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World Picture Conference: Distance

2011 World Picture Conference
October 21-22
University of Toronto

Distance

Keynote speakers:

Lorenz Engell, Bauhaus University, Weimar
Elizabeth Povinelli, Columbia University

The annual World Picture Conference gathers scholars from a range of different disciplines to address the relation between critical theory, philosophy, and aesthetics. For this year’s meeting we welcome papers on questions of distance. Such considerations might include (but are in no sense limited to):
Distance and mediation (technological and otherwise) Distance as abstraction (or alienation, estrangement) Travel Simultaneity Spatial allegories of distance Vision (as the prime sense organ of distance) Modes of translation Geopolitics (of distance) Distance and/as interval (distance as time, not just space) Distance and unknowing/ignorance Critique of pr…

The Web

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Once again, a documentary-inflected opening - a tracking shot taken on a Manhattan street.

As I've alluded to in other posts, noir as an idea tends to impose a mythological consistency on top of divergent generic content. That said, The Web (Universal, Michael Gordon) encapsulates key elements of noir fiction that formed the backbone of film noirs: the petit bourgeois detective figure on the right side of the law yet sucked into illegality despite his integrity; the critique of moneyed classes and interests; and the sexual repartee as power play between the detective figure and the femme fatale. Here, the detective figure is actually a small-time lawyer (Edmund O'Brien), but the narrative pattern is the same as the detective story.
I find the film instructive for what it says about production values in 1947. Compare a shot from Gentleman's Agreement...

... with a shot from The Web.
Both are trying to visualize the same thing: the milieu of the upscale, modern Manhattan office.…

My Wild Irish Rose

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I normally don't program seasonal screenings at home for every occasion, but My Wild Irish Rose (WB, David Butler) has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be viewed, and with St. Patrick's Day upon us yesterday I figured it was a good time to watch. And, wow, the film was packed with as much Irish-themed kitsch as you could imagine.
To my knowledge, Warners wasn't a studio known much for their musicals in this period (there seems to be only one other example from 1947). And, too, the studio produced only one other color feature in this year - a low number compared to other studios, even given the relative rarity of color in the 1940s. So it's arguable that the film lacks a clear anchoring to a studio house style, either generically or visually. Its cinematography is more in line with the MGM high-key look, a fact in stunning relief for me having just seen the underlit Forever Amber.

Also, like the MGM musicals, the mise-en-scene combines a minimalist background set desig…

Forever Amber

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I occasionally get questions about the status of my 1947 viewing. I'm about half-way through watching the Hollywood features for the year, with a good majority of the A films under my belt.


Forever Amber (20th-Fox, Otto Preminger) is one of those films that are fascinating objects while the genre material is out of step with even classic-Hollywood cinephilia. In short, the film has the genre syntax of Duel in the Sun with the genre semantics of the period piece and swashbuckler films (say, The Black Swan).
The film was, in fact, 20th Century-Fox's attempt to duplicate the box office success of Duel in the Sun and Gone with the Wind with their own roadshow Technicolor melodrama. Based on a best-selling novel, the story follows Amber Sinclair (Linda Darnell), a young woman of a Puritan town who escapes with the kindness of strangers, only to be trapped by her own impossible love for a privateer (Cornel Wilde). Historically, the film is notable for the censorship battles it faced …

The "and Media" Problem

By which I mean the pretense of equality of film and media studies when in practice television, non-film mass media, and new media are frequent afterthoughts for film scholars. Yes, I'm guilty of this as much as (more than?) anyone. See the banner of this blog and compare to my posts.
Mabel finds another example, the "the strangely designated and equally broad (but I suspect more narrow than its title suggests) 'Nontheatrical Film and Media' group (I can’t imagine that includes radio and TV and computers, but those are nontheatrical media…)." I wouldn't be surprised if the SIG did include things beyond the realm of cinema in its purview. But "nontheatrical" as a term makes perfect sense in the context of film culture but none, really, in the context of other popular and moving-image media.

SCMS2011 wrap up

Chuck Tryon writes of this year's SCMS conference, "Ultimately, conference reports like this are grounded in the personal. Although I attended at least part of a panel during pretty much every session from Thursday through Saturday, given that there were usually 20-25 concurrent panels, others saw a much different conference." I agree that attendees' conference experience differed wildly. I'd venture that this is truer this year, as the conference continues the trend toward both methodological pluralism and tracking along subfield lines.
I do not have a full report of the presentations at this year's SCMS conference; while I did attend my share of panels, this conference was for me mostly about connecting with friends, talking with colleagues, and meeting new people in the field. In retrospect, I think the decision to focus on socializing and networking was a somewhat conscious decision, as an antidote to the somewhat isolating nature of my work and writing l…

SCMS bound

I'm heading to New Orleans today for the 2011 SCMS conference. I look forward to the event every year as a chance to catch up with friends and meet new people. But, just as importantly it really is the most economical way to get a current snapshot of the field, however imperfect. Hope to see some readers and fellow bloggers there.