Showing posts from October, 2007

Syllabi as Intellectual Property?

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague who was lamenting the practice of potential employers who require sample syllabi. The syllabus, particularly a good syllabus, is the product of considerable work and intellectual labor, and as such belongs to the creator. I'm sympathetic to his point: job listings do ask for a lot upfront, given the high probably of a given application ending up in a veritable slush pile. And I know that I spend a lot of time on my syllabi.

However, as regular readers will know, each semester I share my syllabi with any interested readers out in the Internet ether and think it would be better if more scholars did the same. Some reasons:

The intellectual labor of syllabus writing has no direct renumeration: Much like our research, syllabi are loss leaders for the salaried positions we seek or hold. Of course, our feelings about this set up may vary wildly according to our particular material conditions - employment status, pay, position in the academic hierarch…

Give the Elites Some Credit

In the current issus of Flow, Tim Gibson writes about urban gentrification in the contemporary American sitcom:
Indeed, one of the reasons that revitalization guru Richard Florida commands big lecture fees is that he tells city officials exactly what they want to hear. If you want to attract growth and prosperity, he argues, you need to turn your city into the kind of place that “the creative class” enjoys (and by “creative class” Florida means highly-skilled professionals very much like city officials themselves). Once you attract the creative class, Florida argues, high-end employers—who are always searching for deep pools of creative talent—will soon follow.I'm a Florida-sceptic myself and therefore am happy to see resistance and debunking of the creative class thesis. But the implication that city officials only are able to think in class-narcissistic terms ignores the high likelihood that political elites are engaged actively and sincerely in trying to steer the economies and …

Film School, sorted

This blog normally doesn't cover film production or film production education, even though I'm currently teaching in a film and media production program. But it's worth noting that my friend Paul Harrill has drafted up what looks to be the first in a couple of posts on film school, walking prospective film schoolers in how to choose a program and how to apply.

CFP: 2008 Console-ing Passions

Console-ing Passions:
A Conference on Television, Audio, Video, New Media, and Feminism
April 24-26, 2008 - Santa Barbara, California

Founded by a group of feminist media scholars and artists, Console-ing Passions works to create collegial spaces for new work and scholarship on culture and identity in television and related media, with an emphasis on gender and sexuality.

Since the early 1990s, Console-ing Passions conferences have featured new research on feminist perspectives, including race and ethnicity, post-colonialism, queer studies, globalization, national identity, television genres, the social and cultural study of new media, the historical development of media, and an ongoing feminist concern with gender dynamics in the production and consumption of electronic media.

Our consideration of television, digital, and aural media comes at a pivotal moment of political, social, cultural, and technological transformation. Key among our concerns for the 2008 Console-ing Passions confer…

More Media History

This last weekend's conference had me thinking about the rhetorical gambits that papers and questioners alike use, in part because the type of gambits common to this conference seemed to me to differ from those I see in textual study and theory conferences. Of course gambits aren’t wrong necessarily. Knowledge production, at least and especially in the humanities, proceeds by rhetorical means. But a little self-reflexivity about are argumentation never hurts.

First, there's the evidence gambit: Inductive reasoning is (or maybe should be) the bread and butter of what media historians do, so it makes sense that Q&As should proceed with examples, counterexamples, and those stubborn bits of evidence that beg explanation. At the conference, a surprisingly high number of questions were of this nature (what about Cinerama? What about Shirley Temple's star image?)… surprising at least to someone from a theoretical background, where the questions are often based on differences …

Screen Essay

My essay on the prestige film is out in the current issue of Screen (online version, fee or institutional subscription required). Below is the abstract for the essay. Also, since the journal was skittish about including the frame enlargements of Dodsworth and Marty, the two scenes analyzed in the essay, I figured the blog would be as good a place as any to bring them to the light of day.

"Two Modes of Prestige Film"
Chris Cagle
Screen 2007 48(3): 291-311

This essay argues that two modes of prestige film have defined Hollywood’s attempts at “serious” filmmaking. Classically, the prestige film served as a production category for the studios, marshalling resources for elevated production values to match the high culture credentials of the source material and marking films for special exhibition. Alongside this traditional mode, however, prestige film increasingly stressed the film viewer’s ability to recognize quality; in this mode, film artistry lay less in the industry’s treatmen…

Conference Wrap-up

Well, the last panel has wrapped up, and in alll the Media History conference was a rewarding one. I initially worried that too few of the papers were reflecting methodologically, but as the weekend went on, more and more papers not only reflected on film, television and media history but gave attendees a forum to discuss where they see themselves in the evolving disciplines and changing university environments.

One of the bigger shocks I've had is how identified "media history" at this conference has been with Wisconsin and Texas. Good reasons, for that, of course, but as someone doing history yet not emerging from a media history-oriented graduate program, it felt a bit like crashing someone else's party... fun, but a reminder that there is a subfield separate from film theory for largely institutional/subcultural reasons. That said, I've met a surprising number of kindred spirits, and seen some terrific papers.

Media History Today

I'm currently down in Austin for the Media History conference at the University of Texas. (conference schedule | pdf). The conference is subtitled "what are the issues?" and deals with the methodological issues facing film, television, and media historians at this this historical juncture and point in the state of the disciplines. It's a great line up of speakers and presenters, and I'm looking forward to it all. Hopefully I'll have more to report back soon.

October at Penn

There's a bevvy of great TV and film studies talks coming this month at Penn:

Wednesday, October 10, 5:00 pm
231 Fisher Bennett-Hall
Annette Kolodny. "Tropic Trapping in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto and Joseph Nicolar's Life and Traditions of the Red Man"

Thursday, October 11, 10:30 am
138 Fisher-Bennett Hall
Lynn Spigel. "Designing the Smart House: Posthuman Domesticity and Conspicuous Production"

Thursday, October 18, 5:30 pm
113 Jaffe Building
William Boddy ."’Is it TV Yet?’: Visions of the Post-Broadcast Television Audience"

Plus, a number of Werner Herzog events:

Monday, October 22, 6:30 pm
Slought Foundation
"Walking on Ice: Werner Herzog's Metaphysics of Filmmaking"
A public conversation about the work of Werner Herzog. This event will feature Timothy Corrigan, Thomas Y. Levin, Heidi Schlipphacke, and Alan Singer in a conversation introduced by Karen Beckman, and has been jointly organized by Tim Corrigan and Aaron Levy on the occasion of &q…

Library Pointers for Film Study Research

I wrote up the following as a guideline for a research paper I've assigned my students. Some of it is specific to the assignment, but enough touches on the nuts and bolts of film studies research, that I though I'd share, in case any readers find it useful, either for themselves or their students. Any feedback is welcome, and I'll try to revise to a fuller guide when I get time.

Library use for Film and Television Studies

Beginning students often feel understandably overwhelemed by the university library. There are so many resources, yet one does not always find articles or books on one's topic. Research therefore involves practical problems: how do I track down useful material? how do I match these database hits to the assignment? But equally, research involves knowing what you are looking for and why.

Primary research is the research you do as a student historian. We’re talking about the raw material that historical interpretation deals with – documents, news articles, …

Daisy Kenyon

Lately, I've been interested in films which pose the question of both typicality and exceptional quality. Maybe speaks as much to my position as a cinephile who's also interested in non-evaluative historical explanation. And certainly some film scholars, such as Thomas Schatz or Paul Willemen, articulate the paradox in novel ways. Further, as my post on Underworld, suggests, as I expand my viewing I keep seeing good examples.

Daisy Kenyon (Fox, Otto Preminger) is just such a film. On one hand, it is a typical Fox approach to the woman's melodrama, with somber tone, and understated formal choices to match (the studio's understated formal choices are not always better ones, I should add: I much prefer The Lawless to Gentleman's Agreement). On the other hand, it is a Preminger film, when Preminger was arguably at his best. Great cinematography, fluid camerawork, and most of all a deft hand in directing three stars (Crawford, Fonda, and Dana Andrews) who don't natu…


I ended up venturing to the New York Film Fest last night to catch the retrospective showing of Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927). I'm glad I did. First, the film itself was just incredible, and particularly beautiful in 35mm. Second, it was a nice reminder how generalization about genre or film history are often predicated on highly selective. As Richard Pena noted in his introduction, so many tropes (visual and thematic) later taken up by the gangster film appear in Underworld. Finally, the film made me realize how little I know about 1920s silent cinema. Like the early sound film applause, it's the sort of film that surprises in defying my expectations of what the period meant. Underworld uses fully realized classical language, but also shows a deft hand at, say, montage editing (the montage sequence has hardly been Hollywood's only use of Eisenstenian montage). I know Underworld may be more exceptional than typical, yet it's a good reminder that Sunrise …

CFP: 2008 Screen Conference

Screen Studies Conference 2008
organised by Screen journal

University of Glasgow, Scotland
4 - 6 July 2008

The 18th international Screen Studies Conference will be programmed by Screen editors Karen Lury and Simon Frith.

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 Sound and music in film, television and video. Proposals for this strand are welcome on contemporary and historical work; independent and popular representations; and western and non-western contexts.

Proposals and enquiries should be sent to Elizabeth Anderson by e-mail: (mark subject box 'Conference 2008' ) Please send your 200-word proposal to arrive no later than 7 January 2008. Joint submissions of up to three speakers forming a panel are also welcome.

Crisis in Academic Publishing?

I'm one to be cautious in tossing the word "crisis" to describe every turn and imagined disfunction in academic publishing. But this can't be good, can it? "Excess inventory in our U.S.-based warehouses"? How many copies did UC Press print of Barbara Klinger's or Dana Polan's latest books anyhow?