Monday 23 December 2013

Voluptuous Masochism: Gothic Melodrama Studies in Memory of Joan Fontaine

Updated January 20, 2014

A video essay, completed in memory of Joan Fontaine, studying the liminal moments of her character in Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940). This low resolution, educational compilation also samples and remixes music originally composed for the film by Franz Waxman.

Film Studies For Free presents its last entry of the year on the gothic film melodrama. Sadly, this entry appears just a short time after the death of one of the most notable stars of Hollywood's female Gothic tradition -- Joan Fontaine (22 October 1917 − 15 December 2013) -- and is dedicated to her memory. Other tributes have been comprehensively collected by David Hudson at his Keyframe/Fandor site, including a particularly fine one by Josephine Botting for the British Film Institute

FSFF's own collection of resources begins with an item that also doubles as a tribute: its own videographic study of Fontaine's masterly physical performance of "voluptuous masochism" (to borrow the brilliant words of Molly Haskell in From Reverence to Rape [p. 191]) in the context of Alfred Hitchcock's mise-en-scene for Rebecca (1940), together with Franz Waxman's lushly uncanny musical score for this film.

The resources continue at length below in a customary -- for FSFF -- list of links to online scholarly resources on the cinematic gothic more generally. You can also find further, closely related studies in FSFF's earlier entry on Final Girl Studies.

FSFF warmly wishes its readers very happy holidays if they're having them! It will be back with lots more open access film studies in the new year.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Two x FRAMES: 'The Political Western Beyond Cold War Frontiers' and 'Promotional Materials'

Film scholar Tim Bergfelder giving a talk which is embedded at the latest issue of Frames

Today, Film Studies For Free rounds up two, very fine, 2013 issues of the e journal Frames. Feast your eyes on all the links below.

The latest issue on the political western is just out. The earlier issue, on film and television promotional materials, will form part of a long in preparation bumper FSFF collection on paratextuality that will now appear in the new year, along with other (very long in preparation) posts: on the magnificence of Caboose, a film studies publisher with a marvellous attitude to freely available content; on découpage; and on many other topics.... 2013 has proved to be just too short a year to cram all this in.

There's still one more FSFF entry to go before the holidays, though, so please look out for that on Monday. In the meantime, happy solstice!

Frames, Issue 4, December 2013: Commies and Indians: The Political Western Beyond Cold War Frontiers 


Frames, Issue 3, May 2013: Promotional Materials 

Friday 20 December 2013


Frame grab from Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944). Read Ben Tyrer's article on film noir and this film in the latest issue of Film-Philosophy

Film-Philosophy 17.1 (2013): the second to last of the brilliant new film studies e journal issues out in December with which Film Studies For Free will present you in 2013. And the daddy of them all.

There will be two more FSFF posts to appear before the holidays, that is, if you can tear yourself away from reading the below articles and reviews.

Book Reviews
  • Hsiu-Chuang Deppman (2010) Adapted for the Screen: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Fiction and Film (Iris Chui Ping Kam) PDF
  • Alain Badiou (2013) Cinema and Alex Ling (2010) Badiou and Cinema (David H. Fleming) PDF
  • Timothy Corrigan, ed. (2012) Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader. 2nd Edition (Shawn Loht) PDF
  • Michael Charlesworth (2011) Derek Jarman (Justin Remes) PDF
  • Sharon Lin Tay (2009) Women on the Edge: Twelve Political Film Practices (Sheryl Tuttle Ross) PDF
  • Todd Berliner (2010) Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema (John Anthony Bleasdale) PDF
  •  M. Keith Booker (2011) Historical Dictionary of American Cinema (Glen Melanson) PDF  
  • Shawn C. Bean (2008) The First Hollywood: Florida and the Golden Age of Silent Filmmaking (Carrie Giunta) PDF
  • Julian Petley (2011) Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain (Zach Saltz) PDF
  • Suzanne Buchan (2011) The Quay Brothers: Into a Metaphysical Playroom (Micki Nyman) PDF
  • Khatereh Sheibani (2011) The Poetics of Iranian Cinema: Aesthetics and Modernity After the Revolution (Paul Elliott) PDF

Thursday 19 December 2013

Reframing Cinema Histories: ALPHAVILLE Issue 6

Header image from the symposium website for “Reframing Cinema Histories”
This issue of Alphaville originates in a one-day symposium, “Reframing Cinema Histories”, which was organised at University College Cork in March 2013. The aim of the event was to bring together a select group of scholars working on a range of historical projects and, through presentations of specific case studies and a round table discussion, highlight the variety of methodological approaches that may be adopted by the researcher studying and writing about cinema history [Reframing Cinema Histories: Editorial by Pierluigi Ercole and Gwenda Young, Alphaville, Issue 6, 2013]
And the new journal issues just keep on coming! Today, Film Studies For Free links to a very high quality issue of special interest to film historians and others working in film historiography: Alphaville's latest offering on Reframing Cinema Histories.

Utter brilliance from start to finish, IFSFFHO...

Alphaville, Issue 6, Winter 2013: Reframing Cinema Histories: 
Book Reviews:
  1. A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, by John Spong (2012) Reviewer: Matthew Carter, University of Essex
  2. Ex-Cinema: From a Theory of Experimental Film and Video, by Akira Mizuta Lippit (2012) Reviewer: Niall Flynn, Independent Scholar
  3. Men and Masculinities in Irish Cinema, by Debbie Ging (2013) Reviewer: Barry Monahan, University College Cork
[Book Reviews Editor: Ian Murphy]

Conference Reports:
  1. World Cinema On-Demand: Film Distribution and Education in the Streaming Media Era
  2. Queen's University Belfast, 15–16 June 2012; 26 June 2013; 19 September 2013 Reporter: Alexandra Kapka, Queen's University Belfast
  3. Revisiting Star Studies, Culture Lab, Newcastle University, 12–14 June 2013 Reporter: Jennifer O'Meara, Trinity College Dublin
  4. A Star is Born: Cinematic Reflections on Stardom and the "Stardom Film", King's College London, 13 September 2013 Reporter: Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg, King's College London
[Reports Editor: Yuanyuan Chen]

Wednesday 18 December 2013

New Fall 2013 Issue of MEDIASCAPE on "Urban Centers, Media Centers"

Frame grab from The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012). Read José Gallegos' article about this film in the new issue of Mediascape
This issue of Mediascape then is designed to raise pointed questions about the role of the city as a center of both media and cultural production, especially in relation to our experience of mediated reality. The ultimate goal is to ground this larger discourse in a more specific discussion of cinematic space and its transformation in the ever-expanding era of digital media. How do films represent the city in a time of technological change and aesthetic evolution? How has the wholesale implementation of digital technologies impacted the use of space in cinema? And how does the digital era affect the relationship between the off-screen and on-screen spatial environment? Looking at the distinctive aesthetics of urban space, it is our belief, allows for an examination of how we perceive and engage with the iconography of our world. Our intent is to problematize what we understand as the urban, and how strongly it relates to our relationship with contemporary media.
[Matthias Stork and Andrew Young, Mediascape Co-Editors-in-Chief, Introduction to the Fall 2013 issue]
Film Studies For Free would like its readers to head straight on over to the new issue of Mediascape which considers matters of space and mediation. 

FSFF would particularly recommend Matthias Stork's marvellous (and marvellously illustrated) study of the 'Aesthetics of Post-Cinematic City Space in Action Films and Video Games'James Gilmore's fascinating essay on The Dark Knight Rises, urban space and the cultural experience of terrorism as mediation, as well as José Gallegos' essay on the Tsunami disaster film The Impossible. The issue also boasts unmissable items in the area of game studies.

Readers may also be interested to know that the excellent Mediascape blog is seeking new contributors on a wide variety of topics. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, or if you would like more information about the blog, please write to Editor-in-Chief Matthias Stork at mstork[at]ucla[dot]edu.

Monday 16 December 2013

Get the Picture! A Community-Based Film Study Programme Using THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY

Interview with filmmaker and educator Mark Cousins about his film series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which forms the basis of the Get the Picture community film study project described below

Quite often Film Studies For Free gets asked about free film study. Not so surprising, you might think, given the name on its own tin. But what people are often asking about is free "real world", or offline, film study - and sadly not too much of that comes for free these days.

So imagine how delighted FSFF was when it was contacted by a group of generous and talented individuals who have formed an educational partnership called Get the Picture 'that aims to provide free support materials and a framework to help people to come together in their local community, to form study groups and learn about film'.

FSFF is, therefore, delighted to create a space, in today's entry, for a concise and enticing introduction to the work of this partnership, in the hope that some of its readers will go on to take up the specific invitation set out here, and that yet others will go on to concoct their own community film study projects inspired by this one. If the latter happens, do please let FSFF know.

In the meantime, thank you so much to Get the PictureYou can follow the project on Twitter --  @GtPfilm -- and, of course, at its website.

Get the Picture: Film study groups in the community

There's a certain added frisson of pleasure in writing this post, because of its context: what I'm about to describe is a programme of informal adult film study that is free to users. The only necessary additional costs involved are the purchase of the DVD box set of Mark Cousins's The Story of Film, an Odyssey.

'Us' refers to Get the Picture, which is the collective name for three activists in the community cinema movement, John Salisbury, Julia Vickers and Jim Barratt. The programme of study we've developed and made available is a response to the rapid attrition of informal film study in the 2000s, in the UK, at least, resulting from the decision of the last government to withdraw from supporting lifelong learning. After the impact of that withdrawal of funding became evident, we set about looking for an approach to filling the gap which would, like community cinemas themselves, work in local communities everywhere in the UK. We saw the possibilities opened up by the release of The Story of Film, and our programme is the result. Incidentally, we ran the idea past Mark Cousins early on: he liked it then, and has strongly and warmly endorsed the result.

What was needed?

As we saw it, the requirement was for a programme which was
  • free to participants
  • self-organised and self-paced
  • informal, not assessed
  • of benefit whatever the starting point of the participant.
We saw there was a need for someone (a group member) to manage the group experience and chair discussions (a role we termed 'enabler'), but that shouldering this responsibility would require additional support from us. We decided to base the whole programme on advice notes (e.g. Programme Guide, How to be a Participant) and study notes (each relating to a specific study/discussion session based on an individual episode of The Story of Film). We decided that since the only distribution system for study materials which would work universally was sending pdf documents over the internet, we would embrace the internet, giving strong guidance on its use as a resource for individual study. Finally, we decided that basing a programme on all 15 chapters of The Story of Film might well seem a dauntingly large commitment for a study group, so we offered the programme in three segments of five chapters/study sessions each.

What's in the programme?

For each segment, a participant receives a document set which contains common advice notes and the study notes relevant to the sessions in that segment. The advice notes consist of the Programme Guide, How to be a Participant, How to be an Enabler, and the Key Films list. You can find more detail on this (and examples) on the Get the Picture website at There is also an advice note on Enhancements and Digressions, because we recognise that some groups may wish to add to the programme we've laid out, or digress from it: nothing is set in stone.

The normal experience for a participant in each segment is that after an introductory organizing session convened by the enabler, they attend five discussion sessions in which they discuss prepared questions chosen from those found in each set of Study Notes. In between discussion sessions, participants are asked to do four things: they watch the relevant chapter of The Story of Film, they prepare for the planned discussion questions, they undertake individual study based on suggested internet resources (from Wikipedia, YouTube and specified websites), and they watch the specified key films. This means that scheduling the discussions must leave time for these individual activities, and enablers receive suitable guidance about this. To give a more comprehensive flavour, embedded below is the Programme Guide pdf document which all participants receive. If you want to view it more comfortably, or offline, you can download it from this website:

The Key Films list is significant: for each session, we select two of the films Mark Cousins cites as notable within the episode of The Story of Film, and suggest all group members watch these films as part of their preparation, to provide a common basis for discussion. From quite early on, some of the discussion questions focus on individual key films.

Trialling the programme

We have been fortunate in that groups from a small number of film societies agreed to trial the materials for Segment One. The result has been very positive and a clear endorsement of the basic approach. We have streamlined the study materials as a result of trials feedback, and worked hard to clarify the discussion questions. As we expected, specific problems arose around the role of the enabler, especially when inexperienced enablers had to deal with obstinate group members, but these problems were by no means dealbreakers. We encountered unexpected problems (for example, the disruptive potential of refreshments) and have had to mention these in the advice notes. But in general, the trials indicated to us that it was well worth continuing with the programme and making it generally available.

Who will benefit?

The short answer is anyone, anywhere. We have set the entry threshold low by shaping each set of discussion questions so that they are readily approachable, but permit quite deep insights. We have largely refrained from the theoretical but touched on it where appropriate, and we have taken the intellectual frame as that bounded by Mark Cousins's treatment, which relates filmmaking technique to viewing experience in some complex and interesting ways.  We have shaped the individual study possibilities by introducing a wide range of resources, simply as a way of illustrating what is possible, and we have used guided Wikipedia and YouTube research as the spine for individual inquiry.  This approach offers anyone who wants to go further all that the internet allows, but gives a solid and satisfactory experience to the novice.

What we want from you.

Do you know anyone who might like to know about the Get the Picture programme? They might be in a film society, or involved in a community cinema, or they might just be into film. The benefits of making what is normally solitary - watching film, reading and thinking about it - communal and social are hard to quantify, but they do include a clear development in the individual's ability to talk and think about film. We find that, for the many generations of Britons who have received no education in film at school or since, this development is immensely liberating, so we have no hesitation in asking you to spread the word. Send them a link to this post. Get the Picture is open for (free) business.
[The above text is by John Salisbury of Get the Picture]

Note about location: The materials were trialled with groups in the UK, but there is no reason why groups from anywhere in the English-speaking world should not take advantage of them. You only need to be sure you can access The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Study groups from anywhere in the world are welcome and invited to register with Get the Picture.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Just the Facts – A New Realist Cinema? New Issue of PHOTOGÉNIE

Frame grab from Che (Steven Soderbergh, 2008). Read about this film in Tom Paulus's essay Historians of the Real? Che and Carlos as Political Cinema in the latest issue of Photogénie
[In the pages of De Filmkrant Adrian Martin] bemoans an ideological naiveté on both the filmmaker and the critic’s part when a return to realism is perceived as a way of breaking new ground, and genre conventions, by implication, are again seen as ideologically suspect. Jones replies that adherence to ‘meandering fact’ is, in these cases, purely functional, depending on the story at hand; as such, ‘realism’ must be seen as no more than a suitable response to ‘meditations on time’ like Fincher’s Zodiac (pictured above) or Assayas’s Carlos, films that are structured around “the lulls and disappointments and setbacks and frustrations instead of the peaks of an actual police investigation or an actual terrorist operation.” Still, Martin is not so far off the mark in identifying a trend (possibly kick-started by Zodiac’s critical reception), although the seeds of that trend lie with the films and culture Jameson was discussing, films like All the President’s Men, certainly an acknowledged influence on Fincher. In their strict adherence to historical fact movies like Zodiac, Carlos, Che – to name the most important disseminators of the trend – and more recently Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty or even Steven Spielberg’s ‘anecdotal’ Lincoln – seem to have been created as if to reprove Jameson’s dictum about docudrama that, “[n]ot even the most concrete visuality in detail and reconstruction, nor the historical accuracy and ‘truth’ of the re-enactment,” can remove these films from the realm of the imaginary. Although most of these films feature a ‘mediating consciousness’, a privileged witness character, who reshapes collective historical drama as personal psychological trauma, their dramaturgy is still largely constructed around the anecdotal, the ‘raw’ material of history. Martin notes that these movies are full of repetitious talk-sessions and ‘nothing-much-happening,’ a temps mort aesthetic that brings to mind both nouvelle vague and talky incarnations of slow cinema, the resemblance to the latter heightened by their lengthy running times.
    The aim of this issue is to look at these movies and the perceived return of realism from a variety of angles [...] [Tom Paulus introduces the new issue of Photogénie on realist cinema]
December is often one of the sweetest months for new issues of ejournals and this year is no exception. So Film Studies For Free is (slowly) catching up with some good ones. One of the very best sets of reading may be found in the new collection of work from Photogénie on realist cinema. FSFF particularly liked Adrian Martin's deconstruction of documentary purism and Tom Paulus on historians of the real, but each of the articles is excellent. The contents are linked to below.

You should subscribe to the wonderful Photogénie blog, too!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

New Issue of JUMP CUT!

Frame grab from The Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939). See the Jump Cut dossier on Ford's film, Spielberg's version of the Lincoln story, and the classic Cahiers du Cinéma debate on the earlier film. Also see  Film Studies For Free's earlier entry on On the art (and ideology) of John Ford's films

Film Studies For Free has been away, gadding about and gabbling at a wonderful conference in Frankfurt on The Audiovisual Essay (organised by Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López, with Vinzenz Hediger, for Deutsches Filminstitut and Goethe University), about which you will hear a great deal in the coming weeks and months.

Next, tomorrow, it departs for yet another exciting public event - a panel discussion on 'The Future of Film Criticism" at King's College, London, speaking alongside Jean-Michel Frodon (Editor of Cahiers du Cinéma and film critic for Le Monde) and Nick James (Editor of Sight & Sound).

In between these two magnificent events, it had to bring you news of a huge new issue of the online journal Jump Cut, which is absolutely full of incredibly interesting looking contents - FSFF particularly liked the dossier on Lincoln and ideology, but there's so much more to enjoy here. Thank you, Jump Cut!

Back soon.

Current issue, No. 55, fall 2013: INSTITUTIONS, TECHNOLOGIES, and LABOR





S/Z and Rules of the Game by Julia Lesage
THE LAST WORD The war on/in higher education by the Editors

Monday 11 November 2013

Magnifying Mirror: On Barbara Stanwyck and Film Performance Studies

Film Studies For Free proudly presents an entry on the wonderful work of American actress Barbara Stanwyck as well as on film performance studies more generally. Stanwyck's illustrious career began in the 1920s and spanned sixty years. During that period she starred in major films of many genres and worked with some of the most distinguished Hollywood directors. Writing on her work may provide, therefore, an excellent, indeed exemplary case for reflection on film critical methodologies in performance studies.

As well as the usual links to online scholarly work on these topics (scroll down for those), the entry presents, below, an interview with Andrew Klevan, Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Oxford. Klevan discusses the rationale behind his recent book on Hollywood film star Barbara Stanwyck (London: BFI/Palgrave, 2013). He also talks about some of the issues that arise when film performance is the object of study, around intention and attribution of agency and value.

During the interview, which took place in October this year, Klevan read aloud an excerpt from his book, a reading which inspired, and formed the narration of, the above FSFF video on Stanwyck, MAGNIFYING MIRROR. Klevan also wrote a short statement about the video and about his collaboration with FSFF more generally, which you can also find below.

A Note by Andrew Klevan
I am grateful to
Film Studies For Free for highlighting my work, and I hope the expression of some nervousness will not be taken as ungracious. The problem of enlarging on rationale and method as I do in the interview is that, aside from risking accusations of self-importance and self-promotion, by simply stating matters which should, perhaps, remain implicit, one overstates the case, and raises expectations, especially with regard to, what we affectionately call, little books. My answers, drawing out many of the things I tried to do, may create the incorrect impression that the Barbara Stanwyck study is comprehensive and voluminous. (Even the use of expressions such as ‘moment-by-moment’ or ‘movement of meaning’ might suggest an exhaustive sequential tracking.) In fact, one of the compositional aims was to try, using the short form of the little book, to achieve a balance between elaboration and concentration, extraction and distillation. This partly reflects a similar balance achieved in the films and performances, and Catherine Grant’s fascinating video riff, ‘Magnifying Mirror’, which matches the film to my pre-existing text, captures some of this by looping a sequence and in doing so emphasises the moment’s compactness by way of repetition.

I am conscious that [fellow film scholar] E.A. Kaplan is a casualty, and it appears as if her comment on Stella Dallas is singled out where actually quite a few accounts are tested in the course of the study and the isolation is a consequence of uprooting. It is true that I take issue with her assessment, but this is a difference over an interpretation, not a charge against her work more generally, or the value of it. I feel that her account reduces, and overlooks an achievement of the film, but this is something that we are all prone to do. Indeed, much nervousness on my part again as the film returns, insistently, to probe my own description and interpretation – alas too late to make adjustments – but also some satisfaction as film and criticism are reunited. This image/speech track relationship struck me as quite different to a DVD commentary (which is limited by the real time of the film) and the narration of audio-visual criticism (which is conceived in relation to the handling of images). I got the sense of a new form of criticism, using audio-visual material, happily meeting an old form of criticism, using words, and not simply exemplifying the ‘close reading’, but enhancing and interrogating, and more generally revivifying (and magnifying). The iteration in Catherine’s video productively interacts with the distension of written representation. The collaboration with FSFF has illuminated for me the stimulating relationship between commentaries in different forms so that the book gets commented upon in an audio interview and in a video film which in turn gets commented upon in this web statement, allowing the different media to differently elucidate.
Andrew Klevan is Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Oxford, UK. He is author of Disclosure of the Everyday: Undramatic Achievement in Narrative Film and Film Performance: From Achievement to Appreciation. He is the co-editor of The Language and Style of Film Criticism, and is on the editorial boards of MOVIE - A Journal of Film Criticism and Film-Philosophy Journal]

On Barbara Stanwyck

On film performance