film analysis.

Movies and Meaning: An Introduction to Film, by Stephen Prince, 4th edition (Allyn and Bacon) $80

This book offers the fullest integration I’ve seen between knowledge of film production and discussion of film form and aesthetics.
PROS: Example films are well-chosen and are very up-to-date; the contemporary scope engages students with films they may already know . Individual discussions can be quite useful: I particularly like the chapters on sound and on film “realism,” the latter of which is probably the best clarification I’ve seen for an intro readership.
CONS: The focus on Hollywood narrative means that international cinema, even canonical European art films, get the short shrift, as does documentary; avant-garde filmmaking is not discussed at all. Discussion of scholarly approaches, while at times concise introductions, is not incorporated into individual chapters, which instead offer only a functionalist-communicative model and evaluative analysis.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Color illustration minimal. Standard paperback format. Again, steep price for a slender volume.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Film appreciation courses; introductory courses geared toward production students.

Looking at Movies: an Introduction to Film, by Richard Barsam. 2nd edition (WW Norton) $50

Of all the books I surveyed, this one had the most accessible presentation of abstract concepts in clear, basic language. After dealing with Bordwell and Thompson’s confusing explanation of form and content in Film Art for so long, I about wept with joy at the clear explanation in Looking at Movies. Similarly, the discussion of realism and anti-realism is a good one.
PROS: Clear, accessible language. Adequate attention to non-mainstream filmmaking, including up-to-date illustrations. Some topics, like acting, get their own chapter with much more adequate coverage than is typical. Decent range of illustrations, usually clear in what they are meant to exemplify. This is the only text to treat mise-en-scene in the manner approaching that of the Cahiers critics, encompassing sets, lighting, movement, framing and composition.
CONS: Though critical approaches and topics like genres, get covered here, the text speeds through them in one sole chapter and not a satisfactory one at that. Choice of films for sample analyses are mostly contemporary and push a bit too hard against the canon. I’m all for expanding what’s taught in these courses, but the history of cinema is too rich for me to be confined to using Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet in this course. More of a problem is the extreme reliance on functionalist analysis and overdone praise. ("most famous freeze frame of all time")
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Nice, handsome volume with matte cover. The layout is in two columns, which comes across a bit busy for an introductory text. Captions for photos have helpful, explanatory caption. Reasonable price; comes bundled with writing guide and two DVDs.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: This would likely be my choice for a purely film appreciation course.

Film: An Introduction, by William H. Phillips, 3rd edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s) $72

This is a fine enough introductory book, but I couldn’t help but feel it fails by being lesser versions than the others: it’s not as thorough in its formal terminology, nor as complete an introduction to the practice of analysis or scholarship, nor as well-illustrated a volume.
PROS: Paradoxically, the advantage may be that this volume covers the material without overloading the reader. Layout is spacious, material is organized in clearly demarcated and easily digestible sections, and chapters organize ideas in nice, outline fashion, such as in their division of sound into basic elements. Wide range of texts, historic and contemporary, canonical and commonplace.
CONS: Some of the topics seem downright skimpy in the amount of space allowed. Just as the explanation is going, the “Further Reading” section appears.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Few color reproductions. Otherwise sturdy volume. I like the pulled definitions in the margin.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: An introductory humanities, communication-studies or film appreciation class at a basic level of student preparation.

Anatomy of a Film, by Bernard F. Dick, 5th edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s) $41

This strikes me as geared most to a film appreciation approach, and one of a certain 1960s vintage. It does discuss films beyond the cinephiles canon, however, and includes contemporary examples.
PROS: Fuller discussion of literary qualities of narrative, including theme, subtext and adaptation.
CONS: Material and organization does not correspond to the way many introductory courses organize content and seem bizarre at times: one chapter alone covers basics of form, while another is called “Enhancing the Image: Color, Lighting and Visual Effects.” The avant-garde missing in action.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: No color illustration, and black and white reproductions not of optimal quality.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Film appreciation and “film as literature” courses with heavy emphasis on auteur and literary

Introduction to Film, by Nick Lacey (Palgrave) $30

I don’t know what it is, but textbooks for the British market seem radically different than ones here. They tend to assume better student preparation yet offer less material. And, too, the concerns reflect the state of cinema studies in Britain – more interest in questions of national cinema, for instance. It’s hard to recommend for an introductory course here, but this at least offers a different approach.
PROS: One of the best primers on film theory I’ve seen in an introductory book: one could imagine students having some idea what Screen theory is after reading this. Maybe.
CONS: Almost no illustrations. Discussion of form compressed to a paltry chapter. Explanations seem rushed. Unsupported superlatives (“Scream: the only true postmodern genre film”) are used too often for my taste.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Nice cover, compact size, but not much material and almost no illustrations.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Advanced classes in other disciplines (or containing students from other disciplines) to introduce basic concepts in film studies.

Introduction to Film Studies, by Jill Nelmes, 2nd edition (Routledge) $36

Another British text with the same kind of theoretical and cultural orientation as Lacey's introduction. Like it, national cinema, political criticism, and spectatorship theory get a front row seat they rarely do in American counterparts. But it suffers in comparison to American texts when it comes to formal analysis. Unlike Lacey's book, it feels like a textbook, with some (not a lot) illustrations, graphs, and sidebars.

PROS: Topics capture what film scholarship actually deals with: industry, technology, form, spectatorship, genre, national cinema, etc. One of the few texts I've seen to treat animation with equal weight. Serious consideration of feminism and gay and lesbian cinema.
CONS: Formal analysis will likely seem insufficient to most American pedagogical contexts.
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Sparse on illustrations, which tend to be publicity stills anyhow. Little use of photos to look closely at film's formal construction. Layout, however, is excellent and helpful to the reader. Thick volume, not always cheap. And Routledge does not comp exam copies, which made me rely on an older edition sitting on the library shelf.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Graduate or advanced classes looking for an introduction or reference to the concepts in film studies, without needing necessarily to do close formal reading.

An Introduction to Film, by Thomas Sobchack and Vivian C. Sobchack, 2nd edition (Harper Collins)

I have no idea how much this books is used, but given the copyright date (1987) and the amount of money the publisher spent printing it (not much), my guess is not a lot. Perhaps it gives slightly too idiosyncratic an introduction to the field. Perhaps other books just crowded it out of the market.
PROS: There is an originality in organization. Some readers might not agree with the distinction between “genre” and “nongenre” narrative, but the latter is an interesting way to introduce the art film and auteurism. Also, it will probably not come as a surprise, given the authors’ scholarship, that there is more focus on perceptual dimensions to motion pictures.
CONS: The production values make this text (see below) really hard to adopt. The division of formal chapters into “film space” and “film time” is a bit too conceptual for my taste. Also, the edition is quite dated; “Usually one cannot see a film again and again and again.”
PUBLISHING CONCERNS: Frankly, the production values are cheap. What illustrations the book includes are in poor black-and-white reproduction. The whole thing looks mimeographed, in fact.

MY VERDICT: Next term I’m leaning toward going with Pramaggiore and Wallis’s Film: A Critical Introduction, which best suits the introductory class as I approach it. I’m also impressed with the Barsam volume and, for more advanced students, the Corrigan/White book. Again, most all of the above are impressive in their own right, and I have found myself learning and reflecting on cinema just by doing this comparison. It's an encouraging sign for the health of the discipline.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CFP: Television/Media Sound & Music

CFP: Television/Media Sound & Music (collection)
From: Graeme Harper

The Continuum Companion to Sound in Film and the Visual Media
Opportunities for Chapters on Television/Media Sound and/or Music
Deadline: January 15th 2007

The "Continuum Companion to Sound in Film and the Visual Media", aims to be the most comprehensive companion available to sound and music in film, media and new media. It will eventually consist of around 300,000 words by expert contributors from around the world.

Chapters to date include those on such topics as: key TV/Film/New Media composer studies (John Williams, Randy Newman, Aaron Copland, Danny Elfman, Hitchcock & Hermann, Philip Glass, Murch and Burtt . . .); TV news music; TV musicals; MTV; Reality television; Talent shows; Advertising music; the click track; Early Film Sound; the Synthesizer; BBC Sound History; Voice; African-American Film Music; Sound Design; the Evolving Soundtrack; Videogame Music; The History of Sound Technology; "Silence" in Film; Sound in Indian Cinema.

This final call is for Chapters relating to television sound and/or music.

Other topics might be considered; but television topics (Eg. historical or technological or contextual topics. Eg. specific period or show based. Eg. specific network based, technology based) are currently considered the most likely (ie. the aim is to fill final gaps in the Companion's coverage).

Please send proposed title and 100-wd. abstract to ASAP.

Power Elites, Redux

I've not completely finished Peter Decherney's Hollywood and the Culture Elite (Columbia UP, 2005) yet, but I've been enjoying and admiring it enough to recommend it to those who are interested in a detailed social history of the movies or in a closer look at film's role in American Culture.

Hollywood and the Culture Elite studies key moments in the interwar years during which high culture institutions - universities, museums, and government arts funding bodies - pushed to consider Hollywood film as an art. Vachel Lindsay and Columbia University; Harry Alan Potamkin and Harvard; Barry and MoMA - each encapsulates a struggle over cultural prestige that also, in Decherney's argument, figured and reworked the aims of both studios' economic aims and Washington's aims of political legitimation. What I find perhaps most impressive is the book's exploration of broad-scale social relations - a three-way negotiation between the cultural elite, the power elite, and an economic elite (Hollywood) - in a very detailed history of specific institutions and moments. The argument is one of the better iterations of the new turn to empirically-oriented social history in film studies today. (Haidee Wasson's Museum Movies is a logical companion book to this, and one I hope to write something on here soon.) Even those turned off by empirical, traditional historicism might still find the counterintuitive force of Decherney's understanding of the postwar avant-garde, say, worth reading.

What I could have used a little more of was a laying out of Decherney's theoretical approaches and assumptions. He does seem to be laying out some version of the multiple-power-elite model of sociologists: Why this model? Is it suggested by the object of study? How might competing models fail to explain the empirical detail Decherney is unearthing and synthesizing? I myself tend to resist the instrumentalist model of power that seems in play here; social agents in this book (from what I've seen so far) tend to be quite purposive in their cultural stances and weilding of power. In contrast, one of the reason's I'm drawn so to Bourdieu's work as a social theory to underpin film historical research is that he offers a "left" understanding of the social world that traces the forces acting on power-weilders as much as on the powerless. Rather than institutions, the social field is the unit of analysis. For his part Decherney mobilizes his evidence for power-elite institutional operation quite credibly. I'm now left to mull over its implications.

Monday, November 06, 2006

CFP: Screen Studies Conference 2007

Screen Studies Conference 2007
organised by Screen journal

University of Glasgow, Scotland
6 - 8 July 2007


The 17th international Screen Studies Conference will be programmed
by Screen editors Jackie Stacey and Sarah Street.

Please note that proposals may be on any topic in screen studies. The focus of the plenaries, however, and a key strand within the conference this year, will be

Queer Screens

This may be taken to include debates about queering film theory, about screening queerness, and the queerness of the screen. Proposals for this strand are welcome on contemporary and historical work, film, video and television, independent work and popular representations
and, in particular, work from non-western contexts.

Please send us your 200-word proposal to arrive no later than 31 January 2007. Joint submissions of up to four speakers forming a panel are also welcome. Proposals and enquiries should be sent to Caroline Beven by e-mail: Please mark subject box 'Conference 2007'

Sunday, November 05, 2006

CFP: Remakes


Call for Papers: Remakes

Given how various cinemas have become increasingly reliant on existing (and theoretically more surefire) properties, it seems timely to take remakes into deeper consideration. Remakes have risen in importance in a time when fewer original screenplays can command big budgets (if indeed we can even bandy about the concept of originality in the wake of postmodernity). But as the number of remakes has exploded, so have meditations on what this development can tell us about the current cultural climate. The editors of The Velvet Light Trap #61 thus seek contributions that nuance previous arguments about remakes. We are also interested in a multitude of aspects informing remakes and have defined the term broadly. Possible subjects include but are not limited to:

  • Self-reflexivity and intertextuality
  • Cross-cultural remakes
  • Modes of productions for remakes
  • Updates
  • Remake cycles
  • Rip-offs
  • Adaptations
  • Sequels and sequelitis
  • Critical and/or commercial failures
  • Abandoned/delayed projects
  • Stages of adaptation (screenplay drafts; the director's interpretation; the cutting room floor; etc.)
  • Film literacy and the cultural competence of audiences
To be considered for publication, papers should be between 4,500 and 7,500 words, double-spaced, in MLA style, with the author's name and contact information included only on the cover page. Queries regarding potential submissions also are welcome. Authors are responsible for acquiring related visual images and the associated copyrights. For more information or to submit a query, please contact Kevin John Bozelka ( All submissions are due January 15, 2007.

Please address submissions to:
The Velvet Light Trap
c/o The Department of Radio-Television-Film
University of Texas at Austin
CMA 6.118, Mail Code A0800

Bordwell blog

This might be the time to mention that David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are now blogging at To my knowledge, it's the only example of senior scholars in the field blogging on film. Their maverick relation to the field - and the fact that Bordwell is now emiritus at Wisconsin - may have a lot to do with the particular inspiration for them to turn to the internet as a writing venue. Still, I hope to see more and more scholars out there find a role for less formal internet-based writing as a supplement to their formal, peer-reviewed scholarship.

What Film History Textbooks Can Do

Given my disastifactions with Bordwell and Thompson's Film Art that have particularly come to the fore teaching Intro this semester (more on that later), I should take the time to say I really, really like Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's Film History: An Introduction, now in its second edition.

"An Introduction" might be a little misleading... the writing is hardly too jargony for beginning students, but they may find difficulty with the sheer scope and detail-laden nature of the tome. Also, the stylistic history does presume some familiarity with formal terms of film analysis. So I think it may be better pitched for intermediate or advanced students, those taking a Film History survey in a sequence, for instance.

But for those students - even for scholars participating in the field - Thompson and Bordwell's historical survey is incredibly useful. The book is almost an experiment, taking to heart longstanding calls not to write film history surveys according to narrow conceptions of the Western canon but to look to cinema as it actually was produced in its broadest sense. To that end, Thompson and Bordwell's history offers three major improvements. First, it takes popular cinema seriously, not on in the U.S. but in Europe, where national cinema scholarship tended for so long to focus on "significant" works. (To name names, I think Peter Bondanella's Italian Cinema is a prime example of this approach). Second, it devotes appreciable discussion time to non-Western cinemas. Not being a specialist in the scholarship on Third World cinema - or even the First World Japan - I can't weigh how adequate their coverage is, but the serious attention to Latin American, African and Asian cinemas - popular, art-house, and oppositional - is refreshing. Third, the book summarizes the scholarship as it currently stands on about every topic it covers - an incredible feat given the vast territory they're covering.

The result is that I initially assigned this book for my graduate seminar as background material to give a historical survey, yet I've ended up learning a lot from it and find my intellectual curiosity piqued at every turn.

As with any book there are drawbacks. The textbook format means there's less consideration of film history as the terrain of conflicting interpretations and explanations of the past - something that comes across better in Robert Allen and Douglas Gomery's Film History: Theory and Practice. Then again, Allen and Gomery don't present a fraction of the historical scope in surveying cinema of the past (and incidentally probably aren't worth the whopping $71 price tag).

Also, I know some find Bordwell and Thompson's writing style dry and unengaging. This book probably won't win any converts on that score. Still, it's a solid, comprehensive approach to the totality of cinema history.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Baby and Bathwater of Documentary Criticism

Just in time for my spring course on Documentary Fiction, which sorely needed decent texts to use, comes a new volume from Minnesota Press, F Is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing, Alexandra Juhasz and Jesse Lerner, eds. I'll review it more fully when I get a hold of a copy, but from the contents at least, it's a promising collection.

One bit caught my eye, though: the blurb proclaims that "Defining the borderline between fact and fiction, the contributors reveal what fake documentaries imply and usually make explicit: that many documentaries lie to tell the truth, and that the truth is relative." As a way to sell a book, I'm sure it distills and distorts the contents considerably, but it got me thinking nonetheless.

Now, fake and hybrid documentary studies seem to have gained a new vitality now, driven from twin directions of documentary critique of the real and the proliferation of reflexive and mock documentary production itself. But I do worry that a critical circuitry between the two lapses into a facile critique of documentary as ideology and merely ideology.

The issue came up in my Intro course, where one of the TAs raised the perceptive objection that in teaching how to read truth-production in documentary, we were merely setting up documentary as a bad object, particularly in relation to fiction filmmaking. It's an excellent caveat: we need to throw out the bathwater of ideological transparency of meaning but keep a sense of what documentary does in the positive sense, both artistically and intellectually. Even with bad object Direct Cinema, I always respect the Bazinian preservation of the profilmic and think that news television production could really be improved by returning some to its golden age.

I was rereading Phil Rosen's "Document and Documentary" lately and there is an excellent observation he makes: "[T]he task of [elites responsible for making documentary and history] with respect to the poles of media reproduction is not just re-presenting the real in ways that might be culturally guaranteed by an indexical technology, but with constructing and organizing it... The profusion of indexial signs may make the documentary mode and the historicity it embodies not less but more pertinent to understanding contemporary culture and politics." (Renov Theorizing Documentary, 88-89)

It would be a shame if the excitement that pseudodocumentary studies is bringing to the table was put to the ends merely of dismantling a useful form of knowledge production. (I'm not claiming that this is what F is for Phony or other docufiction studies necessarily do.) As academics, we're perfectly capable of making truth claims and mobilizing an apparatus of documentation. The fact that a scholar could lie or make up stuff (think of Laurie Anderson's made-up art history lectures) doesn't mean the methods and communities of scholarship are meaningless. Mutatis mutandis - and there is a lot that is different - the same generous spirit should apply to documentary.

Friday, November 03, 2006

CFP: Global art cinema

Here's an anthology grad-school colleagues of mine (including the coorganizer of my SCMS panel) are putting together. Looks like a great project.

CFP: Global art cinema: new theories and histories

We invite submissions for an edited collection on global art cinema. While ‘art cinema’ has been a canonical term in the history of postwar cinemas in Europe and beyond – often determining the distribution and reception of African, Asian and Latin American cinemas who might reject the label – theoretical engagement with the concept has lagged behind its global transformations. This collection aims to move on from foundational discussions of art cinema in terms of genre or authorship, and to re-assess the field in light of contemporary debates.

The editors are Rosalind Galt (University of Iowa) and Karl Schoonover (Michigan State University).

In revisiting the category of art cinema, this anthology seeks to explore the historical relationships among national cinemas. Since art cinema has always simultaneously invoked industrial, generic, and aesthetic categories, a current reckoning of the field exposes otherwise unseen geopolitical faultlines of postwar world cinema. While we regard Europe as important in the history of art cinema, we want to move beyond familiar histories and resist well-trodden accounts of aesthetic influence to look anew at the international development and circulation of cinematic forms. We understand art cinema as having produced new audiences and new discursive conceptions of cinema, because as a term it has always united films of various national origins into a single viewing practice. Despite its more conservative manifestations, art cinema retains at its core a comparitivist and perhaps internationalist impulse, allowing a move away from limitations of language- or nation-based epistemologies.

We also understand art cinema historically, as inextricably linked to experiences such as World War II, decolonization and economic modernization. Such questions are often of both national and international significance, and we aim to explore both the specificities and convergences in these historical influences. Thus, art cinema becomes a flexible and highly contested terrain, under constant pressure from the regional and the transnational, as well as from the popular and the avant-garde. We hope that this collection might begin to imagine new shapes and boundaries for art cinema, rejecting the commercial and aesthetic limitations of conventional definitions. By soliciting contributions about films from a range of geopolitical locations, we aim to think comparatively on topics often addressed only locally, and to uncover intersections in the emergence, reception and significance of postwar world cinema.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
  • Theorizing generic distinction and the canons of art cinema
  • The ‘art’ in art cinema: self-referential visuality, art historical resonances, pictorialism
  • Art cinema’s geography, including rubrics of globalization, cosmopolitanism, or internationalism.
  • Art cinema’s historicity, its relationship to and representation of history, e.g. modernity/postmodernity, postcoloniality, trauma and memory.
  • Art cinema transits: relations among regional, transnational and co-produced films.
  • Art cinema stardom (Bardot, Mastroianni, Moreau, Schygulla, Leung, etc.)
  • The appropriation of art film devices by mainstream cinema.
  • Art cinema as industrial category.
  • Institutions of art cinema exhibition: cin├ęclubs, film festivals, etc.
  • Art cinema audiences: cin├ęphiles, film buffs, artists, critics, etc.
  • Categorical crossovers, e.g., instances of art cinema in queer cinema, “heritage” films, anime, exploitation genres, and documentary.
Please send abstracts (300-500 words) and a vita or short bio to by December 1st.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

SCMS or bust

I was pleased to discover that the panel I'm co-organizing for SCMS was accepted. I'm really excited about it, and look forward to working with the others on the panel. The lineup will be:
European Cinema in Postwar America

Co-chairs : Karl Schoonover (Michigan State University) and Chris Cagle (Temple University)

Chris Cagle (Temple University), "The Mature Prestige Film in the Social Field: ON THE BEACH as Europeanized Hollywood"
Karl Schoonover (Michigan State University), "How Italian Neorealism Corrupted American Spectatorship"
Mark Betz (King's College/University of London), "BLOW-UP: The End"
James Tweedie (University of Washington), "Beach Blanket Belmondo: The New Wave on American Shores"

Respondent: Barbara Selznick (University of Arizona)
This will now give me an extra impetus to write that On the Beach paper sooner rather than later, which will take advantage of some of the research I did in LA recently.

I'm also looking forward to the conference in general and to seeing others planning on going to
Chicago this year.