Sunday, 29 March 2009

Science of Watchmen, War Films, plus Mira Nair, from YouTube EDU

Film Studies For Free is grateful to Peter Suber of Open Access News for the tip-off that YouTube has launched a new channel to facilitate access to video material submitted by universities and colleges: YouTube EDU.

The new channel makes it much easier than before to search for and access high-quality scholarly material related to film and media studies, FSFF has found. As Wired Campus also reports, 'The new section makes it possible to find out which college-produced video is most popular'.

The winner in the popularity stakes so far just happens to be an interview [embedded above] with a University of Minnesota [physics] professor discussing the science behind the new movie Watchmen.' In the video, Professor James Kakalios discusses how he was asked to add a physics perspective to the upcoming Warner Brothers movie, Watchmen. Kakalios explores how quantum mechanics can explain Dr. Manhattan's super human powers in the film, and how he came to become an expert on the topic of the physics of superheroes (click here to read an excerpt from Kakalios's book on this topic).

Film Studies For Free has browsed further Film Studies highlights from YouTube EDU and embedded two more of its top quality educational videos below:

1. University of California Television Presents 'My Dinner with Alain: War Cinema' (56 mins 41 secs):

Alain J. J. Cohen is a Professor of Comparative Literature at UCSD who specializes in film history. In this program presented at the UCSD Faculty Club, Cohen examines the challenges of war films as a genre. Clips from various films about World Wars I & II, Vietnam, space wars, etc., illustrate how the filmmakers battle with issues of world history, order and chaos, studio budgets, editing techniques and conflicts of interpretation to realize their vision of combat.

2. University of California Television Presents 'Cinema Diaspora: Discussion with Mira Nair' (57 mins 35 secs):

Mira Nair's films, Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, illuminate the ambiguities of the immigrant experience and highlight the conflicts between modern and traditional cultures. She is joined for a discussion of modern cinema by Gayatri Gopinath and Juli Wyman, both of UC Davis.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

More Blog Magic

A quickie from Film Studies For Free today just to shout out about two of the best film studies blogs out there which, coincidentally, have very high-quality and worthwhile recent posts on films about duelling magicians:
It’s a way to understand films as wholes, dynamic constructions that shift their shapes across the time of their unfolding. Moreover, by examining things this closely, we can try to understand not only how this or that film works, but how this or that film relies on principles distinctive of a filmmaking tradition. Consider this another plug for poetics.

this short film is my starting point, and it reveals to me the challenges that lie ahead. Often we have to look carefully at films to come to terms with their idiosyncrasies, but Švankmajer’s work is particularly daunting in its concentration of allegory and allusion. [...] For eleven minutes [of this film], two magicians do battle, and their tricks require a montage of colliding images and a range of animation techniques: the two actors wear giant masks on their heads, probably papier-mâché, making them look like living, stringless marionettes, and Švankmajer manipulates them accordingly. The black backdrop allows a bunraku performance of sorts, with objects appearing to fly and float unaided through space; frame-by-frame animation moves the eyes of the masks; a shot of pixilation makes their bodies flit around the stage in a lightning fast chase. These are endlessly mutable bodies, but there is none of the joyous spectacle of Méliès’ filmed tricks here - the artifice is always signposted, never seamlessly suggestive, and the stolid expressions on the masked faces convey no fun, only procedure and routine. [links added by FSFF]

In addition to this (like Bordwell's) beautifully illustrated post, Dan's blog Spectacular Attractions has also taken up the challenge of Nicholas Rombes' 10 /40 / 70 film criticism exercise (see FSFF's post on this back on March 5). 10/40/70 is, according to Rombes:

[a]n experiment in writing about film: select three different, arbitrary time codes (in this case the 10 minute, 40 minute, and 70 minute mark), freeze the frames, and use that as the guide to writing about the film. No compromise: the film must be stopped at these time codes. What if, instead of freely choosing what parts of the film to address, one let the film determine this? Constraint as a form of freedom.

In recent posts, North has souped up the engine of the original exercise,

using a random number generator to choose three points from which to take my grabs, and then I have a limited amount of time to write a little about each frame. It’s a quick workout for the critical faculties, and hopefully a way of snapping a jaded blogger out of the comfortable routines of selecting only the most appropriate or illustrative images for a piece of writing

The results are both insightful and highly entertaining, as always with North's blog. Film Studies For Free urges you to check them out, as follows:

One last thought, the following movies may not all be about duelling magicians, but does anyone want to write about The Magician (1926), a horror film directed by Rex Ingram, or The Magician (1958), directed by Ingmar Bergman, or The Illusionist (2006), directed by Neil Burger, and make the highly completist Film Studies For Free one very happy blog indeed? Oh and there's the parody Magicians (2007), directed by Andrew O'Connor too. Any takers?

Monday, 23 March 2009

Reports from the E-Repositories #1: eScholarship Initiative/California Digital Library

Image from November (Hito Steyerl, 2004, DVD, 27 min)

Film Studies For Free has donned its fetching explorer's hat to check out some excellent university e-repositories for research and scholarship.

In the first of a series of posts reporting on its findings, here are five of the best, freely-accessible, film-related items that FSFF found on its e-travels, today courtesy of the eScholarship initiative of the California Digital Library, served by the individual units of the University of California:
  • Laure Astourian (2008) “Bridging Fiction and Documentary in Godard’s Notre Musique”, The Berkeley Undergraduate Journal : Vol. 21: No. 2, Article 4 (thesis adviser: Ulysse Dutoit) (abstract: This paper is a close analysis of Jean-Luc Godard’s 2004 film, Notre Musique. Its primary focus is the implications of Godard’s blending of documentary footage with staged footage. Among the examples of documentary and narrative blurring, Godard stages an interview with an internationally known poet, Mahmoud Darwish, and though the pretext is completely false, the exchange that takes place is honest and potent. Aside from the famous personages who play themselves, the film’s other main characters are actors. They insert themselves seamlessly through events that actually took place in Sarajevo (i.e. that were not planned for the shooting of the film). I believe this technique echoes Godard’s belief that people have faith in the imaginary, and doubt reality. Even though the narrative curve is atypical--there is no climax, and the two main characters never meet--it offers that which the spectator needs in order to submit himself or herself to a film: the imaginary. Thanks to the lens of narrativity, the varied documentary subjects (the Israeli/Palestine conflict, the symbolic rebuilding of the Mostar Bridge, the Native American plight, the future of digital filmmaking) whose philosophical links would otherwise not be considered are conjoined into a field where realities point to imaginaries and vice versa. Throughout the film, the characters acknowledge the inability of images and words to represent certain atrocities, and strange way by which imaginary representations are at times more believable than the truth.)
  • Deniz Göktürk (2005) “Yüksel Yavuz’s Kleine Freiheit / A Little Bit of Freedom”, TRANSIT, Vol. 1: No. 1, Article 50915 (abstract: Yüksel Yavuz’s internationally celebrated film Kleine Freiheit / A Little Bit of Freedom (2003), tells the story of a friendship between two young men, both of them illegal immigrants living in Altona, one of them a Kurd from Turkey. Baran’s application for asylum has been declined, and he has therefore fallen into an illegal status in Germany. That means that he does not have basic rights, such as health care or job protection. He works as a delivery boy in a relative’s kebab restaurant. When he has a toothache, they try to cure him in the kitchen by sticking a hot skewer into his mouth. His scream leads over into the first montage sequence of a bicycle trip. This triple exposure sequence conveys a gripping cross-section of the neighborhood by superimposing shots of city traffic with shots of the various locations to which kebab is delivered, ranging from a Turkish bakery to a construction site and a brothel. The sequence conveys a sense of multilayered locality, which is underscored by the music of Mercan Dede. Despite the excess of mobility displayed in these images, the characters remain confined within the St. Pauli neighborhood throughout the film. Taking advantage of a “Germany in transit,” Yavuz’s cinematically impressive engagement with locations in Hamburg raises a whole range of interesting questions such as: Where is home? How are transnational mobility and traumatic memory represented in cinema? Do immigrants live in a “parallel world”? Do they care about integration into German society? Do they form new inter-ethnic alliances in this new place? How do questions of race and gender come into play? And where are German (and global) spectators positioned in relation to immigrant spaces and networks?)
  • Kathleen Sclafani (2006) “Finding Home in a Liminal Space: Exile and Return in Andreas Dresen’s Halbe Treppe ”, TRANSIT: Vol. 2: No. 1, Article 61212 (abstract: In his film Halbe Treppe, Andreas Dresen uses stylistic elements and modes of production similar to exilic filmmakers, as described by Naficy in his book An Accented Cinema, in an attempt to portray both a sense of exile and a desire for freedom in his characters. Since exile is inextricably bound-up in questions of both homeland and identity, the film invites comparison not only to exilic cinema but also to certain aspects of New German Cinema, particularly issues of German identity that many critics argue have been too often ignored by other young German filmmakers. By emphasizing the importance of Frankfurt/Oder as the setting for his characters’ experience of exile, Dresen creates a connection between identity and “place” that encourages the spectator to reflect upon the traditional notion of “Heimat” and how it might be re-imagined in a new multicultural, unified Germany.)
  • Dean K. Simonton, 'Film awards as indicators of cinematic creativity and achievement: A quantitative comparison of the Oscars and six alternatives', Creativity Research Journal. 16 (2-3), pp. 163-172 (abstract: Although film awards are often taken as indicating the creative achievements that underlie outstanding motion pictures, critics have questioned whether such honors represent a consensus regarding cinematic contributions. Nevertheless, a strong agreement was demonstrated by investigating 1,132films released between 1975 and 2002 that had received at least 1 award or award nomination from 7 distinct sources (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, and Los Angeles Film Critics Association). The results indicated that (a) almost all award categories exhibited a conspicuous consensus, the Oscars providing the best single indicator of that agreement; (b) Oscar awards provided meaningful information about cinematic creativity and achievement beyond that provided by Oscar nominations alone; (c) awards bestowed by the 7 organizations corresponded with more specialized awards granted by guilds and societies, with the Oscars usually providing the best correspondence; and (d) awards correlated positively with later movie guide ratings, the correlations being especially large in the categories of picture, direction, screenplay, and acting. The findings were discussed in terms of whether the awards can be considered to be indicative of cinematic creativity.)
  • Hito Steyerl (2005) “November: A Film Treatment”, TRANSIT: Vol. 1: No. 1, Article 50914 (abstract: In the eighties Hito Steyerl shot a feminist martial arts film on Super-8 stock. Her best friend Andrea Wolf played the lead role, that of a woman warrior dressed in leather and mounted on a motorcycle. The engagement expressed in the formal grammar of exploitation films later became Wolf’s political praxis: She went to fight alongside the PKK in the Kurdish regions between Turkey and northern Iraq, where she was killed in 1998. Now honored by Kurds as an “immortal revolutionary,” her portrait is carried at demonstrations.
    In November Hito Steyerl examines the spectrum of interrelationships between territorial power politics (as practiced by Turkey in Kurdistan with the support of Germany) and individual forms of resistance. Her memories and accounts of Wolf’s life provoke the filmmaker to engage in a fundamental reflexion: She comes to understand how fact and fiction are intertwined in the global discourse. Her friend’s picture as a revolutionary pin-up would equally connect with either Asian genre cinema or a private video document. If October is the hour of revolution, November is the time of common sense afterward, though it is also the time of madness – Hito Steyerl considers from this perspective a relationship which began with a pose, and Andrea Wolf took its implications so seriously that she was no longer satisfied with symbolic action. Wolf chose the Other of filmmaking, which was what made her into a true “icon”.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Direct Cinema? Innovative Documentary Studies Online

Image from Subdivided (Dean Terry, US 2007)

Film Studies For Free is keepin' it real today with a choice selection of links to mostly very recent, definitely innovative, and freely-accessible online documentary studies (last updated April 10, 2009):
Also see the great articles for the 'New worlds of documentary' Special Section of Jump Cut, issue no. 48, winter 2006, edited by Julia Lesage:

Introduction: new worlds of documentary by Julia Lesage; Emergency analysis, Terri Schiavo: introduction The cutting edge: emergencies in visual culture by Janet Staiger; Schiavo videos' context and reception: timely triage by Diane Waldman; Emergency analysis: the academic traffic in images by Catherine L. Preston; The videographic persistence of Terri Schiavo by Janet Walker Walker; A walk on the wild side: the changing face of TV wildlife documentary by Richard Kilborn; Strange Justice: sounding out the Right: Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, and constructing spin in the name of justice by Steve Lipkin; Giving voice: performance and authenticity in the documentary musical by Derek Paget and Jane Roscoe; Video Vigilantes and the work of shame by Gareth Palmer; Audio documentary: a polemical introduction for the visual studies crowd by Chuck Kleinhans; TV news titles: picturing the planet by Sean Cubitt; Les Archives de la Planète: a cinematographic atlas by Teresa Castro; Cinephilia and the travel film: Gambling, Gods and LSD by Catherine Russell; Dark Days: a narrative of environmental adaptation by Joseph Heumann and Robin L. Murray; Feminist history making and Video Remains by Alexandra Juhasz.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Music to the Eyes: Film Music Essays and Resources Online

Film Studies For Free silently but sonorously brings you its list of links to high-quality and freely accessible online scholarly writings pertaining to music, sound, film, video, and television (last updated 19 May 2009).
Further essential resources may be found at FilmSound.Org, SonicObjects and USC Thornton Film Composers Know the Score (YouTube video).

Monday, 9 March 2009

Coup de foudre: François Truffaut links

Antoine et Colette (François Truffaut, 1962) also see here and here

Film Studies For Free's human avatar watched François Truffaut's Antoine et Colette (1962) at the weekend and it was love at first sight, that is to say, cinephilic déjà vu, like the first experience of watching Les Mistons (1957), or even Les Quatre cent coups (1959), all over again...

Enough impenetrable solipsism, already: let's get back to FSFF's regular stock in trade.

Below are links to some great, scholarly Truffaut resources - mostly essays, freely available to all online. Merci de clicquer!

Please do be sure, also, to check out the magnificent events and screenings which form part of 'The Nouvelle Vague - 50 Years on', organised by University of London Screen Studies Group and the AHRC-supported French Cinema in Britain Research Project at the University of Southampton, to be held at the Institut français/Ciné Lumière in London later this week (conference programme HERE).

Also see:

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Capturing in film criticism: Digital Poetics on frame grabs

North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959): A Classic 'Frame Capture Film'?

Here's a follow-up to yesterday's post. If you are a film studies teacher searching for more good ideas for student assignments, Film Studies For Free would like to recommend a little more weblog reading about classroom applications of film criticism exercises.

Today's gem is the 10/40/70 exercise invented by Nicholas Rombes (Chair and Professor of English at the University of Detroit Mercy- also see here) at his great weblog Digital Poetics. What is the gen on 10/40/70? According to Rombes, it's
[a]n experiment in writing about film: select three different, arbitrary time codes (in this case the 10 minute, 40 minute, and 70 minute mark), freeze the frames, and use that as the guide to writing about the film. No compromise: the film must be stopped at these time codes. What if, instead of freely choosing what parts of the film to address, one let the film determine this? Constraint as a form of freedom.

Rombes has posted three such experiments of his own to date (10 / 40 / 70 (Ocean's Twelve); 10 / 40 / 70 (The Conversation); (10 / 40 / 70): The Grudge and The Terror of Determinism). The results really show the benefits of the creative constraints involved: some rich and insightful writing is generated on the three very different films.

It strikes FSFF that this would be a very rewarding exercise to set for students.

For more on the practicalities, legalities, and methodological advantages and disadvantages of using frame captures in published or public work, see the following:

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Dances with Blogs: Film Criticism Assignments Online

Thanks to David Hudson's Daily blog at, Film Studies For Free was alerted to an interesting and worthwhile experiment in the use of blogs for obtaining 'real-world' feedback for undergraduate film studies assignments.

Nick Davis is an Assistant Professor of English and Gender Studies at Northwestern University. He is author of the always good to read Nick's Flick Picks, which expertly does what it says on its blog-tin, and always conducts itself with great verve and wit.

From time to time Nick also generously shares notes on some of his academic research and his teaching projects on this site (see here and here). With regard to the latter, Nick's current seminar course at Northwestern, The Film Review as Genre, has led him to pose publicly the following great questions to his students:

What is a film review? How have reviews evolved as cinema has evolved? What do film reviewers want, and what criteria do they imply not only for the movies they critique but for the prose, the logic, and the details they enlist to convey that critique? Setting aside stars and thumbs and rotten tomatoes, we will engage with the literary, rhetorical, and stylistic aspects of film reviews as pieces of writing with their own history, considering the ways in which strong reviews require the same foundations as other expository essays (structure, argument, economy, evidence) but with specific and highly diverse relations to their readers, their venues, and their points of view. As an opportunity to bridge the "critical" and "creative" facets of literary study, participants in this course will study and write about film reviews by a host of crucial figures (including Rudolf Arnheim, Carl Sandburg, H.D., James Agee, Manny Farber, Parker Tyler, Andrew Sarris, James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, Anthony Lane, and Stephanie Zacharek) and will also write and revise their own reviews in response to a wide range of required as well as self-appointed viewings. Neither the films nor the reviews will be taken lightly, and the course expects committed and ambitious students—but wit, style, and esteem for the "popular" are warmly welcomed.

But Nick also wanted his students to have more responses to their work than just his own, 'especially since they're working in a form that aspires to a large and diverse audience'. So on this occasion he has used his blog to solicit feedback from his numerous readers on well-chosen snippets from the work produced by the course students (including on Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves [1990]). The responses to his request easily reveal the usefulness of this exercise (36 generally serious comments, to date, in just a few days). Film Studies For Free salutes Nick Davis's experiment and very much recommends that other film studies teachers check it out.

Since FSFF has gone all digital-pedagogical today, it's a good time to flag up another rich and purposeful reflection on such matters by Kevin B Lee. Regular FSFF readers will remember that a while back (see here, here, and here) this blog leapt to the e-barricades in angry defence of Lee's YouTube channel which had been temporarily (and very precipitously) suspended because of a query about copyright.

Back in January, Kevin eloquently wrote in summary about his experiences with YouTube: Things I Learned from Losing - and Regaining - My YouTube Account. But, more recently, he has also posted an exploration of the potential of his video essays as educational resources, based on his discoveries about how they are actually being used as classroom and assignment tools (see Video Essays as a teaching tool: a testimonial).

If you are interested in learning more about innovative film studies teaching methods, Lee's reflections make important reading. Also, while you're visiting Lee's Shooting Down Pictures, do please watch his fabulous new video essays - La roue (1922, Abel Gance) and Variety (1925, E.A. Dupont) featuring commentary by Kristin Thompson.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Oh Danny Boyle

From his earliest work as producer on Alan Clarke's hugely influential 1989 film Elephant onwards, Danny Boyle has never failed to stir up the oftentimes deadeningly dull world of British film drama, usually with his flamboyant visual and sonoric inventiveness. So, after all the digital and other ink spilled on his latest 'rags to riches' movie Slumdog Millionaire, Film Studies For Free keenly felt its duty to set out a little list of its favourite online studies of the storytelling techniques and filmmaking context of the ebulliently multicultural, but also very (Northern-)English director Boyle: