Showing posts from February, 2007

More on (Post-)Classicism

First, I should recommend Michael Newman's blog, zigzigger, which has excellent ruminations on film and media studies and media culture in general. Check out, for instance, his analysis of the new sitcom.

Michael raises in the comments of my post-classicism post an excellent question, which deserves a full post in response:
What about "intensified continuity," DB's term for the contemporary Hwd style? It has the virtue of being specific about what it is describing: framing, lenses, and editing. My big problem with post-classical is that it implies a difference in narrative causality/unity between old and new Hwd movies. I find the argument that new Hwd movies generally have less narrative unity/causality to be unconvincing, which is one big reason I find the term post-classical to be more confusing than useful. I'm all for a more specific term to describe editing in contemporary commercial cinema, and David Bordwell's work in this regard is extremely useful …

UCLA Film/Television Archive Stipends

I just noticed posted on the SCMS bulletin board that the UCLA Film and Television Archive awards stipends to support research projects. Details here. The deadline is May 21, but there are only two grants, so I imagine the competition will be tough.


Part of me really values contrarian claims that get to the heart of the unspoken assumpts scholars have in their historical periodizations or critical schema. Kristin Thompson's attack on 'post-classicism' as both term and concept may well be such a valuable contrarian claim:
I’m suspicious of the “post” terms, vague as they are. Usually stylistic labels describe what something is, not what it follows. Do we speak of “post-silent” or “post black-and-white” cinema?Post-classical films supposedly jettison the old norms of style and storytelling. Frenetic editing, constant camera movement, product placement, juggled time-schemes—these and other tropes of recent cinema have replaced the continuity system, the carefully structured screenplay, and the character-based storytelling of the classical era. Computer-generated imagery has enabled filmmakers to create action scenes, spectacular settings, and fantastical creatures that hold our attention so thoroughly that the plot ceases…

More thoughts on Classicism

Having taught Only Angels Have Wings this week, one thing I couldn't help but remark on was the lighting. At times, it takes on an ethereal quality, which is aided by the not-quite-deep focus and Hawks' tendency to stage in depth. But beyond its overall texture, the lighting can be read more semiotically. Here, in an early scene, Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) peeks in on a room of locals dancing to a Latin folk song:

The glamour photography conventions (with a very strong kicker) are not unusual in themselves, but here the pool of light on Jean Arthur and the dearth of light on the figures around her undoubtedly highlight, even construct, the difference of white femininity amid the ethnic Other. The white/ethnic distinction is only highlighted by the eyeline match (characteristically, a POV from a "native" is an impossibility):

Now, the lighting direction is reversed, with the strongest light coming from beneath and behind the figures. With potential narrative motivation (t…

The Transitional Era

It's rare that I find an edited volume so useful as Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp's American Cinema's Transitional Era. Part of the strength is simply the dynamism of the subfield itself. The rush of critical energy and enthusiasm that scholars brought to reevaluating early cinema a few years ago now seems apparent in the scholarship on what this volume considers the "transitional era," the period between the "cinema of attractions" that Tom Gunning diagnosed and the fully institutionalized cinema of diegetic absorption that scholars have called classicism.

I've mentioned before the methodological self-confidence and maturity I see in the field today, and this volume is a good example: sharp, concise methodological reflection in the historiographic essays (Keil, Brewster, et al.); more tailored readings of textual moments (Rabinowitz on Coney Island films; Richard Abel on the Western; Jaqueline Stewart on racial representation); and a useful range o…

More on (Post-)Classicism

I've been struggling to carve out time to post here, so it's especially humbling to see David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson pump out post after post of insights that are not merely interesting but incredibly valuable. I'd mentioned, I think, Bordwell's post on Soderberg's retro-classicism, but his followup of sorts (on the walking-and-talking shot) I like even more: it succinctly illuminates the transformation in film style between the studio days and the unit-package days - and secondarily between film and television. In brief, wow.

As an aside, I'm curious whether they are going to continue to find questionable trade press coverage a springboard for their own points... at the very least it's making me reflect on how I understand and treat historical trade press writing as evidence in my own work.

Gunning comes to PCMS

This upcoming Thursday, at 6:30 PM in Gladfelter Hall 914, Tom Gunning is giving a talk for the Philadelphia Cinema and Media Studies seminar. His topic is "What's the Point of an Index? Or, Faking Photographs" From the abstract, he notes,
The practice of "faking" photographs has a long history and I will question what it is that the digital process adds to this tradition. However, I will also question the use of the term index as a way of describing the effect of photographs generally, especially the widely accepted use of this concept as an adequate way of explaining André Bazin's theory of realism.
Noel Carroll will serve as respondent. Full details at the PCMS website.