Friday, February 25, 2011

CFP: Film/Media-related Panels at 2012 MLA

The deadline is approaching for these proposed MLA panels. As to be expected, many are about "literature or film" and an area study; I have tried to list film-specific or media-specific panels first. This year's convention will be in Seattle, January 5-8, 2012.

Film and the Virtual
Papers exploring the topic of virtuality and film, including film's relationship to computer-based media, virtual worlds, digital vs. analog formats, possible worlds and virtual realities. 350-word abstracts by 1 March 2011; Homay King (

Latin American Cinema in the New Millennium
Papers on last decade Latin American films that rewrite the nations present and immediate past. National/transnational trends in production, representation, and analytical perspectives. English/Spanish. 250-word abstracts by 10 March 2011; Gabriela Copertari ( and Carolina Sitnisky (

Multi-mediated Brecht
This panel seeks papers on how Brecht used visual elements to transform productions into multimedia events and how his radio/media theory reveals possibilities and risks in the digital age. 200-word abstracts by 16 March 2011; Kristopher Imbrigotta ( and Henning Wrage (

Femmes Vital: Women Making Films Noirs
The influence of female writers, directors, producers on classic film noir: Lupino, Harrison, Van Upp, Frings, Kellogg. 300-word proposals, brief cv by 15 March 2011; Mark Osteen (

Global Horror
Papers that address global dynamics of horror genre in film. U.S. reception of international imports, influence of Hollywood abroad, Hollywood remakes, national cinemas and transnational cult films. Max. one page abstract by 15 March 2011; Nels Jeff Rogers (

Marilyn Monroe's Fragments
Any approach to the recently-published archival text, including comparative, historical, psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, materialist, biographical; Monroe as icon, poet, performer; in celebrity culture, fashion, politics, and film. 300-word abstracts. by 15 March 2011; Zachary Lamm (

Analyses of documentary films representing individuals who share some demographic trait(s) as in the Seven Up series and Twitch and Shout. Abstract by 15 March 2011; G. Thomas Couser (

New Millennium Mafia Movies
Filmic representations of Italian or Italian American mafias since 2000; discussions of group identity, gender, trauma, violence; cross-cultural approaches welcome. 250 word abstract and brief bio by 15 March 2011; Dana E. Renga (

The New Orleans of Treme
Papers that discuss the HBO Television series TREME and the literary, urban, and visual cultures that encompass contemporary New Orleans are welcome. 300-word abstract, bibliography and CV by 21 February 2011; Mark A. Reid (

Social Networks, Jewish Identity, and New Media
This panel explores how Jewish identity is shaped and circulated through new media. Historical perspectives on Jews, technology, and social networks also welcome. Abstracts (250 words) by 15 March 2011; Jonathan S. Skolnik (

Digital South, Digital Futures
Digital approaches to the U.S./Global South that embrace new tools, methods, audiences. Integration of scholarship, collaboration, and pedagogy welcome. Abstracts by 10 March 2011. Vince Brewton ( Multi-media presentations/papers by 10 March 2011; Vincent J. Brewton (

Labor and New Media
How do new media affect representations of work, class, or labor? What new conceptions or recognitions of labor does new technology expose? 300-word abstracts and short cv's. by 15 March 2011; Alison Shonkwiler (

Reflections of Mexico
This panel intends to inquire on what kinds of Mexico's narratives have been constructed through film or photography during the last two centuries. 300 word abstracts and contact information by 15 March 2011; Maria-Socorro Tabuenca (

Islam in Francophone African Literature and Film
Collaborative session African Literature/Francophone divisions. New and past perspectives on and representations of Islams multiple manifestations. Pedagogical approaches welcome. 250 word abstract and short bio by 10 March 2011; Alain Lawo Sukam ( and Catherine Perry (

Digital Humanities v. New Media
How do "digital humanities" and "new media" relate? Do they complement or compete as academic memes and methods? Does one take text and the other the rest? Abstracts by 1 March 2011; Victoria E. Szabo (

Rethinking Fascism and Communism: Eastern European Film since 1980
Across Eastern Europe, the collapse of Communism catalyzed filmic retrospection, as documentaries and feature films analyzed the Stalinist past and fascism's legacies. 1-page abstracts by 10 March 2011; Monique Yaari (

Prosthetic/Aesthetic Re-visioning?: Disability in African Literature and Film
Papers discuss the representations of disability in African Literature and Film. Discussant: Prof. Ato Quayson. 300-500 word abstracts and short bio by 10 March 2011; Patrick Muana (

Children of War
Papers on representations of children as agents and/or victims of violence in texts and film about civil conflict in Africa. 250 word abstract and short bio. by 5 March 2011; Janice Spleth (

Yiddish Theater and Film
A panel on all aspects of Yiddish theater and film, with special attention to the role of translation, adaptation, and innovation. Short abstracts by 15 March 2011; Ken Frieden (

Alternative Ancestries
Post-humanistic literary or filmic representations that turn on epiphanies of disability as human variation imagined through alternative ancestries with other species -- the ironies of adaptation. One-page abstracts. by 15 March 2011; David Mitchell (

Women On Trial. Pleadings, Testimony, Verdicts
What legal and philosophical representations of women on trial are conveyed in contemporary film, literature and television ? 200-word abstracts by 15 March 2011; Eftihia Mihelakis ( and Daoud Najm (

Radical Friendships in South Asia
Papers exploring historical and/or contemporary instances in literature and film that compel rethinking of postcolonial theory, politics, and aesthetics beyond collective ties to empire, nation, community. 500-word abstracts by 15 March 2011; Karni Pal Bhati (

Fairy Tales in Post-War Germany
Papers that examine the reception and adaptation of fairy tales in post-war German literature and film; the relationship between politics and magic. 500-word abstracts and brief CV by 7 March 2011; Qinna Shen (

Crossing Over: Hispanic Women Representing Migrations
This panel will explore different perspectives and interpretations of migration in literature and film by contemporary Hispanic women. 300-word abstracts. English or Spanish. by 10 March 2011; Inmaculada Pertusa ( and Melissa Stewart (

Why Race Matters: Representations in Brazil
Papers are requested on the representation of race in Brazilian media, literature, film, language and art. Interdisciplinary approaches especially welcome. Abstracts of 150 words and a CV by 5 March 2011; Kathryn M. Sanchez (

Intermediality and Contemporary Cultural Production in Spain
Theorizations of the relationship between a range of media including the visual, the verbal, the aural. 250-word abstract. by 18 March 2011; Susan Martin-Márquez (

Realisms in Italian Culture
The (re)turn to the real, its articulation, conceptualization and representation in 20th- and 21st-century literature, cinema and various media. A 350-word abstract and bio by 15 March 2011; Manuela Marchesini (


On paper, Violence (Monogram, Jack Bernhard) sounds like it retreads many of the thematic concerns of social problem films/noirs/films gris of the period: veterans returning to civilian life, political corruption, and amnesia. It is topically about the postwar moment - which direction America is going to take politically after the War's end. The plot centers on a fascist political movement bankrolled by a mysterious business interest but posing as a populist organization helping out veterans and fronted by a charismatic sermonizing speaker named True Dawson.

What's distinctive is that the elements do not line up in a way typical to noir or the social problem film. Amnesia does not induce flashbacks, create narrative enigma, suggest an unknowable femme fatale, or allegorize America's war experience. Rather, the plot device dramatizes political brainwashing and the specific politics of the left's encounter with the right in the Truman years.

In this way the film is a narrow product of its times - not only would leftism retrench in America, but also the postwar liberal consensus would make the idea of a fascist takeover of US politics seem a little paranoid. But its paranoia was prescient, and Violence seems to cover some of the 1970s conspiracy thriller territory years ahead of its time. Meanwhile, the casting of ideological positions as crime melodrama makes the film seem closer in spirit to Warner Brothers' 1930 problem film or "headliner" cycle than the postwar liberalism of the 1940s social problem film.

It is here, again, I wonder how much sense it makes to label this a film noir. Yes, it has a raw, Poverty Row aesthetic and a cynical critique of American society. And it is a crime film shot in low-key black-and-white. But its visual style, its narrative form, and its thematics lack the kind of pulp modernism that I would see as essentially to noir.

That said, Violence is an excellent example of the Poverty Row/B-film approach to lighting, which tries to punch above its weight, budgetarily speaking, by simply not caring about cast shadows. Many B and A noirs would take some of the same attitude (see the lighting in Born to Kill for instance).

And while much of the composition is pedestrian, there are some inspired framing and camera movement at times.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Film Noir Film Preservation Blogathon

The film noir-themed blogathon is over, and you can read the many promising entries linked from the Siren's page. From there of from the Blogathon's Facebook page you can still donate to the cause of film preservation - it's a worthy cause, so please consider it.

I was a little too distracted to participate in the blogathon, but I would contribute two brief notes. First, the trajectory of scholarship on noir is similar to how Geoff Mayer characterizes the scholarship on "pre-Code" Hollywood: use of concept, followed by revisionism, followed by a return to the concept. In the case of noir, the return has fallen into two camps, the "yes but" approach of a James Naremore, who acknowledges the incoherence of definition but still thinks there is something to a popular crime modernism in 1940s Hollywood, and the approach of not engaging with the incoherence-critique. As far as the critique itself, Marc Vernet is the most polemical in denying film noir as an idée fixe, and Thomas Schatz's (and others') notion that noir really comprises distinct genres is an insight that does not get enough play. It's possible I'm overlooking some other good interventions in the field.

Second, 1947 is a banner year for noir (James Naremore cites it as the peak in noir production), so while I've not watched all of the 47 films or even 47 noirs, I've now had a good cross-section of them. What is striking is that the characterization of 47/the immediate postwar as a noir-heavy time does hold up, since noirs outnumber pretty much any other genre, except for maybe B Westerns. (I know this sounds odd to write, but I do think in other respects the historical picture of the period has been quite distorted by the canon and by film availability.) At the same time, not all that is low-key is film noir, and I keep coming across titles (Daisy Kenyon or Nora Prentiss, say) that get labeled noir by tenuous criteria. Moreover, Schatz's point holds: many of the noirs have an ur-genre (gothic, police procedural, detective story) that better fit them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Medium Specificity

A great post by Sean Cubitt, in which he argues that isolating medium specificity for arts is misguided and that it's particularly misguided in an age in which digital technology is blurring previous distinctions - in his words, "the divisions between film, video and digital media arts make no sense and weaken all three." In arguing this, he gives a claim that normatively is like Noel Carroll's attack on the "specificity thesis" but with a McLuhan-esque twist: the nodes of mediation become if not the essence then the most important aspect of artistic expression.

It's a thesis I find though-provoking, but let me propose another way at the question by posing it less about specificity of medium per se than about the specificity of aesthetic forms. Take prose literature in either its short-story or novel forms. In the 18th century the novel emerged as a literary form that imposes expectations for writer and guides aesthetic experience for reader. On one hand, mediation (the printing press and print capitalism) had everything to with its emergence (and magazine publishing for the later short story format). On the other hand, it's a remarkably stable aesthetic form that's largely independent of media and technology changes. Sure, there have been some important changes: writers can use word processing to write (maybe this has an aesthetic impact); readers can use digital copies in ways they could not a book (searching for instance); and arguably technology and newer media have contributed to a decline in literary culture. But the aesthetic experience of a novel is still comparable whether I experience it in book form, off a Kindle, or even as a book-on-tape. Cognitively, these are quite different experiences and mediations, but we (I'm generalizing: most consumers) tend to bracket the delivery to get to the symbolic matter and the aesthetic experience.

Cinema's a little trickier, but you see something similar. Here, digital culture is more overwhelmingly shaping cinema in a digital age - and I don't mean to minimize this - but there's a way in which the "cinematic" is an aesthetic form that gets activated in theatrical experience, in television spectatorship, and in internet video in different ways. The expressive track-in shot, for instance, codes a certain emotional and proto-narrative effect regardless of whether it is projected in a cinema or broadcast on television. And if film and media scholars are exploring the ways DVDs have changed film culture, film spectatorship, and even the films themselves, we tend not to place much, if any, distinction on an analysis based on a cinematic projection and a video viewing of the film.

I don't argue that there's some ontological quality to the novelesque or the cinematic. Rather, I'm more influenced by Bourdieu's tendency to look to more-or-less formalized aesthetic cultures. In other words, one does not have to be an idealist philosopher to see that certain ideals are accepted, even enforced, more than others. These forms change over time, but social institutions (education, arts organizations, art markets) can keep aesthetic forms around and formalized for quite some time, even with internal gestures of modernization.

Finally, I would stress that our understanding of medium specificity depends in part on what we're trying to specify. Above I tend to privilege the symbolic and narrative dimensions of the art, in part because I think that's what a large number of art consumers in Western societies tend to do: we take the half-tone reproduction of a Caravaggio painting and try to abstract the aesthetic meaning of that painting, even if we might wish to experience it firsthand. But clearly, the conditions of experiencing an art work are not meaningless; it's just that useful branches of the study of art by necessity abstract them away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CFP: Cinema and the Museum conference

Call for Papers
Moving Image and Institution:
Cinema and the Museum in the 21st Century

The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
Cambridge, England
Wednesday, 6 July 2011 to Friday, 8 July 2011

The conference organisers welcome the submission of abstracts for a 20 minute paper, or a 10 minute moving image/lens-based media presentation + 10 minute talk. Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes in total. The organisers would also welcome proposals for roundtables or structured discussion from groups of 2-4 museum professionals, artists or other practitioners.

The call for submissions is open to academics, curators, museum professionals, filmmakers and artists and all others with professional interests in this emerging field. The focus of these papers is not limited to the contemporary period: presentations may choose to explore earlier case studies or period with a contemporary methodology, for example. It is anticipated that a publication will arise from this conference.

Topics may include, but are not limited to the following themes:
  • Creative geographies
  • Transformative spaces of the cinematic
  • Film and moving image installations
  • Proto-cinematic technologies and the museum
  • Visual narratives in cultural institutions
  • Materiality and digital media
  • Sociological trajectories in cinema and in the museum space
  • The role of the public institution in moving image practice
  • Exhibition practices and cinematic exhibition
  • Curatorial practice in the new museum
  • Cinema and the new museology
  • Ethnographic film
  • Filming the archive and archiving the film
  • Performative spaces and screen language
  • The Virtual Museum
  • Film and user/visitor experience
  • Audio-visual mediation and the presence of the screen in the museum space
  • Museums on film
  • Museums and genre cinema
  • Period film and questions of authenticity
  • Museums, memorials and commemoration: display and exposure
Abstracts of not more than 250 words should be directed to jlgc3 - AT - with the subject heading "CINEMA AND THE MUSEUM CONFERENCE” no later than 18 February 2011. Where applicable please include two lines on your institutional affiliation and details of technical requirements.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Nora Prentiss

Nora Prentiss (Vincent Sherman, Warner Brothers) often gets categorized as a noir, but to my this particularly is a case of superficial genre elements trumping a systematic genre categorization. I would say the case for the film as noir rest on some finite evidence: the inclusion of a crime investigation as one part of the narrative, an overall visual look in lower key scenes, and a flashback frame opening with the usual iconography of urban fast-film-stock realism and an ambiguous voiceover narration.

There are also occasional expressionistic moments, like this shot rendered with a remarkable visual abstraction:

But I am leaning toward considering the low-key cinematography just part of the Warners' house style of the late 1940s. That includes many noirs, but also is the part of the cinematic vocabulary for dramas in general. Or, perhaps more accurately: "noir" is a concept that tries to unite a wide range of visual styles with a few narrative patterns associated with American crime-fiction modernism. (I'm drawing here from James Naremore's work, though hopefully I'm not mis-translating the argument.)

Nora Prentiss demonstrates how the stylistic and narrative parameters do not neatly line up. For it's until not significantly into the course of the narrative that anything like a crime emerges. And the element of criminality is no greater than would be in a novel like Sister Carrie, of which Nora Prentiss feels like a distant adaptation. I've been curious about how literary naturalism gets translated into the commercial fiction film - this example is as good as any I could point to for a film that captures the spirit of naturalist literature. Interestingly, it's not marketed as such, but as something between pulp and melodrama - Warners' sweet spot.

Need I add that there's a amnesiatic thematic of forgetting the past?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Miriam Bratu Hansen

Many in the field have heard by now the sad news that Miriam Hansen has passed away. Catherine Grant has a fitting tribute of a video lecture that Hansen gave. I would like to reflect a little of the importance of Hansen not only on the field of film studies but on my intellectual path particularly.

I never met her personally, but as someone who did the bulk of his graduate work in the mid-to-late 1990s, I looked up to Hansen's work. Though her writings on early cinema, silent film fandom, and Frankfurt School critical theory predated this period, by the 1990s they took on an agenda-setting quality. Partly because of Hansen's skill popularizing lines of German thought previously unknown or overlooked in the Anglophone film studies field. Partly because she connected the two "hot" areas of early cinema research and work on contemporary, post-classical cinema. Partly because the way she offered a grand unified theory of sorts, bringing together the two challengers to film studies' theoretical hegemony - cultural studies and historicism - and reconciling them with theoretical concerns like ideological formation, film aesthetics, and the nonconscious experience of movies. It was this combination of history and theory that particularly excited me. Hansen was one of those who gave me the history bug (I was in a theoretical program) and moreover made me think I could pursue both conceptual reach and detailed empirical work simultaneously. I don't know how well I've lived up to that ideal, but I continue to strive for it.

That disciplinary moment may have faded a little, but Hansen's intellectual spirit, erudite but engaged, is still inspiring. Her model of vernacular modernism is one that I find provokes the most controversy when teaching film theory; I don't think students initially give the complexity of the idea full credit.

I can't be alone in saying that she will be missed.