Showing posts from March, 2007

Los Angeles and the Noir Mystique

I guess I should really Google my project ideas before I go forward. It turns out there is already a 1947 project, only it seems to be a kind of forgotten history amateur historiography of crime journalism and Los Angeles urban geography, not a film specific venture.

I do find it telling that all of the film links at 1947 Project are noir films. Since their project in fact conceived of in noir terms, that makes sense. But it speaks to a larger dominance of noir in popular and even academic memory of postwar film history. Don't get me wrong - I love noir and its mythology as much as anyone. Also if it weren't for noir fandom, I wouldn't have potential access to nearly the number of video titles from 1947 as I do. It's just that noir is not the whole history of postwar decade, whose A and even B features were just as likely to be sentimental dramas, musicals, or comedies. The film historian is in the odd position of being able to get video access to PRC crime films more e…

Museum Movies

There seems to be a new strain in scholarship addressing the social history of cinema through a detailed institutional historiography. I’d reviewed Peter Decherney’s Hollywood and the Cultural Elitealready, and have wanted to highlight Haidee Wasson’s Museum Movies (University of California Press) for some time here. Wasson’s work is a valuable, thorough study of the Museum of Modern Art’s film library; she places its genesis in the discursive and ideological shifts in ideals of art and museology in the 1920s and 30s, as well as the specific institutional struggles among key parties in the Museum, and between the Museum and foundations and film studios. As she writes in the introduction,
This book frames MoMA’s film department as an institution of exhibition, one that was shaped by archival and museological structures… I therefore seek to build on the assertions made by a range of scholars that film exhibition is an important category for thinking about the unfolding significance of ci…

1947 Project

This is the time of semester when teaching and research commitments take all of my time. But given that summer is around the corner, I've been planning my writing and research docket for the time away from the classroom. Getting the book manuscript (a history of the social problem film in Hollywood) in shape is top priority, but I also plan to embark on a project that dovetails with my research on Hollywood as a social field and will undoubtedly generate new insights.

My goal is to watch every feature film that I can get my hands on that was released by a major American studio in 1947. Only 15% of the features distributed by the 8 majors are currently available on an authorized DVD release, so my work is going to be cut out for me tracking the rest down. There about 260 titles total; I figure if I can watch half that number, I'll be excited.

Essentially, my aim is twofold. First, I want to address the sampling problem in writing film history of the period. Since so few films ar…

Penn Humanities Forum: Reel Travel

A week from this Friday, Penn is hosting a one-day symposium on the topic of travel in cinema. It looks like a great event, not least because my colleague Rod Coover is giving a paper on new media refractions of cinematic travel narratives. Note that registration, while free, is required.

Reel Travel
Displacements of Film
Penn Humanities Forum
3619 Locust Walk, Penn campus

Friday, 6 April, 2007
9:00 am - 5:30 pm

Cosponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum in association with Penn's Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Cinema Studies Program
Event free and open to the public. (registration required)

In 1976, Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road redefined the road film, and in the thirty years since, cinema and travel have existed in continuous dialogue. What energies, fantasies, and anxieties are released when film crosses a border or hits the road? How do movies respond to tourism, exile, migration, flight? How are ideas of "nation" and "foreignness" shaped by ci…

Legacy of Political Modernism

Michael Newman and Ira Wagman have some useful questions while reading Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture. Michael writes,
Jenkins's examples are all of spectators becoming active in the co-creation of media. I too am excited by this activity, but I am not totally comfortable with the unambiguous positive moral valence this is given. It suggests that the comparative passivity of non-co-creating viewers is a less worthy mode of engagement and prescribes a certain kind of viewing activity as preferable. I'm sure Jenkins doesn't mean to be prescriptive in this way, but this is the implication I draw from the way he stakes his position.I wonder in turn how much of the positive moral valence owes to strains of political modernism which did make explicit and implicit prescriptive claims about which kinds of spectatorship were preferable.

Why I'm Not Sold on Affect (Yet)

Let me be clear: I'm not categorically opposed to film theory - far from it. My worries about the "return of Theory" at SCMS, such as they were in fact worries, had to do with the conditions of its return. Most immediately, the range of theory seems strangely limited, with the same few theorists getting bandied about, the same concepts repeated.

And, too, there's the difference between film theory (which I take to be any broad reflection on the medium and its representational practices) and Theory (which seeks a philosophy of film experience). Whether or not you subscribe to David Bordwell's polemic against Grand Theory, the warning of C. Wright Mills in his Sociological Imagination (which Bordwell is riffing off on) is useful: theorists have a propensity to fetishize concepts, rather than to use concepts to illuminate an object of study.

Let me take up one concept that seems to be in danger of that trap: affect. I'm open to finding this a valuable concept and …

CFP: Media History

Media History: What are the Issues?

University of Texas at Austin
October 11-13, 2007

Autodidacts produced the first histories of film and television; academicians contributed tomes from the 1960s on, with waves of fact-philia and empiricism-phobia following. Now, after 100 years of writing media histories, it seems opportune both to take stock and to move forward, perhaps optimistically.

This conference seeks to ask: Where are we now? What are the issues today in writing media history and histories? What have we accomplished? Where might we go? For whom and why? Papers may present historical work in progress but should indicate a metahistorical or historiographical contribution. Papers may deal with a single medium or the problems of writing multi-media or convergent histories. Papers may consider a "single" production/reception space (e.g., Bollywood, Hong Kong, the Kayapo, Ingmar Bergman, Al Jazeera, MySpace, YOUTUBE, the ColbertNation) or cultural flows.


SCMS 2007 Reflections

This year's SCMS conference is officially over, and I'm finally catching my breath enough from a hectic weekend to post something. In all, the most striking fact of the conference this year is its size. There was simply too much going on to think one had even half a handle on the papers being presented. Obviously the size brings both blessings and curses.

I don't think it was just me, but it was hard not to be disatisfied with the median quality of the papers and panels. Mind you, I could have attended more than I did (I made about half the time slots, which means about 1/40 of the papers delivered). And I made a conscious decision not to simply choose panels overlapping with my research or those with big names. So I easily could have seen an unrepresentative sample. But for every good paper I saw, there was a hohum or downright lousy one. And I came away with a more magmanimous opinion than some other folks I talked to.

Anyway, some general thoughts:

1) The return of Theory.…

Chicago Bound

The doledrums here lately have been the product of my teaching schedule and my preparation for the SCMS conference. But I plan to post from Chicago. Also, check out Dr. Mabuse's Kaleidoscope for a round up for the various conference blogging going on.