Showing posts from December, 2013

CFP: Critical Theory, Film and Media


Critical Theory, Film and Media: Where is “Frankfurt” now?
Conference of the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories

Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt
Aug 20-24, 2014
deadline: Feb 28, 2014

With a combination of social philosophy, philosophical aesthetics, political economics and a particular focus on technology the Frankfurt school and its kindred spirits Benjamin and Kracauer have paved the way for film and media studies as a critical discipline.

Now, at a time, when the generational project of 1968, the march through the institutions under the assumption that a revolution in Europe is possible, has largely run its course, it is time to sift through the rubble of history, collect the tools, pick up on unfinished projects and think about new beginnings.

What, then are the analytical instruments that the Frankfurt school provided that will be useful going forward? How did the Frankfurt School of critical theory shape the course of film and media theory in the 20th c…

Bush Christmas

From its title and genre (children's movie), I had assumed that Bush Christmas (Ralph Smart, Smart Productions-Rank-Universal) would be a sentimental holiday movie, and it's true that it's set during the Christmas holidays in Australia. But Christmas figures only marginally in the narrative, partly as a self-consciously local color element in what is ultimately an Australian film geared toward Northern Hemisphere Anglophone audiences.

I do not know much about the history of Australian cinema, at least before the 1970s new wave, so I don't know how this compares to other films made in the country. I can gather that the western had long held a role in the national cinema (c.f. Peter Limbrick, “The Australian Western, or, a Settler Colonial Cinema par excellence” Cinema Journal 46.4), and it's worth thinking about the ways Bush Christmas both conforms to the US genre of the western and ways it's distinctive.

By US genre, I'm referring more to the B western ra…

The Pretender

The version of The Pretender (Republic/Wilder Productions, W. Lee Wilder) that I watched clearly came from a television 16mm print, so I cannot fully know how it would compare with the theatrical version. And aesthetically, the film embodies both the best (visual panache and narrative economy) and worst (wooden acting and wild narrational shifts) of the Poverty Row B film. But it has a few things to commend it. First, as a curiosity, it was directed by Billy Wilder's brother, and shares some of the Wilder sensibility both in its acerbic view of wealth and stylistic elements borrowed from The Lost Weekend (hyper-subjectivism, for instance, or the theremin scoring). 
Perhaps more canonically, the D.P. was John Alton who, while not having free rein as in the Anthony Mann films, does show both the baroque touches in suggesting Albert Dekker's paranoia....

... and the low-light minimalism that he's best known for and that has come to define the Poverty Row noir look, at least …

Her Husband's Affairs

Her Husband's Affairs (Columbia, S. Sylvan Simon) will seem notable to most viewers as a Lucille Ball comedy just a half decade before I Love Lucy made Ball the classical Hollywood star who had best navigated the move from film to television. There are significant differences between Ball's character here and her TV persona, but key elements are already in place: the madcap narrative, the husband-wife tension, and Ball's wide-eyed performance as a smart-but-naïve character.

Much as Ricky and Lucy's relationship figured the ideal of 1950s domesticity (and showed undercurrents of discontent), Her Husband's Affairs deal with the marital tension between a patriarchal yet ineffectual ad man/inventor husband and Ball's supportive but not-too-housewifey character. In this, it was part of a broader late 40s trend of films depicting challenges in marriage.  While the trajectory is similar to the divorce-and-reconciliation screwballs, the tone is decidedly different; pro…


I've been eager to see Ivy (Sam Wood, Universal/Interwood Productions) ever since reading Self-Styled Siren's appreciative review of the film. I agree with the Siren that it's a terrific gothic film and Fontaine star vehicle, and she highlights a lot of the stylistic flourishes that caught me eye as well. But I'd like to focus on some on a couple other stylistic dimensions to the film.

First, I can't complain to be an expert on Sam Wood's output but some critics do discuss him as a kind of non-auteur, a director associated with some big-name and at times successful projects but without an organizing artistic personality. Todd Rainsberger for instance argues, somewhat plausibly, that William Cameron Menzes and James Wong Howe provided the visual style of Kings Row. What's interesting is the Wood replicates much of Kings Row, with brightly exposed arc-light cinematography (thanks to Russell Metty), low angle shooting, and stylized outdoor sets. Menzies is in…


Like many Poverty Row crime/noir films, Railroaded! (Anthony Mann, PRC/Eagle-Lion) is not built around a mystery and detection thriller narrative but a modified police procedural. At the very least, the title sets us up for a presumed-guilty narrative. In this case, a young middle-class-acting truck driver gets framed by two men pulling off a gambling joint heist. Hugh Beaumont plays the detective in love with the framed man's sister and ultimately convinced there's more to the story than the obvious.
"I'm not trying to eager-beaver someone into the gas chamber," the police chief says. "I'm interested in making someone pay for O'Hara's murder, but it's got to be the guilty party." I've seen a lot of ink spilled lamenting that film scholars spent too much energy on deconstructive or category-E readings that do not speak to how ordinary filmgoers would understand movies. But here's an instance in which the official message of the …

Rhetoric and Reality of "New" National Cinemas

It's hard not to be cynical about the proliferation of "new" national cinema movements: New Argentine Cinema, Russian New Wave, Iranian New Wave, New Serbian Cinema, New Arab Cinema, New Mexican Cinema, and so on. These terms range in their application and stature, and the historical period they designate varies. But they have in common a sense of neologism, of creating an entity out of disparate works through the naming process. This can come from the filmmakers, in manifesto-like fashion, or (more likely) from journalists and critics.

They also have in common in being distinguished from the new waves of the 1960s and 70s. Those waves were hardly a singular phenomenon but they were a connected group of movements. And in comparison, the new "new" waves seem less coherent and more neologistic. And the naming seems aspirational to the prior 60s/70s moment.

I would argue (and maybe others already have) there's something substantial going on behind the rhetori…