Pantheon Level Author: In Memory of Andrew Sarris


A Star Was Born… : Links in Barbra Streisand’s Honour on her 70th Birthday!

Frame grab from A Star Is Born ( Frank Pierson, 1976)

Each version of A Star Is Born may detail the rise of an unknown, but does so through extremely well-known performers, albeit ones at different stages of their careers. […] Barbra Streisand […] was at the height of her career in 1976. Her domination of A Star Is Born (she contributed to the writing and even, as Kris Kristofferson, her co-star, saw it, the directing [(Burke, Tom. “Kris Kristofferson Sings the Good-Life Blues.” Esquire 86 (December 1976): 126–28ff), 208-9]) was another manifestation of a desire to play out aspects of her own life. The credited director has recounted at length how, during preproduction, Streisand debated the degree to which her autobiography should be reflected in Esther Hoffman ([Pierson, Frank. “My Battles with Barbra and Jon.” New York 9 (November 15, 1976): 49–60], 50). If James Mason’s character in the 1954 film becomes through role reversal the “fictional counterpart of the neurotic, self-destructive person that Garland [had] become” ([Jennings, Wade. “Nova: Garland in ‘A Star Is Born.'” Quarterly Review of Film Studies 4, no. 3 (summer 1979): 321–37], 333), then Streisand’s Esther Hoffman directly fulfills everything that Streisand herself has become by 1976. Richard Dyer even suggests that among the “number of cases on which the totality of a film can be laid at the door of the star” the case can be made “most persuasively” for Streisand’s A Star Is Born (Dyer, Richard. Stars. London: BFI, 1979], 175) [Jerome Delamater, ‘”Once More, from the Top”: Musicals the Second Time Around’, in Horton, Andrew, Play it again, Sam: retakes on remakes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, p. 84]

Film Studies For Free wishes a very happy 70th birthday to Barbra Streisand, actor, singer, songwriter, film director, producer, and queer feminist icon extraordinaire.

Below, you can find a tiny little celebration in related scholarly links – the only gift that (rather besotted Barbra fan) FSFF knows how to give.

If anyone knows of any other good items (and it is far too short and unworthy a list so far…), please leave a comment and FSFF will add them to the list.

    New Issue of LA FURIA UMANA on Jerry Lewis and much more…

    Frame grab image of Jerry Lewis as ‘Warren Nefron’ in Smorgasbord aka Cracking Up (Jerry Lewis, 1983). Read Steven Shaviro‘s new article on this film

    Smorgasbord (retitled Cracking Up by the distributor) is Jerry Lewis‘s last self-directed feature film. It first opened in France in 1983; it never received a proper American release. (In the US, it was immediately relegated to cable television — which is where I saw it for the first time). And Smorgasbord still isn’t very well known today — even among Lewis aficionados. (It is, for instance, the only one of Lewis’s self-directed films not to appear in the index to Enfant Terrible, an academic essay collection edited by Murray Pomerance in 2002, which otherwise covers Lewis’ film career quite comprehensively). Yet I think that Smorgasbord is one of Jerry Lewis’s greatest films; in what follows, I will try to explain why. [Steven Shaviro, ‘Smorgasbord‘, La Furia Umana, 12, 2012; hyperlinks added by FSFF]

    Film Studies For Free just heard about the latest issue of the pentalingual film journal La Furia Umana. There are lots of brilliant articles in English, and other marvellous work, too, in other languages that will be entertainingly translated by Google, if you so require.

    The particular highlight, this time, is a truly brilliant and wide-ranging dossier on the work of Jerry Lewis, a human fury of an actor if ever there was one… But FSFF also had plenty of thoughts usefully and skilfully provoked by Kim Nicolini writing on the Post-Feminist Possibilities in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia

    And there’s a lot more to explore and learn from besides the above. Just feast your polyglot eyes on the below…

    nota editoriale

    rapporto confidenziale

    prima linea

    histoire(s) du cinéma

    l’occhio che uccide

    flaming creatures

    the whole town’s talking

    western fragmenta

    the new world

    On the myth of the frontier in cinema and culture

    A whole new world that is nothing but frontier…‘: Richard Langley in the narration to his excellent short film, embedded above, American Un-Frontiers: Universality and Apocalypse Blockbusters
    This film concerns recent apocalyptic Hollywood blockbusters, which have utilised notions of the ‘frontier’ to develop ideas of American hegemony in the uni-polar era, even as they postulate a universal erasure of national boundaries. Largely, the non-human agents of apocalypse in such films are responsible for erasing boundaries, but in so doing they simultaneously establish the conditions of American renewal. Indeed, the frontier must be continually renewed; it is drawn in order to be effaced, redrawn and effaced again.

          However, at the moment of effacement, when the boundaries between nations are broken down and a sense of universality seems triumphant, the dawning of a new world re-inscribes the frontier – the new world that is constructed is still American led; the mooted universality is both particular and parochial. Such films, which appear to posit un-American (or at least post-national) frontiers, actually achieve the inverse; the universal equality offered by apocalypse offers an American un-frontier, a site seemingly without boundaries, but which is simultaneously nothing but frontier, a re-dramatisation of America’s founding mythology.

    The inspiration for today’s Film Studies For Free entry — on the (transnational) myth of the frontier in cinema and related culture — was Richard Langley‘s excellent, highly persuasive, short documentary embedded above. That video also has a vivid, post hoc connection to this blog’s popular list of “Links of Doom and Disaster! Apocalyptic Film and Moving Image Studies” posted but a few short weeks ago.

    Like cinematic apocalypses, filmic frontier mythology turned out to be an incredibly rich vein of web scholarship. So, many thanks to Richard and all the below named scholars for making sure their very valuable work was openly accessible online.

    Open Access is, after all, the real ‘final [e-]frontier’.

    And hopefully it won’t turn out to be a myth…

      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.

      The Tree of Links: Terrence Malick Studies

      Frame grab from The New World (Terrence Malick, 2004)

      For me the most powerful films are, and always will be, those of a singular gaze where the human eye can be felt, where it is allowed to go uninhibited, without question and without anyone second guessing its accuracy.

      [Filmmaker Brad McGann on Malick’s Days of Heaven in ‘Southern Superstition’, Take, Issue 27, Winter 2004/5, p. 19. cited by Duncan Petrie]

      Film Studies For Free is off to the beach and won’t be posting for a few weeks. But, dry those tears! FSFF always likes to leave its readers with something to remember it by. And this year’s pre-vacation posting will hopefully do the trick. 

      Below, you will find a sublime, transcendent, rare, totally indulgent, and almost religiously good list of links to online and openly accessible studies of the work of American filmmaker Terrence Malick, together with some reviews of his 2011 Palme D’Or winning opus The Tree of Life which are of scholarly interest. Scroll right down to the end for five of Matt Zoller Seitz‘s great video essays on Malick’s work.

      Don’t say that FSFF doesn’t love you, because, despite its occasional confusion with double-negatives, it does! Ciao!

      "Radical, readable": Links and studies in memory of Robert Sklar

      How important are origins? [Robert Sklar, ‘Cineaste’s Early Years: The Quest for a Radical, Readable Film Criticism’, Cineaste, Vol. 32 No.4 (Fall 2007)]

      What is remarkable is the way that American movies, through much of their span, have altered or challenged many of the values and doctrines of powerful social and cultural forces in American society, providing alternative ways of understanding the world. [Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York, 1975)]

      Sklar’s most influential work, “Movie-Made America,” first came out over thirty years ago but remains one of the most important texts for the study of American cinema. (After all, he helped invent the field.) Its thesis, that American film culture owed much to the lower class and the struggles against capitalist interests rather than efforts to sustain them, echoed the egalitarian nature of Sklar’s writing: Although primarily an academic, he had the capacity to speak to movie lovers of all stripes. In doing so, he was essentially an activist, capable of making the inarguable case for taking movies seriously—not only as an art form, but a socio-economic force that helps us understand the world. [Eric Kohn, ‘Robert Sklar, RIP’, Screenrush at indieWIRE July 5, 2011 ]

      Robert Sklar’s Movie-Made America (1975, Vintage) was a paradigm-shifting work for film in American studies. It revamped the intellectual (or highbrow) versus popular polarities in which filmic expression was celebrated or denigrated in discussions ofAmerican culture by such culture critics as Dwight MacDonald writing during the height of the Cold War or historians like Richard Pells a decade later who began to incorporate Hollywood activities within the intellectual and cultural landscapes they portrayed. Sklar maintained an interest in movies and ideology but located them within Hollywood as an institution of capital, of culture, of even the State.
           The publication of his book seemed to be part of a new wave of addressing the role of movies and Hollywood within American culture. [Lauren Rabinovitz, ‘More Than Meets the Eye: Movies in American Studies’, 2005 MAASA Presidential Symposium, p. 77]

      Discussing broad transformations in the history of American film, Robert Sklar suggests that, since the 1970s, historical memory has become the touchstone of a movie’s cultural power, replacing a ‘traditional rhetoric of myths and dreams’. For Sklar, the identification of a shift from ‘myth to memory’ in the rhetorical power of mainstream American film relates to a particular dissolution of the consensus that, until the 1970s, had underpinned American liberal ideologies in the postwar period. While speculative in nature, ideological schemas of this sort do have a certain use in identifying broad historical trends and patterns in the discursive propensities of popular cinema. Sklar is one of many critics who identify the 1970s as the origin of the contemporary ‘memory boom’ in American life and society. In a time when it is claimed that metanarratives of history and progress have been severely undermined, and when the past has become increasingly subject to cultural mediation, textual reconfiguration, and ideological contestation in the present, memory has developed a new discursive significance. In cinema, as in other modes of cultural practice, memory has become a powerful locus for the articulation of identity in the sphere of cultural imaginings. This has been levied in rhetorical terms – Sklar’s transition from the ‘myths and dreams’ of classical film to the ‘historical memory’ of more recent work – but it has also become figured in particular generic transformations and bound in regimes of industrial and institutional commercialism, such that movie memory itself has experienced a heightened cultural significance. [Paul Grainge, ‘Introduction: memory and popular film’, in Grainge (ed.), Memory and Popular Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003) citing Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), p. 357].

      Many of Film Studies For Free‘s readers will already have heard of the very sad and untimely death this week of the influential U.S. film historian and critic Robert Sklar.

      Professor of Cinema Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Sklar was the author of many books, including Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage, 1975; rev. 1994), City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield (Princeton, 1992) and A World History of Film” (2003). Sklar also worked as a contributing editor at Cineaste, writing many perceptive reviews. In 2007, he also penned an important and revealing study of that magazine’s early history, which featured in the 40th Anniversary issue. Sklar was co-editor (with Saverio Giovacchini) on a book set for publication later this year: Global Neorealism: The Transnational History of a Film Style.

      Sklar served on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival in the 1990s. As a member of the National Film Preservation Board since 1997, he helped choose the films to be included on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. He was President of the Society for Cinema Studies (now the Society for Cinema and Media Studies) from 1979 to 1981.

      Below, in a small tribute to the work of this unassuming but hugely important film scholar, FSFF has assembled a list of direct links to online, openly accessible writing by Sklar, as well as to tributes to him by his colleagues and students. Below those lists, there is a further gathering of links to a wide range of online film scholarship influenced or informed by his historical and historiographical work on American cinema.

        Online tributes:

        Significant online works influenced or informed by Sklar’s Work:

          >‘Daddy’s dead. Noooo!’: Quentin Tarantino and Psychoanalysis Beyond the Paternal principle


           Image from Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
          Today, Film Studies For Free brings you links to audio recordings from a symposium on Quentin Tarantino and psychoanalysis “beyond the paternal principle”, hosted by The London Graduate School and the London Society for the New Lacanian School. It took place on 4th April, at the Institute for Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London. The symposium engagingly described itself thus:

          ‘Daddy’s dead. Noooo!’ (Tarantino, from Dusk Till Dawn)

          Tarantino’s movies frequently turn on the abjection of a paternal figure (Marcellus Wallace, Jacob Fuller, Bill, Stuntman Mike), who loses his place and authority to become a redundant figure of consumption and expenditure. Tarantino’s movies themselves, in their restless play of reflexive images and references, are always seeking to produce the maximum in cinematic affect irrespective of the aesthetic unities of generic form, symbolic consistency, realism. This symposium explores the suggestion that Tarantino’s movies best symptomatise a tendency in Hollywood generally where cinema is no longer a vehicle of (anti)Oedipal desire, but a febrile, speculative generator of thrills, pleasures and anxieties swarming along an accelerating death drive which is itself death proof. In Tarantino’s film of the same name, for example, the impotence of itinerant ex-stuntman Mike is the condition of a romance between two iconic automobiles, vehicles not of male potency but an altogether Other jouissance.
          • INTRODUCTION: Véronique Voruz (the London Society of the New Lacanian School)[AUDIO HERE] Right click to save
          • TARANTINO’s GIRLS: Gérard Wajcman (writer, psychoanalyst, curator and art critic. He teaches at the Department of Psychoanalysis of Paris 8 University and is a member of the École de la Cause Freudienne and the World Association of Psychoanalysis) read by Scott Wilson [AUDIO HERE]
          • POST-PHALLIC LIBIDINAL ECONOMIES: Hager Weslati (London Graduate School, Kingston University) [AUDIO HERE]
          • SCREEN, DRIVE, ROMANCE: Fred Botting (London Graduate School, Kingston University, co- author of the Tarantinian Ethics (Sage, 2001)) [AUDIO HERE]
          • PSYCHE, THAT INGLOURIOUS BASTERD: Scott Wilson (London Graduate School, Kingston University, co- author of the Tarantinian Ethics (Sage, 2001)) [AUDIO HERE]
          • TOUGH LOVE: Marie-Hélène Brousse (practising psychoanalyst in Paris, a member of the École de la Cause freudienne and of the World Association of Psychoanalysis) [AUDIO HERE]

          >Studies of Film Noirishness, with Love


          50+ new links added on February 27, 2011
          The above is a short video primer by Catherine Grant. It offers an audiovisual introduction to issues of gender, sexuality and movement in relation to Rita Hayworth‘s performance as Gilda in Charles Vidor‘s 1946 film.


          Film Studies For Free is delighted to present its own contribution to the remarkable fundraising effort for the Film Noir Foundation that has been taking place in the last week, namely the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blog-a-thon, organised by film critics Farran Smith Nehme (Self-Styled Siren) and Marilyn Ferdinand (of Ferdy on Film).

          Awed by the contributions so far, FSFF proffers (above) a little video-primer on its favourite noir – Gilda – together with a reposting of Matt Zoller Seitz’s fabulous audiovisual essay on The Prowler (also above), and a whole host of direct links (below) to openly accessible scholarly reading and viewing on Film Noir, and on all varieties of Neo-Noir, too – taken altogether, some of the most essential of film studies topics.

          The Film Noir Foundation works to preserve and restore movies in its chosen mode from many eras and from many countries. The film nominated to be restored with monies raised this year is a fine and important noir called The Sound of Fury (aka Try and Get Me) directed by Cy Endfield (1914–1995).

          One of the resources FSFF links to is an excellent interview with Endfield, conducted in 1989 by Brian Neve, in which he discusses that film in the context of his career as a whole and the historical events which formed the background to his work. Here’s what Endfield concludes about The Sound of Fury.

          I consider that my talent for making pictures was best expressed in two pictures, Zulu and The Sound of Fury. I think the one big talent I have is to make big pictures. There is a sense of structure about something of dimension that I have found lacking even in pictures that were supposed to be big. […] The Sound of Fury was made mostly from my blood circulation and nervous system. 

          FSFF knows that feeling only too well! It can’t wait to see the restored film. So, please, if you love Film Noir, join this blog‘s author in donating some of your hard-earned dough (or even some of your ill-begotten gains…) on this occasion. Just click here. Thank you!

                            Note: The first video essay (by Catherine Grant) embedded at the top of this post was made according to principles of Fair Use/Fair Dealing, primarily with scholarly and critical aims, and was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License in February 2011. If you found this video or FSFF‘s Film Noir entry useful or enjoyable, please consider supporting with a donation the valuable work of the Film Noir Foundation. Thank you.