Showing posts from February, 2008

1947 Exhibition Snapshot Week 2 (pt 1)

I figured weekly tracking would be too tedious for this project. There are a couple of things to note in interpreting the film listings. First, Philadelphia is not necessarily representative of a national market. Not only is each city different, there was no homogeneous national market as such. Instead the majors carved out regional spheres of dominance in exhibition: Philly seems to have been heavily a Warners theater town.

Second, films in the 40s did not necessarily have a weekly release. Many did, debuting on Wednesday or Friday. Others may have had a shorter release. In general, I am using Variety returns for every other Wednesday, then picking a sample day from the week before (Wed or Fri) to show those films in their respective showings.

Finally, studios in the 40s did not use saturation booking. Philadelphia was not the last city to see films, but it wasn't the first either. Going week by week through the year, it may take some time before I actually get to my 1947 films. In…

Geography of Cinemagoing, 1947

If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend David Bordwell's post onHis Girl Friday. It's a reflection, personal and intellectual, on the cultural life of that film. (Jason Mittell teases out some implications for copyright policy.) I'd add to the film's incorporation into film studies canon attests to the influence of Film Art, which I'd read (3rd edition) in my college intro to film course, where we watched, indeed, His Girl Friday. Moreover, Bordwell includes advertisements and exhibition information from its local (Madison) run.

What a better occasion, then, to debut what I hope will be a regular feature on this blog and its 1947 project. I'd conceived of the project as a way to apprehend, synchronically, Hollywood's productions. It still is that primarily, but particularly at the intellectual provocation of my colleague Dan Friedlaender, I am increasingly curious about the distribution of these films. To that end, I plan to look at 1947 from the grou…

Ballyhoo, 60s Edition

More on how I stumbled on this soon, but I thought I'd share this tidbit of Philly's cinema history:
When [The Cedar Theatre's] policy shifted to adults-only sometime around the mid-'60s, the operators tried the oldest trick in the book: adopting a name that would place them at the beginning of the alphabetical listings in the papers. Thus the Cedar Theatre became the Abbe Art Cinema. Something called the Aarde Cinema knocked the Abbe out of first place in the '70s and VCRs killed off its business in the '80s.

Political Economy of the Starlet

Following on my previous post and its comments, I have a pet hypothesis I'd love to be able to devote some more time to or see someone devote their energy to. At a macro view, it seems that in the 1960s particularly Hollywood rapidly shifted the place of women - both prominent female characters and the centrality of women actors as stars - as it moved from the studio years to the conglomerate/package-unit years. Why? In other words, I crave a political economy explanation for the Molly Haskell argument.

Moreover, I can foresee various shades of political economy explanation and would be particularly interested in models for the studio/producer decisionmaking and how they change under different types of corporate or private governance or different market structures. I often refer to this blog as a diaristic sketchpad, and my interest in explanation in firm behavior is a prime example. It's something I simply don't have time to explore right now but that intellectually I keep…

The Case for Markets

Chuck beat me to the punch, but it's still worth highlighting Henry Jenkin's 2-part interview (pt 1|pt 2) with Alexandra Juhasz on her YouTube pedagogy as well as her blog. I particularly found this bit from the interview interesting:
Furthermore, my students found that the system of user-ranking, or popularity, has the effect where normative or hegemonic ideas rise to the top of YouTube. The society's already accepted opinions about race, or politics, are most highly valued, receive the most hits, and thus are the easiest to see.Since much of my work involves a) thinking about methodology and b) reflecting on the best way to adequately explain ideological formations/political legitimations, I'm particularly interested in the way that newer media not only challenge traditional market formations of media production and distribution, but how they may suggest that traditional left-theoretical accounts have overstated the distorting/coercive role of market structures. Tradi…

16mm Care for Dummies

I was lamenting to Temple's head reference librarian that I needed to learn more about caring for 16mm films. I know the basics, particularly how to handle and project it, but my knowledge is mostly self-taught. She came to rescue by pointing me to a handy guide that the University of Washington has prepared (pdf version). Helpfully, it identifies no-cost preservation, low-cost preservation and ideal preservation as options.

I'm wondering if an explanatory SCMS workshop might be a worthy activity for the Archives committee. I'd certainly attend.

OneFilm Workshops and Discussions

As I mentioned before, I will be talking this next Saturday on Empire of the Sun as part of a city-wide series of public talks, discusssions, and workshops in the OneFilm Philadelphia series. I thought I'd highlight it and a few of the other film/media scholar-led topics on the schedule, as well as some panels of critics and makers.

Saturday, February 23, 3:00 PM

Temple University, Annenberg Hall, Room 3, 2020 N. 13th Street, (215) 204-4812
This discussion, led by Chris Cagle, Lecturer of Film and Media Arts at Temple
University, will examine Empire of the Sun and explore methods by which film
scholars understand cinema’s relationship with the study of history.

Monday, February 25, 6:00 PM

Scribe Video Center, 4212 Chestnut Street, 3rd Floor, (215) 222-4201
Blending special effects and elaborate production designs to create immersive
onscreen worlds, …

PCMS reschedule

The Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar talk that was original scheduled for today has been rescheduled for next Friday, February 22. Same time, room TBA. You can get updated details at the PCMS website.

PCMS: Decherney on Hollywood's Auteurism

This upcoming Friday marks the semester's resumption of the Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar:

"Auteurism on Trial: Hollywood’s 'Moral Rights'"

Peter Decherney, University of Pennsylvania
Respondent: Paul Saint-Amour, University of Pennsylvania

Friday, 15 February 2008
Temple University Center City (TUCC)
Room 420, 6:30-8:00 p.m.

From Douglas Fairbanks to Steven Soderberg, the U.S. legal system has treated Hollywood filmmakers as a special category of artist. When feature films have been translated to new media, from two-reel serials to home video, courts have consistently offered filmmakers unusually broad authorial protection for their works. In my presentation, I will consider some of the reasons that filmmakers, and the Directors’ Guild of America, in particular, have been able to achieve special legal status, and I will consider some of the implications of their lofty perch for film on the internet.Peter Decherney is assistant professor of Cinema Studi…


I got around to watch The Red and the White (Miklos Jancso, 1967) this week. I was surprised how much I loved the film, but I have to say it was a little odd to put up with subtitling in an unorthodox font:

One of the grad students here has been writing on the use of subtitles in cinema and as such has drawn my attention to cultural translation I rely heavily on but do not think about enough. There are a fascinating set of theoretical and historical concerns that subtitling raises. At some point, I will need to step a bit into the developing literature on the topic (for instance, the edited volume MIT Press put out a few years back).

Magic Town

So far, with the 1947 project, I've just been blogging about the films I am watching for the first time. It occurred to me that for the sake of completism, it might be worth including films I've been familiar with already. What better day to start than Super Tuesday, and what better film than Magic Town (RKO, William Wellman)?

I happen to think this is a gem of a film, less aesthetically (it flaunts neither the literary skills of Apley nor the technical virtuosity of Pink Horse or Paradine Case) than historically. A social comedy about social science, the narrative is about Rip Smith, a pollster who stumbles across a "magic town," a statistical bellweather that perfectly predicts public opinion for the nation as a whole (the kind of claims you occasionally hear about Missouri in national elections these days.) He swoops down on the town, but the town's self-consciousness soon ruins it. The story is part "Man Who Corrupted Hadleysburg," part Middletown - …

One Film Philadelphia

The Free Library's OneFilm Philadelphia initative gets its launching announcement today. The film this year will be Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. I'm sure to talk a little more about OneFilm in the near future, for the very least that I'm slated to speak as part of a city-wide two-week-long event. For now, I'll just point to the schedule which is up online now, and a Philly Inquirerarticle on the event which quotes Tim Corrigan and yours truly. I know that people interviewed for articles worry about their words getting misquoted, but I have to confess that the reporter, Tirdad Derakhshani, made me sound more articulate than I actually was.

Never Historicize!

I thought I might have been too facile in my characterization of the newest theoretical turn in film studies – and maybe I have been – but yesterday I noticed that Tom Conley agrees:

From 1970 until about 1990 film studies witnessed, first, an explosion of theory. Since then there has tended to be a retraction in favor of extensive work on canons, genres, reception, and origins. A corollary aim for the cartographer of cinema is not to let theory go unattended, to be recanted, or left in the wings of a virtual theater of interpretation. (Cartographic Cinema 5)

To the outside or the neophyte to the field, decoding passages like this may be like reading tea leaves, but for those on the inside the referents of the passage are clear. By "cartographer of cinema" Conley means himself. In contrast, the retraction and recantation of Theory is, for Conley, a bad thing or at least a detour in our understanding of some crucial aspect of the cinema. "Canons, genres, reception, and ori…

Romantic Comedy malaise

I don't normally put my prescriptive, evaluative hat on, but since A. O. Scott laments the sad state of romantic comedies today, let me say that I'm inclined to agree with him - and I say this as someone favorably disposed to the genre. What's more, Scott is asking the quesiton I've been wondering: why has the genre not been able to find an aesthetic verve where other genre films and filmmakers find inspiration in the genre dialectic of variation and repetition? "How did this genre fall so far," he writes, "from one that reliably deployed the talents of the movie industry’s best writers, top directors and biggest stars to a source of lazy commercial fodder?" I don't fully agree with any of his answers but I'm hard pressed to offer my own.

In related inquiry, I wonder why Sex and the City seems to have spawned uninventive ripoffs, where The Sopranos and Six Feet Under got copied by shows highlighting comparable inventiveness as the basis of co…