Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Conferences late 2014 edition

Here is my current list of English-language conferences of interest to those in film studies (and some for TV and media studies). Upcoming conferences are listed in order by date or, for open calls, by abstract due date. Please let me know if I should add anything, and I will update this post. Also, I plan to do an update post in winter 2015.

Closed calls:
Vocal Projections: Documentary and the Voice - University of Surrey, Sept 19, 2014
Flow 2014 - Austin, TX, Sept 11-13, 2014 [website]
Literature/Film Association Conference - University of Montana (Missoula), Oct 2-4, 2014 [website]
Screenwriting Research Conference - Potsdam, Germany, Oct 16-18, 2014 [website]
Film and History conference - Madison, Wisconsin, Oct 29 - Nov 2, 2014 [website]
ASA (American Studies Association) - Los Angeles, Nov 6-9, 2014 [website]
World Picture Conference - ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Nov 7-8, 2014 [website]
“Film Festival Cartographies” Symposium - Modena, Italy, Nov 20-21, 2014 [website]
Visible Evidence XXI - New Delhi, Dec 11-14, 2014 [website]
MLA -  Vancouver, Jan 8-11, 2015 [website]
CAA - Chicago, Feb 12-15, 2014 [website]

Current calls:
Due date: Aug 29, 2014 SMCS - Montreal Mar 25-29, 2015  [call]
Due date: Sept 2, 2014 The Colour Fantastic: Chromatic Worlds of Silent Cinema - EYE/University of Amsterdam, March, 29-31 2015 [call]
Due date: Oct 1, 2014 Console-ing Passions - Dublin, Ireland, June 18-20, 2015 [website]
Due date: Oct 31, 2013 BAFTSS 2014 conference Manchester Metropolitan University, Apr 16-18 2015 [call]
Due date: Nov 1, 2014 PCA (Popular Culture Association) - New Orleans, April 1-4, 2015 [website]
Due date: Nov 4, 2013 ICA - San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 21-25, 2014 [website | call]
Due date: Dec 15, 2014 Film and Media in the Classroom - University of Florida, Feb 26-Mar 1, 2015 [call]

Upcoming calls:
The Annual Conference of the Film Studies Association of Canada - May, 2015 [website]
NECS - Łódź, Poland, June 18-20, 2015 [website]
Screen - Univ of Glasgow, June 26-28, 2015 [website]
UFVA - American University, Washington, DC, Aug 4-8, 2015 [website]

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cinematography essay

As regular readers of this blog will now, I've had a long-running interest in Hollywood cinematography, an interest that has grown from my 1947 project and has culminated in what will be a chapter in my book. Happily, too, I've been able to write a wide-view essay about cinematography during the (sound) studio era.

This essay appears in an edited volume on Hollywood cinematography titled simply enough Cinematography. It's one the first volumes in Rutger's Behind the Silver Screen series, a collection of volumes each tackling a different trade in Hollywood filmmaking. It's an overdue idea, in my view, and I'm thrilled to be in such good company.

Thanks to Patrick Keating for including me and for his editorial input. I can definitely say his guidance improved the final essay. Moreover, I've been gaining a lot of insight from my fellow contributors. Hopefully the volume will help make scholars more aware of cinematography as art and practice and will equip them with historical narratives to embark on research projects on the visual style of commercial cinema.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nicholas Ray volume

I have a couple of items coming out in book form this summer. I'm a little late in noting it, but my essay on Knock on Any Door appears in Steven Rybin and Will Scheibel's edited collection on Nicholas, Lonely Places, Dangerous Ground: Nicholas Ray in American Cinema. It's out from SUNY Press.

The book compiles a series of essay on Ray's work, more or less one essay for each film in his career. The result is an interesting kaleidoscope of critical approaches. Though it was never coordinated, it's interesting to me to see how those writing on Ray's lesser known films make the case for their centrality despite the neat fit with the auteur persona critics have identifies in Ray. For instance, Alexander Doty gives a queer reading of Born to Be Bad and A Woman's Secret. And Tony Williams argues that Ray is doing something more interesting with color in Flying Leathernecks than critics have given credit for.

As for my essay, it's a reading of the discourse of criminology and sociology in Knock on Any Door, Ray's most straightforward example of the social problem film. As such it's a trailer of sorts to my argument about popular sociology in my book-to-come.

In any case, thanks to Steven and Will for their work in putting together a great collection of essays.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Interview with Felipe Pruneda Sentíes

At last year's SCMS conference, one of the best panels I attended was on Film Theory Beyond the Euro-American Canon, a two-part panel that argued for the inclusion of national film theory traditions lost in the focus on France, Germany, and (occasionally) Italy.  In this it dovetailed with some work being done under the auspices of the The Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories' Translation Project.

I suggested on Twitter would be a welcome regular part of SCMS, so I wanted to talk to one of the panel organizers, Felipe Pruneda Sentíes, about the issues the panels raised. He graciously agreed.

What was your goal in organizing or participating in the "Film Theory and Criticism beyond the Euro-American Canon" panels?

On a very basic level, to draw attention to the very presence of non-canonical approaches to theories of film ontology (some present in criticism) and to interrogate if the field has some linguistic and geographic limitations. Even before we get to the complexities and value of those writings, simply insisting that these writings are acknowledged was a central goal for me.... I hoped to highlight the fact that there is a concerted effort to destabilize the canon and to see what we can learn from exploring histories of cinematic theories and criticism that do not follow the most widely available narratives for the dominant centers of the field. The panels were an affirmation of this project as a larger collaboration rather than as relatively isolated studies.

Does work in other national contexts challenge how we value theoretical forms beyond high theory, such as manifestos or journalistic criticism?

I believe so, especially since in many countries, the most insightful and influential writings on cinema might have been produced outside academia, often considered the territory of high theory and in particular classical film theory. I’m put in mind of a great article Adrian Martin wrote in response to David Bordwell’s book Making Meaning. Martin points out that Bordwell’s history of film studies inevitably ends in the university, after a few “freelance heavies” like Bazin and Eisenstein first showed the way. Martin counters with his experience of the “field” (and these are his quotation marks, immediately questioning what we might mean by a “field of knowledge”), in which his mentors in cinema studies often never held professorial positions, and where the most exciting works on the subject did not appear in “theory journals,” but rather in independent magazines without academic credentials. It is necessary to realize that film thought (a term I prefer to “film studies” in this case, for it does not distinguish between theory, criticism, and other forms of inquiry) happens in very different sectors of human activity, and they all hold the potential to develop rich, productive frameworks. The goal is to create dialogues with them that avoid constructing a hierarchy between regimes of knowledge, but that establish links that would make these frameworks available in all their forms – to borrow a few words from Benjamin – in the classroom.

Emilio García Riera, one Mexico’s premiere film historians, once wrote “most of the most interesting work on cinema is written in or translated into English,” expressing his own desire to master that language so he can access some examples of high theory. Even though my own work was inspired by the absence of theories from outside Europe and North America in many survey courses of film theory, it is fueled, perhaps with greater intensity, by how Mexican scholars themselves participate in that absence. I admire efforts by scholars like Lauro Zavala to establish film studies as an academic field in Mexican universities, but some of those efforts admit to a dearth of information on local theories while underscoring the necessity to become familiar with the theories that constitute the existing field.

Should SCMS have an ongoing engagement with non-canonical theory? What form might this take?

The answer to the first question I think is yes, it should, and in some ways it does, if we define non-canonical theory as not just transnational approaches, but also theories of underrepresented perspectives. An overview of panels and workshops tells me that there’s interest in non-canonical classical film theory outside of scholarly groups and caucuses.

But the second question is harder. I once thought that I would not want non-canonical theories of film ontology to become a section or an offshoot of the broader conference, which to me might be a way of keeping non-canonical theory in check by giving it a token legitimacy, a presence that does not spill outside the boundaries of a niche because it feels like an earned acknowledgement. But now I don’t think creating a scholarly interest group or a caucus, for example, always accomplishes a kind of neutralization. Indeed, it would be a great start for gaining traction and attention. But really I would like to see non-canonical theories informing every investigation, producing research that constructs wildly diverging genealogies, so that a canon would at least become a blurry historical entity, a distant, rather than looming, shadow.

What other efforts are going on currently to translate and popularize non-canonical theory and criticism in the field?

I am mostly aware of collections, some in translation, some in their original language, that bring to the table previously unknown or understudied work. Viviane Mahieux collected the works of pioneering Mexican film critic Cube Bonifant in Una pequeña Marquesa de Sade (A Little Marquise de Sade) in 2009, and 2012 saw the release of a mammoth edition of Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s complete works on film. I also know of a great book by Elizabeth Nazarian called The Tenth Muse: Karol Irzykowski and Early Film Theory, which looks at the writings of the Polish intellectual of the title and provides an excellent example of how locate an original contribution to film thought without overemphasizing the historical and geographical context that would anchor her chosen theorist’s work.

And there’s a great collection, Cinema All the Time: An Anthology of Czech Film Theory and Criticism, 1908-1939, edited by Jaroslav Andel and Petr Szczepanik and translated by Kevin B. Johnson. (It’s interesting to see how many of these efforts are also focused on early film criticism, most of them from the beginnings of cinema and contained in the first half of the twentieth century).

What is your personal research in this regard?

Latin American theory is my particular area of interest at this point, more specifically in Mexico, and finding the makings of theoretical ideas within non-institutional forms of film writing. There are two writers in particular whose work I would love to translate: José Revueltas and Jorge Ayala Blanco, the latter of which has an ongoing series of books on Mexican cinema that is a great example of ludic, poetic reflection as a form of creative inquiry into cinema, which is another central concern of mine, alongside how differences in technological availability and production influence the pathways of film theory and criticism.

Are there scholars whose work should be highlighted?

Well, besides our panelists Weihong Bao, Aparna Frank, Naoki Yamamoto, Jason McGrath, Katarina Mihailovic and Masha Salazkina of course, and Mahieux and Nazarian, I would also mention, from within North American film studies, Robert Ray, who offers a good springboard for thinking about issues of theory proliferation in his book How a Film Theory Got Lost. And I think a book like Andrew Klevan and Alex Clayton’s edited volume The Language and Style of Film Criticism is another place to get a sense of meta-critical work that questions what it means to produce knowledge about cinema, and thus begins to open up possibilities for studies of writings outside the academy. There is a piece in there by Adrian Martin that highlights work of three critics that were completely unknown to me: John Flaus, Shigehiko Hasumi and Frieda Grafe. These three were not scholars, so I would also advice to keep an eye on the work of a few non-academic critics. I wish I could mention many many more, but look forward to hearing about more works on this area.

What practices do you wish scholars who don't have area studies-specialization would adopt?

I’m not sure there’s anything specific that scholars who delve into national and transnational film cultures outside global Hollywood or Europe aren’t doing already (at least the ones I’ve read). I think it makes sense to seek the help of area studies scholars. Even though I grew up in Mexico – where I read criticism and some theory in Spanish – my entire academic formation has been squarely into academic film studies in the United States. My own knowledge of area studies has been acquired through dialogues with scholars who work in Latin American Studies, both in English and Spanish, and my own readings of their works. I think film scholars recognize and practice these collaborations and engage in these dialogues.

I do wonder, however, how many scholars make it a point of learning the language of a film culture that sparks their curiosity. How often does this happen? I don’t think you need to master a language to produce great research on a film culture in that language, nor am I saying that multilingualism should be a requirement in our field (some programs that I am aware of enforce it more than others). I know my own bilingualism came more from circumstances rather than only my own conscious work. But how feasible is it to undertake learning and even becoming reasonably fluent in a new language as part of our research projects? How much should we consider that our task? I think it is a good idea. I for one have future plans to work on Portuguese cinema and criticism, particularly after learning of an unfinished, multivolume work on film semiotics that a Portuguese electrical engineer, Fernando Gonçalves dos Santos Ferreira Lavrador, wrote in the eighties. I’m fascinated by the idea that it is an incomplete work from a non-academic perspective, and I believe I could only do it justice by learning its language. And doing so goes a long way in introducing us to concepts in area studies.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

CFP: Velvet Light Trap issue on technological change

Call for Papers: VLT Issue #76 - Case Studies in Technological Change

Submission deadline: August 17, 2014

Submit to: thevelvetlighttrap-AT-gmail.com

To paraphrase Robert Allen and Douglas Gomery in Film History: Theory and Practice, media depends on machines. Technology contextualizes industrial and stylistic change, reveals and obscures sites of cultural negotiation and meaning, and enables new modes of media production, circulation, and reception. The significance of technology to media studies has only become more acute with the proliferation of digital technologies, which have changed the methods and tools of our scholarship—to say nothing of the object of that study.

Too often, however, scholarship relegates technology to the background, rendering it less an object of study in and of itself than a cause of, or context for, broader situations. While useful and often necessary, this tendency can have unintended consequences. It risks the assumption that technological changes automatically engender concomitant changes in our “real” object of study, when representations and practices that endure despite technological change offer equally important insight. Similarly, focusing on broader trends may steer us away from failed efforts at technological change, where entrenched structures of cultural or industrial design are exposed and tested, while treating technology as the agent of change can ignore the roles of cultural and industrial demands in technological advancement or stasis.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap specifically seeks case studies of historical and contemporary technological change that privilege technology itself as the object of study. We wish to focus the issue’s attention on specific technological changes in context rather than theories that explore how technology in broad terms is changing media and culture. We especially welcome studies that reexamine accepted histories of technological change, reveal little-known changes worthy of attention, or show important continuities despite technological change.

Potential topics include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Digital production, distribution, exhibition, transmission, and retail formats
  • Technology in media preservation, archiving, and historiography
  • National cinemas’ transitions to sound, widescreen, and color
  • Technology and marginalized producers or audiences
  • “Invisible” technological intermediaries: labs, servers, antennas, and codecs
  • Processing power, graphical interfaces, software, hardware, hacking, and modding in video and computer gaming
  • New formats, old media, nostalgia: reissues, videotape, and internet video
  • Craft practices, production cultures, labor, new and obsolete professions
  • Experimental and avant-garde media
  • Changing technology and representations of race, class, gender
  • Panchromatic stock, HD, FM: film, television, and radio style
  • Revising assumptions about the workings of technology
  • Failed, obscure, or forgotten technology
  • Technologies of fandom and fandoms of technology

For full call and submission guidelines, see the Velvet Light Trap's website.