Showing posts from 2011

CFP: Contemporary Screen Narratives

Call for papers:

Contemporary Screen Narratives: Storytelling’s Digital and Industrial Contexts

Conference to be held on 17 May 2012
Hosted by the Department of Culture, Film and Media, University of Nottingham

Keynote speakers: Henry Jenkins and Jason Mittell

This one-day conference looks to trace connections between the narratives of contemporary screen media and their contexts of production, distribution and consumption. We refer here to narrative as the presentation and organisation of story via the semiotic phenomena of image, sound and written/spoken word. We anticipate that speakers will explore ways in which stories and their on-screen telling are informed by contemporary industrial and technological conditions. We invite contributions from postgraduate and early-career researchers working across screen-based narrative media, such as film, television, comics, literature, video games and other areas of new media. We are interested to receive all paper proposals pertinent to the conf…

The Trouble With Women

It's been tougher for me to track down the Paramount films from 1947, but it is seeming like they tend to specialize in genre films that would not be out of place five or ten years earlier: light comedies, action-adventure films, and "exotic" romances.
The Trouble With Women (Sidney Lanfield) would seem to confirm the notion of the Paramount as a stuck-in-the-30s studio, ignoring the broader changes of postwar aesthetics and ideology in Hollywood films. Whereas other comedies seem to update the screwball formula, The Trouble With Women reprises Bringing Up Baby, with Ray Milland in the bookish Cary Grant role:
The twist, though, is that Milland's character, Prof. Sedley, is a psychoanalyst famous for his counter-intuitive and misogynist theories of female sexuality. To my mind, this points to one of the recurring conventions of the late 40s light comedy: a social satire that cuts both ways. In this case, the film sends up both psychoanalysis and the Babbitt-like react…

CFP: Console-ing Passions 2012

Call for Papers
Console-ing Passions International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media, and Feminism

July 19-22, 2012 Suffolk University Boston, MA

Founded by a group of feminist media scholars and artists in 1989, Console-ing Passions held its first official conference at the University of Iowa in 1992. Since that time, the conference has created collegial spaces for scholarly and other creative work on culture, identity, gender, and sexuality in television, digital and aural media, and gaming. In this anniversary year, the conference will focus on remembering its roots and forging its future.

Mindful that changes in media platforms and consumption practices have altered the field of feminist media studies, this year’s conference will reflect back on Console-ing Passions’ own history as well as highlight how contemporary research reflects these multiple alterations. Continuing the feminist legacies of the conference, the 2012 program will emphasize intergenerational conversat…

How To Write About Film History, part I

I am teaching a film history survey. It's only my second time teaching this survey and the first time it's been historically limited (1945-present). One issue I've faced is that this is the first film history course many of the students have taken. As a survey, it's not really a methods class, nor does a larger primary research project seem fitting for this sophomore-level class, but I still want the students to write papers that make historical arguments as part of a research-based project.
To this end, I've developed some guidelines in how to write a film history paper. I thought I'd share them in case anything is useful for other teachers out there, but also I'm open to feedback or tips.
Also, are there guides somewhere that I'm overlooking?
This first part is on coming up with a thesis. The second part, on research, will be in a separate post.

How to Write a Film History Paper: The Thesis
The basics of a thesis

A thesis should make a claim that is not o…

22nd Screen Conference CFP

The 22nd International Screen Studies Conference is organised by Screen journal and will be programmed by Screen editor Karen Lury.

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.

‘Other Cinemas’ will be the subject of the plenaries and will form a strand running throughout the conference.

Confirmed keynote speakers:
Charles Acland (Concordia University), editor of Useful Cinema (2011)
Elizabeth Lebas (Middlesex University), author of Forgotten Futures: British Municipal Cinema 1920-1980 (2011)

Looking into the past and the future of cinema has inspired increasing academic interest in films and film-making practices that are generally considered to be outside the ‘mainstream’ of commercial cinema. Screen wishes to encourage presentations that engage with these ‘Other Cinemas’. This might involve:

• ‘Amateur’ films;
• Educational cinema;
• Industrial films;
• Films p…

Movie Title Sequences

At the Notebook, Adrian Curry has a good entry on the title sequences by Jacques Kapralik. Another instance in which the modernism has blinded critics to the art and craft of classicism: "Sure we’ve all swooned over Saul Bass title sequences, and Annyas, of course, has a superb section devoted to them too, but have you ever really considered Warner Brothers end titles before? To see all these cards together is to discover a breadth of type design and handlettering, impeccably and inventively used over and over again." To me this is another instance of the way our understanding of classical Hollywood (and studio-era filmmaking in general) shifts a bit when we approach these films as an archive of films made more accessible through cable TV, home video, bootlegs, and downloads.

Decherney on Public Domain

Peter Decherney has an op-ed in the New York Times on copyright law and public domain. I know this dovetails Peter's larger project on copyright in Hollywood, so it's no surprise to see a good op-ed piece, but it's still nice to see an accessible version of it circulating out in the broader public sphere. Film studies is not a field known for its public policy applications (one of Toby Miller's frequent complaints), but Peter's op-ed shows how what we do (at least the historians among us) illuminates policy issues in a clear, productive way.

Pulling Back the Curtain on Book Writing

I look forward to reading Michael Newman and Elana Levine's new book on TV and cultural legitimization.
In the meantime, Michael has a good post reflecting on the book writing process. This is becoming one of my favorite blog post genres, in fact. Pulling back the curtain not only lets non-scholars know a bit more about what we do (as in Tim Burke's series of posts), but it allows scholars to see each others' work habits and get inspired by each other.

The Mid-Size Conference

I have attended two conferences this summer that I would classify as mid-sized conferences: Screen had about 100 scholars presenting, Visible Evidence between 2-3 times that many. Both were terrific events and academically nourishing - good papers and panels where conversations actually emerged from the debates the papers engaged with. And the schedule was not too crowded. From what I gather, other regular conferences have similar benefits: Flow, Visible Evidence, Media in Transition, and Console-ing Passions.
As much as I do actually enjoy and look forward to SCMS Conference, it suffers in comparison with the smaller conferences on many grounds. I don't know the solution or even if anything needs to change. I would probably be happier with a variety of conference sizes, types, and themes, if there were a couple more mid-sized conferences for film studies in the US.

Visible Evidence 18

Tomorrow I will be going to New York to attend the 18th Visible Evidence conference, devoted to the study of nonfiction film and media. I have promised to contribute the conference blog. I may also post here.
I look forward to seeing colleagues and (potentially) some readers there.

Vernacular and Formal Expression

This Virginia Heffernan post on overhauling eduction to meet the demands of the future has gotten a bit of attention. Tim Burke chimes in his support for the idea. So educators can argue that their immediate job is to ensure an even distribution of experience with new media practices and a richer exploration of interpretative and expressive work in those media.
Of course, to do so, educators themselves would have to have widely distributed skills and be practiced in those richer possibilities. This is not my sense of the current norms in higher education in the humanities and social sciences, nor do I necessarily see incoming faculty as being markedly closer to that goal, only that there are tendencies in that direction.I always value Burke's reflections on liberal arts eduction. Even if I tend to be more slanted toward traditional disciplinary education, I admire his sense of purpose and ability to articulate it.
I'm left scratching my head here, though. I can't help but fee…

The Foxes of Harrow

Foxes of Harrow (2oth-Fox, John Stahl) is a historical drama set in antebellum New Orleans. At initial blush it seems to fit the genre formula: dynastic melodrama set on a Southern plantation; an Irish immigrant (Rex Harrison) who comes to America and moves from gambler to businessman in attempt to overcome his illegitimate status; his wife who is too guarded sexually to be able to deal with her husband; and tragic events that threaten to bring down the slave-owning patriarch.
A couple of things are unusual about Foxes of Harrow, though. First, it lacks the visual style we associate with the antebellum or historical melodrama. The black-and-white cinematography looks downright low-key and realist in comparison.

It's probably more accurate to call Joseph LaShelle's cinematography romantic minimalism than realist. Romantic, because its set ups provide washes of etherial light; minimalist because like Shamroy's work (also at Fox) it tends to be sparse with the number of lighti…

Edited Volumes

Some thoughts from another discipline on the relative lack of weight given to edited volumes in academic research standards. I think much of what Fabio Rojas applies to the humanities as well, though there are also some culture differences around publishing between sociology and film studies.
But beyond the matters of professionalization, I would pose the question of what role edited volumes and essays in such volumes play. Rojas poses "dumping ground," heterodoxy, and lit review as three basic functions, but I think there are plenty more.
- Applied scholarship. Film studies (and to some extent, I think, television studies) has the peculiarity that one former branch of the discipline - film criticism - is now subsumed into the branches of film theory and film history, which have more prestige and purport to tackle more complex questions. Interpretation and textual analysis are still part of the methodological toolbelt, but for journal articles, the expectation is often for big…

Film History syllabus

I will be teaching a film history survey this Fall - the second part, form 1945 onward. I have a draft online - at this point I'm probably more concerned about weeding out possibilities in the interest of time constraints, but I'd happily hear comments and suggestions for what has worked for you before in such a class.

13 Rue Madeleine

I had mentioned13 Rue Madeleine (20th-Fox, Henry Hathaway) as part of a semi-documentary trilogy that Fox made in the postwar years. Actually, I tend to prefer the term pseudodocumentary for a general fictional style that mimics documentary, but contemporary usage (producers and critics) referred to these films as "semi-documentaries."
Fox and other studios made films in this vein beyond these 13 Rue Madeleine, Call Northside 777, and House on 92nd Street, but these three adhere to a strict formula:
1) a focus on government institutions, in this case Army Intelligence. Along with this comes the foregrounding of governmental buildings and the mise-en-scene of bureaucracy.

2) a foregrounding of technology, especially the technology of mechanical reproduction or communication. Overhead projectors, PA systems, film projectors, microfilm, etc.
3) use of a variety of actuality footage, whether documentary in nature, from newsreels, or simulated in 16mm filmmaking.

4) Narratives of e…

SCMS 2012 Panel Proposals

Regular SCMS members who are regularly consulting the forum on the SCMS website will already be looking over the panels proposed for the 2012 conference in Boston. But others may be interested in submitting a proposal to one of the panel proposals below. You do not have to be an SCMS member to submit, but if accepted you need to join to present at the conference. Deadline is August 15 for the panels (you should contact panel organizers much sooner) and Sept. 1 for open call.
I have not listed additional information on the panel topics. You can consult the SCMS website or Google them to see if calls for papers are posted on listservs elsewhere. In all this has to be the longest list of panel topics I've seen at this stage. A sign for a banner crop of proposals?

3D, Giant Screen and the Natural World: Collision or Collusion?
Active Women: Historical Understandings of Female Heroes
American Indians and Re-appropriations in Contemporary Media
Animating Space and Scalar Travels


At the end of his supremely useful book, Hollywood Lighting, Patrick Keating uses T-Men (Eagle-Lion, Anthony Mann) as an example of "classicism at the margin" or, as I would phrase it, the peripeteia for the shift from a classical style to post-classical ones. Cinematographer John Alton is famous for extreme low-light and low-key setups and slightly off-kilter compositions. It's tough to approach T-Men without considering first as an Alton opus, one which helped define the ideal type of film noir's visual look.
The elements are all here: the inky blacks, the use of existing light sources, the transformation of locations, and the keeping of characters in the dark. Alton also foregrounds what the exaggerated style and technological changes allow that previously was not possible:
Equally interesting, however, are the less flashy choices, like the contrast in exposure of foreground and background subjects.

The visual choices mark a departure from the generic material, whic…

The Egg and I

I never know how much the received notion/industrial discourse of the "hix pix" matched what non-urban audiences tended to prefer in the classical years, but from a glance The Egg and I (Universal, Chester Erskine) seems to be the kind of "hayseed comedy" that American television would specialize in during the late 1960s. The narrative follows the newly-married MacDonalds (Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurry) as they live the city to follow Bob's dream of becoming a chicken farmer.
Its humor satirizes the city-slickers lost in the pre-industrial world of the American farm, though there are suggestions of the increased mechanization of farming, too. Hijinks ensue in what's a reverse Our Daily Bread, as the film sends up the romanticism of the back-to-farm mentality while ultimately also siding with it.
The film also introduced the characters of Ma and Pa Kettle, whose popularity spawned a series at Universal. (Despite their status as secondary characters, the…

CFP: Velvet Light Trap issue on Media Materiality

The Velvet Light Trap Call For Papers
#70, Fall 2012—Stocks, Screens, and Servers: The Materiality of Media

Submission Deadline: September 15, 2011

As culture becomes increasingly digitized—from downloading and streaming videos and music to digital film production and cloud computing—arguments for the "dematerialization" of media are becoming commonplace. However, media have always been, and remain, embedded in and structured by material objects, networks, and practices that constrain their uses and meanings. Any cultural artifact bears traces and consequences of the material conditions of its production, distribution, and reception, whether this be a result of the size and weight of the camera that shot a film's images, the geography of the shipping or cable network through which it was transported or transmitted, or the spaces occupied by physical record or DVD collections. Even ostensibly "dematerialized" digital media find material existence in hard disks, ser…

Desire Me

Desire Me (MGM, George Cukor) exhibits many of the trends of the postwar cinema, with a complicated flashback structure, in which Greer Garson's character Marise, tells the story of waiting for her husband Paul (Robert Mitchum) to return from war only to hear of his death from a war compatriot, Jean, who tries to woo Marise in her loneliness. It's an unusual love triangle in which tense and geography separate Paul and Marise for much of the film. Within Marise's flashback, there are objective scenes that Marise did not witness as well as subjective flashbacks from both Marise and Jean. There are also a couple of points of subjunctive voiceover, in which the image does not serve as the past of the voice but rather as the enactment of it.
Where a film like The Unfaithfulmakes explicit the soldier's wife's adultery as part of a larger issue of wartime dislocation and postwar readjustment, Desire Me does so implicitly, often through the visual look of the film, which os…

Trail Street

One surprise I had first encountering B-film Westerns from the 30s and 40s is how they often don't fit my generic conception of what a Western is. They may possess the syntax of the genre (ranchers, cowboy hats, and frontier towns) but lack the usual themes and narratives. Rather, they tend to be melodramas in the older sense of the term - gangster-film-style battles between criminal elements trying to monopolize business illegally and forces of law-and-order. They lack the outsider-hero function and man-vs-nature thematics of the A Western.
Trail Street (RKO, Ray Enright) occupies a middle position between the A and B ideal types. Even stylistically, it has both the cheapness of lighting setups that are too hasty and minimal to disguise the multiple shadows cast by unmotivated lighting sources.
... while at other points camera movement and cookie-lighting common to A films give the scenes depth. (DP is Roy Hunt).

Narratively, it contains elements of both the crime melodrama and the …

Screen Conference bound

I am heading off to this year's Screen Studies Conference. I may try to do some light blogging from the conference, but otherwise, I'll pick up the blog later in July.

Fun on a Weekend

One medium term project I hope to spin out of this 1947 viewing is a closer look at 1940s comedy. Very little of the comedy I'm examining for this year makes much of an appearance in the canonical accounts of canonical Hollywood, and I'm inclined to think the omission is not accidental.
One problem is that I don't necessary have a good critical vocabulary to talk about comedy as a cultural form. The other is that I'm unfamiliar with radio comic traditions, which inform Hollywood considerably.
I can imagine a strong radio influence in Fun on a Week-End (UA/Andrew Stone Productions, Andrew Stone), a lowish budget independent comedy starring Eddie Bracken and Priscilla Lane as two down-on-their-luck people who meet on the beach of a fictionalized Palm Beach and hatch a plot to con their way into high society and wealth. There is a vaudevillian comic timing and delivery here, and both Bracken and Lane fit familiar comic types of the 30s and 40s. At the same time, the film d…

Desert Fury

I wish I could read the PCA files for Desert Fury (Paramount, Lewis Allen). Much like Born to Kill, there is a subtext of a gay relationship between a criminal and his sidekick. But where in Born to Kill, the subtext was a secondary shade of characterization, here the narrative centers on a love triangle that develops when Paula (Liz Scott) enters the picture. The narrative development makes sense without acknowledging the gay subtext, but barely.
To the extent that this film gets remembered today, it's as a rare "color noir." But it's not really a noir, or at least only tangentially so. Sure, there is the familiar iconography of the dusty California desert town, popularized by James M. Cain for its intimations of deserted seediness and favored by Hollywood for its affordable location shooting.

But the narrative syntax is of a melodrama, the overlay of maternal-dynastic conflict with two love triangles. The semantic elements of gangsterism, gambling, and the American W…