Friday, August 24, 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.

Monday, August 13, 2007

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.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

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, television, and new media have all helped to augment narratives and immerse the viewer/user in the realm beyond the screen. In all forms of representational media, space is carefully designed, simulated, and presented through a variety of technological and artistic means.

Space is not solely a condition of media aesthetics--the cities, buildings, and social environments in which media are consumed, produced, and distributed may inform or enhance the meaning of the media product as well. Interrogations of spatiality, place, and media thus need to account for both the mediated presentation of space, but also the presence of media in space. The presence and use of screens in the physical environment, including the small screens of mobile personal technologies, have proliferated over time, representing new relationships between media and physical environments. The spaces in which creative labor is performed, and where the fruits of this labor are understood, may reflect and embed in the product a cultural logic and aura of place. Space is mediated, but media are also spatialized.

The Velvet Light Trap invites submissions for a special issue on Media Spaces and Architectures that help us to understand this audio-visual-spatial culture in greater definition and dimension. How do film, television, and new media structure our experiences of space while also being structured by it? How should media spaces and architectures be understood?

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

* Representations of urban space and architecture in any media form
* Representation of past or future space
* The screen in urban environments
* Production and set design
* World building and narrative universes
* Space, place and genre
* Cosmopolitan or global spaces
* Aural/sonic environments
* Mediated public/private spaces
* Gendered/classed/racialized/queered spaces
* Social production of space
* Construction of 3D space (cinematography/editing/montage)
* Wired/digital cities
* Navigable space and virtual worlds
* Locative media (location based technologies like Google Earth, GPS, etc.)
* Blocking and choreography as movement through space
* Spaces of exhibition, production, dissemination
* Consumption of mediated space in everyday life
* Tourism and media (media landmarks, use of media in tourism, theme parks, fan tourism)
* Media capitals and cultural geography of media
* Technologies of spatial representation (Imax, aerial photography, mobile/portable tech, CGI, etc.)
* Imagined space (homelands, borderlands, images in/of diaspora)

Papers should be between 6,000 and 7,500 words (approximately 20-25 pages double-spaced), in MLA style with a cover page including the writer's name and contact information. Please send four copies of the paper (including a one-page abstract with each copy) in a format suitable to be sent to a reader anonymously. All submissions will be refereed by the journal's Editorial Advisory Board. For more information or questions, contact Colin Burnett (, Germaine Halegoua (, or Derek Johnson ( Submissions are due September 15, 2007, and should be sent to:

The Velvet Light Trap
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Department of Communication Arts
821 University Avenue
Madison, WI USA 53706-1497

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 designed to be group blogs. Interested writers should drop me a line, and I'll add you to the contributor list. Hopefully the wisdom of crowds can work to our advantage as scholars, teachers, and collection developers.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

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 - goes beyond the call of order in noir's downbeat universe.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

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 other mass media, even other film genres, are usually characterized by their confident, forward looking nature.

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 ended up doing in the boxoffice.

In fact, one of the surprise revelations for me in this viewing is the range of UA's distribution in this period, from prestige films to programmers. It may be true, as Tino Balio argues, that UA would provide the model for post-classical Hollywood's organization, yet in this period it still had the cultural form of the studio, with a cultural division of labor.

Friday, August 03, 2007

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 about a man facing mental illness after a truck accident. The conflict is mostly psychological, a battle in the man's brain between surety that he's innocent with a gnawing worry that he's going psychotic and may in fact be guilty. The moments in which he contemplates suicide are fairly grim, and bely the cheery, tidy resolution of the film. I am sure that scholars must have noticed the ideological function the troubled middle-class man serves in the British national self-image after World War II. For my part I don't have anything to say that's not obvious.