Thursday, 26 May 2011

30+ articles from the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Frame grab from The Wind (Victor Sjöström, 1928). Read Bo Florin's article on this film
[Traditionally, aesthetics] has been based on national perspectives and contexts, as well as contained within the limits of specific disciplines. However, the changing society has made this focus all too narrow. Due to globalization, media and territories merge and move in new ways, where regional, national, international, and global perspectives increasingly integrate. New contexts and new aesthetic strategies are also created, and traditional boundaries and hierarchies become transgressed, for example, between high brow and popular culture, or between art and technology. Aesthetics as well as culture thus need to be discussed and interpreted across the disciplines, through different media, over territorial borders. Finally, this is also a strong argument for Open Access publishing: to constitute a global platform and an interface for interdisciplinary discourse—free for anybody to read. [from first JAC Editorial by Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Lars Gustaf Andersson and John Sundholm]
Film Studies For Free had been meaning to post something about the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture for quite a while. It's an online open access journal, hence one very much after this blog's's heart, with a high percentage of very good quality film-studies related articles that FSFF has frequently linked to on Twitter.

Today, JAC published an excellent dossier on Transnational Cultural Memory, an event which provided a wonderful prompt to gather together, in one place, links to everything that JAC has published to date. And below, that is just what you will find.

FSFF has also added JAC to its permanent listing of excellent, Open Access film and moving image studies journals

Vol. 1 (2009)
Vol. 2 (2010)

Vol 3 (2011)

Monday, 23 May 2011

On Figural Analysis in Film Studies

Video essay about У самого синего моря/U samogo sinyego morya/By the Bluest of Seas (Boris Barnet, 1936). Featuring commentary by Nicole Brenez, author of Abel Ferrara (University of Illinois Press, 2007) and De la figure en général et du corps en particulier (De Boeck, 1998), professor of cinema studies at Université Paris I and programmer at the Cinémathèque Française. Video essay produced by Kevin B. Lee.
At the very least, I believe this is a good, poetic way of grasping part of the art of cinema: as an art of constantly shifting figuration. Not just on the level of bringing bodies and people into being, but also animals, objects, imaginary apparitions - in fact an entire material and virtual world. […]
     For [Nicole] Brenez as for [Gilles] Deleuze, a critical and theoretical approach of this sort marks a significant departure from classical mise en scène analysis. The venerable tool of découpage - shot-by-shot breakdown - depends upon the theatrical and dramatic unity of the filmic scene, which in turn rests upon the most cherished principle of mise en scène analysis: "bodies in space", the pro-filmic reality of bodies dwelling and moving within a space defined by a set or a landscape. Deleuze asserts, to the contrary, that "the cinema is not a theatre", and that its bodies are composed "from granules, which are granules of time". This is, in a sense, analysis in two dimensions rather than the usual three; and if there is still "depth" to a movie, it will need to be a new, differently defined kind of depth.
     Figural analysis, thus, is granular or atomic, a true "frame by frame" analysis which takes its model and inspiration from the fine-grain materiality and action of experimental cinema; it is less concerned with lenses and depth of field than with the mobile arrangment, displacement and pulsation of screen particles. Shot divisions, even scenes or sequences are less pertinent for this work than analytic "ensembles", slices of text and texture that demonstrate the economy and logic of a film's ceaseless transformation of its elements. And everything to do with character, performance and actorly presence in cinema will have to be rethought from the vantage point of this ghostly, mobile flickering of the celluloid grain as it helps to form and deform the figure of the human being on screen. [Adrian Martin, 'The body has no head: corporeal figuration in Aldrich', Screening the Past, June 30, 2000]
As Bill Routt reminds us in his admirable article on the figural in film, figural analysis is a form of hermeneutics involving the historical relation between signs and events, between the text's present condition of meaning and its capacity to draw on and summon forth the past through the power of signs. The figural opens up the historicity of the film text so that the event's past is also its 'coming to presence'. Reading the figural is to read the past in the present; to read with the 'pastness' of the text as a prefiguring of something beyond what the text says in its normative, denotative mode of signification. All texts have figures, since all texts have a past, or at least point to a past as the very materiality of their signification.
     The task of figural analysis is not limited to describing figures in film texts. Rather, it concerns the mapping of an abstract machine: a machine for writing in images, composed of various historically defined elements drawn synthetically into particular arrangements and assemblages that make film happen in the way that it does. Here I am not referring to 'context', but to a genealogical tracing of the lineages and interconnectivities between older and more recent image technologies, and their hybrid formations through time. Any given film or media text will exhibit interconnections with pre-existing modes (even if those modes have been pronounced obsolete), which define and control the potential that the film undertakes to make happen. In silent film we might trace the transformation from a theatrical to a film mode of appearance, where the former is prefigured in the latter and vice versa, for instance in the coincidence of stage and film gestures in Lillian Gish's performance in Way Down East. Here we see the emergence of a new kind of film sense vibrating in the uneasy conjunction of different techniques.
     At stake here is the proliferation of a technological apparatus for the production of images, and the power arrangements that make them appear historically. The technological apparatus is not all of a piece, but is constantly riven with the effects of an outside that produces transformational change. The image machine lives on, not because of any over-riding structure that it possesses, but through the contingent interconnections that are activated in particular image-productions. This is why it is necessary to attend carefully to films themselves, to the detailing of their mode of appearance and its relation to ideational content as a particular moment in the image machine's transformational history. [Warwick Mules, 'The Figural as Interface in Film and the New Media: D. N. Rodowick's Reading the Figural', Film-Philosophy, Vol. 7, December 2003 Hyperlinks added by FSFF]

Today, Film Studies For Free presents a luscious list of links to online explorations or examples of figural analysis deployed in the service of film studies. It is an eclectic, but almost certainly not yet an exhaustive list. So, if you know of further good items, please leave a comment below.

It particularly figures, if you will forgive FSFF's characteristically lame pun, the online work of French film scholar and cinephile activist Nicole Brenez, alongside that of Adrian Martin, the latter an anglophone champion of Brenez's many, increasingly influential, contributions to our international field. But there are lots of other inflections of the figural represented below, too, as per FSFF's usual pluralist linkage-leanings.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A new MOVIE: Fritz Lang, Robin Wood, Vincente Minnelli, Susan Hayward and More

Image from The Testament of Dr Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933). Read Michael Walker's article on this film here.

A great way to start the week, Film Studies For Free thinks. The second issue of the new Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism has just been posted online, with a wonderful looking Lang dossier, a fine tribute to the late Robin Wood, which takes the form of seven of his rarest pieces from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. And there's more besides on Susan Hayward and Vincente Minnelli. Direct links to all items are given below.

Now, to read it!

Issue 2

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

‘Daddy’s dead. Noooo!’: Quentin Tarantino and Psychoanalysis Beyond the Paternal principle

 Image from Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
Today, Film Studies For Free brings you links to audio recordings from a symposium on Quentin Tarantino and psychoanalysis "beyond the paternal principle", hosted by The London Graduate School and the London Society for the New Lacanian School. It took place on 4th April, at the Institute for Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London. The symposium engagingly described itself thus:
‘Daddy’s dead. Noooo!’ (Tarantino, from Dusk Till Dawn)
Tarantino’s movies frequently turn on the abjection of a paternal figure (Marcellus Wallace, Jacob Fuller, Bill, Stuntman Mike), who loses his place and authority to become a redundant figure of consumption and expenditure. Tarantino’s movies themselves, in their restless play of reflexive images and references, are always seeking to produce the maximum in cinematic affect irrespective of the aesthetic unities of generic form, symbolic consistency, realism. This symposium explores the suggestion that Tarantino’s movies best symptomatise a tendency in Hollywood generally where cinema is no longer a vehicle of (anti)Oedipal desire, but a febrile, speculative generator of thrills, pleasures and anxieties swarming along an accelerating death drive which is itself death proof. In Tarantino’s film of the same name, for example, the impotence of itinerant ex-stuntman Mike is the condition of a romance between two iconic automobiles, vehicles not of male potency but an altogether Other jouissance.
  • INTRODUCTION: Véronique Voruz (the London Society of the New Lacanian School)[AUDIO HERE] Right click to save
  • TARANTINO’s GIRLS: Gérard Wajcman (writer, psychoanalyst, curator and art critic. He teaches at the Department of Psychoanalysis of Paris 8 University and is a member of the École de la Cause Freudienne and the World Association of Psychoanalysis) read by Scott Wilson [AUDIO HERE]
  • POST-PHALLIC LIBIDINAL ECONOMIES: Hager Weslati (London Graduate School, Kingston University) [AUDIO HERE]
  • SCREEN, DRIVE, ROMANCE: Fred Botting (London Graduate School, Kingston University, co- author of the Tarantinian Ethics (Sage, 2001)) [AUDIO HERE]
  • PSYCHE, THAT INGLOURIOUS BASTERD: Scott Wilson (London Graduate School, Kingston University, co- author of the Tarantinian Ethics (Sage, 2001)) [AUDIO HERE]
  • TOUGH LOVE: Marie-Hélène Brousse (practising psychoanalyst in Paris, a member of the École de la Cause freudienne and of the World Association of Psychoanalysis) [AUDIO HERE]

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Obscurity of the Obvious: On the Films of Otto Preminger

 Richard Brody on Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1967)
Auteurism got film studies into the academy, but it was 1970s “semiotic” theory (with its amalgam of structuralism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and feminism) that secured film studies a position as a discrete discipline. With this critical shift, however, the obvious became obscure: for in effect, the semiotic approach rendered in need of interpretation many films that appeared transparent. But while films by directors like Ray, Sirk, and Minnelli seemed tailor-made for this method—with their implicit interrogation of the social relations of post-war life in America (bourgeois, patriarchal, heterosexual, capitalist)—Preminger’s films aren’t, due to their both narrative and stylistic approach. While Ray, Sirk, and Minnelli mounted their critique of American capitalist society indirectly, through their carefully designed mise-en-scène that communicated visually things that couldn’t then be addressed directly, Preminger took the opposite approach: addressing controversial social issues (sexual affairs, drug abuse, homosexuality) head- on, so that any “symptomatic” interpretation was rendered superfluous. The social issues under interrogation in Preminger’s films were not subtextual—they were the manifest content. Indeed, to point out that there is a subtext of incest in Anatomy of a Murder, Bonjour Tristesse, and Bunny Lake Is Missing is merely to state the obvious. As a result, since the early 1970s, Preminger has been a severely under-examined filmmaker.  [Excerpt from Christian Keathley, 'Otto Preminger and the Surface of Cinema', World Picture Journal, 2, 2008]
Film Studies For Free was so inspired by Christian Keathley's video essay on Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, part of an impressive body of scholarship on this director's films by this US based academic, that it immediately set to work on assembling an accompanying collection of direct links to other high quality and openly accessible studies of this filmmaker's oeuvre, as well as to one or two other interesting discussions of other directors' work which mention Preminger's films.

And below you have it. That is all. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

New Bright Lights Film Journal

Image from My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (Wai Ka-Fai with Johnny To, 2002).

Film Studies For Free heard, via David Hudson, of a brand new, and excellent, issue of online Bright Lights Film Journal. Just feast your eyes on the below, directly-linked-to contents.

As an old advertising campaign used to say, "I never knew there was so much in it..." Except that FSFF always did know this about BLFJ, a truly brilliant repository of incredibly lively, scrupulously edited, and highly informative online film writing....

From the Editor
  • Our Orgasms, Ourselves: Meditations on Movie Sex, By Marilyn Papayanis “How can it be that the act that socially and historically has defined masculinity and to which, to a significant extent, male self-esteem is ultimately linked is not reliably rewarding to women?” — Rachel P. Maines
  • Notions of Gender in Hindi Cinema: The Passive Indian Woman in the Global Discourse of Consumption, By Prakash Kona “During the so-called ‘repressive’ ages sex was a joy, because it was practiced in secret and it made a mockery of all of the obligations and duties that the repressive power imposed. Instead, in tolerant societies, as the one we live in is declared to be, sex produces neuroses because the freedom granted is false and above all, it is granted from above and not won from below.” — Pier Paolo Pasolini, Pasolini prossimo nostro (2006)
  • Slash and Burn: Revisiting William Friedkin’s The Hunted (2003), By Ian Murphy “Putting the pain back into violence is Friedkin’s real achievement in The Hunted, and indeed his unfashionable, irony-free approach helps explain why the film never found its audience in a decade where torture porn induced new depths of numbness in viewers.”
  • Who Took the Folk Out of Music? Everybody, It Seems, By Norman Ball “How does Tibet’s cultural destruction differ, in essence, from Time-Warner’s choreographed glamorization of bitches and ho’s in inner-city America, or death metal’s hold over disenfranchised Midwestern youth?”
  • Deborah Kerr: An Actress in Search of an Author, By Penelope Andrew “The camera goes right through the skin. The camera brings out what you are, and in her case, there was always a kind of a humanity that she had in all of the things that she played . . . I think she made movies that have never worn off their splendor.” — Peter Viertel, Kerr’s husband
  • The Complete Exile: The Films of Carlos Atanes, By Rob Smart “These shoestring-budget shot-on-video works already demonstrate Atanes’ characteristic gifts for composition and staging combined with a knack for finding bleakly evocative locations that reinforce his themes of power, oppression, exile or, entrapment and the dream of alternate realities where freedom might be possible.”
  • Between Heaven and Hell: Martin Scorsese’s Middle Ground, By Joanne De Simone “Together with his unobstructed panorama of those mean streets, and his long relationship with religion, Scorsese’s character was shaped. It infused in him just the right amount of guilt to develop stories about the struggle between good and evil and that dangerous place in between — not bad enough for hell, not good enough for heaven.”

Unstable Platforms? Film/Moving Image Studies Papers from MIT7 Media in Transition

Teaser image, courtesy of Warner Brothers, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 out on July 15  (David Yates, 2011). Read Debora Lui's paper on Harry Potter: The Exhibition.

Today, Film Studies For Free brings you links to film and moving image related papers from the conference proceedings of the seventh annual Media in Transition conference, which will take place next week, May 13-15, 2011, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Here's the conference's mission statement:
Has the digital age confirmed and exponentially increased the cultural instability and creative destruction that are often said to define advanced capitalism? Does living in a digital age mean we may live and die in what the novelist Thomas Pynchon has called “a ceaseless spectacle of transition”? The nearly limitless range of design options and communication choices available now and in the future is both exhilarating and challenging, inciting innovation and creativity but also false starts, incompatible systems, planned obsolescence. How are we coping with the instability of platforms? 
FSFF particularly liked "“Make Any Room Your TV Room:” Media Mobility, Digital Delivery, and Family Harmony" by film and media studies scholar and blogger extraordinaire Chuck Tryon, film and television scholar and media studies blogger extraordinaire Michael Z. Newman's paper 'The Television Image and the Image of the Television", and "Who Told You You Were Special Edition? The Commercialization of the Aura" by Justin Mack.

There are other great papers online connected to
the conference theme of unstable platforms and the experience of mediatic transitions that don't treat moving image topics and you can access those here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Liquid Atmospherics: On the cinema of Wong Kar-wai

ENVOI (2011) from Elaine Castillo on Vimeo. The above video is a ficto-biographical essay-film taking two looped scenes from two Wong Kar-wai films (HAPPY TOGETHER and DAYS OF BEING WILD) as its point of departure, arrival (also: non-departure, non-arrival). On grief, migration, the romantic, hyper-specificity, sentimental time, queer space, Asian celebrity gossip, fantasies involving Maggie Cheung, covers and translations, the writing body, the filmmaking body, readability, speakability.
Almost devoid of irony, Wong’s films, like classic rock and roll, take seriously all the crushes, the posturing, and the stubborn capriciousness of young angst. They rejoice in manic expenditures of energy. They celebrate the momentary heartbreak of glimpsing a stranger who might be interesting to love. The best comparison is surely not with Godard, whose romantic streak has a bitter edge. In Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong may have its Truffaut, the director who in Tirez sur le pianiste and Jules et Jim concentrated on not-quite-grown- up characters brooding on eternally missed chances. In any case, Wong stands out from his peers by abandoning the kinetics of comedies and action movies in favor of more liquid atmospherics. He dissolves crisp emotions into vaporous moods. For all his sophistication, his unembarrassed effort to capture powerful, pleasantly adolescent feelings confirms his commitment to the Hong Kong popular tradition.
David Bordwell, 'Avant-Pop Cinema Romance on Your Menu: Chungking Express' in Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (Second edition: e-book; Wisconsin: Irvington Way Institute Press Madison, 2011), pp. 178-179

Today, Film Studies For Free massively updates its existing entry on the cinema of Wong Kar-wai

There are two compelling reasons for this: the first is there are lots more scholarly resources available, or discoverable, now on this filmmaker's work that are worth listing, including some great items on video. 

The second is that this is the first of two posts in celebration of the online publication, as a PDF, of a full colour, second edition of the peerless David Bordwell's book Planet Hong Kong, an opus well worth its $15 pricetag, in FSFF's humble and, usually, frugal opinion.
FSFF doesn't normally celebrate, or promote, pay-to-own resources. But, apart from the fact that this is a highly interesting development in online Film Studies publishing in its own right, no one has given so generously online, either of his already published work or of his ongoing scholarly work, as David Bordwell. 

What is more, Bordwell's PHK chapter entitled 'Avant-Pop Cinema', with its lyrical and beautifully illustrated section on Wong's work: 'Romance on Your Menu: Chungking Express', is worth the download price alone. If you need to save up to purchase Planet Hong Kong first, you can enjoy, in the meantime, several excellent posts at Observations on Film Art on Wong's work, including 'Ashes to Ashes (Redux)' and 'Years of being obscure'.

Video material:
Written material: