Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012: The Year That Twitter Broke

I recall that a good number of conference-goers followed the SCMS conference via Twitter last year and undoubtedly some had before. But this year feels different: the SCMS website has prominently displayed the Twitter feed, and even the least networked film-studies people I know followed the feed and discussed it.

I do not use Twitter, so my reactions are colored by that. To my eye, the tweets excel at coordinating meetings, dealing with varying sorts of live information, and quick-capsule synopses of talks. (Catherine Grant's summaries are particularly impressive in scope.) The latter seems like a useful in-between information between title and abstract and helps conference-goers get a sense of panels they are not able to attend.

Maybe because I don't write in such short-form entries, I'm especially impressed when more substantial dialogue manages to happen. And it does happen. Perhaps my favorite insight comes from Jason Mittell: "I think everyone in the field thinks that their approach is marginal, other approaches are hegemonic." These back-and-forth comments perform useful traces of disciplinary conversation. Of course, I agree with Rick Prelinger, that the coverage is "skewed and asymmetric." New media, TV studies, and media industries panels got much more discussion than less contemporary-oriented subfields, and this expresses the varying social media usage in the field.

Moreover, the substantive conversations were about the process of scholarship, about digital humanities, and about Twitter itself. I come away from the conference thinking that Twitter is less useful in deliberating about our object of study than in aiding a meta-deliberation about what a disciplinary sphere should be. My take is that the latter project will actually be aided by more of the former.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SCMS 2012: The New Theoretical Return

A first glance through the SCMS program made me think that the Post-Theory crowd had won: many, if not most, of the titles seemed to reflect middle-level research projects, organized around a particular and even narrow object of study. However, a couple of panels made me realize that film theory actually is playing a key role in the conference.

The Where is Film Theory Now? workshop was interesting both for its constellation of polemics and its popularity. By my estimation, about 75 people packed into the room, and a certain energy was palpable for what in effect was an unofficial inauguration of a Contemporary Film Theory scholarly interest group. The workshop participants all spoke to varying aspects of the phenomenon of what I'll call the New Theoretical Return: Philip Rosen; Elena Gorfinkel; Caetlin Benson-Allot; John David Rhodes; Damon Young and chair Scott Richmond. They nor those in the audience presented a unified vision of where film theory is (going) today, but a few trends emerged:

- misgivings with the Historical Turn in film studies. This ran the gamut, from productive tension - Elena Gorfinkel discussed her intellectual biography of working through history to get at theoretical questions - to outright hostility to conventional historiography, which a few people felt lacked the ambitious to ask big questions that theory does.

- generational divide. Not everyone belonged to the same generation, but a good plurality of attendees seemed to be those who finished their PhD in the 2000s or are currently in grad school. Their comments moreover pitched the New Theoretical Return as an explicit rejection of the methodological hegemony of a previous generation of scholars.

- style and process: particularly those involved with the World Picture journal laid out the case not only for theoretical approaches but also a process that resists the form and disciplinarily of historical scholarship. They made the case for alternatives to peer-review, for speculative research, and for writing foreground stylistic play.

Regular readers of my blog know that I have an investment in film theory but even so do not agree with all of the above. One thing I'll point out is that the conversation seemed to be a dialogue with a branch of the field that was largely absent from the room.

This point was highlighted for me when I attended a panel the following morning on "Managing Cinema's Economy" in which Charlie Keil gave a historical paper on Famous Players' management grounded in archival research, while Marc Cooper made an argument about accounting practices, drawing on aesthetic theory and the Frankfurt School. Here, history and theory were in dialogue - in between the two papers but also in the audience questions. Many attendees actually asked questions to both, engaging both theoretical and historical argument. To me, that was a far more utopian vision of what the field could do than a defenestration in the cause of the speculation or aestheticized scholarship.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Carnival in Costa Rica

I expected a spectacle travelogue from Carnival in Costa Rica (20th-Fox, Gregory Ratoff) and on a basic level, the film did not disappoint: the Good Neighbor cultural condescension is thick and the musical numbers are designed to show off the Technicolor.


What I did not expect was a feature film so similar to others I've been watching in 1947: a low-key comedy-romance-melodrama hybrid wedged halfway between B film and A film aesthetics. Luisa Molina is the daughter of a Costa Rican father and an American mother, and her family wants to arrange a marriage with Pepe Castro. Neither Luisa nor Pepe are excited by the prospect of arranged marriage and prefer their romantic interests instead. The film, therefore, becomes a drama about the coming of modernity and the playing off of gender and class against traditional stricture.

Formally, there are a couple of notable things. First, even this film starts off with the documentary-style shot, with a voiceover narration. However, this narrator is accented and serves more of a self-conscious narrating function. The travelogue aesthetics class with the pseudodocumentary realist aesthetics.

At times, two, there are moments of montage editing for stylistic flourish, as in a rural procession that intercuts close ups of wheels repeatedly.

It is interesting to think of this as a Fox film, if only because of the contrast with their prestige product. This feels closer to the universe of Tycoon than Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

SCMS 2012-bound

I'm heading off today to Boston for the SCMS conference. I'm giving a talk entitled "Hollywood Mannerism" on the first slot Wednesday (!). It's part of a panel on revising Classical assumptions in Hollywood historiography, so I'm excited to hear what my co-presenters have to say.

I will try to blog about the conference and in any case have a backlog of 1947 write-ups, so expect more posting.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

CFP: Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom

Via Bob Rehak:

Call for Papers
Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom (March 2014)

A special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on objects and artifacts in media fandom.

Alongside its consumption and transformation of texts, media fandom has always been marked by its consumption and transformation of objects. From superhero figures, model kits, and wargaming miniatures for sale at hobby shops, to costumes and props worn at Comic-Con, material objects and body decoration have functioned as displays of textual affiliation, crafting skills, or collecting prowess, reflecting a long history of fan-created and -circulated artifacts around popular media fictions.

This special issue seeks historically and theoretically informed essays that explore the role of objects and their associated practices in fandom, as instances of creativity and consumerism, transformation and affirmation, private archive and public display. We are particularly interested in work that complicates or transcends the binaries of social vs. solitary, artwork vs. commodity, and gift vs. monetary economies to engage with object-oriented fandom as self-aware and playful in its own right.

We welcome submissions dealing with, but not limited to, the following topics:
  • creating and collecting, buying and selling fan artifacts (production artifacts, memorabilia, reference materials, models, material fan art, and fan crafts…)
  • cosplay (creating costumes and other artifacts, performing cosplay, competitions…)
  • fan enactments, events, and embodiment (Renaissance Fairs, Quidditch competitions, re-enactments, fannish tattoos…)
  • fan objects as paratext and transmedia extension
  • dissemination of skills and abilities (workshops, online blogs, fan meetings…)
  • object marketplaces (con, comic-book store, ebay, etsy…)
  • evaluation and valuation of artifacts across the various economies of fandom
  • impact of digital technologies (including social networking and 3D printing) on object creation, collecting, and cataloging
  • new debates over authorship, ownership, and control
Contributions by March 1, 2013 or April 1, 2013, depending on submission type. Full CFP and submission guidelines available at Graphic Engine.