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Showing posts from October, 2010

CFP: Screen Conference 2011

This sounds right up my alley...

Call for Papers: 21st International Screen Studies Conference 1-3 July 2011 University of Glasgow, Scotland

We invite papers on any topic in screen studies, i.e. cinema, television and digital media. Submissions for pre-formed three-person panels will be considered but not prioritised.

Repositioning Screen History will be the subject of the plenaries and will form a strand running throughout the conference.

25 years after the 'historical turn' in film studies, we want to explore what new approaches and theoretical models for the study of screen history have been emerging over the past decades, and how changing environments and contexts have altered fields of study.

To this end we encourage submissions addressing the following questions and issues:
Rethinking the Canon (directors, genres, movements, institutions, periodisations)New sources for new historiesIssues of preservation and restorationArchival theories and practicesThe impact of digital technol…

The Gangster

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One thing I like about the inductive approach to film viewing is that it shakes many received narratives I have about film history. Canonical genre histories, for instance, tend to treat the gangster film as a cycle that dies out by the end of the 1930s, to be supplanted by noir crime films, procedurals, and thrillers. There's some truth to this, but The Gangster (Allied Artists/Monogram, Gordon Wiles) is a classical gangster story, with some noir twists.
First off, key noir visual elements are here. One tracking shot in the ice cream parlor/rackets headquarters, for instance, exemplifies the Poverty Row noir stylistics, perhaps borrowed from Detour:



The language is borrowed from theater: spotlighting suggests a psychological interiority while the spatial separation of the characters at the end of the shot points out their isolation.
The set design, lighting and deep-focus cinematography create unusual, off-kilter compositions.
This is in addition to the B-movie production values of …

Friday Giallo Blogging

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Lifestyle voyeurism: monochrome set design in The Killer Must Kill Again.

CFP: Console-ing Passions 2011

Console-ing Passions, the leading international scholarly network for feminist research in screen cultures, will hold its 2011 conference in Adelaide, South Australia, 21-23 July.

Organisers are now seeking proposals for individual papers and pre-constituted panels. Proposals are due November 30, 2010 and may be submitted online.

Paper proposals must include the paper title, the author’s contact details and a 300-word abstract. Panel proposals must include the panel title, names and contact details of all participants and chair and a summary statement of no more than 1500 words to include abstract for each paper and panel concept statement. Panels may have a maximum of three papers each.

Below is a list of possible streams for the conference; these are suggestions, not limits. We strongly encourage contributions from across the Asia Pacific with an emphasis on regional issues, activities and trends.
National Screen Cultures and Feminism(s)Women in Media ProductionChildren's Media and …

1947 Project, Outsourced

The Self-Styled Siren continues her thorough and fascinating write-ups of classic Hollywood movies with a post on a 1947 film, Ivy. This is in addition to her other 1947 entries Crossfire, The Man I Love, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, Dead Reckoning, and Nightmare Alley. There is a difference between her approach and mine, but a lot of overlapping interests, too. And in general, I'm humbled by the knowledge of many film enthusiasts.
UPDATE: And here's Catherine Grant compiling online writing on Black Narcissus.

Political Economy Arguments

In a coda to Making Meaning ("Film Interpretation Revisited" Film Criticism 27, no. 3), David Bordwell argues that textual interpretation is a skill predictable in its rhetoric:...[Making Meaning] suggests that within the profession, film interpretation has become routinized. One can quicken undergraduates' interest with critical moves that are long-practiced, but one's students are not one's professional peers. I don't want to cede the value of textual analysis - nor the ease of teaching it to undergraduates! - but the point is taken that disciplines shift the difficulty degree of scholarship as the field develops. It's no accident that film criticism today usually needs to be put to the ends of a theoretical or historical argument and that single-film readings are not as common as they used to be.
Moreover, though interpretation raises special hermeneutic issues, I don't think it's merely textual analysis that becomes a first order skill readily …

Post-Classical Cinema

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I've written at various points about post-classical cinema, but I want to highlight a recent book that I've found useful in thinking through the subject. Eleftheria Thanouli's Post-Classical Cinema: An International Poetics of Film Narration (Wallflower Press, 2009 | press website) tries to define what postclassicism is. As the subtitle suggests, its main intervention is a) continuing the Bordwell-style history of style approach of generalizing about formal systems as historical artifacts and b) understanding post-classicism not simply (or even primarily) as a tendency of blockbuster Hollywood but also a style that cuts across national cinemas. Thanouli uses 14 films (a few examples: Amelie, Trainspotting, and Million Dollar Hotel) to identify key changes in story construction, spatial construction, temporality, and narration. Despite some lit-review-heavy writing style, the strength of the book is that provides both a broad model for understanding the historical shifts an…

1947 Cross-Index

I decided it would be handy to catalog the blogging I've done so far on the 1947 films. So I created this reference list of all the films from the year, with links to posts on this blog. Right now, it is pretty basic in listing films by studio. Eventually, I'd like to list by genre and maybe other categories.
Incidentally, the list is a reminder that while I've seen a good number of films, especially from the major studios, I still have a lot of viewing to do.

Merton of the Movies

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Merton of the Movies (Robert Alton, MGM) is a perfect companion piece to The Perils of Pauline. I wrote of that film that it is "neither a remake of the silent serials nor a biopic about the star Pearl White, but rather a backstage melodrama that purports to do both." Similarly, Merton of the Movies creates a slapstick comedy out of an aspiring dramatic actor for the silent screen (Red Skelton in the title role) being cast in a satirical slapstick comedy, unbeknownst to him.
The film opens with a typically 1947 documentary montage about Hollywood, with voiceover narration.


There is a Vorkapich-like self-reflexive montage in the middle, too.


To all but the most nostalgic of fans, I suspect, much of Red Skelton's comedy comes across as a dated variant of rube-goes-to-the-city schtick. What is more interesting in the film is the way the film's reflexivity reinforces his star performance, so that the misrecognition he has of the world (and of what "acting" is) bec…

The Nature of Disciplines

An anonymous commenter riffs off my observations about the way the discipline has "moved on" from a 1970s moment.
Why are we so quick to refer arguments and claims to disciplinary consensus? Why do we stop short of making evaluative claims about the quality of scholarship, and of the objects it addresses, preferring instead to (implicitly) dismiss certain scholars for being "out of date"?I'm pretty much in agreement with her or him. I want to be generous to the newer theoretical approaches - in part because I value conceptual innovation and in part because some of the work, such as the Langford essay I mentioned, is quite smart. All the same, I too think that some debates aren't as dead as people would like to act.

The comment raises a couple of good questions. First, how well can we characterize a discipline? Academic fields are large, messy collectives of scholars, with competing points of views and different movements. As the comment implies, there is…

Political Modernism (cont)

Alex Juhasz responds to my post, and she explains the value she sees in connecting formal self-reflexivity to political critique. One thing I find intriguing is her attempt to see an inadvertant political modernism of examples in contemporary networked nonfiction culture.
To clarify, I don't put Juhasz in the "sneaky" camp. I was drawn to her post because she seemed clear in her political modernism. I think the arguable "sneaking through the backdoor" applies to the new theoretical readings that privilege art cinema or experimental work as a site for a superior kind of spectatorship. One can point to any number of examples, but if I had to pick one, I'd say that Michelle Langford's reading of The Day I Became Woman (Camera Obscura 64) demonstrates this type of reading. Never does Langford directly claim that realist representation lulls the spectator into ideological complicity, but she does argue a) that the value of The Day I Became Woman is not in the…

Something in the Wind

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Something in the Wind (Universal, Irving Pichel) was a Deanna Durbin vehicle as Durbin's star image was starting to change. No longer strictly the girl-next-door teenager, she began to adopt a more sexualized, grown up image. However, Something in the Wind manages the contradictions of the changing image by bracketing it as the character's dissembling. Mary Collins is an ingenue whose identity gets mistaken as a kept woman for a diseased wealthy man. Her ire raised, she plays the part of seductress and gadfly for the wealthy Read family, shown here at a fashion show:


What emerges is a combination of social satire and screwball comedy. Like other light comedies, the narrative mocks mass culture, in this case radio. Mary is an on-air singer, and her profession sets up a few jokes at the expense of radio narratives.


I still want to explore more the generic workings of the Universal output and the light comedies which span across studio.

The Heritage of Political Modernism

Alex Juhasz did not likeThe Social Network:
I’ve written extensively here about the mis-steps of the usually celebrated terrain of convergence: the too easy, sloppy, ill-conceived contemporary media moves between documentary, fiction, and hybrid back again. To my mind, Social Network is a textbook case for why I’d rather wait for what can be best delivered by a plain old doc....

In fictionalizations of contemporary real-life, even with great screenwriters and directors in charge, and fine actors playing the parts, or perhaps because of them, the complexities and contradictions of the real social networks of daily living, business codes, and personality get conveniently and conventionally condensed into types (nerd, socially adept entrepreneur, playboy), themes (unsatisfied sexual desire, male bonding), and (three act) structures that gut people and activities of the confusing, amorphous messiness that defines real life—and makes it so pleasurable to watch in a good documentary (and so h…

If Winter Comes

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I don't often analyze these title shots that I include in these 1947 posts, but the opening of If Winter Comes (MGM, Victor Saville) says so much. Most literally, the map of the British Isles points to the film's English setting. The parchment-like quality of the map signals historical or literary genre material, but the sleek, sans-serif font suggests both modernity and stateliness. (Bernhard Gothic - the synthesis of European modern design and American organic warmth).
The blurred historicity is also the narrative's. It adapts a novel set during World War I and recasts it as a World War II film. Generically, it is hard to describe a film like this (historical drama? literary adaptation? home-front film?) other than to note that it has close similarities with other adaptations of left-leaning 20th century novels like So Well Remembered, The Green Years, and Valley of Decision. I see films like this as a key bridge between the older, culture-citing form of prestige film do…