Thursday 31 December 2009

Video essays from Mediascape and a New Year's resolution from FSFF

Harry (Billy Crystal) chases down Sally (Meg Ryan) on New Year's Eve in When Harry Met Sally (Rob Reiner, 1989)

It's New Year's Eve and Film Studies For Free has a prescriptive 'prediction' to make: that, in academic cinema and media studies, 2010 ought to be the year (and the subsequent 'teens' ought to be the decade...) of the video essay...

It will certainly be the year of the video essay here at FSFF. All deities, pagan spirits, and serendipitous or voluntaristic self-happenings willing, the BIG New Year's resolution at this here verbose blog is to research the video essay's potential for film studies through repeated practice, setting FSFF's neophyte, scholarly, AV efforts alongside its regular links-lists to mind-bogglingly fabulous, or just solid and fruitful, freely-accessible film and media studies resources.

For some time now, FSFF has been gathering inspiration and ideas from a wide variety of sources as to what truly scholarly video essays about films and film studies might look and sound like. You can visit some of its previous mutterings about these topics here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. So, it was delighted to hear, via Janet Bergstrom, that some of the latest (and best) explorations in this format have been published by UCLA's online and Open Access cinema and media studies journal Mediascape.

Below are the links to, and titles and abstracts of, this wonderful work in the latest Mediascape issue.

Following a trend begun in Mediascape’s Spring 2008 issue, we are once again showcasing a selection of visual essays. As Eric Faden observed in “A Manifesto for Critical Media,” while media continues to move forward, we as scholars need to follow suit and embrace the new technologies available to us for our scholarship. This means expanding the traditional tools utilized by media scholars such as primary archival research, textual analysis, literature review, the written word and the occasional still image, by using moving images to engage and critique themselves, to illustrate theory, or to reveal the labor of their own construction.

The following visual essays were created by Cinema and Media Studies students at UCLA under the guidance of Professor Janet Bergstrom, and are marked by a unique, creative approach to a variety of topics such as the filmic style and influence of HBO programming; an inter-twined production history and auteur study of Orson Welles and his film F for Fake; an industrial-genre analysis of the Wii and its style of play; and, in the wake of Barack Obama’s election to President, a look at representations of African-American presidents in film and television.

These projects exemplify how the traditional scholarly mode of the presentation and investigation of a thesis through the introduction and analysis of various kinds of evidence that is central to the format of a conventional written essay, is not only retained but enhanced by the transformation to a moving, visual text. Here, voiceover embodies the author’s voice, and when laid over a clip of film, television, or other media, enables a more compelling and precise analysis to leap from the page to the screen.

White House, Black President' by Clifford Hilo, Maya Montañez Smukler, Julia Wright
Only in the most contemporary moment has the notion of a black president been a historical reality, and yet this imagined figure has been represented in film as far back as 1933's Rufus Jones for President played by a seven-year old Sammy Davis, Jr. to Terry Crews' hypermuscular President Comacho in 2006's Idiocracy. “White House, Black President” studies the imagination of black presidency and its politics of representability in three areas. In an act of retroactive reclamation, Clifford Hilo's "Barack Obama and the Politics of Joy" searches for the apropos filmic metaphor for President Barack Obama and finds it in representations of Abraham Lincoln. In dialog with Adilifu Nama's Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction, Julia Wright's "Black to the Future" explores the intersection between blackness and science fiction films since the 1990s, asserting that the presence of black presidents in such a genre provides a meditation on blackness, masculinity, and social progress in America. Maya Smukler's "White House Humor" examines the use of political satire by black comics such as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock, in which humor arises from the incongruencies between race, power, and American history--for these comics, it is precisely the improbability of such a representation that, until recently, that has supplied the notion of a black presidency with such satirical valence.

'Layers of Paradox in F for Fake' by Benjamin Sampson
This visual essay explores how Orson Welles uses the text of F for Fake to comment on his long and troubled career in filmmaking. On the surface, F for Fakeseems to be a case study in charlatans, detailing the exploits of art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving, who himself was also a famous book forger. In the broader view, however, Welles’ uses the film to express his personal views concerning two subjects that had hounded his profession life: the ambiguity of authorship and the negative effects of commerce on the art world. Through patterns of film construction, visual motifs, and allusions to previous works, Welles consistently foregrounds the themes of authorship and the art market and their relationship to his own past. He also expresses several views concerning success in the art world, drawing connections from the characters on screen to his own career. In the end, however, many of Welles’ opinions in F for Fake contradict themselves. His logic creates several circular paradoxes, which mirrors the playful, circular nature of the film itself.

'HBO’s Cinematized Television' by Erin Hill and Brian Hu
Picking up where John Caldwell left off in his discussion of post-network permutations of style and narrative in 1995's Televisuality, Erin Hill and Brian Hu discuss HBO's forging of a unique brand of quality through its original series beginning in the 90's. HBO not only increasingly chose for its original programs the filmic look first pioneered by network shows like Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues, but, through strategies such as widescreen formatting, the production of prestige properties, and the appropriation of authors and genres strongly associated with film, the cable network also aimed increasingly at obtaining for its programming the high culture status that had previously been reserved for only the greatest and most critically acclaimed works of cinematic art. The channel's success in thus defining itself as something above and beyond television (not TV but HBO), in turn, had an effect on network and basic cable narrative and aesthetics from which it had attempted to distinguish itself, causing the cinematic envelope to be pushed further and in more ways than ever before through attempts at "Quality" (a.k.a. film-like) programming.

'Towards a New Genre of Video Game Play' by Drew Morton , David O’Grady and Jennifer Porst
In, "Towards a New Genre of Video Game Play," Jennifer Porst, David O’Grady, and Drew Morton explore the body at play in relationship to new interfaces of video game consoles that offer digital agency beyond the click or the thumb and the experiences they offer—what the authors dub as “gestural play”—from industrial, theoretical, and generic perspectives. In the essay's first section, Porst analyzes the recent home video game console war to explicate the success of the Nintendo Wii and its different positioning in the marketplace from the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3. In part two, O'Grady provides a phenomenological examination of the Wiimote interface in a case study of Wii Tennis, arguing that gestural play enriches the dialectic between body and screen. Finally, Morton concludes with a generic and historical analysis of video game interfaces that suggests the use of the body in digital play has at last become more than a passing fad; gestural play is becoming as a new genre of video gaming and a productive mode of video game analysis.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Season's greetings and happy holiday wishes from Film Studies For Free

No Man's Land (Scotland, 2004) directed by Clara Glynn, score by Sally Beamish, cinematography by Mike Eley, edited by (an old Glasgow friend) Colin Monie, and featuring Julie Austin, Liam Brennan, Louise Ludgate, and Euan Mackay as Rory.

Thank you for visiting Film Studies For Free. See you in the New Year with lots more links lists and video essays, too...

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Oyez! Oyez! Screening the Past (Issue 26) Out Now

Image from The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005), the subject of Robert Sinnerbrink's great article in the latest issue of Screening the Past

Donning its fetching town-crier e-garb, Film Studies For Free shouts out "Hear ye, hear ye: new Screening the Past, people! Lots of links to great stuff below." The issue features wondrous items by old and valued friends of FSFF (Adrian Martin and Frances Guerin, in particular) as well as by up and coming Film Studies greats (Robert Sinnerbrink, among others).

Issue 26: Special Issue: Early Europe 

Guest Editor: Louise D’Arcens

Louise D’Arcens: Screening Early Europe: Premodern Projections.
Adrian Martin: The Long Path Back: Medievalism and Film.
Stephanie Trigg: Transparent Walls: Stained Glass and Cinematic Medievalism.
Anke Bernau: Suspended Animation: Myth, Memory and History in Beowulf.
Sylvia Kershaw and Laurie Ormond: “We are the Monsters Now”: The Genre Medievalism of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf.
Robert Sinnerbrink: From Mythic History to Cinematic Poetry: Terrence Malick’s The New World Viewed.
Helen Dell: Music for Myth and Fantasy in Two Arthurian Films.
Narelle Campbell: Medieval Reimaginings: Female Knights in Children’s Television.
Louise D’Arcens: Iraq, the Prequel(s): Historicising Military Occupation and Withdrawal in Kingdom of Heaven and 300.
Christina Loong: Reel Medici Mobsters? The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance Reassessed.
Laura Ginters: “A Continuous Return”: Tristan and Isolde, Wagner, Hollywood and Bill Viola.
Appendix: Raúl Ruiz: Three Thrusts at Excalibur.

First Release
Adrian Danks, Fishing from the Same Stream: The New Iranian Cinema, Close-Up and the “Film-on-film” Genre.
Peter Limbrick, Playing Empire: Settler Masculinities, Adventure, and Merian C. Cooper’s The Four Feathers (US 1929).
Lesley Speed, Strike Me Lucky: Social Difference and Consumer Culture in Roy Rene’s Only Film.

Australian Film Culture

Ina Bertrand, Some Early History of the Australian Film Institute: A Memoir of the 1970s.
Deane Williams, ‘The Circulation of Ideas’: An Interview with Tom O’Regan.
Deane Williams, Shifts and Interventions: Cultural Materialism and Australian Film History.


Ina Bertrand reviews Raymond Longford’s The Sentimental Bloke: The Restored Version, Madman/NFSA/ATOM, 2009.
Ina Bertrand reviews Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley (ed.), Hollywood in the Neighbourhood: Historical Case Studies of Local Moviegoing.
Nathalie Brillon reviews Jane Mills, Loving and Hating Hollywood: Reframing Global and Local Cinemas.
Adam Broinowski reviews Sabine Nessel, Winfried Pauleit, Christine Rüffert (eds), Wort und Fleisch: Kino zwischen Text und Körper.
Rachael Cameron reviews André Gaudreault, From Plato to Lumière: Narration and Monstration in Literature and Cinema.
Ryan Cook reviews Matthew H. Bernstein, Screening a Lynching: The Leo Frank Case on Film and Television.
Maura Edmond reviews Jacob Smith, Vocal Tracks: Performance and Sound Media.
Victor Fan reviews Pak Tong Cheuk, Hong Kong New Wave Cinema (1978-2000).
Mike Fleming reviews The Encyclopedia of British Film (Third Edition).
Freda Freiberg reviews Alexander Jacoby, A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors: From the Silent Era to the Present Day, and Aaron Gerow, A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan.
Gin Chee Tong reviews Brooke Erin Duffy and Joseph Turow (eds), Key Readings in Media Today: Mass Communication in Contexts.
Frances Guerin reviews Kristen Whissel, Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology, and the Silent Cinema.
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reviews Barry Curtis, Dark Places: The Haunted House in Film.
Roger Hillman reviews Mark Betz, Beyond the Subtitle: Remapping European Art Cinema.
Jan-Christopher Horak reviews Rob King, The Fun Factory: The Keystone Film Company and the Emergence of Mass Culture.
Irene Javors reviews Joe McElhaney, Albert Maysles.
D.B. Jones reviews Philip Gillett, Movie Greats: A Critical Study of Classic Cinema.
Harry Kirchner reviews Steven Maras, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice.
Roger Macy reviews Bert Cardullo, Out of Asia: The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Abbas Kiraostami, and Zhang Yimou; Essays and Interviews.
Harriet Margolis reviews Gönül Dönmez-Colin, Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging.
Harriet Margolis reviews Deb Verhoeven, Jane Campion.
Craig Martin reviews Tony Shaw, Hollywood’s Cold War.
Josh Nelson reviews Roger Ebert, Scorsese by Ebert.
Violeta Politoff reviews Joanna Page, Crisis and Capitalism in Contemporary Argentine Cinema.
Thomas Redwood reviews Michel Ciment, Film World: Interviews with Cinema’s Leading Directors.
Christopher Rowe reviews Jane Stadler with Kelly McWilliam, Screen Media: Analysing Film and Television.
Kirsten Stevens reviews Dina Iordanova with Ragan Rhyne (eds), Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit.
Jay Daniel Thompson reviews Amit Sarwal and Reema Sarwal (eds), Creative Nation: Australian Cinema and Cultural Studies Reader.
Mike Walsh reviews Michael Ingham, Johnnie To Kei-fung’s PTU.
Mike Walsh reviews Joe McElhaney (ed.), Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment.
Mike Walsh reviews Catherine Russell, The Cinema of Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity.
Tony Williams reviews Stella Hockenhull, Neo-Romantic Landscapes: An Aesthetic Approach to the Films of Powell and Pressburger.
Janice Yu reviews Jane Blocker, Seeing Witness: Visuality and the Ethics of Testimony.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Crossing the Wild River: R.I.P. Robin Wood (1931-2009)

Last updated on June 4, 2010
'If I were asked to choose a film that would justify the existence of Hollywood, I think it would be Rio Bravo.' Robin Wood
Film Studies For Free briefly emerges from an enforced absence due to illness (back properly soon, it hopes), to mark the sad passing, on December 18, of Robin Wood, one of the true giants of the difficult endeavour of film criticism and also of the discipline of film studies.

FSFF's own special-favourite Wood works are the talk on 'Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic', his books on Hitchcock (especially the Vertigo chapter), the book he co-authored with Michael Walker on Claude Chabrol's films, his incredibly enlightening study of Hawk's Rio Bravo and the other BFI book on The Wings of a Dove. Each of these was paradigm-shifting in their own ways, as was much of Wood's other writing on cinema.

As online tributes to this major film writer appear in the next days they will be added to the list of online and freely accessible works by or about Wood given below.

May this hugely prolific, influential, and talented writer, film-thinker, and teacher rest in peace.

Posthumous online tributes to Robin Wood:

Online works by or about Robin Wood: