Showing posts from July, 2011

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 …