Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Tree of Links: Terrence Malick Studies

Frame grab from The New World (Terrence Malick, 2004)
For me the most powerful films are, and always will be, those of a singular gaze where the human eye can be felt, where it is allowed to go uninhibited, without question and without anyone second guessing its accuracy.

[Filmmaker Brad McGann on Malick's Days of Heaven in ‘Southern Superstition’, Take, Issue 27, Winter 2004/5, p. 19. cited by Duncan Petrie]

Film Studies For Free is off to the beach and won't be posting for a few weeks. But, dry those tears! FSFF always likes to leave its readers with something to remember it by. And this year's pre-vacation posting will hopefully do the trick. 

Below, you will find a sublime, transcendent, rare, totally indulgent, and almost religiously good list of links to online and openly accessible studies of the work of American filmmaker Terrence Malick, together with some reviews of his 2011 Palme D'Or winning opus The Tree of Life which are of scholarly interest. Scroll right down to the end for five of Matt Zoller Seitz's great video essays on Malick's work.

Don't say that FSFF doesn't love you, because, despite its occasional confusion with double-negatives, it does! Ciao!

Friday, 8 July 2011

"Radical, readable": Links and studies in memory of Robert Sklar

How important are origins? [Robert Sklar, 'Cineaste's Early Years: The Quest for a Radical, Readable Film Criticism', Cineaste, Vol. 32 No.4 (Fall 2007)]
What is remarkable is the way that American movies, through much of their span, have altered or challenged many of the values and doctrines of powerful social and cultural forces in American society, providing alternative ways of understanding the world. [Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York, 1975)]
Sklar’s most influential work, “Movie-Made America,” first came out over thirty years ago but remains one of the most important texts for the study of American cinema. (After all, he helped invent the field.) Its thesis, that American film culture owed much to the lower class and the struggles against capitalist interests rather than efforts to sustain them, echoed the egalitarian nature of Sklar’s writing: Although primarily an academic, he had the capacity to speak to movie lovers of all stripes. In doing so, he was essentially an activist, capable of making the inarguable case for taking movies seriously—not only as an art form, but a socio-economic force that helps us understand the world. [Eric Kohn, 'Robert Sklar, RIP', Screenrush at indieWIRE July 5, 2011 ]
Robert Sklar's Movie-Made America (1975, Vintage) was a paradigm-shifting work for film in American studies. It revamped the intellectual (or highbrow) versus popular polarities in which filmic expression was celebrated or denigrated in discussions ofAmerican culture by such culture critics as Dwight MacDonald writing during the height of the Cold War or historians like Richard Pells a decade later who began to incorporate Hollywood activities within the intellectual and cultural landscapes they portrayed. Sklar maintained an interest in movies and ideology but located them within Hollywood as an institution of capital, of culture, of even the State.
     The publication of his book seemed to be part of a new wave of addressing the role of movies and Hollywood within American culture. [Lauren Rabinovitz, 'More Than Meets the Eye: Movies in American Studies', 2005 MAASA Presidential Symposium, p. 77]
Discussing broad transformations in the history of American film, Robert Sklar suggests that, since the 1970s, historical memory has become the touchstone of a movie’s cultural power, replacing a ‘traditional rhetoric of myths and dreams’. For Sklar, the identification of a shift from ‘myth to memory’ in the rhetorical power of mainstream American film relates to a particular dissolution of the consensus that, until the 1970s, had underpinned American liberal ideologies in the postwar period. While speculative in nature, ideological schemas of this sort do have a certain use in identifying broad historical trends and patterns in the discursive propensities of popular cinema. Sklar is one of many critics who identify the 1970s as the origin of the contemporary ‘memory boom’ in American life and society. In a time when it is claimed that metanarratives of history and progress have been severely undermined, and when the past has become increasingly subject to cultural mediation, textual reconfiguration, and ideological contestation in the present, memory has developed a new discursive significance. In cinema, as in other modes of cultural practice, memory has become a powerful locus for the articulation of identity in the sphere of cultural imaginings. This has been levied in rhetorical terms – Sklar’s transition from the ‘myths and dreams’ of classical film to the ‘historical memory’ of more recent work – but it has also become figured in particular generic transformations and bound in regimes of industrial and institutional commercialism, such that movie memory itself has experienced a heightened cultural significance. [Paul Grainge, 'Introduction: memory and popular film', in Grainge (ed.), Memory and Popular Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003) citing Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), p. 357].
Many of Film Studies For Free's readers will already have heard of the very sad and untimely death this week of the influential U.S. film historian and critic Robert Sklar.

Professor of Cinema Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Sklar was the author of many books, including Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage, 1975; rev. 1994), City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield (Princeton, 1992) and A World History of Film" (2003). Sklar also worked as a contributing editor at Cineaste, writing many perceptive reviews. In 2007, he also penned an important and revealing study of that magazine’s early history, which featured in the 40th Anniversary issue. Sklar was co-editor (with Saverio Giovacchini) on a book set for publication later this year: Global Neorealism: The Transnational History of a Film Style.

Sklar served on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival in the 1990s. As a member of the National Film Preservation Board since 1997, he helped choose the films to be included on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. He was President of the Society for Cinema Studies (now the Society for Cinema and Media Studies) from 1979 to 1981.

Below, in a small tribute to the work of this unassuming but hugely important film scholar, FSFF has assembled a list of direct links to online, openly accessible writing by Sklar, as well as to tributes to him by his colleagues and students. Below those lists, there is a further gathering of links to a wide range of online film scholarship influenced or informed by his historical and historiographical work on American cinema.
    Online tributes:
    Significant online works influenced or informed by Sklar's Work:

      Wednesday, 6 July 2011

      What Time Reflects: In Memory of Mani Kaul, 1944-2011

      One of my major influences was the French film maker Robert Bresson. Bresson's films reflected a particular brand of Christian belief called Jansenism which manifests itself in the way leading characters are acted upon and simply surrender themselves to their fate. I believe that cinema is not so much visual as temporal. But most filmmakers concentrate on the spatio-visual aspect. This has led to certain problems. What time reflects is more contemporary than the arrangement of a set of visuals. I do not want to focus on this visual aspect in my films, but want to make the temporal primary. [Mani Kaul, 'Interview', ARC, November 15, 2005]
      [Mani Kaul] has been described as a formalist. But the term does not do justice to the intense emotional stories that [reverberate] from the images that make up his interpretations of myth, music and [architecture]—although often they are more like collaborations with those cultural pratices and forms. He defies categorisation: to call his work non-narrative does not account for the detailed and complex narration that his camera work offers within any single scene. Even to call him an Indian film maker does not seem useful since Kaul refuses to locate his work within national or cultural subjectivities. [Ian Iqbal Rashid, 'Asian and Asian Diaspora Programme', RUNGH, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1995, p. 36]

      Apologies for the very poor quality of this video;
      its inclusion here can only be very insufficiently indicative of the film's actual brilliance
      The Indian filmmaker Mani Kaul, who grew up artistically in India’s subsidized ‘‘parallel cinema’’ (i.e., parallel to commercial cinema) in the 1970s, has worked repeatedly with Indian song traditions, including Dhrupad (1982), which mesmerizes with the sound and image of one classical music performance style designed to facilitate spiritual meditation. Such work highlights the way in which we often take sound for granted as a convenient emotional conductor.
      Pat Aufderheide, Documentary Film - A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 17

      Film Studies For Free was saddened to hear, via film scholar Surbhi Goel, of the death of the great Indian filmmaker Mani Kaul. Last week, it posted a list of links to studies of the works of another legendary director from that country - Ritwik Ghatak, one of Kaul's most important teachers at the Film and Television Institute of India. But Kaul was a genuinely pioneering and deeply unconventional film artist in his own right who also became a hugely influential teacher and writer on cinema. He will be greatly missed.

        Monday, 4 July 2011

        PEEPING TOM Studies in Memory of Anna Massey

        Image of Anna Massey in her second film role as Helen in Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
        Film Studies For Free was very sad to hear of the death yesterday of the great British actress Anna Massey at the age of 73. For many years, she rightfully cornered the cinematic and televisual markets in kindly, kooky and/or downright spooky English ladies with lots going on beneath their surface.

        One of her best roles, in FSFF's humble opinion, was her BAFTA winning performance as romantic novelist Edith Hope in the 1986 BBC adaptation of Anita Brookner's novel Hotel du Lac. But her most studied and written about cinematic appearance was her proto-'final-girl' role as Helen Stephens in Powell's Peeping Tom. So it is to the relatively sparse, but online and openly accessible studies of that film to which FSFF directly links in its little tribute to Massey's work.

        This is a FILMANALYTICAL / FILM STUDIES FOR FREE video essay by Catherine Grant. It explores some of the obvious, as well as the more obscure, similarities between two films: PEEPING TOM (Michael Powell, 1960) and CODE INCONNU / CODE UNKNOWN (Michael Haneke, 2000). It was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License in June 2010.