Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CFP: Film History section on Ephemera


Film History: An International Journal

“Ephemerata” section 

The upcoming issue of Film History (Vol. 25, No. 4) inaugurates the first installment of “Ephemerata,” a new semi-regular section. Motivated as much by the circulatory role of eBay as by the ease of digitizing documents for online posting and the research opportunities afforded by searchable archives like the Media History Digital Library and the Internet Archive, “Ephemerata” offers scans of photographs, postcards, pamphlets, brochures, and other long-forgotten, discarded, or simply overlooked print material. These orphaned items are here re-circulated with an eye toward expanding the scope—perhaps even generating debate—about what counts as “primary” sources and how ephemeral material might be interpreted, contextualized, and deployed. We hope that these otherwise obscure artifacts, once digitally re-materialized, spark curiosity and open up lines of inquiry concerning the history of cinema, broadly and inclusively understood.

The items resurfacing in “Ephemerata” will be framed by a short scholarly commentary (approx. 1500 words, plus endnotes) blending annotation and speculation. Whether reproduced in full or in excerpted form, a selected item must be no longer than approximately 12-15 pages. Contributors must be able to provide high-quality scans (at least 300 dpi or higher in resolution) of their selected item. This material must be either orphaned or in the public domain, and authors must secure any necessary permission (archival or otherwise) for the item to be reproduced in Film History.

Film History welcomes your queries about “Ephemerata,” proposals concerning specific items or types of material worth reproducing, and comments on the historical and historiographical import of these highlighted orphans. Contact information available at the journal website.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CFP: NECSUS issue on War


NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies 
#6   Autumn 2014

On the occasion of the centenary of the First World War, NECSUS is announcing a call for abstract submissions for a special section on ‘war’ to be published in autumn 2014. The First World War was called the ‘Great War’ and is often claimed to represent the birth of modern warfare. How can this modernity be related to the concurrent development of new forms of mass media in the early 20th century? How are military and entertainment technologies entangled in what Paul Vitilio calls a ‘logistics of perception’?

War has been a central topic for media of all kinds on a global scale. Can we re-evaluate the shifting terrain of aesthetics and ethics of war films and television broadcast series? The birth of modern warfare also means the birth of modern methods of documenting war. How has a rapidly-changing documentary impulse affected depictions and the reception of war? How has new media affected the execution of war plans and maneuvers? Now that strategies and actions can be planned and enacted using computers and a variety of handheld devices, what does war mean in the 21st century? What are the implications of cyber-warfare? In the age of digital networks, violent confrontations appear to be multiplying under many different names: asymmetrical war, guerilla fighting, terrorism, low-intensity conflicts. How does the thinking about ‘new wars’ (Mary Kaldor, Martin van Crefeld, Herfried Münkler) affect media and media studies? Furthermore, modern video games allow one to enter wartime environments and function as a soldier or commander. How do we chart our fascination with reliving and reinventing war narratives? War, in all of its mass-mediated qualities, is the subject for exploration in this NECSUS special section.

Abstracts can relate, but are not limited, to the following:

  • World War 1 feature films, documentaries, and footage in online archives
  • the relation between war technology and media technologies in the past and the present
  • war photography
  • changed perceptions on war and war memories
  • cyber war and future scenarios of war

Abstract due December 1, 2013. Full submission instructions and call available at the NECSUS website.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


From the title, I had assumed Ramrod (Andre de Toth, UA/Enterprise Productions) would be an application of noir aesthetics to the Western, perhaps with some Freudian psychodrama tossed in. And to be honest it does include Veronica Lake doing a femme fatale turn. What's interesting to me is that sometimes D.P. Russell Harlan shoots Lake in the iconic side profile famous from her Paramount films, but at other times gives her a harder, more frontal look.

And yet, generically, the film is essentially a B-western narrative given A-picture production values. Like other B-film Western, Ramrod is a Manichaean crime melodrama about a bad guy, Frank Ivey, trying to control a small Western town and run Connie Dickason's (Lake) life. Joel McCrea plays the good guy caught between his moral obligation and his disillusionment with Connie. What the 95 minute running time gives this programmer is a more developed romance subplot.

Even if fails to match the A-Western narrative, the film does include much of the iconography and some of the genre grammar, like the climactic shootout.

In all, it has a sophisticated, if undistinguished directorial style, full of tracking shots varied angles. One device that does stand out are a couple of forced-POVshots comparable to Lady in the Lake.


It's fascinating that such stylistic flourishes come in a film that otherwise is not stylistically adventurous and that generically reads neither as prestige film nor contemporary pulp.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Discourse Analysis and Taste Formations

From a letter to the editor, the New York Times, January 18, 1948:
It seems to me that a year in which such noteworthy films as Gentleman's Agreement, The Yearling, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Life With Father, The Fugitive, Kiss of Death, The Senator Was Indiscreet, Farmer's Daughter, Boomerang, Body and Soul and numerous others were produced could hardly be called a 'bad year' for the industry that produced them.
Some of this letter is not surprising. There was a filmgoing segment in 1947 that was thrilled at the direction that some of Hollywood's A films were going, social problem films especially. But having seen all of these titles now, I am struck by how the author's list fails to match up to any recognizable taste formation that we might have from either popular memory or cinephile/academic canon. Problem films and noirish thrillers sit next to sentimental dramas.

I think there is an underlying affinity between these sides of the list, but it raises a question of how we read this as historical evidence. On one hand a letter like this is really valuable to suggest a different episteme or discourse and to basically defamiliarize our historical understanding of the period. On the other hand, this author could be idiosyncratic in his selection of noteworthy films. It's a tension I find myself straddling when trying to deal with the cinematic taste formations of the 1940s.

Buck Privates Come Home

Given that Abbott and Costello were top stars during World War II, it's no surprise that Universal would make a sequel to their successful fish-out-of-water comedy Buck Privates (1941). But I was surprised to see how Buck Privates Come Home (dir. Charles Barton) adapted topical material of veteran readjustment to the comedy. The pair play bumbling soldiers who are coming back to the US from Europe at the War's end. They have a series of run-ins with their nemesis policeman/sergeant in what is largely an episodic narrative.
What greets them are a series of obstacles of veteran readjuments, particularly unemployment and a housing crunch. It's the comedy answer to Best Years of Our Lives, if you like. 

But what surprised me was a war orphan subplot. Michael Lawrence has been working on the figure of the orphan in 40s Hollywood and its relation to affect and the child star. My own essay on the sentimental drama dealt with, tangentially, the orphan as a trope of historical trauma. Here, clearly, the orphan is played for comic effect, but there's also a clear interpellation of the spectator as a humanist, caring world-citizen.

One other thing worth noting is the relatively lavish production values, including some fine-tuned black and white cinematography. Clearly, the stars success for Universal led to bigger budgets.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

CFP: BAFTSS Conference 2013


British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS)
2014 Conference
London, Birkbeck College, 24-26 April

After the success of the first BAFTSS Conference in Lincoln in April 2013, and following the first submissions of proposal we are pleased to announce the second Call for Papers for the 2014 Conference 24-26 April at Birkbeck Institute of the Moving Image, University of London.

As such, and with the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Professor Richard Dyer in mind, we would like to invite papers and/or panels on all areas of film, television and screen studies but with particular foci on:

Film Music

If you would like to submit a proposal in response to this Second Call, please email a 200-300 word paper proposal, a panel proposal (panels of no more than 4 please) with details of each paper (so a total of no more than 1000 words please) to conference committee co-chair Anna Claydon at by October 31st. We would also like a 150 word bio and contact details and affiliations to be included in the Word (or Rich Text) document. Please do not send as pdf files. All proposals will be reviewed by members of the Executive Committee.

More information at the BAFTSS website.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Someone asked me what I look for when I blog on these 1947 films. There's no one answer, since I try to be open to these films. I do draw on my main critical interests and look at the films' style, the way they give insight into the functioning of Hollywood as an industry, and the ideological reflections of these films' historical context. And I'm interested in the kind of historical narratives movies tell: what's lost that we can rediscover, what points to vital historical changes, and how we can use or resist narratives of progress or evolution in our film histories.

Here's an example of the multivalence of what I look for.

1. Genre. I'm not an expert on the Western and cannot make a claim I've watched widely in classic Hollywood Westerns. All the same, there seems to be a pattern that I see in the scholarship and criticism on romantic comedy: the canonical examples privilege the 1930s and the 1950s and tend to see the 1940s as a redundant null period in the genre's evolution. With Westerns, of course there are important exceptions, like My Darling Clementine or Red River. I don't know the status of  Cheyenne (Raoul Walsh, Warner Brothers) among fans or scholars of the Western; it's certainly known to Walsh fans and more knowledgeable auteur critics. But from my someone uninitiated perspective, the impressive thing about Cheyenne was the way it manages to be a nice in-between example of the genre, between the neo-classic A-Western inaugurated by Stagecoach and the "adult" Western of the 1950s. And yet, it does not feel like simply a stepping stone in a teleology but encapsulates much of what's distinctive about 1940s Hollywood.

2. Gender. One twist in the genre is that the romance is played up narratively and the sexual innuendo amplified. And with this, Jane Wyman has a meatier role than anything I've seen her in. Clearly, the film is in dialogue with the screwball/sophisticated comedy and the film noir. One of the opening scenes has a fun It Happened One Night resonance.

3.  Editing. True to Walsh's auteur reputation, the direction is both assured and full of stylistic flourish. What I have less historical knowledge to talk about is the editing. Simply put, I found the editing to be superb, particularly in its pacing. This was noticeable particularly in key action-y scenes, but throughout has a surprisingly "modern" in feel for a 40s film. The film definitely makes me want to learn more about classical Hollywood editing both as aesthetics and as industrial practice.

 4. The rule of thirds. I can't speak to compositional trends in the 1930s, but in the 1940s with the deep space trend there's a marked tendency for compositions that split the geometry mid-frame rather than on the third. The shot above accordingly is to me a quintessentially 1940s shot.

5. Tight framing. At the same time, there's the nascent trend toward tight framing. David Bordwell has pointed out that even pastiches of classical Hollywood do not put enough compositional space for actors. Walsh (and DP Sid Hickox) go for several tighter framings that show that by the late 1940s, Hollywood was starting to change its approach.

 6. Social commentary. Cheyenne is no Ox Bow Incident, but the mention of a lynching in 1947 seems pointed: a commentary that film raises, but incidentally. For a genre that's often read as a conflicted but partly reactionary nostalgia for a pre-Federalized West, Cheyenne feels remarkably pro-law-and-order. It's hard for me not to see this stance as related to the lynching commentary. Though removed from explicit political reference or allegory, the film just feels like liberal-consensus narrative to me.

7. Warner Brothers. There's a lot to say about Walsh, Hickox, and the studio house style at Warner Bros. But it's worth pointing out the style of the screenplay seems distinctive to the studio. It's not as if other studios weren't producing good films with strong scripts. But Warners seemed particularly invested in the story - and a particular Delmer Daves' kind of gripping action narrative - as a way for both prestige and showmanship. Again, I wish I had more to say about the screenplay form.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

CFP: Screen conference 2014


Screen Studies Conference 2014
University of Glasgow
27-29 June 2014

Landscape and Environment

Deadline for proposals: Friday, 10th January 2014.

 From their earliest inception, film and television have been concerned with the registration of place through the unique capacity of the audiovisual moving image to convey the experience of locale over time. In recent years, screen studies has engaged with the politics of location especially through the site of the cinematic city and inter-related questions of modernity, architecture and urban cultural transformation. The main theme of this year’s Screen conference will offer an opportunity to extend critical debate into the fields of landscape and the environment. In so doing, it will offer an exciting range of inter-disciplinary perspectives in order to reflect on the real and imaginary ways that we interact with the world through the portal of the screen.

Martin Lefebvre has argued that landscape manifests itself as an interpretative gaze. It is anchored in human life not just as something to look at but to live in socially as a cultural form. Cultural geography now argues that landscape must not only be understood as the outcome of interactions of nature and culture, but that practices of landscaping such as walking, looking, driving and, of course, filmmaking might also be the origin of our ideas about what ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ actually are. If human investment toward space produces the notion of landscape, what then are the principal ways in which the moving image articulates this process? How have film and television articulated the necessary tension between embodied immersion within a specific topographical space and critical reflection on the specific historical and cultural contexts that shape global screen culture past and present?      

The Screen Studies Conference, one of the longest running and most successful events of its kind in the world, welcomes proposals for papers/panels on any of these questions and on the following topics related to the main conference theme (as usual, proposals for other subjects beyond this focus will also be considered):

  • The representation of geographically and historically specific screen landscapes
  • Environmental politics and screen cultures
  • Genre, narrative and the landscape
  • Phenomenology and screen landscapes
  • Landscape and television culture
  • Journeys and landscapes: walking and traveling on screen
  • The landscapes of world cinema
  • Landscape and environment: autobiography, history, memory
  • Screen cultures within the environment
  • The dialectics of place and non-place in film and video
  • Site-specific screening practices

To submit a proposal, please visit the conference website.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

CFP: volume on Cinema and Multilingualism


Cinema and Multilingualism

Editors: Tijana Mamula (John Cabot University) and Lisa Patti (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)

The collection Cinema and Multilingualism takes its cue from two independent, but interrelated, ideas. Firstly, that the importance of linguistic difference and change in contemporary history has been vastly undervalued: an individual’s migration into a non-native linguistic environment, like the collective confrontation with foreign languages through the forces of immigration, urbanization and media globalization, bears a series of social, political, psychological and even ethical implications whose relevance to contemporary culture and society deserves a much closer look than it has so far inspired. Secondly, that transnationality and multilingualism are not recent phenomena whose impact on cinema has only just begun to be felt, but that cinema has been globalized and transnational from its very origins, and language and linguistic difference have shaped its history much more broadly than is generally acknowledged.

Although recent scholarship in film studies has begun to reevaluate the profound impact of displacement on film production and consumption – contributing to a paradigm shift that radically problematizes the concept of national cinemas, and to the establishment of the transnational as an interdisciplinary discourse – the question of language has so far occupied a marginal position. At the same time, the few recent studies that address multilingualism and linguistic difference have been largely focused on matters of translation and the representation of migrant languages and identities – as, for example, in the various reflections on dubbing and subtitling practices and the analyses of what have come to be known as "polyglot films.”

Necessarily inspired by, but also moving beyond these studies, Cinema and Multilingualism is driven by the reflection that even a cursory glance at the history of film – that is, the history of its production, distribution, reception and theorization – reveals countless indications of the centrality of multilingualism in filmmaking practices. This is evident not only in the international co-productions that have always been a staple of the industry – a point that has begun to be examined – but also in the very birth of cinema, and of photography before it, in close correspondence with the consolidation of disciplines such as geography and anthropology, and the expansion of tourism. It is further evident in the medium’s popularity with (and popularization through) urban immigrant communities at the turn of the twentieth century; in the well-known fact that Hollywood itself was built in good part by immigrants, and classical Hollywood narrative and style consolidated through the work of countless displaced practitioners; and in the widespread influence of genres such as film noir, and national (but trans-regional and pluri-dialectic) cinema contexts such as that of postwar Italy, without which the medium’s history would hardly be the same. These indicators of multilingualism’s place in cinema have yet to be adequately addressed. At the same time, the further escalation of migration and globalization (and therefore multilingualism) in recent times, and its increasing relevance to areas of the world previously either untouched by such demographic and cultural shifts or without the means to confront them cinematically, is equally in need of scholarly attention.

The essays so far collected in Cinema and Multilingualism move through innovative historical debates (e.g. the impact of multilingualism on pre-cinema aesthetics); hitherto unexplored geographical areas (e.g. the minority-language films of North East India); emergent sociopolitical paradoxes (e.g. the negotiation of linguistic difference in recent European remakes of other European films); and fresh re-examinations of postcolonial discourse. The volume seeks to expand on these existing concerns with essays on the place of multilingualism in the development and dissemination of film theory (both past and current), as well as its impact on contexts such as avant-garde and silent cinema, and on the distribution, exhibition and teaching of multilingual films. It also welcomes essays that adopt a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to the study of multilingualism, particularly regarding the relationship between cinema and the other arts.

The volume Cinema and Multilingualism stands not only to provide a necessary contribution to the growing area of film studies broadly referred to as "transnational cinema,” and to re-evaluate – and re-invigorate – the question of cinema’s relation to language more generally, but also to stimulate further research into the place of multilingualism in the social and cultural history of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Abstracts of 300-500 words should be sent to and by 1 December 2013, with a brief biographical statement. Accepted articles of 5,000-8,000 words, including notes and bibliography, should be sent to the editors by 1 June 2014.Topics may include (but are not restricted to) the following:

  • historical shifts in multilingualism and its cinematic expression (particularly the confrontations associated with moments of emerging urban and/or cosmopolitan scenes of multilingualism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries)
  • the place of multilingualism in areas of filmmaking generally excluded from research into this topic, particularly early and silent film, experimental/avant-garde cinema and video art
  • canonical or "hegemonic" filmmakers usually excluded from the discourses of transnational and migrant cinemas (e.g. Luis Buñuel, Andrej Tarkovsky, Raùl Ruiz, Straub and Huillet, Claire Denis)
  • linguistic concerns in the work of classical and modern film theorists working outside the context of their native language (e.g. Béla Balász, Sergej Eisenstein, Siegfried Kracauer)
  • the stylistic indices of multilingualism, both within the work of single individuals or across entire modes, genres or movements
  • cognitive approaches to the impact of multilingualism on film spectatorship
  • the relationship between language and visuality, particularly as it pertains to film theory
  • the impact of translation and mis-translation on the dissemination of film theory (e.g. Bazin in Anglophone academia)
  • interrelations between cinema and modernist literature, particularly with regard to the traces of multilingualism in the latter’s development
  • multilingualism and pre-cinema aesthetics
  • pedadogical approaches to cinema and multilingualism, in both monolingual and multilingual teaching contexts
  • multilingualism and screenwriting
  • multilingualism within distribution or exhibition practices
  • the circulation and transformation of multilingual cinema via new media
  • the reception of multilingual cinema within local, national, and transnational frameworks
  • multilingual stardom
  • forms or practices of multilingualism in any period of film/media history and any aspect of film theory

Friday, October 04, 2013

CFP: special issue on Documentary Production and Studies


Journal of Film And Video

Special Double Issue: Current Issues in Documentary Production & Studies
Guest editors: Ben Levin & George Larke-Walsh

Submission Deadline: December 1, 2013
Publication Date: Fall/Winter 2015

We invite articles that discuss production styles, aesthetics and consumption of contemporary documentary. We are especially interested in articles that address the following:

  • Contemporary documentary screenwriting (creating stories through voice-over narratives, etc.).
  • ŸCollaborative authorship and potential power imbalances between filmmakers and subjects in these situations.
  • ŸTrends in narrative structuring through re-enactment and/or employing fictional tropes to create character types.
  • ŸDocumentary fandom (reality TV stars and/or star directors) and its impact on contemporary documentary.
  • We are also interested in articles that address the effects of new technologies ad new modes of funding, distribution, and marketing on the production of contemporary documentaries:
  • ŸHow are newer image capturing devices (DSLR Cameras, cell phones, the Red camera, Black Magic cameras, etc.) affecting the conceptualization and production of documentaries?
  • ŸHow have Kickstarter, Facebook, etc. changed the way documentaries are being funded? What are the implications of obtaining financing via the Internet?
  • ŸWhat is the impact of contemporary modes of distribution and marketing (YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, Facebook, Webpages, Blogs, etc.) on documentary production and dissemination
  • In addition, we are also interested in articles that discuss the teaching of contemporary documentary theory in the context of a documentary production program.

Submission guidelines available at the the Journal of Film and Video website.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Pedagogical Book Series

The kind of books I like for teaching or self-edification are not necessarily the kind of books I like for scholarship. And there are some presses that emphasize books aimed for classroom use and library adoption more than scholarly monographs. While some of this stuff does get under my skin - there's a lot of shoddiness done in the name of auteur criticism, for instance - there are also books that are useful to read and to

BFI Film Classics. These have been a hit for the press, even to the point of spawning imitators - Wayne State's TV Milestones or Arsenal's Queer Film Classics. The BFI books each focus on one "classic" film and typically combine close reading/aesthetic consideration with a detailed production history. Cinephiles will already be familiar with the series, and I can say from experience that some of them are terrific additions to a film history survey course - adding some depth to the broad sweep of a survey.

Wallflower Press 24 Frames series. Each volume of this series is devoted to a national cinema or regional grouping of national cinemas (Latin America, the Balkans, etc). One advantage to this series is that it already "thinks" like a syllabus - organizing a tour through a national cinema through a selection of 24 films. Some are canonical, others important but neglected, and still others significant in some way. (If there's a disadvantage to some volumes is that not enough titles are available in English-subtitled DVD release.) I imagine any national cinema scholar or area scholar worth her salt will prefer to organize a course based on her own critical priorities. And I don't know that I would use one of these books as a sole text for a course on national cinema - there is some material about industry and historical context interwoven, but the focus is on the individual films. But there's something about the snapshot approach that appeals to me.

 Wallflower Press Short Cuts. The idea of this series is simple and the packaging attractive: take a basic concept in film studies and develop a slender volume that elaborates on the concept and gives an undergraduate readership a fuller understanding of it. In practice, I think some volumes in this series are more successful than others. I've encountered too many that do not work in an introductory setting: too much jargon, too many references to debates in the field, or too much arcane or advanced analysis. Some, actually, would work well in an intermediate or advanced film studies class: Tamar Jeffers MacDonald has a good study of the romantic comedy, for instance, and Paul Ward's book on documentary raises useful issues. But by drawing upon its authors strengths, the books end up being more like monographs-light than the pedagogical books they're packaged as.

What other series deserve attention?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

They Won't Believe Me

1947 continues to surprise me. They Won't Believe Me (RKO, Irving Pichel) has an ending that is bleak and as fatalistic as any noir I've seen. It is easy to see how this film would be fodder for those arguing that noir packages a political critique - in this case of the justice system. And there's the film's unusual sexual politics: the protagonist, Larry Ballentine (Robert Young) is a philanderer who serially cheats on a wife he married simply for money. It is worth remembering that this sour view of traditional family mores also has a certain patriarchal and misogynistic underpinning. I do not know the production history of this film, but I would not be surprised if the Production Code had some formative influence on where this narrative ended up.

On one hand They Won't Believe Me feels like a generic noir with a flashback structure, a James M. Cain/Cornell Woolrich-ish murder trail narrative, and some familiar noir iconography. I'm sure someone for instance has written on the noir tendency to intersperse California pastoral scenery as a narrative pacing strategy and as a thematic opposition to the foreboding sense of doom and destiny.

On the other hand, a film like They Won't Believe Me actually does not follow all the noir tenets. There is as much emphasis on the melodrama/romance elements as on the action/crime elements. In addition to a recognizable low-key style with deep focus and low ceilings, which in fact is not all that different from prestige low-key style of the late 40s...

.... there's also a typically late 40s docu-realist opening...

... and much of the film has a pretty balanced cinematographic style. Here, for instance, there's just enough 3-pt light to model the figures, with a pool of light setting behind Rita Johnson, dressed in black, while Robert Young, in white pyjamas, is brightly lit against the dark background. It's a well-composed shot that's about as typical an example of light-dark balance in Classical Hollywood cinematography as you could look for. (I just wish I had a better print and video transfer to watch!)

Even if this film was probably a low-A programmer in budget and approach, there are some interesting stylistic flourishes like this off-level 180-degree shot/reverse pattern.

In all, the film is a sign that Hitchcock was not alone in his transference-of-guilt thematics - that this trope extended widely into the crime novel/film culture of the time.