Sunday, March 11, 2007

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. Theory is back. By which I mean an invigorated hegemony of what I might call post-spectatorship theory (affect and Deleuze-inflected mediations on film experience) and revisionist reclamations of Classical Film Theory (Kracauer + Bazin). There were some solid history panels, to be sure, but the main historical alternative to Theory were what Bordwell calls the culturalist approach.

2) Methodology is out. Not entirely, of course. But the trend seemed to be asserting one's reading or historical claim without examining concepts or epistemology of those concepts. Or, to be charitable, maybe I'm not as used to reading oblique methodological discussion embedded in Theoretical rumination.

3) Best panel that I saw: my Temple colleague Oliver Gaycken organized a panel on scientific and instructional films that was the most solid and coherent of any I saw at the conference.

4) Best paper I saw: I'm thoroughly biased, by my friend Rosalind Galt's paper on the Pretty in film aesthetics was work whose progress I'd heard about but which I hadn't head before. It made me get over my grumpiness at the Theoretical thermidorian reaction (see #1), and start dusting off my Theory of Film copy.

5) Best moment: Christine Gledhill narrating The Last Seduction due to a sound glitch.

As always, the quality of the papers aside, I value the conference as a snapshot of the discipline that's hard to get otherwise, and an opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues and to make new ones. Kudos to Jason and Scott of Mabuse for organizing a blogger get-together at the conference.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was my first SCMS and I had a similar response re: the size and highly variable quality of papers. I wonder why the conference really *has* to take up fifteen conference rooms? (Unless it is simply to brag about taking up fifteen conference rooms??).

I know I could have done with fewer choices.

Chris Cagle said...

Well, it seems the Program Committee made a decision at some point in the road to be as inclusive as possible. There is an upside to this - a greater inclusion of voices, especially in newer areas and objects of study, which do seem to be proliferating at SCMS. And I don't want to romanticize the past, when you had a healthy share of subpar papers tossed in with the lot.

Derek said...

Thanks for the review, Chris. I didn't make it this year, but I've been going most of the time since 1991 (including the last nine before this one), and I certainly concur about the conference's growth. It's a good thing, IMHO, on the whole, though right now we're (still) in a kind of awkward stage where we're no longer a mom-and-pop outfit focusing exclusively on film, but we're also not near the scale of mega-conferences like NCA or MLA. The one NCA I attended had sixty concurrent panels; its program was almost an inch thick.

This is a rapidly growing organization, both in numbers, and in intellectual scope. If you want "fewer choices," go to a different conference (which you really should, anyway, all of us, just to change things up!), or Delorean back to 1991, when the total number of panels that did not directly concern "film" numbered in the single digits.