Showing posts from March, 2008

Paul Arthur

I learn from the New York Times today the sad news that film scholar Paul Arthur has died. I have no personal connection to Arthur - in fact, he's one of the many scholars whose work I admire but whom I've never seen in person. His essay "Jargons of Authenticity" is one of the smartest things I've read on documentary, valuable equally for the side detours through art, politics, and ideological formations as it is for its core argument. I've just dipped my toe into waters of his most recent book A Line of Sight, but found it equally rewarding.

PCMS time change

Friday's talk has been moved up an hour to start at 5:30.

Voice of the Turtle

Feminist criticism of classical Hollywood often, understandably, divides its attention between hegemonic representations of gender and sexuality and those whose contradictions lead to a complexity worth reading against the grain. Between Category A and Category E, in Cahiers's taxonomy. For instance, there are so many narratives of the "good" girl who's a foil for the "bad" girl that scholars seized upon melodramas or women's pictures that show the pathos of the "good" girl who's gone wrong and reveals the choice as bound up in social dilemmas.

Voice of the Turtle (aka One for the Book, Irving Rapper, WB) exemplifies the prevalence, often forgotten, of something in between. Mousy, neurotic actress Sally (Eleanor Parker) has just broken off a casual affair with a man who was not in love with her. She swears off men, but her vampish, smart-cookie girlfriend Olive (Eve Arden in a very Eve Arden-y role) dumps Bill (Ronald Reagan), a GI she doe…

1947 Exhibition Snapshot Week 4

Week 4
(1/8/47, Variety returns 1/29/47)

Aldine (WB; 1,303; 50-94c):Temptation (Univ.) $18,000
Arcadia (Ind-Sablosky; 700; 50-94c): Time, Place Girl (WB) $6,500
Boyd (WB; 2,350; 50-94c): Man I Love (WB) $25,500
Earle (WB; 2,760; 60-99c): That Brennan Girl (Repub) $21,000 with live music show
Fox (2,250; 50-94c): Razor's Edge (Fox) $16,500 5th wk
Goldman (Ind; 1,000; 50-94c): Secret Heart (MGM) $21,000 3rd wk
Karlton (Ind-Goldman; 1,000; 50-94c): Show-off(MGM) $18,000
Keith's (Ind-Goldman; 1,500; 50-94c): Undercurrent (MGM) $7,000 2d run
Mastbaum (WB; 4,350, 50-94c):Till the Clouds Roll By (MGM) $44,000 2nd wk
Pix (Ind-Cummins; 500; $1.95-2.50): Henry V (UA) $11,500 5th wk ("snapping back with morning shows for schoolkids")
Stanley (WB; 2,950; 50-94c): Blue Skies (Par) $17,000 9th wk
Stanton (WB; 1,475; 50-94c): Beast with Five Fingers (WB) $17,500

CFP: Contemporary Film Form and Criticism

The deadline for this is rapidly approaching - and it's not the most convenient scheduling for American scholars - but it looks like a great conference.


Continuity and Innovation:
Contemporary Film Form and Film Criticism

University of Reading Film Conference
5th – 7th September 2008

Contemporary film displays both its debt to the established forms and practices of narrative cinema, and to international developments in aesthetic practice and in new technologies that subtly shift the boundaries of cinema’s aural and visual field.

At the same time, contemporary film criticism negotiates a shifting relationship with its own histories and present – its histories of textual analysis and film theory, and its present landscape of concerns with identity, new delivery and reception contexts, digital remediation, and so on, explored against the backdrop of a volatile socio-historical moment.

This conference seeks to consider the critical challenges contemporary film form po…

The Romance of Rosy Ridge

It's funny: I started off this project with my eyes ultimately on 20th Century-Fox, a studio I think (and will argue) ushered in much of a distinct postwar sensibility in Hollywood. Along the way, I've become more fascinated by MGM and the sentimental Americana it honed. The combination of nostalgia and national imagining is particular, and worth unpacking. It's inspired me to take the sentimental drama up as a project soon.

The Romance of Rosy Ridge (Ray Rowland) exemplifies what interests me in this cycle: a feel-good, hayseed melodrama with history bubbling beneath the surface (and a complicated historicity collapsing past and present). The opening literalizes this rupture, with expository titles and a post-Civil War-era map giving way to fire and a KKK-like vigilante group.

It turns out the KKK-ish group is a political red herring - they, in Scooby Doo fashion, are trying to drive down land prices, not trying to intimidate African-Americans and white Yankees - but it'…

Temple Talk: Rey Chow

Mid-semester, and so it's the season for talks. I was alerted to an upcoming talk (next week) by Rey Chow.

Rey Chow, Brown University
"Translator, Traitor; Translator, Mourner (or, Dreaming of Intercultural Equivalence)."

Thursday, March 27, 5:30 p.m.
Temple University, Tuttleman room 101

Rey Chow is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Brown University, where she teaches in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture and Media. She is the author of seven books, including The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Columbia UP, 2002), The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work (Duke UP, 2006), and Sentimental Fabulations, Contemporary Chinese Films: Attachment in the Age of Global Visibility, (Columbia UP, 2007), and over seventy articles. Her work has been widely translated and anthologized.
I'm looking forward to seeing what she's currently working on.

PCMS: Bob Rehak on Effects and Apparatus Theory

Next Friday is the next Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar, with Bob Rehak from Swarthmore and of Graphic Engine fame speaking on special effects and apparatus theory. I'll be responding.

Bob Rehak, Swarthmore College
"Revisiting Apparatus Theory in a Transmedia Age"

Friday, March 28, 2008
6:30-8pm 5:30-7pm

Apparatus theory of the 1970s emphasized ideological effects of the cinematic "machine," in particular the elision of labor through the concealment of moviemaking's technical base. But in the contemporary world of transmedia franchises and convergence culture, technologies of image manufacture, distribution, and even storytelling itself have become spectacularized and monetized as sources of additional "content," providing an ever-expanding universe of paratextual information and cross-platform branding of entertainment properties. As media texts multiply and every consumer potentially becomes a producer, what happens to ideological critique at t…

Penn talks: Shiel and Mulvey

Upcoming talks, courtesy Penn's Cinema Studies program, this week and the following month:
Mark Shiel
"Mapping Early Hollywood"

A talk about the geography and architecture of the early film studios
in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, March 19, 5:30 pm
401 Fisher Bennett-Hall
3440 Walnut Street
University of Pennsylvania

Laura Mulvey

Discussion on Death 24x a Second

Wednesday, March 26, 2:00 pm
244 Fisher Bennett-Hall
3440 Walnut Street

Lecture on City Girls, Flappers, and Feminist Film Theory

Monday, March 31, 5:30 pm
Slought Foundation
4017 Walnut Street

Fourth Annual Film and Pedagogy Colloquium

Laura Mulvey on Teaching Formal Film Analysis
William Boddy on Teaching Television Studies

Wednesday, April 2, 5:00 pm
401 Fisher Bennett-Hall
3440 Walnut Street

Dana Polan
"The Role of Genre in Television Studies: The Case of the Cooking Show"

Using the example of Julia Child's THE FRENCH CHEF TV show from the 1960s, this presentation will examine the role of genre in television and in television …

Blog as Intellectual Craftsmanship

Whenever you feel strongly about events or ideas you must try not to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them for your blogs and in so doing draw out their implications, show yourself either how foolish these feelings or ideas are, or how they might be articulated into productive shape. The blog also helps you build up the habit of writing. You cannot “keep your hand in” if you do not write something at least every week. In developing the blog, you can experiment as a writer and thus, as they say, develop your powers of expression.…

But how is this blog – which so far must seem to you more like a curious sort of “literary” journal – used in intellectual production? The maintenance of such a blog is intellectual production. It is a continually growing store of facts and ideas, from the most vague to the most finished. … I do not know the full social conditions of the best intellectual workmanship, but certainly surrounding oneself by a circle of people who will listen…

Let 1000 Projects Bloom

I'm certainly honored to be listed as the inspiration for A.P.'s new Donald Duck project. More to the point, I'm eager to see what she or he will unearth and eager to learn more about animation, a weak spot for me.

Though I stumbled on the inductive-through-arbitrary-means project format fortuitously, I've become convinced it's an ideal focus for academic blogging, lying somewhere between the conceit-driven journalistic mode and the argument-driven academic mode. I've certainly found '47 blogging productive beyond my expectations. It would be exciting to see the projects that others might dream up.

CFP: World Picture Conference

For those (like me), looking for a smaller conference but feeling the pinch of a low dollar and high airfares:

The World Picture Conference on

The Popular

October 24 and 25, 2008
Oklahoma State University

Keynote Speakers: Ernesto Laclau and Lauren Berlant

The World Picture conference is an annual meeting devoted to theory that takes place in the intimate setting of Stillwater, Oklahoma. This year's meeting will gather theorists from around the world, and from across disciplines, to address questions of the popular. We are accepting proposals for papers that address this issue in any number of ways. Some possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

Styles of the Popular
The Unpopular
Hegemony and Style
Metaphor and the Masses
The Public and the Popular

Proposals (including a brief bio) should be sent to Brian Price (brian.price - at - by June 2.
The conference is connected to the launch of World Pictur…

1947 Project Update

People keep on asking me how my 1947 viewing has been going. It's a reasonable question, and I'm glad for the interest, but I never have a pithy answer. Numerically, I've watched about a third of the features the 8 major studios produced/released (in New York) in 1947. That figure captures how much I still have yet to go, but doesn't adequately suggest what I've done. Here's the tally so far:

The most immediate thing to notice is that except for RKO, the big five put out significantly fewer films than the little three - these reflect in large part the relative weight of B pictures, which tend to be less accessible and less likely to face DVD or even VHS release. (By 47 the majors, other than RKO, had seriously curtailed their B units.) Factoring only the big five, It turns out I've done much better, nearly half of the features.

But there's a larger point than my progress to make: the fate of what we study depends so much on the particularity of DVD relea…

The High Wall

Image thanks to Wikipedia

When I last taught The Naked City I was surprised that the students found nothing remarkable about the location shooting. Used to the conventionalized world of studio lots and sound stages, I still get a frisson of the real watching it. Similarly, the shock of watching High Wall (Curtis Bernhardt) for me is to see a taut, expressionistic Dead Reckoning-ish noir coming from MGM.

In this of course, it is not without precedent. I hope to write on Lady in the Lake soon, but suffice for now to say it preceded High Wall. The two films shared the same cinematographer, Paul Vogel, and the continuity shows in the remarkable subjective tracking shots, put to better effect here than Lady. Also, subjective effects in the blackout and dream montages are worthwhile. Beyond that, the camerawork relies extensively on harsh contrast, angular composition, and surprising use of low-key lighting - it could fit well in a Fox or Warners noir.

Meanwhile, part of the fascination (for…

Documentary Reception Studies

I'd mentioned it way back, but now my Scope book review of Uncovering the Holocaust: the International Reception of Night and Fog is up online. There's the typical book review hat trick of making the review about the book, but also about something larger. In this case, I'm arguing for the need for documentary reception study, and documentary film historiography more generally.

SCMS 08 Wrap-up

Well, another SCMS conference is over, and most everyone in town attending has gone home or is speedily on their way to the airport. Overall I enjoyed the conference. Having it in one's own town made it all the more enjoyable. My biggest regret was not being able to attend much of the panels, since I didn't cancel my classes last week and in addition had a number of other conference-related obligations. So I can't comment on the substance of the presentations as much as I would like, other than to do a content reading of the program or to forward along others' observations. That said, here are some general thoughts:

Trends: I was happy to see feminism make a strong return after its relative absence last year. The intersection between Installation and film seemed to be popular as a topic this time, as was experimental film in the underground cinema mold. As Oliver Gaycken noted at the special screening Friday night, nontheatrical cinema is a growth field for new work and…


Things are ramping up for this year's Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, taking place this week here in Philly. To be specific, I'm working to finish up my paper before the conference starts. For those attending, I'm presenting on Dead End and the Chicago School of Sociology. The panel, on gentrification and the city, is in the very last time slot, but someone has to go last.

It should be a good conference. Just flipping cursorily through the preliminary schedule (it's long!), I see lots of panels I'm interested in, though many are outside my period and specialty area. Which is mostly good.

Hope to see many of you there.

Sylvia Sidney and Joel McCrea in Dead End

Golden Earrings

There's a danger in reifying historical periodization of Hollywood, since perioidization is useful to make sense of a wide range of empirical detail but has no real existence on its own.

Nonetheless, the late 40s do show a rapid shift in the style and sensibility of Hollywood films. To me, that's what makes the period so interesting. And it's what makes a film like Golden Earrings (Paramount, Mitchell Leisen) so fascinating. Generically, it's a hodge-podge: part espionage film, part fanciful Bob Hope-esque picaresque, and part romance. The plot involves a British agent (Ray Milland) in pre-War Nazi Germany who meets a Gypsy (Marlene Dietrich) who in turn helps him escape detection as he carries out his mission. The two star images - Milland's and Dietrich's - not only diverge but seem to belong to different aesthetic universes. Stylistically, it's schizophrenic. The credit scene (above) could just as easily belong to Intruder in the Dust: location photograp…