Showing posts from 2008

Normative Analysis and Political Economy

Alisa Perren has launched a new and promising blog on the media industries titled, appropriately enough, Media Industries (and other stuff). In a recent post, she takes up the looming crisis of the "big media" corporations:....the writers' strike combined with the larger economic crisis has moved much of the talk from anxiety to calamity..... 

An initial response for some might be to say "huzzah! bye bye big media!" However, as someone soon to speak to many an undergraduate eager to make a living in a world in which downsizing and bankruptcies are the new state of being, I can only feel distressed by the emerging state of the media world.Alisa touches on a couple of issues I find worth reflecting on. First, pedagogically, what adjustment should a scholar make in teaching in a pre-professional context. I teach in a production department, so I'm always wondering how much an instrumental context alters the pure scholarly pursuit of knowledge.

Second, she opens u…

Do Romantic Comedies Indoctrinate?

The LA Times writes up some research (done by some UK researchers in the field of psychology) on the media effects of Hollywood romantic comedies. (Hat tip: Kevin Drum). Arguing that these films reinforce or contribute to romantic ideals in viewers. 
Set aside the methodological difference between quantitative research and the qualitative, even belletristic, methods honed by humanities film studies. I'm wondering how seriously we should take the media effects position as a model for spectatorship. My gut instinct is to refuse it and to retreat back into a cultural studies model of spectatorial negotiation (and I still think that's especially important for feminized genres like the romantic comedy, where the scholar seems particularly eager to see the spectator as manipulable.). And maybe that's what we should do. 
But does media effects have anything to tell us? If so, what? For the humanist film scholar, media effects is the ultimate heterodox approach - the thing that prec…

SATC photo essay

Sex and the City as fort/da structure....

(Forgive the spoilers ahead.)

1. Wedding Dress [1]

2. Wedding Dress [2] - da/fort

3. Apartment [1] - da/fort

4. Apartment [2] - fort/da

5. New Year's Eve

6. fades

7. Auction/gift

Samantha loses auction for flower ring, it appears again when Smith gives it to her.
8. Rented/real
Louise gets designer handbags by renting them, but they inevitable have to disappear again, until Carrie gives her the real thing.
9. Cinderella motif

Not only the photo above, but the numerous references: Louise "squeezing" into Carrie's shoes, Carrie reading Cinderella to Lily. The shoe moment, though, captures the transformation from "not" to "is."
10. Miscarriage/birth

Charlotte goes from barrenness to fertility, but fears that any moment she could lose the baby. She overcomes these fears, but it is only the birth which provides the final narrative resolution of the threat of loss.
11. Sale/nullification

Real estate is never just sold. Louise ch…

The 1950s

Ignore the digital interlacing blur. The above's a momentary glimpse of DP or director Nicholas Ray as James Mason shuts a bathroom mirror in Bigger Than Life (1953). It seemed a fitting metaphor to me of the thematic complexity of the film - an undercurrent that ever since the Cahiers critics has been part of the Nicholas Ray text, but still runs against an overpowering reading formation.

Namely, the historical ethnocentrism that assumes naivete in 1950s cinema. By now, there's a range of critiques we see of 1950s domestic ideologies, especially as Hollywood trafficked in them. Some of these critiques are profound, some facile, many in between. But I think we underestimate how much Hollywood offered at least some kinds of contemporary social critique. These critiques could be distinctive (the Cahiers version suggests Ray as auteur on this basis), but the auteur production was merely one form of wider grappling with social critique. There's a larger interest I have: some sc…

Friday Giallo Blogging

The ideological trope of J&B scotch.

From The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh.

A reader helpfully points me to a discussion on J&B. Apparently the scotch maker had a product placement with Italian production companies. None of which obviates, in my eye, the ideological significance. On which I'll have more to say.

Film studies blogs A-Z

Catherine Grant has taken the recent alphabet meme as an opportunity to compile her favorite film and moving-image studies blogs. Her list gives me new fodder for my blogroll and RSS feeds... hopefully I can make some of the additions regular go-to reading. Category D made the list, so I also thank Catherine for the kind words.

Springtime in the Sierras

The 1947 Project has paid dividends in making me aware of the unexpected places where a social problem mentality met more traditional genre production. But still nothing prepared me for the surprise of a Roy Rogers B film adopting a social problem approach. Well, Springtime in the Sierras (William Witney, Republic) is a typical B Western: "Western" only in the setting and iconography, not in its narrative structure; Manichaean in its characterization (the brunette vamp is over-the-top evil); and external in its action. The externality of action keeps it from being a problem film in the manner that Gentleman's Agreement or even Crossfire are.

The narrative premise is that poachers are running a racket in the small-town West and are starting to kill to protect their business. The narrative starts off as an individual narrative (Roy Rogers stumbles on a wounded animal and takes her to a local rancher) but quickly the dialogue points out that poaching is a national problem. W…

Friday Giallo Blogging

The ideological trope of J&B scotch.

From What Have They Done to Solange?

PCMS: Ellen Scott on Anna Lucasta

The December Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar talk will be next Thursday:

Ellen Scott, University of Pennsylvania
"Acting Fresh: Civil Rights, the Black cosmopolitan theatrical aesthetic, and the reception of Anna Lucasta (1959)”

Respondent: Homay King, Bryn Mawr College

Thursday, December 11, 2008, 5:30 PM
Temple University Center City
Room 420

This paper explores the cultural resonances of and patterns of identification
with the urbane black melodrama Anna Lucasta (1959), a relatively unexamined film that significantly included African American input into the processes of production and contributed to the development of an cosmopolitan black aesthetic and style of characterization for Hollywood cinema. In this paper, I use both theater and film production history and the responses of reviewers of the Black press, who linked the film to “modernity”, to tease out the meanings of Black, mid-century cinematic cosmopolitanism, its citations of the vernacular visual style of noir and it…

Conference: Rethinking Sex

If the 2007 Screen conference hadn't convinced me that queer theory is enjoying a new energy and resurgence in the field, there's the upcoming queer studies state-of-the-field conference at Penn, titled Rethinking Sex: Gender and Sexuality Studies. It's taking place March 4-6, 2009, and has a star-studded roster, even if it's a little short on film and media scholars.

More information at the conference website.

TCM cinephilia

Self-Styled Siren has a fun list of 10 Things she loves about old movies. She does not specifically mention this, but I wonder if her list could serve as the start of a list of tenets for TCM Cinephilia. Many of us know folks who watch TCM nonstop - and in the process may be amassing more raw film historical scope than your never-hard-working-enough film scholar. What's remarkable is that the network markets "old movies" (generally classical Hollywood films) to cinephiles who have criteria for appreciating cinema that's neither formalist nor popular. This cinephilia, like other cinephilia, latches onto the detail, but it's often detail that signals nostalgia for the aesthetics of a historical period. 
I both share and don't share TCM cinephilia. If my top films list did not tip my hand already, my cinephilia is one part 60s auteurism-art cinema cinephilia, one part academic-driven film selection. But if I could take Campaspe's exercise in the spirit it was…

1947 Films, by alphabet

In the comments, Thom asks for my A-Z choices among my 1947 viewing. I'd originally discounted the utility of choosing the "best" from a small pool of films (I've seen about 90 features so far) and in particularly for a year as aesthetically undistinguished as 1947. Like I've said before there are very few canonical films from the year. But a quick list of some highlights might be the best introduction to the year, especially those who have not been reading my film-by-film review. It's even reminded me I need to write up the films I'd seen already before starting the project. So, by alphabetic conceit, here are a sample of what I think are among the more interesting of the year's offerings (* denotes official DVD availability):

The Arnelo Affair
Carnegie Hall*
Daisy Kenyon*
The Egg and I*
The Farmer's Daughter
Good News*
The Hucksters
It Had to Be You
Johnny O'Clock
Kiss of Death*
The Late George Apley
Magic Town
Nightmare Alley*
Out of the Past*

Film Theory e-Books

Catherine at Film Studies for Free has a terrific round up of classical film theory first-generation history books available in free, online versions. The Paul Rotha is particularly exciting to me, since I don't have a print copy. It's in less graphic-friendly format, but I'd add Munsterberg's Photoplay study to the list.

Best Film List, by Alphabet

Thom at Film of the Year tagged me for the Alphabet Meme. I've posted a list at Dr. Mabuse's Kaleidoscope, in the comments to Dave's post, but will go ahead and list the films here.

Here are the rules:

1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet.*

2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles.

3. Thanks to some clarification by The Siren, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release.

4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."

5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google.

6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5…

Bond and Beyond

The recent James Bond blogathon made me think immediately of a book I return to frequently: Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott's Bond and Beyond. It's a study very much part of its 1980s intellectual moment, yet one, I think, that has aged very well.

A key work in British cultural studies, the book examines "the Bond phenomenon" across the novels and the films, up to the mid-1980s, both situating the texts ideologically and opening them up to their receptive contexts. Bennett and Woollacott's notion of reading formations is, perhaps, their most noted contribution to the field. In this instance, they examine two distinct reading formations, the first initial reception of the Bond novels in the British imperialist spy novel, the second the accommodation to spectacle and irony by force of the film adaptations.

Bond and Beyond makes some interventions in 70s film theory approaches (e.g. a critique of Mulvey), but one part that I think is particularly worth revisiting is…

Jack Armstrong

My 1947 viewing has focused on feature films, but of course shorts and serials were very much staples of film production and exhibition in the classical period. Jack Armstrong (Wallace Fox, Columbia) was typical of both B film production and the serial format. Adapted from a radio serial, it centered around the eponymous character, the "all-American boy" in collegiate dress...

Narratively, it synthesizes elements of the fantastic with a non-thriller crime format (much like the Big Town B films I've discussed here). In fact, I'm left wondering if more has been said about the B film narrative and its typical form: an identifiable villain disguised as ordinary, the externality of action, etc. Formally, the Jack Armstrong serials are the most rudimentary exemplars of classical style, with a heavy reliance on fixed setups and B roll. The moments of expressive analytical editing, such as in this closeup, are rare and therefore shocking when they do appear:

What's perhaps…

PCMS: Jonathan Auerbach on film noir

Jonathan Auerbach, University of Maryland, College Park
"The Un-Americaness of Film Noir"

Respondent: Michael Tratner, Bryn Mawr College

Temple University Main Campus
Anderson Hall 8th Floor (Women's Studies Lounge)
Tuesday, November 11 , 2008
5:00 PM

Jonathan Auerbach's book in progress Dark Borders offers a political reading of American film noir as a Cold War genre centrally concerned with redefining citizenship. It begins with questions of affect and aesthetics--the strange tone of disenfranchisement or non-belonging that haunts so many of these mid-century crime movies. Freud's notion of the unheimliche links the uncanny mood of these important films with fears that "Un-Americans" and un-American values might overtake or undermine the homeland. These anxieties surface during a series of wartime and post war emergency measures, beginning with the anti-sedition Smith Act (1940), the Mexican migrant worker Bracero Program (1942), the domestic internment of A…

Friday Giallo Blogging

The ideological trope of J&B Scotch.

That's from The Bird with Crystal Plumage.

Everyone a Pundit

It looks like I might be on Fox29's The Last Word (11PM tonight) to talk about the relation between film and politics this election year. I'm not sure what they're going to ask, and not sure what I'm going to say, so I hope for the best.

UPDATE: So, yes, I was on the program. It turns out to have been pretty much a straight film criticism segment on W. Going on TV, you realize that it's tough to be poised and articulate on live TV. And that when one is trained to talk about both film and politics differently than both the lay person and the journalistic field, it's tough to meet the expected discourse. But in all, I guess the appearance went OK.

PCMS October: Patricia White

I'm pleased to announce that Patricia White will be giving the next talk in the Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar lineup. This event will be held this upcoming Monday at  Swarthmore.

Patricia White, Swarthmore College
"'To Each Her Own Cinema': World Cinema and the Woman Cineaste"

Respondent: Meta Mazaj, University of Pennsylvania

Monday, October 20, 2008
5:30 PM
Swarthmore College
Science Center 102

What does it take for a woman director to be recognized as a "cineaste"? In
2007 the Cannes Film Festival celebrated its 60th anniversary by asking
thirty-three auteurs to make three-minute films. To Each His Own Cinema
lives up to its (English) title in its inclusion of only one woman director,
Jane Campion.

This talk looks at the reputation-making function of international
festivals, analyzing the politics of authorship in through textual readings
and reception and programming discourses. Although Campion remains the only
female winner of Cannes' Palme d'Or, …

Philadelphia Movie Palaces

I've put my 1947 exhibition tracking on serious hold for now, as I have too many projects on the plate. But an article on the Jumbo movie palace in today's Inquirer (mostly on zoning/permit battles) is worth putting in the vertical file:
Built in 1905, the theater had its heyday in the 1920s and '30s. The last movie shown there was "The Perils of Pauline," in 1947. The building was converted into a warehouse in 1965 for Fox Electric Supply Co., which still owns it.Not sure what to make of my magic year. I need to research more to see how the exhibition market fared in '47.

[also: my write up of Perils of Pauline]

From the Archives

Fun tidbit from American Cinematographer Jan 1942:

"...the 'Ripple and Wave-machine' by Warner art-directors Anton Grot and Leo Kuter... permits projecting on a cyclorama-backing the images of suitable sets of transparencies in a manner which give a remarkable illusion of moving waves extending to a considerable distance."

Now I need to track down an instance of its use.

PCMS: Roderick Coover on the Digital Panorama

This Friday begins the year's Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar.
Roderick Coover, Temple University
"The Digital Panorama and the Cinematic Image: Contiguity, Continuity, and Aesthetics of the Electronic Image"

Respondent: Bob Rehak, Swarthmore College

Temple University Center City Campus (TUCC)
Room 420

Friday, September 26, 2008

Among the changes brought about by computing technology are the ways in which digital tools enable the integration of temporal and spatial imagery on a common surface and, the ways they both minimize and maximize a fundamental dialectic of cinema, that of continuity and montage. For example, one thing that is new about new media is the potential to maintain an illusion of temporal continuity and spatial contiguity, while, at the same time, allowing also for montage, collage, layering, compositing, and other forms of media-mixing. Once dialectically opposed methods of panoramic art and cinema, such as those of continuity and montage, of …

While Rome Burns

You know, if I was an orthodox Marxist media critic - or even a more old-timey lefty - I might be inclined to make something of this television review appearing on the NY Times' website's front page while our financial system threatens to implode.

But I'm not that sort of critic.

Craft of Research

The Craft of Research (Wayne Booth et al) is probably one of those books that many scholars and students read at some point in their graduate or undergraduate careers. I did not encounter it then; I somehow learned how to write and conceive academic research by some combination of trial-and-error, teachers' intervention, and a process akin to whole language acquisition. But a colleague in my writing group this summer recommended it, and I've become a fan. 
At this stage, the joy of the book is putting in concrete terms some of what scholars practice but do not always reflect on. Moreover, there's what I'd call the Top Chef effect: by revisiting an earlier stage of entering the field, those in the field are reminded what excites them about it. 
Finally, need I say?: my writing can always use encouragement for focus and for teasing out the main ideas buried underneath the theoretical apparatus and empirical detail.

UC Press sale

Once again, University of California Press is having a major sale. Tons of great film studies titles for a good price.


Bob Rehak has an excellent post up on the floating 3D film title, using David Fincher's Panic Room as an example of how the titles confound the normally separate registers of film discourse:The work of visual-effects houses Picture Mill and Computer Cafe, Panic Room’s embedded titles make us acutely uneasy by conflating two spaces of film spectatorship that ordinarily remain reassuringly separate: the “in-there” of the movie’s action and the “out-here” of credits, subtitles, musical score, and other elements that are of the movie but not perceivable by the characters in the storyworld. It’s precisely the difference between diegetic and nondiegetic, one of the basic distinctions I teach students in my introductory film course.Moreover, it seems likely (and hopefully I'm reading Bob correctly) that the use represents both auteur statement - Fincher famously relishes in "impossible" effects allowed by the digital - and a larger change in expectations about what cinemati…

Stallion Road

So far I've been noticing a fondness not only for credit sequences based on a book or formal note but also the use of suggestive shadow (compare this to It Had to Be You).

If Song of Love showed the Warners' biopic given the MGM treatment, Stallion Road (Warner Bros., James Kern, an uncredited Raoul Walsh) shows the genre in transmutation as the studio changed in the postwar years. The film opens up with the iconography of the gothic film or the mannerist drama (say, Humoresque):

However, an open-nested flashback structure shifts the genre and the formal treatment to a high-key style normally associated more with RKO or MGM than Warners:
The narrative is a love triangle between ranch veterinarian Larry (Ronald Reagan), neighboring rancher Rory (Alexis Smith), and Larry's visiting college chum Steve (Zachary Scott). Reagan as usual plays the bland wholesome type, Scott the fey urban snob. What's remarkable about the narrative is its stealth gender subversion. Larry and Ror…

Song of Love

Song of Love (MGM, Clarence Brown) is an uncharacteristic Katharine Hepburn vehicle, a fairly static supportive, suffering wife role as Clara Wieck, a pianist-composer married to Robert Schumann. (below, left) Still, we do get the typical Hepburn emotion-bursting-through-restraint in parts (below, right). 

The material and tone would best be described as MGM's take on the WB biopic formula. Like in the typical biopic, Schumann's genius is unrewarded in his lifetime, yet the dialogue signals his enduring contribution to musical history. And as in the typical biopic, personal tragedy, in this case the composer's mental illness, challenges the characters' happiness. What MGM provided was the utter tastefulness, the high culture milieu, and the wistful emotional sweep of the melodrama.
It's the sort of film that could have been made in 1937, except for the subjective treatment of Schumann's mental illness. Of course, the postwar films were preoccupied with mental ill…

Disciplinary Terrain

At the last SCMS, I saw a paper from an art historian arguing for the value of considering artworks within the mise-en-scene as art, not as "art." I'm not fully sure of the utility of such an approach (or even what it would look like), but it least it struck me as a novel way of thinking about the cinema.
That paper came to mind when I saw this blog post about using 12 o' Clock High to teach military history. 
I don't know that there's any grand point here, but it's a nice reminder that in film studies we tend to bracket out all that's not necessary for an interpretable object. That includes, say, a few students'  judgments on whether the female lead should have left her man long ago, but it also includes content that other disciplines might have a genuine scholarly interest in.

Semiotics of Advertising

I have to admit I first relished this post for the snarky comments in the comments section, but it is asking a real question: what do (the designs of) these images say?  There are some savvy responses, including:Looking at these from a perspective as a documentary film maker, these two pictures fall into two very different photo/film traditions. Obama and Biden are staring off into a vista that the viewer [can't] turn to see hemselves; the idea is to project a shared journey into some presumably hopeful future. The folks in the photo and the folks looking at the photo are supposed to be doing something together; the viewer is with Obama and Biden.

The McCain/Palin image, of course is staring right out at the viewer: the two figures are trying to do something to the viewer more than with him or her: to persuade. It's more immediate than the Obama campaign's approach, which has power. But it is a pure pitch, and as such it runs the risk of falling into the trap of seeming mor…