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Showing posts from February, 2009

The Effort of Effortlessness

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Phil Rosen has a theoretical reading of the detail in the Hollywood film – see also Tom Brown's recent Screen article – but for a basic sense of how much time, money, and energy the studios put into the detail, I love the accounts in the trade publications. This is what cinematographer Charles Rosher wrote about The Yearling:
To keep the Baxter farm in green crops, 27,000 stalks of corn and 4,200 tobacco plants were raised in cans and hothouses to replace those withered by the sun.... On Stages 15 and 30 of the MGM lot, the Baxter cabin and part of the farm... were recreated. To insure authenticity, the Florida cabin was dismantled and, together with rail fences, was shipped [from Florida] to Culver City. Forty tons of Spanish moss... was loaded in a refrigerated car to keep it alive...." (American Cinematographer May 47)The final product of this labor?


The amazing thing, mind you, is not that Hollywood would spend so much money then (they still spend lots of money), but that t…

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

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Nicholas Musuraca was director of photography on The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (RKO, Irving Reis), but what an aesthetic universe apart from Out of the Past! True, there is some interesting shadowplay on the minimal interior sets


... and some occasional lighting setups hinting at the romanticism of Out of the Past:


Generically, though, the film is almost an ideal type for the light comedy that RKO specialized in for their mid-A productions. High-key, star-driven, and a variant of the screwball formula, only overlaid with more traditional social mores. (Paramount's Dear Ruth is comparable, though perhaps a little more "sophisticated" in its connotations.) In this instance, Richard Nugent (Cary Grant) is the eponymous bachelor, an artist whose profession immediately stands in for bohemianism, and Susan Turner (Shirley Temple) is the bobby-soxer who has suffered a teenage crush on Nugent, to the chagrin of her older sister and guardian, Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy), a ratio…

The Humanities

The recent New York Times article on a putative crisis in the humanities has been talk of the town lately. Tim Burke, as usual, has a nice, measured response. He does seem to agree that there is a legitimation crisis of sorts in the humanities fields - a crisis in the discipline model borrowed from science and a crisis in justifying humanities to a broader public (mass public and policy public).

While I'm happy for better scholarship and better salesmanship, I don't tend to see the system as broke, only able to be improved. For starters, where others see boilerplate in the notion that humanities scholarship and teaching develops critical thinking, I, well, think that the humanities fosters better thinking skills that help for both instrumental reasons (white collar workers with those skills really do their jobs better than those without them) and for only quasi-instrumental reasons (a representational democracy is better off having a wider slice of the population capable and wi…

Film Technology

For my critical methods class this evening, I revisited Duncan Petrie's summary chapter in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. What's remarkable is a) that Petrie deals mostly with the history of the big technological shifts in cinema (sound, color, widescreen), and b) while that summary does not capture nearly all the work on film technology that gets written, it does capture how the debates on film technology are often characterized.

Which makes me wonder how best to write a history of film technology - or an aesthetics of film technology. I confess no especial technical knowledge - and many in the field lack it. Many on the production side do have this knowledge but have no incentive to write scholarship on it - and may well ask other questions anyway.

I myself have been trying to reapproach the studio "house style" and in the process am asking how best to grapple with the technological.

In short, I have a few intuitions about history of technology:

- the humanist tende…

1947 Exhibition Snapshot Week 6

Week 6
(Variety returns 2/11/47)

Aldine (WB; 1,303; 50-94c): Temptation (Univ.) $9,500 3rd wk
Arcadia (Ind-Sablosky; 700; 50-94c): Boom Town (MGM) $7,500 2nd wk reissue
Boyd (WB; 2,350; 50-94c): Nora Prentiss (WB) $38,000
Earle (WB; 2,760; 60-99c): Blind Spot (Col.) $33,500 with live music show
Fox (2,250; 50-94c): 13 Rue Madeleine (Fox) $26,000 2nd wk
Goldman (Ind; 1,000; 50-94c): Secret Heart (MGM) $14,000 5th wk
Karlton (Ind-Goldman; 1,000; 50-94c): Show-off (MGM) $11,000 3rd wk
Keith's (Ind-Goldman; 1,500; 50-94c): Blue Skies (MGM) $9,000 2d run
Mastbaum (WB; 4,350, 50-94c): Till the Clouds Roll By (MGM) $20,000 4th wk
Pix (Ind-Cummins; 500; $1.95-2.50): Henry V (UA) $10,000 6th wk
Stanley (WB; 2,950; 50-94c): It's a Wonderful Life (RKO) $24,500 2nd wk
Stanton (WB; 1,475; 50-94c): Lady Luck (RKO) $8,500

Metz on the Intellectual Position

From Imaginary Signifier:To be a theoretician of the cinema, one should ideally no longer love the cinema and yet still love it.... Not have forgotten what the cinephile one used to be was like, in all the details of his affective inflections, in the three dimensions of his living being, and yet no longer be invaded by him: not have lost sight of him, but be keeping an eye on him... This balance may seem somewhat an acrobatic one. It is and it is not. Of course no one can be sure to attain it perfectly, everyone is in danger of slipping off on one side or the other. (15). Forgive the gender non-neutral language here (is the cinephile coded male?). I cite the passage because it captures much of my own scholarly desire and sensibility - I'm not sure if Metz is even responsible for it and didn't even notice this imperative until rereading IS this week.  And like he describes, I find my acrobatic act a little tricky and teetering from one side to the other.... lately I've had t…

Out of the Past

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Once again, we have credits over live action footage - a minority practice in 1947, but apparently gaining some favor.


When I describe my 1947 project to people, I'm hard pressed to name many films likely to be familiar. 1947 was a remarkably unnotably year for the film canon. Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, RKO) is a major exception. As James Naremore notes, the film actually has a style quite distinctive: "Interestingly, Musuraca's work involves no night-for-night scenes, no distorting lenses, no extreme deep-focus compositions, no 'choker' close-ups, and very few radical angles - in other words, it manifests almost none of the traits that Place and Peterson claim are essential to the visual atmosphere of film noir." (More than Night 175).

His claim seems to be corroborated for the film's unusual abundance of fill. Hollywood style of the 30s might wash out facial features in selective moments, but here new and often unreal effects appear.


Mind you, in …

CFP: MLA 2009 film and media panels

Here are some film and media panels proposed for the 2009 MLA Convention, to be held in Philadelphia.

Play the Movie: Digital-Video Games and the CinematicTurn
Topics include gaming's appropriation of cinematic aesthetics as play elements; cinema's appropriation of gaming codes; these media's genres, narratives, formal overlap, etc. 1-page proposals by 1 Mar. 2009; Anna Everett (everett AT_filmandmedia.ucsb.edu) and Homay King (hking_AT brynmawr.edu).

Time(s) for (Media) Theory
Explores theories of or produced through engagements with film and media, the contemporary possibilities for film and media theory, and questions of temporality and media. 1-page proposals by 1 Mar. 2009; Kara Keeling (kkeeling AT_cinema.usc.edu).

Eric Rohmer: The Moral Tales
I am seeking 20-minute papers that address any aspect of the films that make up Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales for an MLA special session proposal. Send 250-word abstracts and a brief vitae by 1 March to Leah Anderst (leah.ganderst AT_gm…

Film Music: A History

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It was great excitement that I noticed James Wierzbicki's new history of Film Music (Routledge). First, because film music is a subject on which I'm poorly schooled; second, because it looked like a great potential addition to a film history class, with nice periodized divisions between "silent" film; the transition to sound; classical film music; and post-classical developments. The intro lays out the promise: "I wanted to concentrate on film music's norms, not its wonderfully aberrant masterpieces. This is not to say that Film Music: A History is a celebration of mediocrity. Rather, it is simply an effort to explain the development of the film music that at various times was considered by both its practitioners and its audiences to be respectably normal" (xii).

The book, it should be noted, is more monograph than textbook. For the classical period, in particular, I was disappointed to find not much detailed discussion of how film music works in a parti…

Cinema Journal on Digital Scholarship

The latest Cinema Journal (48.2) devotes its In Focus section to digital media-studies scholarship. The roundup includes some usual suspects, all contributing insightful entries - Kathleen Fitzpatrick on scholarly publishing, Alex Juhasz on YouTube pedagogy, etc - but in this context, I find it curious that there's no active academic blogger writing on the practice. On one hand that doesn't matter - Santo and Lucas's discussion of blogging is pretty good - but on the other hand there are not many scholars in our fields blogging, so to see non-bloggers make utopian claims about digital scholarship seems a little odd to me.

Also, Tara McPherson may well be right in her sense that "who better to reimagine the relationship of scholarly form to content than those who have devoted their careers to studying narrative structure, representation and meaning, or the aesthetics of visuality?" I'd just offer the counter-example that architects are sometimes the least self-…

CFP: Visible Evidence XVI

Call for Papers

Visible Evidence XVI
August 13-17, 2009
School of Cinematic Arts
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

Visible Evidence is an international conference that, since 1993, has brought together documentary scholars, artists, producers, curators and enthusiasts to investigate all aspects of documentary practice and culture. The 2009 conference, to be held in Los Angeles at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, will help celebrate the school’s 80th anniversary and the completion of our new state-of-the-art buildings housing multiple screening rooms, production facilities and teaching spaces.

The content of Visible Evidence conferences over the years has been dictated by the prevailing interests of their participants. To that end, there is no “theme” for this year’s conference, no suggested or preferred topics.

With this first call – deadline January 31, 2009 – we invite panel proposals only. These proposals will engage with specific topics and should include a one…