Friday, October 26, 2012

CFP: postwar American films in Europe conference

Call for Papers

International Conference -
The return of American films to Europe: economics, politics, aesthetics
Film History and Aesthetics Section, University of Lausanne
and Department of Film Studies, University of Haute Bretagne/Rennes 2

During WWII, the free circulation of films - commercial and cultural - from one continent to another and from one country to another was interrupted, as we know, in most nations. The phenomenon had already occurred during the First World War with profound implications for the places that the various national film industries occupied thereafter.

In 1945, the national cinemas of Europe are all on the threshold of major changes, although the situation varies from country to country. Thus it is necessary to distinguish between those who were defeated and occupied by Germany (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, France, etc.), those who were Germany’s allies (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria), those who remained benevolently “neutral” (Spain) or who kept a neutral distance (Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Ireland), and those who were Germany’s opponents (Great Britain, USSR). In the countries that it occupied or which were more or less neutral, Germany had developed and begun implementing a “European cinema” project, whose beginnings can be traced back to the 1920-1930s and to the German ambition to oppose American economic domination of the European market. This “European cinema” project was part of the German plan for a “United Europe” which assigned specific functions to different countries. The effects of this German policy were therefore diversified, increasing local production in some cases (France, Czechoslovakia).

Since in most European countries the distribution of American films had been interrupted by the conflict, while in others - Britain, Switzerland - it had continued, there exists in 1945 a significant and highly variable differential between the quantity of American films produced between 1939 and 1945 (about 2000 films) and the very limited presence of these films on European screens. The best known example is Gone with the Wind, released in December 1939 in the United States and yet only seen in France in May 1950.

The postwar political situations of different countries – whether defeated and dominated militarily like Germany, or liberated by the western Allied troops (Italy, France) or by the Soviet army (Eastern Europe, including East Germany) – partly explain why the Hollywood film industry adopted different strategies (already conceived during the war) to sell its films on the best commercial terms possible. The US political and military authorities played an important part in this matter, since film policy was included in the wider political strategy regarding economic aid for the reconstruction of Europe known as the Marshall Plan. The Secretary of State James F. Byrnes presented the draft Plan of aid in 1946, but it came into force two years later. In France, meanwhile, agreements negotiated in Washington by Leon Blum and Jean Monnet with James F. Byrnes included decisions regarding a French quota limiting the import of American films, the repeal of which the Hollywood industry wanted to link to French debt relief and new loans. This “compensation”, granted by the French representatives, met with the hostility of a large part of the cinema profession who saw this as a massive danger for the survival of French cinema. One of the responses was promoting a French “quality cinema” that might itself be exported.

This episode in the history of French cinema is well-known, and has been the subject of diverse hypotheses. Far less common is the discussion of how other countries reacted to the arrival on their screens of American films. Under what conditions did this take place and with what consequences? Was the reaction of French professionals – via unions and other organisations, including political parties (especially the Communist Party) – a unique case? What other reactions did the return of American cinema induce in different regional and national situations?

Factors such as the arrival of American films as innovative as Citizen Kane or Grapes of Wrath and the emergence of “film noir” – some of which renewed narrative and enunciative codes (using voiceover, flashbacks, rapid editing, lighting, etc.) – had a significant impact on the ongoing debates about issues of narrative or realism in France, Italy, and elsewhere, and American cinema thus occupied an important place in the reviews and discussions of specialists and moviegoers.

The phenomenon is obviously different in the Soviet sphere of influence and the USSR itself, where the film industry imported a number of American films in the period when the two countries were allies, at least up to the “Cold War”, and also distributed foreign films seized in Germany (“trophies”) and dubbed into Russian.

These – and many other – questions need to be reconsidered in the light of new historical sources and approached from different analytical angles. A number of special case studies of particuar situations and contexts are worth close scrutiny.

“The return of American films to Europe” is therefore a particularly rich subject to discuss a broad spectrum of problems ranging from film economics to national film policy in different countries; issues relating to spectatorship and film audiences; the reception of American films and their effects on the development of national “schools” born in the postwar years; the emergence of a demand for “quality” as a means to cope with American competition; the singularity of a number of French or foreign filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood whose films translate the ambiguity of the notions of “national cinema”, etc.

This international conference,  organized by the Film History and Aesthetics Section, University of Lausanne, and the and the Department of Film Studies, University of Haute Bretagne/Rennes 2, and to be held 7-9 March 2013, proposes to address this set of questions with a particular concern to make comparative studies between different countries in Europe.

Proposals for papers, which will be reviewed by a scientific committee with the aim of providing maximum coverage of the respective national situations and the diversity of the questions raised, should be addressed to any of the three conference directors: Franç;;

CFP: 2013 Screen conference


Screen Studies Conference
28-30 June 2013
University of Glasgow

Plenary theme: "Cosmopolitan Screens"

The 23rd International Screen Studies Conference, organised by the journal Screen, will be programmed by Screen editors Tim Bergfelder, Dimitris Eleftheriotis, Alastair Phillips and Jackie Stacey.

Debates about the national, the transnational, the global and the multi-cultural have permeated screen studies for decades. The main theme of this year's Screen conference will consider how such debates might be reframed through a serious engagement with theories of cosmopolitanism. How might discussions about cosmopolitanism, currently animating subjects across the humanities and social sciences, speak to scholarship in film and television studies and vice versa?

Literally suggesting a combination of worldliness (cosmos) and place (city, city-state, citizenship - polis), the concept of cosmopolitanism has inspired new political visions post 9/11 and its aftermath. Recently taken up as a lens through which to discuss the ethics of encountering strangers, the politics of offering hospitality to foreigners and the problem of challenging aversion to otherness, cosmopolitanism has also come under attack for its perceived complicity with global hegemonies.

If screen studies have been slow to take up the cosmopolitan question directly, it is perhaps because audiovisual media have been so deeply embedded within transnational and globalising cultures from their earliest beginnings. But is there something particular to film, television and new media cultures that might speak directly to the problems at the heart of the current cosmopolitan project? How might we understand the changing significance of film and television through a cosmopolitan lens? The editors of Screen welcome proposals for papers/panels on any of these questions and on the following topics of the main conference theme (proposals for other subjects beyond this focus will as usual be considered):

  • Conceptual and methodological interrogations of cosmopolitanism from perspectives within screen studies, most especially connecting to ethics, politics, philosophy and the law; 
  • Explorations of screen cultures through debates about the relationship between cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, globalisation, multiculturalism and 'world cinema'; 
  • Cosmopolitan spaces of circulation (exhibition, distribution, new platforms of delivery); 
  • Cosmopolitan aesthetics and spectatorship (how might this be understood and theorised?); 
  • Cosmopolitan positions - how are film and television makers and audiences positioned in relation to the production and circulation of their work? 

The deadline for submitting proposals is Friday, 11 January 2013. Visit the conference website for more details and to download proposal template.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

CFP: Media Cultures of the Early Cold War Era

Personally, I wish they'd give a little more heads up for these calls. Two months in the middle of the semester is not enough time to pull an article together!


The Velvet Light Trap 
Issue #73: Media Cultures of the Early Cold War Era

Few historical periods are as rich for film and media history as the post-war/early Cold War era, which witnessed such epochal shifts as the domestic decline and international expansion of Hollywood, the global rise of art cinema, the diffusion of television, and the emergence of academic film study. Though these events are well-known and well-documented, recent scholarship has urged us to see them in the context of transnational cultural exchanges. Vanessa Schwartz has noted that "although we often speak of ‘global media’ culture we do not have a sufficiently textured sense of how it came to be,” and her It’s So French! shows "just how contingent the story of global media is when approached as a historical problem.” Recent anthologies expanding on this project include Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife (Andrews and Joubert-Laurencin, 2011) and Global Neorealism: the Transnational History of a Film Style (Sklar and Giovacchini, 2012).

Issue #73, "Media Cultures of the Early Cold War Era,” will provide a forum for further research on the complexity of global circulation--of films, stars, personnel, technologies, media theories, habits of viewing--that resulted from the period’s geopolitical and economic realignments. Of particular interest is work attending to networks that emerged independent from North America’s and Europe’s industrial alliance, although research focusing on underexplored activities and practices of these media industries and their adjacent institutions is also encouraged. We are interested not only in commercial media industries, but also state agencies’ and international organizations’ experiments with and deployment of various media. For this issue, the editors of The Velvet Light Trap seek to bring together original scholarship that engages new theoretical frameworks, historiographical methods, archival sources, and historical perspectives that encourage re-evaluations of our understanding of this crucial period in media history.

 Suggested areas of inquiry include, but are not limited, to:
- National and International film style and genre
- National, regional, and international documentary and educational films
- Early television history
 - The rise of film culture, art cinema institutions, and cinephilia
- Cinemas and media cultures under occupation
- Global diffusion of new production and exhibition technologies
- International movement of filmmaking personnel
- Shifting centers of production, including International movement of filmmaking personnel, International coproductions and runaway production
- Postwar remakes and repurposing of pre-war and wartime media
- Early international film festivals
- Debates on the function, political or aesthetic, of moving image media
- Media industry unions, guilds, and other professional organizations
- Development of film culture institutions: festivals, nontheatrical distribution networks, publications, critics, academic courses and departments, etc.

All submissions are due January 4, 2013. Submission guidelines at the journal's website.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Readers, Ideal and Otherwise

Girish Shambu and Jonathan Rosenbaum each have thoughtful reflections on Room 237, a documentary that reflexively examines film criticism by following five social actors with amateur interpretations on Kubrick's The Shining. I've not yet seen the film, but for now would like to toss out a couple of thoughts, more reactions to their claims (which I'm pretty much sympathetic to) than reactions to a film I've not seen.

First, it sounds like their critique of the film latches on to tricky problems of documentary ethics. Room 237's director could have intervened in the "outré, freakish or crackpot" discourse of the social actors, either through over narration or through countervailing testimony/expertise. And maybe they should have. However, documentarians seem increasingly keen to avoid this kind of intervention on ethical grounds: to give one example, Resurrect Dead's Jon Foy has been quite explicit in this goal. Perhaps Room 237 is showing the limits of such a strategy.

Second, Girish points to Theory capital T as what the Room 237 worldview misses... any "kind of speculative thinking that is broad-ranging." The kind of Theory he's talking about can in fact expand the range of exciting, productive, and intriguing readings. But beyond that level, the very nature of "reading"a film is what's at stake.

Here's 1950s New Critic Cleanth Brooks in his essay "The Formalist Critic" (pdf here): "the formalist critic assumes an ideal reader: that is, instead of focusing on the varying spectrum of possible readings, he attempts to find a central point of reference from which he can focus upon the structure of the poem or novel." The wave of semiotic and poststructuralist Theory that swept through literary studies in the latter part of the 20th century challenged New Criticism and at times argued for more expansive types of interpretation. But often the newer approaches had a comparable conception of interpretation as a range of practices mobilizing evidence to back up meaning claims. I remember the maxim presented (and debated) in my undergraduate literature classes: "There are no right or wrong interpretations, but some readings are better than others." Some interpretations can and do fall outside of a reasonable expectation of evidence.

Or at least that seems precisely the grounds (and I'd probably agree!) for considering some readings of The Shining to be outré, freakish or crackpot.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

CFP: Revisiting Star Studies

Call for Papers

Revisiting Star Studies conference 

12th-14th June 2012
The Research Centre in Film & Digital Media
Newcastle University, UK

Keynote speakers: Dr Stephanie Dennison (University of Leeds), Dr Neepa Majumdar (University of Pittsburgh), Prof Yingjin Zhang (University of California-San Diego). Dr Martin Shingler (University of Sunderland), co-editor of the recently-launched BFI Film Stars series, will also host a panel on this new project.

Since its inception in the pioneering works of Edgar Morin (Les Stars, 1957) and Richard Dyer (Stars, 1979), studies of film stardom have been strongly associated with Hollywood structures. There have also been numerous valuable contributions to our understanding of stardom in different national cinemas, including recent work by colleagues here at Newcastle. However in all these efforts to explore stardom in a national context, not only does Hollywood often remain the ultimate reference, but Hollywood-generated paradigms often dominate the discussion of non-Hollywood stardom. Many fundamental assumptions in star studies based mainly on Hollywood stars and stardom (such as stars as phenomena of production and consumption, the onscreen and off-screen construction of star personas, and the inter-transferability between stars’ economic power and cultural power) remain unchallenged.

This conference aims to reassess some of the dominant models in star studies, and generate new critical paradigms that are more appropriate to address non-Hollywood stardom. We also wish to identify under-researched areas in film stardom. Special attention will be given to the analysis of how stars/stardom function–and have functioned--in visual cultures outside Hollywood, such as those in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. However, any papers or panels on the theme of revisiting star studies are welcome.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Stardom in non-Western cultures 
  • Transnational acting and performance 
  • Star voices Early stardom and pre-star system 
  • Stardom and age 
  • Religion and stardom 
  • Stardom, power, politics 
  • Amateur stars, non-professional stars, neo-realist stars 
  • Stars in non-capitalist societies (past and present) 
  • Pan-African, Pan-Asian and Pan-European stardom 
  • Stars and film festivals 
  • Stars and fashion 
  • Posthumous stardom 
  • Fictional characters as stars 
  • Anti-stardom, virtual stardom and post-stardom 
  • Stardom, fandom and the Internet 
  • Stardom, gender, and sexuality 
  • Stardom, ethnicity, class 

Please send proposals of 250 words maximum and a short bio to Prof Guy Austin & Dr Sabrina Yu at: and by November 19, 2012.

Monday, October 01, 2012

More on Film Studies Blogging

Chuck Tryon follows up with his own thoughts on the decline of film studies blogging. I suspect he's right to chalk a lot of it up to the novelty factor (or lack thereof). I'm less convinced about its correspondence to the movies themselves. For starters, I don't see a corresponding decline in cinephile blogging. And to the extent that "death of cinema" arguments hold true (and maybe they don't) I can't see any substantial historical shift between five years ago and today.

Cinetrix rounds up Chuck's and my posts in a response that culls them together in a series of "canards" about the death of film, film critics, etc. I'm not entirely sure what in my post put forth a canard, but maybe I should clarify what I mean. First, I make no claim about the state of film studies (which I don't think is in decline) or the state of cinema (complicated issue: experiencing certain types of decline but mostly still alive and well as a medium).

Second, admittedly my sense of the qualitative and quantitative decline of academic film studies blogging is impressionistic, but I can point to some indicators. There was a cohort of blogs active about 5 years ago. These are the ones I mention in my article. Not a large group, but they were in dialogue with one another. Some are still active, but many of the bloggers, myself included, post much less regularly. For each new blog, like Film Studies for Free, another (Dr. Mabuse's Kaleidoscope) has folded. Perhaps as importantly, blogging is not gaining popularity among scholars in the field. When I talk to colleagues at SCMS or similar conferences I may encounter those who have Twitter accounts (though film scholars still are resistant) but never those who have blogs.

What one means by "academic" or "film studies" or even "scholar" is inevitably tricky. I know there are some who want to break down distinctions I might think important. (I'm thinking for instance of the aca-fan movement.) And blogging can itself ease some of these distinctions: Cinetrix links to an interesting look at zooms in early 1930s Hollywood - this is not much different from a scholarly approach. I've tried to define "academic film studies blogging" for myself somewhere in between prescriptive (only my conception of academic discourse) and descriptive (anything remotely connected to film) definitions.

Stepping back to the prescriptive, though, this is what I'd like to see out of academic blogging (or Twitter): more dialogue between the specialist and the field. I don't have time to follow all the debates, scholarship, and agendas of subfields in non-US cinemas, television, nontheatrical film, experimental work, or contemporary film theory. But I'm interested in these areas and, moreover, my own scholarship would be stronger if I were more aware of others' research in a more conversational, synoptic way, without my having to read bodies of published essays. On the flip side, sharing my research may help those not working in my specific area see some of the concerns and debates of the area.