Showing posts from September, 2010

New Studies in World Cinema

The adage about newspaper feature writing is that three instances makes a trend. What better indication of a scholarly emphasis than the recent edited volumes devoted to world cinema? Each has a different focus, but taken together they signal new directions and new theoretical concerns. There have been books on the topic before: ones on national cinemas other than the US, on globalism, or on film trade. But the latest interventions are notable for a few tendencies. They combine film theoretical concerns with film history. They turn away, even if with reservations, from a cultural imperialism model. And they respond to developments in contemporary world cinema.

Remapping World Cinema, Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim, eds. Wallflower Press, 2006.This is the first of what I see as new world-cinema studies, in no small part because of its introduction which interrogates the category of world cinema. As the editors/authors write, "'What is world cinema?' This is deceptivel…

Born to Kill

If I had to point to any one film that marked a new sensibility in film noir, it would be Born to Kill (RKO, Robert Wise). Of course, one can categorize noir according to genre (gothic v. police procedural) or production category (A film v. B film), but the sensibility shift I'm talking about is one from the (mostly) romanticized noirs of the 1940s to the "realist" style more dominant in the 1950s.

In true 1947 fashion, this film opens with location shots of Reno, Nevada:

Born to Kill is no Naked City, however, and such location shooting is contained to a few transition scenes. (The rear projection work is not too bad, incidentally). What marks the visual style as realist is its flatness: relative lack of diffusion and glamour lighting lend a harsh look. On top of that, the lighting set ups are complex but disordered in their placement.

Patrick Keating's recent book on Hollywood lighting notes how certain violations of rules (an extra shadow on the image) might be allo…

Political Economy of Film Festivals

Perceptive sentence, from Manohla Dargis, in a New York Times article about film festivals:It may be that the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as one of the biggest, most influential festivals in the world specifically because it learned how to bridge that art-cinema world and those conglomerate-owned movie studios we nostalgically refer to as Hollywood. There's been a boomlet in scholarship on film festivals, so Dargis's observations are not uncharted territory. All the same, while I've seen some discursive, ideological, and industrial readings of film festivals, including on the TIFF, I think there's still room to bridge micro- and macro- levels of this cultural exchange.
On top of that, there's two broad tendencies in the field of film history. The Gomery appropriation of Chandler-ite business history, with a goal to understand how corporations actually work (governance, structure, and behavior in markets). And the Marxian tendency to critique corp…

The Arnelo Affair

The Arnelo Affair (MGM, Arch Oboler) is another crime drama about marital infidelity. Anne Parkson, a dissatisfied wife of a workaholic lawyer, gravitates toward the advanced of Tony Arnelo (John Hodiak), only to get caught up in a murder. It's proof that Hitchcock films weren't alone in the transference-of-guilt theme that the Cahiers critics liked to point out. I would say that a close examination reveals a difference; whereas the Hitchcockian transference is largely metaphorical, here Anne's guilt is literal, and the script makes explicit the sense that a wrong accusation of one crime is the (just) punishment for another.

Even though this film, like The Unfaithful, thematizes redemption and forgiveness of the cheating wife, it lacks the self-conscious invocation of a historical past. That said, the dialogue does venture surprising into social problem territory, as when the detective enters an argument on the seriousness of murder (!) with a retort that , "If we'…

Specificity of Critical Vocabulary

One of the goals of my intro class is to introduce critical vocabulary that not only allows students to analyze movies but also allows them to do the readings in the field that an upper-level class might require. One distinction I make to that end is between the viewer, the spectator, and the audience. In my mind these are three distinct concepts.

However, if you read in the field, scholars often use these terms interchangeably. So from a certain perspective, my usage is overly prescriptive - if the field does not as a whole distinguish between these, why should I or my students? From another perspective, though, there's a good case to be made that analytical clarity for critical vocabulary is a worthy goal.

But raises the problem of critical words that are not precise. The concept of ideology, for instance, is just the sort of idea that intermediate to advanced scholarship in the field relies on heavily. Yet anyone who's taught the concept before will realize how several defi…

The Unfaithful

I often get asked in regard to my 1947 project: why that year in particular?

I have a few answers. There is the initial reason I picked it, as a barometer for the industry the year some major social problem films were released. And there's a sense of constructing the typical but resisting the canonical (1947 sees few canonical films). But the answer that I've developed after starting the project is that 1947 seems a pivotal year in the transition from the wartime (and the New Deal) to postwar life.

It's not just me. The films themselves seem self-conscious about the transition. None more than The Unfaithful (Vincent Sherman, WB), a noirish story about a murder whose initial appearance of self-defense by a housewife is complicated by a past infidelity she had with the victim.

The film's opening begins with a shot of a Los Angeles house, which pans right to reveal the street in pseudodocumentary fashion, while a voice-of-god narration intones, "Our story takes place in…

CFP: Rendering the Visible

The deadline is approaching fast on this one....

Rendering the Visible
Feb. 11-12, 2011
Moving Image Studies Program at
Georgia State University

The doctoral program in Moving Image Studies at Georgia State University welcomes paper proposals for a meta-disciplinary conference on the state of “the digital turn.”

Keynote speakers:

Akira Mizuta Lippit (University of Southern California)
Vivian Sobchack (University of California at Los Angeles)

One of the most pressing questions facing studies of the image today is how to theorize visuality as more and more moving images are given over to the digital. This conference proposes that the notion of “rendering” might provide a useful entrĂ©e for an exploration of theoretical continuities and discontinuities in our understanding of the technologically reproduced image, from Benjamin's “Short History of Photography” to CGI.

With regard to image and sound, “rendering” has both a technical and a theoreticalcurrency. It is a term that emphasizes layering…