Friday 29 October 2010

In Defense of the Arts and Humanities: On Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein (1993)

In Defense of Philosophy: Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein (1993): A discussion at London's Tate Modern with the film’s producer Tariq Ali and Jonathan Derbyshire, culture editor of the New Statesman on October 22, 2010

A seminal thinker of the twentieth century, Wittgenstein’s revolutionary ideas have had an impact in disciplines beyond philosophy including psychology, the natural sciences, linguistics, mathematics, logic, art, religion, artificial intelligence and software design.

Like all right-thinking scholarly blogs, Film Studies For Free has been terribly alarmed by the increasing international attacks on, as well as actual cutbacks to academic Arts and Humanities subjects in the context of the global economic crisis.

So, today's posting of the latest film-studies related video published by the Tate Channel is a timely one indeed. In this video, film producer and writer Tariq Ali defends these disciplines at the same time as he celebrates the (more relevant than ever) film work of Derek Jarman, the marvellous British artist who created his best works against the backdrop of similar, short-sighted, anti-intellectual and anti-cultural attacks. 

If these developments are of concern to you, why not join in with the dialogue about them at a newly launched, campaigning Facebook group DEFEND the ARTS and HUMANITIES? FSFF's author will be most pleased to see you sounding off there.

In the meantime, below are a couple of highly worthwhile scholarly studies of Jarman's take on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Cognitive Film Studies

An empirical approach? Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby in Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
Scholars often resist the cognitive approach to art because they're reluctant to mount causal or functional explanations. Instead of asking how films work or how spectators understand films, many scholars prefer to offer interpretive commentary on films. Even what's called film theory is largely a mixture of received doctrines, highly selective evidence, and more or less free association. Which is to say that many humanists treat doing film theory as a sort of abstract version of doing film criticism. They don't embrace the practices of rational inquiry, which includes assessing a wide body of evidence, seeking out counterexamples, and showing how a line of argument is more adequate than its rivals.  [David Bordwell, introducing a free download of his article 'A Case for Cognitivism: Further Reflections', Iris no. 11 (Summer 1990): 107–112.]
Film Studies For Free has previously only touched on the burgeoning field of cognitivist film studies in passing. Today, however, it has decided to gather together links to some excellent online resources, above all from two journals -- Film Studies and The Journal of Moving Image Studies -- in order to provide a good introduction to this field, as well as to the related field of analytic (film) philosophy, two increasingly influential sets of approaches to our discipline.

As one of the most eloquent and persuasive champions of cognitivism is film scholar extraordinaire David Bordwell, one of the very best places to begin such an introduction is with a selection of openly accessible writings on this topic by that author. For instance, here, Bordwell summarises the history of cognitive film studies and discusses some recent work as a prelude to the second annual meeting of The Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (note: link now updated).  Scroll down for lots more great work...

(Note: David Bordwell is probably the most generous of scholars in relation to making his invaluable work freely available online. As always, FSFF thanks him very sincerely for helping to make online film studies such a rewarding focus. This entry is dedicated to his work).

Introductions to Cognitivist Film Studies:
Film Studies
Volume 8, Summer 2006

The Journal of Moving Image Studies -
Note: Apologies but there's currently a problem with the links set out below, which FSFF will fix as soon as it can. But in the meantime, all the below articles can be accessed via this page.

Vol. 1, 2002
Vol. 2, 203

Vol. 3, 2004

Vol. 4, 2005

Vol. 5, 2006

Vol. 6, 2007

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Black Narcissus: the Colours of Desire

Updated October 28, 2010
Image from Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
[Black Narcissus]’s trauma-tale is inseparable from the doomed project [of Imperialism]: it is predicated on the vertiginous nature of culture shock. The lofty palace-convent perched on the edge of a mountain precipice [...] seems a visual metonym. Sister Clodagh may want to heal and enlighten “a primitive people”, but, when she looks up and then looks down from the bell tower, she is completely lost. Powell and Pressburger have transposed the ‘edge of the world’ from Foula at the tip of the Shetlands in Powell’s 1937 Scottish picture (The Edge of the World) to India’s border with the high Himalayas; from the edge of the Roman Empire to the edge of the British Empire. The former, of course, was long gone; the latter was about to expire. The end of empire is literally vertiginous, its trauma doubly embedded, or embodied, in the figures of Clodagh and sickly Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron). Ruth cannot hack the chasm of culture that confronts her and wants out; Clodagh, disillusioned after a romance in Ireland has ended when her boyfriend leaves for America without her, seeks solace in the Order. Flashback shows us the rural idyll of Irish sweethearts fishing and riding amidst fields and hills of emerald Technicolor, the flame-haired Clodagh slim, free-spirited and ravishing, like a figure from a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The long auburn hair now concealed under the all-embracing convent habit is never to reappear. As the fragile Order starts to crumble after the unfortunate death of a local child, the febrile Sister Ruth sheds her habit to reappear in scarlet lipstick and a lush crimson dress; for the shocked Clodagh, perhaps a melodramatic return of the repressed – the erotic red of the painted lips matched by the sensual velvet that highlights the shape of the female figure rather than burying it under a mountain of white cloth. [John Orr, 'The Trauma Film and British Romantic Cinema 1940-1960', Senses of Cinema, Issue 51, 2009]
Filled with the joys of Open Access Week 2010, Film Studies For Free brings you a small but perfectly formed 'study of a single film' resource: a little list of openly accessible online articles on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1947 film Black Narcissus.

Monday 18 October 2010

Lots more links to film studies journals to celebrate Open Access Week!

Open Access Week, a global event now entering its fourth year, is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

“Open Access” to information – the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need – has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted. It has direct and widespread implications for academia, medicine, science, industry, and for society as a whole.

Open Access (OA) has the potential to maximize research investments, increase the exposure and use of published research, facilitate the ability to conduct research across available literature, and enhance the overall advancement of scholarship. Research funding agencies, academic institutions, researchers and scientists, teachers, students, and members of the general public are supporting a move towards Open Access in increasing numbers every year. Open Access Week is a key opportunity for all members of the community to take action to keep this momentum moving forward.
It's International Open Access Week this week, and while every week is Open Access Week at Film Studies For Free, this website decided to celebrate this special week of events by flagging up the work of an individual who can rightfully claim to be one of the most hard-working supporters of this important cause: Jan Szczepanski.

FSFF was recently contacted by Jan, a librarian from Sweden who has been a collector of freely accessible scholarly e-journals since the end of the 1990's. He has been responsible for gathering the longest ever lists of links to (multilingual) Open Access scholarly journals titles, mostly in humanities and the social sciences, many of which you can access through the embedded document below (also see here).

FSFF hasn't yet fully cross-checked Jan's list with its own list of English-language online Film and Media Studies Journals (permanently accessible from the table of contents in the right-hand sidebar), but will do so as soon as possible in order to add notable items it hasn't yet come across.

FSFF has set up the document below so that you can immediately scroll down through the Film titles, from page 107. But you can also perform a search for 'Masskommunikation' to scroll automatically to page 491 for lots of Media Studies titles.

Thanks so much to Jan for getting in touch and especially for all his hard work in assembling this monumental list.

PhD Theses on Hal Hartley, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, and Spanish cinema studies

Javier Bardem as Raúl and Penélope Cruz as Silvia in Jamón Jamón (Bigas Luna, 1992) as discussed in Rebecca Naughten's work Spain Made Flesh: Reflections and projections of the national in contemporary Spanish stardom, 1992-2007
Film Studies For Free was delighted when Spanish cinema scholar Rebecca Naughten responded to its request for information about online PhD theses. Not only did Rebecca let FSFF know that her own really excellent thesis has recently been made available online, but she also did the hard work of trawling through the online repository at the University of Newcastle, where her work is stored, to find four other very good theses archived there. ¡Muchísimas gracias, Rebecca!

These works have just been added to FSFF's permanent list of Online Film and Moving Image Studies PhD Theses (see the link in the table of contents in the right-hand sidebar for future reference) which now makes more than 130 theses accessible to you at the click of your mouse.

Do please let FSFF know if your online PhD thesis, or others you know of, is not yet in this list.

Monday 11 October 2010

Senses of Cinema: The (Post-)'Dreaming' Issue

Image from Nothing Personal (Urszula Antoniak, 2009) premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010 - Read the late John Orr's festival report.

Were dreams the “virtual worlds” of a previous era? Or at least as Freud understood them to be, as wish fulfilments? In this day and age of  “virtual reality” sites such as Second Life, are not all wish fulfilments at our disposal, made manifest instantly? We continue to dream, of course, but dreaming may be just the archaic [remnant] of a by-gone activity. Old habits die hard. If the post-modern age is post-Freudian, then it also post-dreaming. [Welcome to Issue 56 of our journal (Senses of Cinema)' by the editors']
Hot off the digital press: a new issue of online journal Senses of Cinema, with a distinct focus on dreams and virtuality. Film Studies For Free brings you the tantalising table of contents below.

FSFF also notes that this issue carries the final Senses of Cinema contributions (and here) by the late film scholar John Orr. You can read FSFF's tribute to him here.

Issue 56 Contents 


Feature Articles

Feed Me Grapes by Murray Pomerance
Inception by Ian Alan Paul
World on a Wire by the Celluloid Liberation Front
The Illusionist by David Bellos
The Skladanowsky Brothers by Stephen Barber
Watching the World Cup Final by Ehsan Khoshbakht
Cocksucker Blues by Stephen Gaunson
Jake Wilson interviews Leo Berkeley
Mary M. Wiles interviews Gaylene Preston

Arthur and Corinne Cantrill Dossier

Dossier Introduction by Adrian Danks
Jake Wilson on Films by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill
OtherFilm on Cantrills Expanded Cinema
Michael Koller on Waterfall
Freda Freiberg on In This Life’s Body

Steven Ball on Cantrills Filmnotes

Great Directors

John R. Hamilton on Paul Schrader

Festival Reports

Paul Breschuk on Media City
Damien Spiccia on Revelation
David Sanjek on Il Cinema Ritrovato
Ivana Novak on Dokufest
Bill Mousoulis on Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Darragh O’Donoghue on Killruddery
John Orr on Edinburgh International Film Festival
Jake Wilson on MIFF

Book Reviews

John Orr on Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence and Jerzy Skolimowski
David Melville on Latin American Melodrama and All About Almodóvar
David Sanjek on Richard Lester
Geoff Mayer on Screen The British "B" Film
Gozde Kilic on Conversations with Directors

Cteq Annotations

Tony Williams on Centre Stage
John Fidler on Irma Vep
Carla Marcantonio on In the Mood for Love
Audrey Yue on Song of the Exile
Michael Da Silva on The 10th District Court: Moments of Trials
Adrian Danks on The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
Wheeler Winston Dixon on One Hour With You
Shari Kizirian on Madame Dubarry
Michael Koller on Kohlhiesels Töchter and Schuhpalast Pinkus
Pasquale Iannone on Broken Lullaby
Louise Sheedy on Beginnings
Louise Sheedy on Arts Vietnam
Darragh O’Donoghue on The Phantom Carriage

Sunday 10 October 2010

On the art (and ideology) of John Ford's films

Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)
Even if John Ford had not made his ten best movies (whichever they are), he'd still be the greatest. [Tag Gallagher]
In Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford achieves the perfection of his art. Never were his matter and his method more aptly fitted, and never were his tendencies toward sprawl and overemphasis more rigorously controlled. It is a masterpiece of concision in which every element in every shot, every ratio, every movement, every shift of viewpoint seems dense with significance, yet it breathes an air of casual improvisation. While its surfaces paint, with relaxed humor and effortless nostalgic charm, an imaginary antebellum America, it sustains an underlying note of somber apprehension, all the more powerful for being held in check.

Ford finds a mood that avoids the clutter and ponderousness of most Hollywood history movies, a mood more of parable than of textbook chronicle. That preoccupation with history and its contradictions—the variance between actual human experience and the official version that will be constructed after the fact—that suffuses films as different as They Were Expendable (1945), Fort Apache (1948), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) resonates troublingly at the heart of this film, for all its apparent serenity. Nothing here is as uncomplicated as it seems designed to appear, which may be why the editors of Cahiers du cinéma, in a celebrated, if by now scarcely readable, special issue of 1970, brought the full force of their post-’68 Althusserian-Lacanian rhetoric to bear on the film in a scene-by-scene analysis, as if here the secret mechanisms of the American ideology itself might be decoded and exposed. In trying to pin down the meanings of Ford’s art, however, Cahiers du cinéma missed his mercurial—and, admittedly, sometimes infuriating––ability to be in two places at once. If Ford’s Lincoln exhibits at once a radiant sincerity and the devious subtlety of a trickster, he is to that extent the director’s mirror image. [Geoffrey O'Brien, 'Young Mr. Lincoln: Here in Waiting', The Criterion Collection, February 13, 2006]
Cahiers du cinéma’s 1969 analysis of Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), reprinted in Screenin 1972 in its first English translation, introduced symptomatic reading to British feminist film critics such as Pam Cook and Claire Johnston. Louis Althusser (1968, trans. 1970: 28-9) coined the term “symptomatic reading,” an interpretive strategy that searches not only for the structural dominants in a text but most importantly, for absences and omissions that are an indication of what the dominant ideology seeks to repress, contain or marginalize. Reading against the grain operates under the assumption that the text comprises a hierarchy of discourses in which one discourse – patriarchal ideology – asserts its dominance over others. Nevertheless, tensions between the dominant ideology and subordinate discourses produce ideological contradictions that the popular film cannot mask nor reconcile, try as it might. [Aspasia Kotsopoulos, 'Reading against the grain revisited', from Jump Cut, Issue 44, 2001]
While it is difficult to ascertain exactly how an ‘oblique’ analysis of film would proceed, the editors of Cahiers [du cinéma’s] essay on John Ford’s Young Mr Lincoln (1939) is a significant example of this type of criticism and stands as exemplary of the many important analyses of mainstream Hollywood films that were carried out in the pages of Cahiers and elsewhere. The analysis of Young Mr Lincoln is a close reading of this film, which belongs to the category that is in many ways the most difficult to endorse: films that remain within bourgeois ideology, but reveal its ambiguities and fissures (when subjected to a highly specialised mode of reading).The reading by the Editors of Cahiers uses principles of Marxism, semiology and credits Marxist and Freudian discourses, and includes fleeting references to Jean-Pierre Oudart, Althusser, Roland Barthes and Serge Daney, and Lacan. However, there is no sustained explanation as to precisely which principles drawn from these discourses they will deploy. While Peter Wollen, in his Afterword to the translation of the analysis of Young Mr Lincoln in Screen, declares that the text “owes its concepts to Jacques Lacan” [...], this text would seem to be exemplary of Žižek’s contention that a sustained and explicit consideration of Lacan was in fact missing from 60s and 70s film theory.
     At first glance, therefore, the Young Mr Lincoln article might seem to exemplify a move towards Lacanian psychoanalysis. Furthermore, upon first glance, it appears to be a step towards a consideration of narrative content. As such, it might seem to undermine a contention of this thesis: that the content of popular film was systematically precluded by considerations of film and ideology during the 60s and 70s. In this article, the Editorial Collective treat the text of the film in many ways like a work of literature, analysing it sequence by sequence, with scarcely a mention of its materiality. It could be argued that here is an example of textual analysis that confounds the assertion that subject matter was neglected in favour of form and materiality in analyses of film and ideology. While an extensive examination of the content of Young Mr Lincoln, or signifié, to use the Editors’ turn of phrase, appears to consume the bulk of this article, it must be noted that it is the film’s form which is ostensibly the impetus for the discussion of its content. [Kate Greenwood, Confronting the limits: Renditions of the Real in the Edge of the Construct Film, PhD Thesis, The University of Adelaide, December 2006: 63-64]

It's been a slightly quieter week than usual here at Film Studies For Free, as its voracious readers may have noticed.

A good reason for that is that this blog's author has merrily begun a new university year, teaching ... (drum roll) ... Film Theory!

This shiny, new, non-virtual, pedagogical order will continue to slow up FSFF's production a little, it's true, but it will also inspire the direction that some of its entries will take in the coming weeks and months.

For example, as next week's teaching focus is John Ford's 1939 film Young Mr, Lincoln, and the ideological film readings that it inspired, or provoked, here's a little list of online and openly accessible scholarly books, articles and videos on the inspirational and/or provocative work of that very director.
Video Essay by Kevin B. Lee on The Sun Shines Bright (1956, John Ford) and Gertrud (1964, Carl T. Dreyer) with commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Part One of Two. Part of the Shooting Down Pictures project

Video essay by Kevin B. Lee on Tobacco Road (1941, dir. John Ford), #905 (46) in the Shooting Down Pictures project.

Saturday 2 October 2010

125 Online Film and Moving Image Studies PhD Theses

"How will I ever find a PhD thesis in here?": images from The Name of the Rose (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986)

The ever industrious, but not nearly modest enough, Film Studies For Free has just published a new page to house a permanent and, thankfully, growing list of openly accessible, English-language, online PhD theses in Film and Moving Image Studies.

Like its other, jaw-droppingly essential pages, it is accessible from the FSFF contents index in the right-hand sidebar. So, hopefully you won't need a PhD to find it again in future.

It currently lists links to 125 theses on an enormous range of film and moving image studies topics, and it will be kept constantly updated as new items come to light.

Talking of which, if you know of any relevant, existing online theses that should be added to the list or, alternatively, of online research repositories that FSFF hasn't yet explored, please, please, please email FSFF.