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Showing posts from April, 2009

Body, Excess, and Pathos

I'm rereading Linda Williams' "Body Genres" essay for class today. It's a deservedly influential essay, both for how well it encapsulated a number of theoretical strains to that point and for how it pushed the research agenda to a closer consideration of corporeality, affect, and spectatorial experience. Still, something this time gave me pause. Does melodrama really rely on the spectacle of the excessive, sobbing woman? Sure, you can find examples, and Williams privileges them: Stella Dallas or Steel Magnolias. But pathos often works by not showing - whether in art-cinema de-dramatization (Mizoguchi, Fassbinder) or in commercial melodrama's narratives of communication breakdown.

Take for instance the Sex and the City episode in which Miranda's mother dies (season 4, ep 8, "My Motherboard, Myself"). There are two strains of pathos: Miranda at first cannot grieve because of the pent up issues she had with her mother, Samantha at first cannot be su…

Narrational Ambiguity in Commercial Film

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I found myself fascinated by 7 Pounds, if only because of its unusual genre project: half melodrama, half puzzle film. And by melodrama, I don't mean the generalized form that we might say most Hollywood dramas invoke; by that definition, Eternal Sunshine or Memento are also melodramas. I mean a specific story type heavy on moral message, pathos, and intersecting fate. At almost every turn 7 Pounds is a Will Smith Drama. Moreover, Smith's presence certainly activates reading cues to interpret this strange film (narrationally speaking) as a conventional one (generically).

The puzzle-film narration is aggressively ambiguous. Take for instance, the flashback insert during the shower scene:


In many ways this kind of flashback is both typical of the 60s-era Euro art film and the postclassical thriller or crime film. (c.f. The Limey for typical puzzle film mixing of these impulses in its flashbacks.) What's remarkable about the flashback in 7 Pounds, however, is that it occurs qui…

PCMS: Documentary Studies symposium

I'm pleased to announce the April event for the Philadelphia Cinema and Media Seminar:

Documentary Studies: A State of the Field Symposium

Saturday, April 11
Temple University Center City (TUCC)
room 320
10:30 AM - 5:15 PM

This one-day symposium will gather area scholars and media makers in a conversation about documentary studies today. Documentary studies has often held a minority but important position within the larger field of film studies. During the 1980s and 1990s, post-semiotic interventions into the truth and meaning of documentaries dominated the research agenda. Lately, newer concerns – from a social theory of cinema to the phenomenology of spectatorship – have supplemented this agenda. How do we best characterize documentary studies today? How has the subfield responded to wider changes in the discipline and to changes in documentary itself? How has the relationship between documentary makers and documentary scholars changed?

To address these questions, the symposium will …