Showing posts from January, 2008

Theoretical Pluralism and Theoretical Schools

Staying meta; I've been wondering if there might be a general split characterizing both the theoretical pluralism and the recent (re)turn to theory in the discipline. There are those dissatisfied with traditional aesthetics (I'm thinking of the Anglo-American inheritance from 19th and early 20th century, say Clive Bell or Matthew Arnold) because it does not address the specificity of historical agents. At the other end there are those dissatisfied with traditional aesthetics because neither discussion of formal fundamentals nor interpretation get at the personal, the experiential, or the perceptual of film watching. Yes, I know the Wisconsin school offers its own relation to this question, sometimes fitting in the first camp, sometimes coming up with its unique answers. But for the rest of the field, there has been almost a reverse-dialectical procession of theoretical fashion: in the late 1980s and 1990s, both cultural studies and the renewed historicism (i.e. Gomery, Balio, …

Dyer on Film Studies

I've talked up the Oxford Guide to Film Studiesbefore. Now that I'm revisiting it for my Critical Methods class, I thought it worth calling attention to the opening essay: Richard Dyer's "Introduction to Film Studies." Even if you don't have the time or need for a reference book like the Oxford Guide, this short essay is worth taking a look at. Even the second time around, I find it a useful and brilliantly written statement of what film scholars do and a reflection on what we don't do. It's simply one of those reflections on the field that can help and inspire a scholar.

But there's a specific reason I think this essay written a decade ago is relevant today: the discipline faces foundational issues as television studies gets better footing in the academy and as new media – their media landscapes and the forms themselves – challenge the definition that film studies has of itself. Dyer writes that "the very success of film studies in establishi…

The Impossible Shot

Rewatching Zodiac, I was struck by this shot:

One of the grad students here at Temple, Ian Markiewicz, pointed my attention to David Fincher's impossible shots, those CGI shots that I'm sure Fincher fans and scholars of contemporary cinema alike are already atuned to. In any case, it strikes me that Fincher exemplifies two primary uses of CGI in non-spectacle-oriented cinema. First, there's the cost-saving or verisimilitude-creating measure for historical/geographic setting; where a classical film would build backlot sets or use glass painting, the CGI film can "create" objects, buildings, and scenery. Second, there's the stylistic flourish. The camera can go places and present things which the spectaror knows to be impossible. What's striking to me about the TransAmerica shot is how it does both. CGI lends historical "veracity" to the period piece in a way impossible before CGI; in that sense, this shot is not too different in function from the …

Spring Syllabi

It's the first week of the semester here, and I have gotten my Spring syllabi to final versions. Links to the intro course and the critical methods class are available from my Temple page.

Book Reviews

In putting together the syllabus for my graduate Critical Methods course, I've been taking a closer look at book reviews because they so often and so directly articulate the constitution of a scholarly field. In the process I'm realizing how much I've tended to undervalue reviews. Not only do they provide introductions to new scholarship and pithy argument summaries, but they also can serve as part of an important conversation about the discipline – our theories and methods.

For instance, Charles Barr's review of Su Holmes' British TV and Film Culture (Screen 48.3) makes this observation:

[T]he strategy of studying press coverage mainly on the basis of files of cuttings collected by the BBC, while understandable, has its disadvantages. Picturegoer and some of the trade papers seem to have been consulted direct, but the others through clippings. This means that important sources are ignored, such as The New Statesman, Sight and Sound, and The Listener, all of which h…

Writing Pitfalls

I've been working on a book chapter, which means in fact revising previous writing I've done. There's nothing to make you aware of your limitations as a writer faster than confront stuff you wrote a year or two years ago, particularly writing which has not yet had a stylistic fine-tooth comb go over it. Anyway, as I write the book manuscript, I have a few goals:

No first person. I keep telling my students that while "I" and an occasional "we" is not wrong per se in formal academic writing, 90 percent of the time, the sentence would be stronger rewritten to avoid 1st person. I'm now trying to practice what I preach. In the process, I realize that writers in our field frequently overuse the 1st person.

A very minimum of process-oriented statements: "in this book," "below," "I will argue," etc. These are particularly part of the convention of the introduction, with its description of what each chapter will do. My goal for th…

Table of Contents Notifications

For some reason, I've been slow to jump on the bandwagon with electronic alerts from journals. They're a handy way to know when a new issue is out and what's in it. Many even offer RSS feeds, for those who use this great timesaving tool for internet reading.

Hearing my plight, my friend Diana King, arts librarian at UCLA, sent me this handy list of e-notification services to get me started. She said I could share this with others, so I am.

Project Muse
(E-mail alerts | RSS feeds)
Project Muse is an online publisher of current University Press journals from a number of presses, with an emphasis on the humanities. They offer both e-mail alerts when the latest issue of journals you select is published and RSS feeds.

Journals of interest: Cinema Journal, Discourse, Film & History, Film History, Framework, The Moving Image, PAJ, Velvet Light Trap, GLQ, American Quarterly, Canadian Review of American Studies, boundary 2, Cultural Critique, Postmodern Culture, Technology and Cult…

The Unfinished Dance

The Unfinished Dance (Henry Koster) is pretty much the intersection of two specialties of MGM: the integrated musical and the sentimental (melo)drama. The intersection itself appears in other of the studio's output, notably Meet Me in St. Louis. Unfinished Dance shares a star – Margaret O'Brien – with that film but otherwise emphasizes the qualities MGM was known for outside of its musicals: sentimentality, Americana, and the cult of childhood. Even the mise-en-scene immediately communicates the wistful relation to a middle-America that was rapidly receding in the postwar years:
(Photo: The Margaret O'Brien website)
One reason that the sentimental drama has been interesting me more and more is that while the scholarship, feminist and otherwise, on film melodrama certainly outlines why a film like Unfinished Dance is melodramatic, it does not fully capture the nexus of historical past, childhood trauma, and national identity that seems to recurrent in the late 1940s. I don…

CFP: Visible Evidence XV

Chuck brings my attention to the announcement for the next Visible Evidence conference, this time to be held in England.

Visible Evidence XV brings together scholars, artists, producers, makers and curators who engage in debates on contemporary documentary practices in all media.

Hosted by the Lincoln Chair of Communications with the support of the Grierson Trust, bfi and Wallflower, VISIBLE EVIDENCE XV will take place in one of the UK’s newest universities sited in one of its most ancient cities. As usual, the conference will address all current issues in documentary studies including documentary and history, and fact-based theatre. Screenings will include films from the British National Film and Television Archive specially digitised for the conference as well as recent Grierson prize-winners.

We invite panel and paper proposals on all topics and current issues relating to documentary. As in previous years, the conference program will include pre-constituted panels as well as a number …

The Paradine Case

(image: Stephen Hill's movie title page)

Many people have been amused and bemused by the idea of my 1947 project. I think a lot of it stems from the intuitive sense that 1947 is unmemorable as a film history year. A lot of movies were put out, to be sure, but how many made the lists of greats, whether official or unofficial.

Well, Hitchcock's work is no exception: his 1947 entry, The Paradine Case (Selznick for Warners), gets pretty universally panned, ignored, and qualified with "interesting failure" status. And I would be really hard pressed to pick it over faves like Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, or Strangers on a Train.

But the great thing about watching a bunch of noncanonical works is that you feel free to take them on their own merits. Formally, The Paradine Case may make the case for Hitchcock at his most formalist. There's almost a revelatory glee in his taking everything that the ($2.2M) resources of late 40s Hollywood had to offer and pushing the language…

New Years Resolutions

Since Jason gets the ball rolling at Dr. Mabuse, I thought I'd reflect on some of my goals for the new year.

1) Finish the book.

2) Watch more silent features. There are plenty of holes in my film historical knowledge, but the noncanonical films of 1920s Hollywood have to rank high among them. Fortunately, TCM regularly shows silent films that otherwise do not see distribution or revival.

3) Keep up better with current scholarship. I started this blog by reading and reviewing recent journal articles and books. That's fallen off a lot.

4) Take more time to read outside the discipline. There are specific areas that I want to explore, other work is worth approaching more serendipitously. Obviously when we specialize, we cannot be jack of all trades or even as well read as we'd like to be, but I also think that disciplinary knowledge is strengthened by contact with other areas.

5) Learn to understand my intellectual foils better. I increasingly subscribe to the belief that the h…

Earlier scholarship

Amazing how nearly a month passes while the blog lies dormant. As usual, end of semester rush and the holidays were a serious distraction from my distraction. The nice thing about the extended Christmas break is the time to return full-fledged to my own writing and scholarship. To finish a draft of the book manuscript is my main goal.

In the process - both for one of my chapters and for my SCMS paper - I've been revisiting, this time more in depth, the writing from the Chicago school of sociology - mostly writing from the 1920s. What's amazing is how well written it is - not that it's especially literary or fluid in its style or even a great approach to popularizing in the C. Wright Mills vein, but the scholars nonetheless tend to write expository prose with an enviable clarity. Moreover, it feels modern. I don't know much of what scholarship was like before WWI, but from the 1920s on, you can pick up some writers and read a familiar language with a familiar understandi…