Showing posts from August, 2007

New Semester

Like many, I've been in the throes of prepartion for the upcoming semester, which starts Monday for us. If you're interested in the courses I'm teaching, I've updated my personal homepage with syllabi for Intro to Film, Media and Culture, and the grad Film History and Theory course.

British English

I'm in the throes of proofreading my Screen essay on the prestige film. Don't get me wrong: it's a gratifying thing to see one's writing in a semblance of its eventual layout. But it has raised a troubled question for me: how do I navigate the vastly different stylistic and punctuation rules of British English? It's not merely an issue of cosmetics or comfort: sentences just don't read the way I think they should. Comma splices and run-ons seem to pop of the page with frightening regularity now. I don't want to resist editorial changes or to be a high-maintenance author; at the same time I want the writing to make sense, and to say basically what I'd intended to stay from the start. It's surprisingly tricky.

CFP: Media Spaces and Architectures

I thought this might be useful for those looking at architecture for their SCMS proposals.


The Velvet Light Trap
Call For Papers
#62, Media Spaces and Architectures

As Lev Manovich writes, the construction of space is a defining principle of both cinema and digital media, unifying them not just as audio-visual culture, but as audio-visual-spatial culture (The Language of New Media, 2001). Cinematic works create spaces out of juxtaposed, sequential images, using mise-en-scène, production design, cinematography, editing, and sound to guide spectator navigation through them. Television series and multiplatform franchises generate ongoing diegetic spaces, building identifiable and consumable worlds out of the gradual accumulation of narrative detail. The interactive, programmable nature of digital media allows for the construction of persistent spaces that can be navigated and/or contributed to by users themselves. Representations and constructions of space and place in film…

Two New Blogs

Not content with an exasperating schedule of 1947 blogging, I am, with my friend Diana King, launching two new weblogs devoted to film and video viewing and education. The first, Not on DVD, reviews and summarizes the bounty of experimental, nonfiction, video, and obscure art narrative work without a home-market DVD release. As instructors, librarians, purchasers, etc. we often wonder when the hefty price tags of the institutional pricing is justified; Not on DVD can be a resource and reference in those decisions. Hopefully, in the process it can also be a way of bringing hard-to-see material to broader view.

The companion site, Now on DVD, tracks new DVD releases, particularly those more obscure films and videos of interest to film/media scholars and major cinephiles. It can also be a forum for advice on ordering DVDs and videos internationally, from gray market sources, or through personal collectors.

You can read more in the introductory posts (this and this) for each.

Both sites are …

Ride the Pink Horse

It's hard to call any noir film forgotten, but Robert Montgomery's Ride the Pink Horse has only a fraction of the recognition value that Lady in the Lake, which is a shame, because the latter film, his first at Univeral after moving from MGM, continues the formallly experimental impulse but without the obvious flaws in showmanship that make Lady in the Lake so infamous. Take, for instance, the opening shot post-credits, a four-minute tracking long take (a decade before Touch of Evil) that performs analytical editing without editing, revealing the key narrative importance of each action:

Nonetheless, it's easy to see why Pink Horse did not exacly redeem Montgomery's career; it takes the sadism behind male and American domination and pushes it to the point of discomfort. It's hard to say if this sadism is consciously subversive or category E in nature. But the moral and narrative ambiguity of the end - in which Montgomery gives the brush off to a young Mexican woman -…

The Fabulous Dorseys

Is this the reference point for The Fabulous Baker Boys?

The Fabulous Dorseys (UA, Alfred E. Green) is a standard musical biopic, though the genre seems odd in its narrative organization; like Perils of Pauline, it doesn't seem to follow a tight three-act development, or at the very least the plot points are spaced differently.

Another insight I've gained from this project is the importance of the sentimental drama in 40s cinema. Take the opening of the film, with a scrapbook segue-ed into an Americana portrait of the young Dorseys' upbringing.

I'm amazed at how overlooked this genre is, its formal dimensions and its ideological resonance. A nostalgia for cinema's early years appears here, too, with a silent movie house scene:

I will have to add the sentimental drama as a research item to my docket of projects. Perhaps I'm too eager to find the interesting in the banal, but the repetition of motifs makes me wonder what drove postwar nostalgia, particularly since…

Curley/The Fabulous Joe

I’d hoped that Curley (Hal Roach/United Artists) might be a biopic of the famous Boston mayor, but instead it’s a Little Rascals type Hal Roach comedy. Curley is a troublemaking but ultimately good hearted kid who leads the schoolchildren to drive away the new teacher… who turns out to be an understanding woman who’s also a babe.

Sometimes released separately as B films, sometimes together in a Hal Roach Comedy Carnival, The Fabulous Joe has a Look Who’s Talking plot… Henpecked husband meets a talking dog, who teaches him how to assume his proper role of patriarch in his own home.

The remarkable thing about both is how they feel they could have been made in 1937, not 1947. Their style, their gender politics, and their rural milieu seem strangely out of pace with even the A-film sentimental dramas of the day. Though released through United Artists, they feel more Poverty Row in origins; the ultimate destination of the small town cinema is palpable. I have no idea how well these films end…

The October Man

My digital camera is acting up, so for the moment there'll be no more screenshots of these 1947 films on VHS or TV. Which may be for the best, as I'm feeling overwhelmed by the documenting of these entries.

October Man (Eagle-Lion, Roy Ward Baker) is a British, not Hollywood film, but since TCM was playing it, and since in 1947, the distribution ties between the British and American studios was as close as it had ever been and ever would be, the inclusion of a few British imports seems worthwhile.

October Man would likely be classified as British noir, but it's worth noting that these films are more straightforward than their American counterparts, usually focusing on the subjectivity of the middle-class man in crisis. October Man, in fact, was scripted by Eric Ambler, an author known for such narratives. What's remarkable about is less the thriller element (which, like I say, is far more straightforward than American thrillers) than in the social-problem-y narrative ab…