>Wide Screen Journal: on film analysis, film and history, Scorsese, Altman, Panahi, and much more

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An image of Lily Tomlin as Linnea Reese in Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975).

Film Studies For Free is delighted to announce that the second issue of the online and Open-Access film studies journal Wide Screen has been published, with a characteristically broad spread of good quality essays.  FSFF particularly enjoyed Caroline Bainbridge and Candida Yate’s very original Winnicottian study of DVD Culture, and Zélie Asava‘s essay on Todd Haynes’s film I’m Not There (2007).

Below is a list of direct links to each of the main articles. And FSFF has pasted in their abstracts, too, because there’s absolutely nothing that this blog likes to do more than to encourage and inform online film-studies reading, even on sunny Saturdays like the one currently tempting its author away from her computer screen…

  • On Not Being a Fan: Masculine Identity, DVD Culture and the Accidental Collector – Caroline Bainbridge, Candida Yates 
    • Abstract: Recent work on DVD and home cinema technologies, audience and the context of reception has tended to focus on fandom, privileging the fanaticism that underpins the etymology of that term. This article is premised on focus group work that suggests, in counterpoint, that many contemporary collectors of DVDs do not see themselves as ‘fans’. What does this mean for the discourses that are developing around the consumption of new media technologies and their role in everyday life? Drawing on interview material, this article discusses the relationship between Western masculinity and the phenomenon of DVD collection. It considers the pleasures of this activity alongside the spaces of resistance it produces and we argue that commentary that interprets such phenomena in terms of fetishism does not account fully enough for what is at stake. Drawing on object relations psychoanalysis, we suggest that the material object of the DVD works in tandem with its psychical equivalent to produce new spaces of exploration and creativity for men. Against the backdrop of the commonplace assumption that masculinity is in ‘crisis’, we suggest that men make use of technologies to forge new spaces of interaction with one another, arguing that this creates new formations through which to think about the cultural structuration of homosociality and its creative potential.
  • Aura, Auteurism and the Key to Reserva – Kartik Nair 
    • Abstract: This essay revisits some of the most significant and enduring debates over the status of cinema as a popular form. The first debate is over the ‘aura’ and film. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), Walter Benjamin celebrated the democratic moment when technical reproducibility— culminating with film—abolished the centuries-old ‘aura’ of art. Conversely, in “The Culture Industry” (1944), Theodor Adorno lamented the anti-enlightenment standardization wrought by the assembly line under monopoly capitalism, and the movies were for him a primary example of this mindlessness. Arguably, auteurism emerged in the crossfire of the legacies of Benjamin and Adorno. Since it sought to cordon films off from the undistinguished mass of studio ‘product’ by elevating certain film-makers into the rarefied air of individual expression, ‘auteur theory’ may be said to have conferred a plenitude on its chosen few, a plenitude akin to aura. The second debate that I revisit is therefore that between Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, a debate surrounding the Americanization of the auteur.
          Finally, the essay concludes with a brief focus on the short film The Key to Reserva (2007), directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a playful 9-minute experiment – part mockumentary, part homage – in which Scorsese attempts to ‘preserve’ a script Hitchcock developed but left unfilmed. I shall attempt to stage The Key To Reserva as an exciting flashpoint for discussions not only of the status of Hitchcock and Scorsese in Hollywood viz. auteur theory, but also as a flashpoint for discussions of mass reproduction and cinema; the commodity form and advertising; standardization and style; anonymity, authorship, and aura.
  • Multiculturalism and Morphing in I’m Not There – Zélie Asava 
    • Abstract: ‘Passing’ narratives question fixed social categorisations and prove the possibility of self-determination, which is why they are such a popular literary and cinematic trope. This article explores ‘passing’ as a performance of identity, following Judith Butler’s (1993) idea of all identity as a performance language. The performance of multiple roles in I’m Not There (Haynes, 2007) draws our attention not only to ‘passing’, ‘morphing’ and cultural hybridity, but also to the nature of acting as inhabiting multiple identities.
      I’m Not There is a biopic of the musician Bob Dylan. It is a fictional account of a real man who, through his ability to plausibly ‘pass’ for a range of personae, has achieved legendary status. It uses four actors, an actress and a black child actor to perform this enigma.
          The performance of multiple identities in this film explores the ‘moral heteroglossia’, that is, the variety and ‘many-languagedness’ (as Mikhael Bakhtin put it) of identity, through its use of multiply raced and gendered actors. But the film’s use of representational strategies is problematic. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (1994) note that mixed-race and black representations are often distorted by a Eurocentric perspective. And, as Aisha D. Bastiaans notes, representation is a process which operates ‘in the absence or displaced presence, of racial and gendered subjects’ (2008: 232). This article argues that I’m Not There, like Michael Jackson’s Black or White (1991) video, exploits racial and gendered difference through ‘passing’ and ‘morphing’ narratives, to reinforce the white-centrism of American visual culture.
  • Urban Imagination and the Cinema of Jafar Panahi – Sarah Niazi 
    • Abstract: The city in Iranian cinema acquires a character of its own. This paper through the exploration of the fabric of Jafar Panahi’s films attempts to evaluate the claims of this statement and deduce in his cinema an ‘aesthetic of veiling’1 as a narrative and enunciative coordinate that defines the post- revolutionary cinema in Iran. Working through a Benjaminian analysis of the urban experience located in the flaneur; the essay will attempt to understand the cinematic flanerie of Panahi’s camera, the perceptual prowess of his children in The White Balloon (1995) and The Mirror (1997) and the adventures of his flaneuse in The Circle (2000) and Offside (2006) as a desire to map the experiential realm of Tehran that is located within the marvellously mundane and the monumental everyday.
  • Visual Story Telling and History As A Great Toy in The Lives of Others – Gerry Coulter 
    • Abstract: The Lives of Others is an important film for two reasons: 1) it is a striking example of how cinema tells a story by visual means as much as the script (which in this case is much weaker); and 2) the film raises extremely important questions for history in our virtual era, a time when the reach and influence of film makers far extends that of the historian.
  • Film Analysis: A Comparison among Criticism, Interpretation, Analysis and Close Analysis – Elisa Pezzotta 
    • Abstract: The first aim of this article is to summarize and discuss the definitions of film analysis reported in some of the more well known texts about this subject which were and/or are published in France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States and which are directed to undergraduate and graduate students. Because film analysis is a broad field, firstly, I will distinguish between analysis and criticism and among interpretation, analysis and close analysis. Then, I will underline what are the relationships between analysis and close analysis, what are the main instruments of close analysis, the assumptions of analysis and the goals of both close analysis and analysis.
          This discussion is not exhaustive, but it furnishes a guide to an essential bibliography of film analysis and can aid students to undertake their own analyses with more awareness of their tasks. Finally, I strongly wish to have raised some important questions about the future of film analysis.
  • “Bhagat Singh Topless, Waving In Jeans”: Melancholia Through Mimesis In Rang De Basanti – Kshama Kumar 
    • Abstract: How is history mapped on the topography of twenty first century India? It seems apt to study the idea through modern India’s largest popular culture industry: Bollywood. This paper will examine the interaction between history and modern India in Rang de Basanti/Paint it Yellow (2006). The film employs history to understand the present. This paper, therefore, seeks to understand the different processes by which the film accomplishes this goal.It will involve a detailed study of the melancholia within the film which allows history and the present to co-exist. Temporal and spatial fluidity is afforded in the film through the mimetic process of the meta-drama, which will also then be studied to better understand the melancholic condition. The melancholic and the mimetic in the film, allow for an examination of the socio-political condition that the film seeks to represent. The film, this paper will argue also employs a critique of modern day governance. The paper will thus come full circle and examine modern day politics as a system of political history in action: pre-colonial politics in a postcolonial world.
  • Loss and Mourning: Cinema’s ‘Language’ of Trauma in Waltz with Bashir – Natasha Jane Mansfield 
    • Abstract: This paper seeks to analyse Ari Folman’s 2008 animated film Waltz with Bashir from the perspective of psychoanalysis. The aim with any form of story telling is to meaningfully convey a narrative to an intended audience. This paper seeks to address the ways in which the audio/visual characteristics of film allow it to present narrative in terms that are unavailable to the written word. In this case, the form and style specific to animation, provides further avenues for exploration with regard to the narration of trauma. The focus of this paper is the representation of traumatic memory, from the perspective of middle aged men, recalling their teenage experiences of war: in this case the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut. The organising framework of Waltz with Bashir is the exploration of memory. It reconstructs experiences of war from a distance of approximately twenty years, using multiple perspectives in order to regain a sense of history. As a result, there are many strategies the film employs to try to weave together the various different narratives into an impression of events coherent enough to engage the audience and lead to some clarification of memory, and yet disparate enough to retain the idea of history as shifting and personal. The analysis also questions the difference in perception between the distance created by an artistic representation of reality through the talents of animators, and the distance created through the lens of a camera.
  • “We must be doing something right to last two hundred years”: Nashville, or the American bicentennial as viewed by Robert Altman – Chris Louis Durham 
    • Abstract: In this paper, I will discuss Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) in the context of its relationship to bicentennial-era American socio-political culture, contemporary American filmmaking, and other films by Altman. In particular, I will argue that Nashville is typical in its problematic representation of “America,” echoing similarly problematic representations of contemporary America found in a number of films of the period. American society in 1975 anticipated the upcoming bicentennial and presidential election in 1976, but a sense of positive American renewal was complicated by very recent memories of the withdrawal from Vietnam (a matter of weeks before Nashville’s release), Watergate, and the pervasive ideological polarization of the late 1960s onward. Nashville is characterized by both the dystopic narrative structure and the fragmentary visual style common to Altman’s films and numerous “New Hollywood” films of the 1960s and 1970s, and which was symptomatic of a period which for many American filmmakers underlined the inapposite nature of utopian fantasies and the desirability of rejecting the traditionally more ordered, invisible and “objective” style of filmmaking that defined much of the American cinematic past. Nashville’s conscious representation of contemporary America – an America defined in terms of polarized communities, a bankrupt political culture, and the threat of random violence – ensures the film’s resonance as a cultural document, and as such one that merits considered analysis.
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