Sunday 30 May 2010

A monstrous talent: Blue Velvet Studies in Memory of Dennis Hopper

"Why are there people like Frank?"
"A truly Bad Bad Guy is not believable and impossible to connect with. That is unless your whole story world is twisted and strange in itself; Like Dennis Hopper's truly Bad Bad Guy in David Lynch's Blue Velvet." Sune Liltop, 'Good Guy / Bad Guy',  P.O.V. No.28, 2009

"...the conflict between smoothness and pent-up rage that defines Hopper's roles in films like David Lynch's Blue Velvet [1986]" Adrian Danks, "Nice 'N' Easy: Speaking Frankly about The Night We Called it a Day', Senses of Cinema, Issue 28, 2003

As Film Studies For Free is sure all of its readers will have learned by now, American movie actor, director and artist Dennis Hopper died yesterday. Some remarkable tributes to him have appeared in the last weeks, few if any better than those by filmmaker-critic Matt Zoller Seitz (see his video essay here; and a further written tribute here). Since the news of his death was made public, David Hudson has been collecting a full list of online tributes to Dennis Hopper here.

For FSFF's author, while she has a big soft spot for The Hot Spot (1990) as well as Easy Rider (1969), two films directed by Hopper, his most memorable contribution to the cinema was, in her view, his performance as the raging psychopath Frank Booth in David Lynch's 1986 film Blue Velvet. So this masterful film forms the (usually main) subject of each of the notable resources linked to in the scholarly webliography offered up today.  

Rest in peace, Mr Hopper.

          Saturday 29 May 2010

          Love builds bridges: on the romantic comedy in transnational cinema

          Last updated June 1, 2010
          Image of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn on the set of Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938). See Kartina Richardson's short video essay on this film at her new audio commentary website Mirror.

          Film Studies For Free's author sensibly decided, on balance, that it was probably better to stay at home and draft the below list of links to good quality, openly accessible, and disciplinarily-diverse, scholarly studies of the transnational, transhistorical, romantic comedy film mode, than to haul herself out (in the rain) to the cinema to see Sex and the City 2.

          Enough said, probably, but if you think she has made the wrong choice, please do leave a comment below... (More links should be added in the next few days - if you have any to suggest, please get in touch).

              Friday 28 May 2010

              Participations 7.1: on Slumdog Millionaire, The Wire, and The Sopranos

              Image from Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)

              Film Studies For Free is happy to announce that the May 2010 edition of the Open Access e-journal Participations: online journal of audience and reception studies is now online

              This edition contains Martin Barker's 'Editorial Introduction', as well as the following articles, not all of which situate themselves within film and television studies, but each of which is relevant to audience and reception studies in those disciplinary areas.

              Thursday 27 May 2010

              Amsterdam fine links!

              Image from Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972), based on Stanisław Lem's 1961 novel. Read BC Biermann's film-philosophical PhD Thesis chapter on this film adaptation

              A little window of opportunity for Film Studies For Free's author to bring you one of this site's regular features today: a report (or, more accurately, a labour-intensive links-harvest) from a University research repository, one of those online archives in which, on occasion, academics choose not only to store references to their published film studies work, but also to provide Open Access to that work.

              The repository in question today is that of the University of Amsterdam/Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA), home to one of the best Film and Media Studies departments in the world. Below is a list of links to an amazing spread of very high quality film research accessible there, most of it in the form of full-length PhD theses.

              Wednesday 26 May 2010

              "Mix-Tape Cinema": studies of Wes Anderson's films

              Links added May 27, 2010
              Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson at the New York Public Library (

              On the occasion of today's publication by of the above entertaining and informative video, Film Studies For Free presents a (rather) small but (almost) perfectly formed compendium of links to freely accessible studies of the joyous/poignant/whimsical/arch/'scavenger' films of US writer/director Wes Anderson. As usual, if readers know of any other good online material to add to the below list, do please get in touch.

              The Substance of Style, Pt 1Wes Anderson and his pantheon of heroes (Schulz, Welles, Truffaut) by Matt Zoller Seitz  posted March 30, 2009 

              The above video is the first in a five-part series of video essays analyzing the key influences on Wes Anderson’s style. Part 2 covers Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester, and Mike Nichols. Part 3 covers Hal Ashby. Part 4 covers J.D. Salinger. Part 5 is an annotated version of the prologue to The Royal Tenenbaums.

              'The Films of Wes Anderson' (great clip 'mix-tape'/montage) by Paul Proulx

              "A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I watched a film called Bottle Rocket. I knew nothing about it, and the movie really took me by surprise. Here was a picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its director's affection for his characters in particular and for people in general. A rarity. And the central idea of the film is so delicate, so human: A group of young guys think that their lives have to be filled with risk and danger in order to be real. They don't know that it's okay simply to be who they are." Martin Scorsese, 'Wes Anderson', Esquire, March 1, 2000
              "Whenever I am getting ready to make a movie I look at other movies I love in order to answer the same recurring question: How is this done, again? I can never seem to remember, and I don’t mean that to be glib. I also hope people don’t throw it back in my face. Making a movie is very complicated, and it seems like kind of a miracle when it actually works out. Hal Ashby made five or six great movies in a row, and that seems to be practically unheard of." 'Wes Anderson on [Hal Ashby's] The Last Detail' in 'The Director's Director', by Jennifer Wachtel, GOOD, June 18, 2008
              "In narrative, whimsy emphasizes the unexpected links that connect disparate ideas or events, but the connections must be meaningful. Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991) is not whimsical because it never proposes that the links between its scenes are anything more than incidental. It embraces insignificance and ponders the possibility of elevating apathy into anarchy. Wes Anderson’s films are whimsical because their unexpected juxtapositions are imbued with sentimental significance. As a visual mode, whimsy favours busy frames and compositions that distract viewers from the centre. It rewards those willing to explore the edges with jokes buried in marginalia or Dalmatian mice sniffing around in the corner of an elaborately composed shot. In all cases whimsy values the ability to appreciate the aesthetic harmony possible among myriad incongruent objects. It draws attention to the act of perception and the sensibility of the perceiver." Charlotte Taylor, 'The Importance of Being Earnest', Frieze Magazine, Issue 92, June-August 2005
              '...[S]tuff like Wes Anderson mix-tape cinema...', Michael Sicinski, 'Songs Sung Blue: The Films of Michael Robinson', Cinema-scope, 33 

              Tuesday 18 May 2010

              Bazinian, Neo-Bazinian, and Post-Bazinian Film Studies

              Film Studies For Free decided to round up some classy links today to studies either by the hugely influential film critic André Bazin (1918-1958), co-founder of the film magazine Cahiers du cinéma, or by those who use or comment upon his work in their own contributions to film studies. As the below, openly accessible works more than amply show, even in this the digital film age, Bazin is an earlier generation film theorist who keeps on giving to the discipline that he, as much as anyone else, helped to found.

              Online Baziniana: 

                Monday 17 May 2010

                In darkened rooms: On Salvador Dalí and cinema (in memory of David Vilaseca)

                "Oh Salvador Dalí, of the olive-colored voice!
                I sing your restless longing for the statue,
                your fear of the feelings that await you in the street."

                Excerpt from Federico García Lorca, 'Ode to Salvador Dalí'
                (first published in Revista de Occidente, Madrid, April 1926)

                "The cinema? Three cheers for darkened rooms."
                "[Un chien andalou/] An Andalusian Dog, one of the most universally acclaimed films in cinema history, is frequently mentioned by critics as a privileged point of reference for the Surrealist rebellion. The film remains enigmatic to this day. Criticism has concentrated on the validity and effectiveness of its images to exemplify the avant-garde attack against social conventions and against the exclusive dominance of rationality in epistemology and social discourse. But this contextual approach does not take account of the script's fragmented narrative, which finds support in Freud's psychoanalytical theories and articulates a radical proposal for identity and culture. Largely neglected by critics, this narrative has been highly influential in the history of cinema. An Andalusian Dog is central to a long list of films that explore different aspects of the irrational, among them Jean Cocteau's Le sang du poète, Hunt Stromberg's The Strange Woman, Guy Debord's script Howling in Favor of the Marquis de Sade, Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, [...] David Lynch's Blue Velvet [...].
                    Conventionally An Andalusian Dog has been viewed as a film about sexuality; I suggest that sexuality appears in the film as the pretext for a discussion of the threat sexual desire poses for male identity. In this respect, the film develops ideas that begin to appear in paintings completed by Dalí after his initial contact with Freud's works in the mid-1920s. These paintings display male identity as a fragile form of subsistence unfolding between two alternate forces, desire and fear: the desire for sexual realization and the opposed fear that sexual intercourse will conclude in disease and ultimately in death. Given the scarcity of Buñuel's production prior to 1929, I suggest that Dalí's monumental production of paintings during these years served as a preliminary visual point of reference for the design of some of the images in An Andalusian Dog." 
                Ignacio Javier López, 'Film, Freud, and Paranoia Dalí and the Representation of Male Desire in An Andalusian Dog', Diacritics, 31.2 (2001) 35-48
                "[David Vilaseca's] first book, published in 1995, was The Apocryphal Subject: Masochism, Identification and Paranoia in Salvador Dalí's Autobiographical Writings. Where previous scholars had attempted to discover the "true" Dalí behind the multiple masks, David took seriously the elusiveness of identity in a subject who wrote gnomically: "There are four Dalís and the best is the fifth." Crucially, this sense of self was built on Dalí's vehement rejection of homosexuality, and of Federico García Lorca, the gay poet who loved him. The painter could thus at one moment write jokingly to Lorca as a rent boy, offering his services for a few pesetas, and at another insist dogmatically: "Let there be no misunderstanding on this point. I am not a homosexual."
                     Bizarre episodes in Dalí's autobiography suddenly made sense in David's subtle and sensitive readings. In one tragicomic scene, Dalí struggles with a razor blade to cut out a tick that he believes has attached itself to his back, only to discover that it is a mole, part of his own body. Self and other, inside and outside, thus prove perilously difficult to separate." Paul Julian Smith, 'David Vilaseca Obituary', The Guardian, March 11, 2010
                Film Studies For Free chooses today -- the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia -- to bring you the second of its posts created in memory of David Vilaseca, the openly gay Professor of Hispanic Studies and Critical Theory at Royal Holloway, University of London.

                Vilaseca tragically died in a road traffic accident in London on February 9, 2010, having fought against homophobia, in different ways, for much of his life. A recent obituary in the Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia also brutally connected these two unassailable facts in its own powerful and poetic tribute to this remarkable scholar and hugely creative writer:
                Deberíamos leer a Vilaseca, que supo esquivar la soledad y el desarraigo en un mundo homófobo hasta que este se disfrazó de camión y embistió su bicicleta.
                We really should read the works of Vilaseca; he knew how to dodge loneliness and rootlessness in a homophobic world, at least until the latter disguised itself as a truck and rammed into his bicycle.

                As Paul Julian Smith indicates in his obituary for his friend (cited above), Vilaseca's PhD thesis, which he turned into an outstanding first book, explored the highly complex question of the homophobia of artist, filmmaker, and fellow Catalan Salvador Dalí through the lens of queer cultural theories. 

                Below is a list of direct links to numerous other resources (videos, podcasts, and further, openly-accessible, scholarly material), many of which touch on Dalí's much less well-explored cinematic work in the same contexts as those studied in Vilaseca's book; that is to say, the artist's avowed 'paranoiac-critical method' and the cultural expression of his sexuality. 

                [Addendum: For two much less scholarly, but still highly (and, possibly, surprisingly) engaging, fictional examinations of the workings of paranoia and homophobia in the period of Dalí's life prior to the making of Un chien andalou, FSFF's author thoroughly recommends the films Little Ashes (Paul Morrison, 2009), starring Robert Pattinson as Dalí, and Carlos Saura's Buñuel y la mesa del rey Salomón. (If you need more convincing, please do read Pauline Bache's article on the former film).]

                Dreams designed by Dalí for Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945), and Un Chien andalou

                Tuesday 11 May 2010

                Once more with paranoia: conspiracy film studies

                Ewan McGregor in The Ghost Writer [aka The Ghost] (Roman Polanski, 2010)

                Not only has Film Studies For Free's author been catching up with a slew of contemporary 'conspiracy films' (The Ghost [Writer]; State of Play; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among others); she has also been transfixed, like many of her (otherwise politically divided) country-people, by the real-life conspiratorial, and other, dramas of a national, post-electoral, political process.

                Tired of biting her nails and shouting at the telly, she took to comfort blogging. Here, then, is an FSFF entry appropriately prepared, given its subject, under duress and on tenterhooks: a list of links to openly accessible and predominantly scholarly studies of the conspiracy film.