Saturday 29 October 2011

Halloween Guide to the Philosophy of Film Horror

love Pictures, Images and Photos
Animated.gif of an image of Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), posted online by skyggebarnet
Father Damien Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Father Merrin
: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as... animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.
Philosophers getting excited about horror films may seem incongruous to the average intellectual reader, and saying that one has a "philosophy of horror" may simply sound pretentious. Maybe it’s the bad critical reputation of most monster movies, a perennially popular genre (especially with teenagers) that has always taken its lumps, both aesthetically and morally. Plato wanted to ban all representations of the monstrous from his ideal Republic, and his successors have condemned such depictions ever since. [We] believe that there is ample reason for philosophers to become interested in horror films, for they raise a number of complex and interrelated questions that lie at the heart of philosophical aesthetics.
     Primary among these is the question of horror-pleasure. Why are those of us who enjoy the genre so attracted to watching things that, in real life, would be repellent to us? Like the more traditional aesthetic issue concerning tragic pleasure, there is something puzzling about enjoying in fiction what is painful in reality. Freudian film scholars Laura Mulvey and Robin Wood offered the first compelling solution to this puzzle, and it has been tough to beat. Wood’s thesis that monsters represent a return of the repressed, gratifying the instinctive drives of the id in a cathartic fashion, had almost no serious rival in critical literature from the mid-1970s until 1990. Elizabeth Cowie [also] offers an elaboration on that long-dominant paradigm in her essay [a version of which is linked to below].
      Serious philosophical discussion of horror theory was triggered by Noël Carroll’s seminal treatise, The Philosophy of Horror; or, Paradoxes of the Heart (1990)[...]. Carroll’s cognitivist approach to solving what he calls "the paradox of horror pleasure" was painstakingly modeled on David Hume’s theory of tragedy. We do not take pleasure in the painful and repugnant monster, according to Carroll, but rather in having our curiosity satisfied about its impossible nature, and whether and how the narrative’s human protagonists will dispatch it successfully. His denial that we take pleasure in the monster itself, along with his requirement that the object of horror must be an impossible being—one not believed capable of existing according to the tenets of contemporary science—have generated a good deal of critical ink. [Steven J. Schneider and Daniel Shaw, 'Introduction', Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror (New York: Scarecrow Press, 2003)]
It struck me that certain genres, such as suspense, mystery, comedy, melodrama, and horror, are actually identified by their relation to certain emotions. As a case study, I went about analyzing horror. I began by looking at what kind of horror we expect from horror fiction. At the time, a leading theory of the emotions was what was called the cognitive theory of the emotions, which tries to identify emotions in terms of their object – that is, the criterion that determines whether or not a state is this or that emotion. For example, in the case of fear, in order to be afraid you have to be afraid of a certain kind of thing, namely something that meets the criterion of harmfulness. I argued that horror was made up of two emotions we are already familiar with, fear and disgust. So I crafted my theory of the nature of horror by saying that horror is defined in terms of its elicitation of fear and disgust. Then I needed to say what the object of those two component emotional states were. For fear, there was a long history of analysis of the formal criterion as the harmful, and I drew on that. For disgust, I hypothesized the criterion was the impure.
     [..] I think that film theory should be closer to the practice of filmmaking and fiction-making in general. There shouldn’t be these two cultures. I think in some ways the theorists have made these two cultures exist by being unconcerned with the problems of construction. The Philosophy of Horror is very concerned with the problems of construction. It’s a philosophy of horror, but in the same way that Aristotle’s Poetics is a philosophy of tragedy. Aristotle wrote a philosophy of tragedy, but he called it a poetics, where poetics is a notion that comes from poesis, which comes from making. So poetics is about construction. His philosophy of tragedy is a philosophy of construction of tragedy, and I had hoped that my Philosophy of Horror would be a philosophy of construction of horror in much the same way. [Noël Carroll in Ray Privett and James Kreul, 'The Strange Case of Noël Carroll: A Conversation with the Controversial Film Philosopher', Senses of Cinema, Issue 13, 2001]
Film Studies For Free joins in the usual, general, Halloween hullabaloo with a scary little contribution of its own: a list of links to online and openly accessible philosophical considerations of the horror film genre.

Many of the below studies have been inspired by the extensive considerations of film horror by philosopher Noël Carroll or engage with the themes raised by his work.  

FSFF commends these to you with a little bloggish shudder: they are, after all, somewhat terrifyingly good...

    Friday 21 October 2011

    Master Hands: A Video Mashup Round Table at Enculturation

    Part of the Prelinger Archives and openly accessible online as a Public Domain film at the Internet Archive: Master Hands (as embedded in full at YouTube above) is a classic "capitalist realist" drama showing the manufacture of Chevrolets from foundry to finished vehicles. Though ostensibly a tribute to the "master hands" of the assembly line workers, it seems more of a paean to the designers of this impressive mass production system. Filmed in Flint, Michigan, just months before the United Auto Workers won union recognition with their famous sitdown strikes. Released in 1936, the same year as two other films with which it shares similarities: Modern Times and Triumph of the Will, it was selected for the 1999 National Film Registry of "artistically, culturally, and socially significant" films [text mostly taken from the entry at the Internet Archive; hyperlinks added].

    Today, Film Studies For Free is thrilled to flag up a truly "unique experiment in digital publishing": Master Hands, A Video Mashup Round Table,” a project commissioned by the ever innovative online journal Enculturation and published as Issue 11 in the last few days.

    Here's part of a short explanation of the project by the issue editors:
    Master Hands is a 1936 film sponsored by the Chevrolet Motor Company that shows the inner workings of a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan. It is available for download at the Internet Archive, and it offers rich material for mashups and remixes. [Richard Marback, Wayne State University] had been considering a project involving Master Hands for some time, and when he shared his mashup of the film with [James J. Brown, Jr., University of Wisconsin-Madison] in May it triggered a discussion between the two of us about how such a work might be published. Richard was not interested in writing an essay to accompany his video project – he wanted the video to stand on its own. Jim suggested that the best way to engage with such work was to create another mashup, and we began discussing a round table format in which other scholars would create their own mashups using the same source footage and respondents would discuss the mashups.
    The videos (all under ten minutes in length) and the formal responses to them are linked to here. The individual mashup titles and their artists are set out below.
    This is a great project in its own right, but what a wonderful model for future (and, of course, present!) forms of Film Studies, FSFF (rather typically for it) thinks...

      Saturday 15 October 2011

      Links of Doom and Disaster! Apocalyptic Film and Moving Image Studies

      Updated November 21, 2011
      Image from Deep Impact (Mimi Leder, 1998)
      Aside from the current stirrings of challenge to the disastrous, real-world, global order, Film Studies For Free was inspired to produce the below, awesome entry of links to studies of apocalypse and planetary disaster in film and moving image culture by three earth-shatteringly exciting things:
      1. A very impressive digital-cinema screening of Lars von Trier's latest film Melancholia (Is cinema dead? FSFF thinks it may still have a few years of life left... Some good thoughts on this film are linked to here); 
      2. A thrilling call for papers for an upcoming conference on The End, in relation to motion pictures (scroll to the foot of the post);
      3. The just-in-the-nick-of-time appearance of a great, film-related, free-to-read-online book published by the wonderful people at OpenBook Publishers: Maria Manuela Lisboa's The End of the World: Apocalypse and its Aftermath in Western Culture (Open Book Publishers, 2011). OBP have also produced a new, free-to read online version of Robert Philip Kolker's long freely available, classic book The Altering Eye: Contemporary International Cinema.
      Now, if you don't mind, the all-too-easily scared FSFF will anti-climactically head for the hills (or, perhaps, for the sofa) to remove itself from all this eschatological excitement.
      The End of ...? An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Study of Motion Pictures - University of Kent, UK, January 21, 2011
      This one-day conference is for postgraduate students and early career researchers whose work incorporates the study of motion pictures and aims to explore the interdisciplinary conception and representation of “The End.”
           As the conspiracy theories for the end of the world in 2012 culminate in the mainstream disaster movie and the relevant literature, our concern and anxiety with closures remain within the margins of academic attention. In addition to the ubiquitous representations of “The End”, phrases such as “the end of cinema” and “death of celluloid” are recurrent in scholarly circles, calling forth a new era of engagement with film and other media. “The End” in the latter case evokes a new beginning that requires close examination: perhaps an analogy that could be extended to Film Studies as a discipline, outlining (or criticizing) its potential methodological changes in the future as well as in the past. The aesthetics of “The End”, however, is clearly evident in our direct engagement with time-based cultural artefacts. In other words, the study of various methods of narrative closure in film, music, literature and theatre can inform one of our fundamental obsessions: a good ending.
           We invite proposals for 20-minute presentations from candidates across arts and humanities, welcoming individual papers as well as group panels that investigate “The End” as a broad phenomenon that can be approached through a variety of methods. Possible research subjects include, but not limited to: End of cinema: changing patterns of distribution and exhibition; End of Theory: the methodological shifts in film studies as a discipline; End of story: the aesthetics and strategies of narrative closure, open endings, narrative inconclusiveness in relation to film and other arts; End of the world: recent preoccupation with the disaster film genres; End of cinephilia: alternative channels for watching and discussing movies; End of film: the death of celluloid, the rise of digital technologies and issues of medium specificity; Case studies of films or other media that address any of the aforementioned issues; Representation and/or conception of “The End” within the history and philosophy of art.
           The conference will conclude with a film screening and an introduction by the keynote speaker in the Gulbenkian Cinema, an independent cinema located within the university campus at Canterbury.
      Please send abstracts (300 words) and a short biographical note to Deadline for applications is 15 November 2011. Should you have any queries, please do not
      hesitate to contact us at the same e-mail address. Website:
      Conference Organization Committee: Emre Caglayan, Frances Kamm, Pete Sillett

      Saturday 8 October 2011

      Brokeback Mountain Studies: Through the Queer Longing Glass

      Through the Queer Longing Glass of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN from Catherine Grant.
      Films accumulate meaning through, at times, very subtle moves. From one colour to another. From one shape to another. The latter is the case with Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005).
      While much of the film's affective meaning is conjured through quite obvious (but no less moving for that) figurations of absence and presence, such as Ennis's discovery of the (now 'empty') bloodied shirts in Jack's closet, and their (still 'empty') reappearance in Ennis's own closet at the end of the film, there is also some mourning and memory-work carried out through considerably less conspicuous, visual shape-shifting and graphic matching.

      This very short video essay traces the long journey from Jack's desirous looking at Ennis through round glass (as he shaves his later-to-be-bruised cheek) in the early and middle parts of the film, to Ennis's touching association with squarer, straighter vistas, at the end of the film, an un/looking through 'longing glass' in which Jack can only be figured invisibly, metaphorically, through his absence.  [Catherine Grant, 'Through the Queer Longing Glass of Brokeback Mountain']
      Film Studies For Free's author was doing a little bit of teaching on Brokeback Mountain last week. It was windy up there, but this pedagogical outing inspired the above little video essay as well as the below list of links to online, and openly accessible studies of Ang Lee's 2005 film and Annie Proulx's short story as well as of the 'gay cowboy film' more generally. Yee ha!

      Great Film Studies Theses from Texas Universities

      Image from Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982). You can read about this film in Chi Hyun Park's 2008 PhD thesis: Orientalism in U.S. cyberpunk cinema from Blade Runner to the Matrix
      Film Studies For Free brings you one of its regular reports from eRepositories. This time it's the turn of the institutes of higher learning located in the largest state of the contiguous U.S.A., the online theses of which are kindly and neatly hosted by the wonderful folks at the Texas Digital Repository.

      Seek, and ye shall find, and FSFF did indeed seek and find some graduate work of excellent quality, and on an incredibly wide range of topics. Ye can find it linked to below.

      The PhD theses, in particular, will shortly be added to FSFF's permanent listing of Online Film and Moving Image Studies PhD and MPhil Theses.

      Ye all come back now! 

      Friday 7 October 2011

      New SENSES OF CINEMA: Malick, Godard, Weimar Cinema, Schepisi, Chaplin, Martel, Holland, Philibert, Pereira Dos Santos

      Image from Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard, 2010). You can read Samuel Bréan's SOC essay about this film here.
      Film Studies For Free is delighted to convey to its readers that a great new issue of Senses of Cinema has just been published. It's a bumper issue with lots of interest.

      It is a timely reminder of just what a valuable publication this online journal is. To which end, SOC launched a Support Senses campaign a little while ago. FSFF thinks that if you regularly visit this journal, if you value what it does, perhaps you might like to consider making a small (or large!) donation, perhaps the cost of a monthly commercial film magazine, as a guideline, for starters.

      Senses of Cinema, Issue 60, 2011 
      Great Directors:
      CTEQ Annotations:
      Fred Schepisi Dossier:
      Book Reviews:
      Film Festival Reports:

      Wednesday 5 October 2011

      Journal articles on masculinity in popular cinema, and much more

      Image of John Travolta as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977). You can read Stelios Cristodoulou's great article on this film here

      Today, Film Studies For Free brings you more excellent contents from Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA-PGN, the periodical brought to you by the postgraduate network of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association.

      The links below channel the latest two issues of the journal, including a great selection of articles on masculinity and popular culture, with some very worthwhile studies of popular cinema.

      And if you like these very worthy items, you might also like to check out a previous FSFF post listing some further, great articles from this journal.

      Networking Knowledge, Vol 4, No 1 (2011) on Masculinity and Popular Culture  
      • ‘"A straight heterosexual film": Masculinity, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Saturday Night Fever' by Stelios Christodoulou Abstract PDF 
      • 'Tough Guy in Drag? How the external, critical discourses surrounding Kathryn Bigelow demonstrate the wider problems of the gender question' by Rona Murray Abstract PDF
      • Interrogating Masculinity through the Child Figure in Bombay Cinema' by Siddarth Pandey Abstract PDF 
      • Deviating from the Deviant: The Masculinity of Brando in Julius Caesar (1953)' by Rachael Kelly Abstract PDF
      • '“Please Baby, take me Back”: Homo-social Bonds in the Contemporary British Biopic' by Matthew Robinson Abstract PDF
      • '"Tell me all about your new man": (Re)Constructing Masculinity in Contemporary Chick Texts' by Amy Burns Abstract PDF
      • 'Mohamed “el-Limby” Saad and the Popularization of a Masculine Code' by Koen Van Eynde Abstract PDF
      • 'Metal, Machismo and Musical Mode: How the ‘Feminine’ Phrygian Second has been Appropriated and Transformed' by Sarha Moore Abstract PDF
      • 'The Role of Lucha Libre in the Construction of Mexican Male Identity' by Javier Pereda, Patricia Murrieta-Flores Abstract PDF
      • 'Masculinity and Institutional Identity in South Cyprus - the case of I do not forget' by Stratis Andreas Efthymiou Abstract PDF

      Networking Knowledge, Vol 3, No 2 (2010)  MeCCSA-PGN Conference Edition
      • 'Screen Acting and Performance Choices' by Trevor Rawlins Abstract PDF
      • 'Family Photography as a phatic construction' by Patricia Prieto Blanco Abstract PDF
      • 'UTV, The Network relationship and Reporting the "Troubles"’ by Orla Lafferty Abstract PDF
      • 'Representations of the Irish in American Vaudeville and Early Film' by Jennifer Mooney Abstract PDF
      Short Papers
      • 'Public Service Broadcasting and the Public Sphere: Normative Arguments from Habermasian Theory' by Phil Ramsey Abstract PDF
      • 'Postdramatic Musicality in The Black Rider' by Markee Rambo-Hood Abstract PDF

      Monday 3 October 2011

      Film Poet at the Window: Maya Deren Studies

      Image from Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
      Maya Deren is recognizable as the woman with the enigmatic expression at the window, silently observing from within. Although her eyes indicate distrust, she is not desperate to escape her domestic space, but she is not entirely comfortable immured behind the glass. This image symbolizes some of Deren’s most significant initiatives in experimental cinema. In this still shot she establishes a silent connection with the eyes, suggesting the possibility for reverie or even hallucination. It foreshadows her experiments with superimposition and the juxtaposition of disparate spaces. It is an image that suggests the most compelling themes of her film work: dreaming, reflection, rhythm, vision, ritual and identity.[Wendy Haslem, 'Maya Deren', Senses of Cinema, 23, 2002]
      It seems to me that in many films, very often in the opening passages, you get the camera establishing the mood, and, when it does that, cinematically, those sections are quite different from the rest of the film. You know, if it’s establishing New York, you get a montage of images, that is, a poetic construct, after which what follows is a dramatic construct that is essentially “horizontal” in its development. The same thing would apply to the dream sequences. They occur at a moment when the intensification is carried out not by action but by the illumination of that moment. Now the short films, to my mind (and they are short because it is difficult to maintain such intensity for a long period of time), are comparable to lyric poems, and they are completely a “vertical,” or what I would call a poetic construct, and they are complete as such. [Maya Deren, "Poetry in the Film", Film Culture Reader, ed. P. Adams Sitney, Praeger Press, New York, 1970, cited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, 'Independent America, 1978-1988', Moving Image Source, January 26, 2009]
      Film Studies For Free has the very great pleasure of bringing to your attention the Maya Deren Season at the British Film Institute between October 4-12 (click on this link for the full programme and booking details).

      This blog is particularly looking forward to the book launch and lecture, this Friday, by Sussex colleague John David Rhodes, author of the then-to-be-launched BFI Film Classics study of Deren and Alexander Hammid's 1943 Meshes of the Afternoon - a wonderful tome FSFF has already read in its entirety, and from which you can read an enticing, free extract online.

      To celebrate this season, and the most remarkable film artist to whom it is devoted, FSFF has put together a rather fabulous list, below, of openly accessible online scholarly studies of Deren's work, together with links to a couple of her written texts and some online videos of (and about) her work.

      Taken together, the evidence of all these sources belies the apparent staticness of the iconographic image of Deren shown above: instead, she really was 'the Lara Croft of Jungian [and other psychogeographical and cinematic] terrains', as Mike Walsh jokingly, but memorably, put it.

      Saturday 1 October 2011

      On Pictures of Moving: Articles from the International Journal of Screendance

      Montage of sequences from Carmen (Carlos Saura, 1983). You can read more about this film (one of FSFF's absolute favourites!) in Marisa Zanotti's article 'When Dance is Imagined In Cinema: Disclosure in Dance Practice'. The article also examines Chantal Akerman’s documentary Un Jour Pina a Demandé (1983), about spending five weeks with Pina Bausch’s company.

      Another lucky (unchoreographed) find by Film Studies For Free today. Looking for something else entirely, FSFF pirouetted (tripped) over the following, rather wonderful, online and openly accessible item: the first issue of the International Journal of Screendance. The superb contents of the issue are described in detail and linked to below.

      A new issue of IJS is just about due out now, according to the website, so FSFF will let you know about that just as soon as it can.

      This first issue of The International Journal of Screendance is dedicated to the proposal that screendance has not yet been invented. This is an appropriation of film theorist Andre Bazin’s suggestion, in The Myth of Total Cinema (1946), that the reality of cinema had not yet embodied the ideal of cinema. Bazin’s writing had been discussed in the first seminar of the International Screendance Network, together with Professor Ian Christie (Birkbeck College, University of London), who had given the 2006 Slade Lectures under the title “Cinema has Not Yet Been Invented.” The proposition that screendance has not yet been invented is intended as an incitement to the community to think about the art form in new ways, both critical and theoretical, and this journal aims to create a forum to sustain the debate.
           A number of themes emerge in this first issue. The presence of Maya Deren is felt in a number of articles, as are ideas about genre, criticality, authorship, disability, performance, and the phenomenology of screendance itself. Chirstinn Whyte looks at amateurism and idea of “professionalism” in “The Evolution of the ‘A’ word: Changing Notions of Professional Practice in Avant-Garde Film and Contemporary Screendance.” Gravity is explored from differing perspectives in two essays: Ann Cooper Albright rethinks the act of falling on screen as an instant in which new meaning can arise while Harmony Bench filters twentieth-century, modern and postmodern, dance techniques’ shared faith in gravity and weight through a digital and electronic lens. Sarah Whatley raises questions about the portrayal of dance and disability on screen, and Argentine critic Susanna Temperley (in Spanish with English translation) addresses the role of the critic in screendance in“Perplexed Writing”, while Kyra Norman explores ideas around the body, perception, and place in site- based screendance. Claudia Kappenberg reviews notions of originality and authorship in “The Logic of the Copy”, and Douglas Rosenberg proposes theories about genre and the diasporic nature of screendance.
           In addition to in-depth discussion and theorization of particular aspects of screen- dance practices, each issue will include interviews and reflective writing by practitioners in the field. In this issue, we publish a transcribed interview with BBC dance for television producer Bob Lockyer. In an effort to reacquaint readers with out of print or hard to find extant articles, we will be including such texts in forthcoming issues, and we begin by re-printing a paper by film theorist and philosopher Noël Carroll entitled “Toward a Definition of Moving Picture-Dance.” The paper was originally presented at the Dance for Camera Symposium in 2000 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In the paper and talk, Carroll, who has been writing about movement on screen since the 1970s, lays out an argument for a definition of the field in order to, as he states, “compare and contrast the various categorizations in play and to develop dialectically from them a comprehensive framework that makes sense of our practices and that resonates with our intuitions about its compass” (2, this issue).

      International Journal of Screendance
      Vol 1, No 1 (2010): Screendance Has Not Yet Been Invented

      Table of Contents
      Vol.1, Issue 1 [PDF of Full Issue]

      Editorial comment
      Toward a Definition of Moving-Picture Dance by Noël Carroll

      Artists' Pages
      Notes on Contributors