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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! Great to see such an underrated actress getting the attetion she fully deserves.

Catherine Grant said...

You are most welcome. Thanks for leaving a comment.