Celebrating Laura Mulvey: Or, Film Studies with Poetic License


Knowing that/knowing how? On audiovisual film studies, part 1: practice-led film research

Research in progress by Joanna Callaghan for the fourth long format film in the series ‘Ontological Narratives’ which will take Jacques Derrida‘s epistolary novel The Post Card as starting point.
    In this research film, the possibility of a deconstructive film is discussed with world leading experts on Derrida using a range of clips as counterpoints.
    Ontological Narratives is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project led by Callaghan in collaboration with Martin McQuillan. [Also see ‘The Post Card – Adaptation‘; for more on this project see here and here]. See also Callaghan and McQuillan’s important film on the current convulsive state of UK Higher Education, “I melt the glass with my forehead“.

We can therefore turn this [film theory/film practice divide] debate into an explicitly philosophical issue, by not presupposing that knowing that and knowing how simply overlap; they are two different types of knowledge whose relationship needs to be thought through. It is the theorization of the link/overlap between the two types of knowledge that seems to be missing. [Warren Buckland, Film-Philosophy Discussion List, January 31, 2012]

[The debate about film theory and practice] has a history which, in the UK at least, goes back to the 1970s, when the art colleges taught experimental film making, and the then polytechnics and a few new universities began to include film-making in their undergraduate film courses. Film theory as such was still taking shape, and video was in its earliest stages.  In an atmosphere charged with radical intellectual fervour, the theoretical input led to much experimentation in colleges of creative practice—the watchword of the time was deconstruction. The paradigm for the infusion of theory into practice could be found in the work, for example, of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, who established themselves on screen and on page, together and separately, as leading denizens of both. Some of the people emerging from this habitus made the break and went on to successful careers in the mainstream, but independent film-making informed by theoretical critique remained in the margins. [Michael Chanan, ‘Revisiting the Theory/Practice Debate’, Putney Debater, February 15, 2012 (hyperlinks added)]

Audiovisual works, it may be argued – films, videos or some other form – are already discursively articulated, they not only incorporate language (as dialogue, voice-over, intertitle, and so on) but are quasi-linguistic in their very form. The analogy between language and cinema, for example, has been explored with particular rigour in structuralist film theory, not least in the work of Christian Metz. It might be argued that if audiovisual forms are inherently discursive, then an intellectual argument can equally well be presented in the form of a film or video as in a more conventional written form. [Victor Burgin, ‘Thoughts on ‘research’ degrees in visual arts departments’, Journal of Media Practice, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2006] (hyperlink added)]

The misgivings about the legitimacy of practice-based research degrees in the creative and performing arts arise mainly because people have trouble taking research seriously which is designed, articulated and documented with both discursive and artistic means. The difficulty lurks in the presumed impossibility of arriving at a more or less objective assessment of the quality of the research – as if a specialised art forum did not already exist alongside the academic one, and as if academic or scientific objectivity itself were an unproblematic notion. In a certain sense, a discussion is repeating itself here that has already taken place (and still continues) with respect to the emancipation of the social sciences: the prerogative of the old guard that thinks it holds the standard of quality against the rights of the newcomers who, by introducing their own field of research, actually alter the current understanding of what scholarship and objectivity are. [Henk Borgdorff, ‘The debate on research in the arts’, The Sensuous Knowledge Project, 2006]

And so begins a mini-series of posts here at Film Studies For Free on the practical possibilities for, and the critical debates about, audiovisual film studies research and ‘publication’.

Below, in this first instalment, FSFF links to freely-accessible, online resources relating to the notion of film practice as a form of film/video theorising, in other words, as a reflexive and/or affective meditation on the ontological qualities of film or video (a ‘felt framing‘, in Julian Klein‘s great phrase to describe artistic research). It’s certainly a good excuse to showcase some of the burgeoning, open access work (and open access publications, or free publishers’ samples) in the very healthy field of Moving Image Practice as Research (aka ‘Research by Practice’ or ‘Practice-Led research).

Some studies of Practice-Led Research

Two Open Access journals for AV/media practice work:

Two free publishers journal samples:


Conversations from the REMIX CINEMA Workshop

In conversation with Richard Misek at the Remix Cinema Workshop 2011

Film Studies For Free took a little break to meet a few deadlines in the last two weeks. Normal service resumes this week, thankfully.

In the next days, there will be an entry of links in memory of Theo Angelopoulos who sadly died last week. So, do please come back for that.

Today, though, FSFF posts links to some recently uploaded audio files which very valuably record great interviews with the contributors to an important workshop conference that took place last March at Oxford University.

The event explored the topic of Remix Cinema: the collaborative making, deconstruction and distribution of digital artefacts, and was part of a wider project exploring the role of audio-visual remix practices in contemporary digital culture.

Thanks to everyone taking part for making these excellent resources available to everyone working in the field.

>Media Fields Journal on Video Stores


Melonie DiazJack Black, and  Mos Def  in Be Kind, Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008 – See FSFF‘s post on Gondry for some reading on this film)

Film Studies For Free is thrilled to be able to pass on news of the launch of MEDIA FIELDS JOURNAL: Critical Explorations in Media and Space, a new graduate online journal based in the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Department of Film and Media Studies.

The first issue (1.1, 2010) on VIDEO STORES, edited by Joshua Neves and Jeff Scheible, is now available at http://www.mediafieldsjournal.org/.

Neves and Scheible introduce their special issue as follows:

This new online journal represents the latest development in a research initiative launched in UCSB’s Department of Film and Media Studies in 2007. The goal of Media Fields is to provide a forum focused on the critical study of media and space, where we can dynamically present and openly debate the latest work from established and emerging scholars and practitioners. Each issue will have a theme—whether it is a topic of contemporary relevance; an exploration of a particular concept, media form, genre, or practice; or, as in this issue, a specific media space: the video rental store.
     We were compelled to focus on the space of the video store in this issue because it is a “media field” that at once allows for the kind of tangible, site-specific fieldwork that is at the heart of Media Fields and, at the same time, is a site where a range of important issues intersect: “new” media’s consequences for “old” media; uses, developments, and failures of media technologies; the cultivation of knowledge about cinema and television; global media distribution; piracy and the law; the circulation of pornography; configurations of cultural communities; relations between public and private space; and contemporary media reception. [read more]

The issue contents are linked to below. Also see the following great site mentioned by the special issue: Video Cultures.
Issue Contents:

Please also note that a call for submissions for an issue on DOCUMENTARY AND SPACE is now open and can be viewed here.

Michael Snow videos and links

My paintings are done by a filmmaker, sculpture by a musician, films by a painter, music by a filmmaker, paintings by a sculptor, sculpture by a filmmaker, films by a musician, music by a sculptor … sometimes they all work together. (Michael Snow)

[N]o other artist has done so much to destabilise our approximation of the visible than Michael Snow. By threatening the very tools we rely on to process what we perceive, the artist creates unnerving yet frequently poetic works. His avant-garde film-making is less about a way of understanding the camera as a device for recording than as an instrument whose structural, material properties can form the main focus of the work. (Tim Clarke)

Today, Film Studies For Free brings you another video gem from the Tate Channel in which the highly distinguished Canadian artist Michael Snow, one of the most influential experimental filmmakers (including of such masterworks as Wavelength [1967)], La Région Centrale [1971], and *Corpus Callosum [2002]) discusses his work. Snow, who will reach the grand old age of 80 this December, gave this illustrated talk at the Tate Modern in London on October 26, 2001, on the occasion of a major retrospective of his work that year at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol. The talk, a very detailed and insightful revisiting of the entirety of his work to that point, lasts just under two hours.

Here also, as is FSFF‘s wont, are links to further wonderful, freely accessible, online, scholarly Michael Snow resources. Below the list are two other embedded videos: the first, a ten minute overview of Snow’s work; the second, a video version of Snow’s 1967 experimental film Wavelength (please read the comments on this post for a discussion of the ethics of reproducing this very poor copy of the film):

Framing Jarman: New Tate Visual Arts Channel in Beta

Film Studies For Free wanted to rush you the great news that the Tate has just launched a new, highly elegant and very user-friendly channel to enable the viewing (and embedding – yay!) of hundreds of videos about visual arts, like the great film above in which James Mackay, friend of British film artist Derek Jarman, talks about Jarman’s experimental work on super 8. These films that he began making in the 1970s are rarely shown. Mackay, who later produced some of Jarman’s feature films including The Garden (1990) and Blue (1993), agreed to open up his archive of these ground-breaking short films for TateShots.

FSFF also came across an even more detailed interview with Mackay about his work with Jarman here at the 400blows website. You can also find interviews there with the following people about their work and friendships with this filmmaker: Jenny Runacre; Simon Fisher Turner; Tilda Swinton; Peter Tatchell; Christopher Hobbs; Tony Peake; Tariq Ali; Ron Peck; and Gaye Temple;

FSFF has only just begun to explore the riches and the capabilities of the new Tate channel; it gleefully urges you to do the same. But it closes, today, happily in a Derek Jarman frame of mind with a sublime Jarman artifact, from his 1987 short Aria, starring Tilda Swinton, music by Gustave Charpentier from his opera Louise with its aria ‘Depuis le jour’, sung here by Leontyne Price:

Aesthetic Journalism – a free preview

Film Studies For Free (always a fan of substantial freebie content in otherwise non-Open Access publications) thought some of its readers might be especially interested to know that they can currently preview for free the first 28 pages, or so, of the book embedded above (published by Intellect Books).

While Aesthetic Journalism doesn’t touch at all on mainstream filmmaking, it does seem to be a strikingly novel study of ‘the journalistic turn in the contemporary visual arts’, one that may prove especially useful to those considering issues of ‘documentary’ and ‘fiction’ in relation to artists’ film and video (FSFF is thinking of some of the work of such visual artists and filmmakers as Harun Farocki, Hito Steyerl, Clio Barnard, Adam Chodzco, and Alia Syed, to name but a few).

Here’s the publishers’ blurb to whet your appetite some more:

As the art world eagerly embraces a journalistic approach, Aesthetic Journalism explores why contemporary art exhibitions often consist of interviews, documentaries and reportage. This new mode of journalism is grasping more and more space in modern culture and Cramerotti probes the current merge of art with the sphere of investigative journalism. The attempt to map this field, here defined as ‘Aesthetic Journalism’, challenges, with clear language, the definitions of both art and journalism, and addresses a new mode of information from the point of view of the reader and viewer. The book explores how the production of truth has shifted from the domain of the news media to that of art and aestheticism. With examples and theories from within the contemporary art and journalistic-scape, the book questions the very foundations of journalism. Aesthetic Journalism suggests future developments of this new relationship between art and documentary journalism, offering itself as a useful tool to audiences, scholars, producers and critics alike.

The author Alfredo Cramerotti (1967) is a writer, curator and artist based in the UK. Among his recent research and curatorial activity: co-curator, Manifesta 8 European biennial of contemporary art (2009-2011); curator, QUAD Derby (2008-present), co-curator, CPS Chamber of Public Secrets (2004-present) and AGM Annual General Meeting (2003-present).

Jarman Award 2009 winner is Lindsay Seers

Recording of part of Lindsay Seers‘ exhibition ‘Swallowing Black Maria
(more info here)
Lindsay Seers’s Extramission 6 (Black Maria) [is] one of the real finds of [the Altermodern: Tate Triennal exhibition, 2009]. Seers shows a semi-autobiographical, quasi-documentary film about her life, screened in a mock-up shed whose design is a copy of Thomas Edison’s Black Maria, his New Jersey film studio. The story is implausible, troubling, and beautifully told by different narrators.

As a child, Seers is so overwhelmed by visual stimulus that she cannot speak. As soon as she sees a photograph, she decides she wants to be a camera. She uses her mouth as the camera, and goes about with a black bag over her head. As she grows up, Seers stops being a camera, and wants instead to be a projector. She wears a model of Edison’s studio on her head, projecting the movies in her mind. She struggles to illuminate the world.

The whole story is both dreamlike and moving. How much of it is true? There are interviews with Seers’s mother and with a psychologist. Are they really who we think they are? As I staggered out, someone muttered “What is she on?” Adrian Searle, guardian.co.uk, February 3, 2009

Film Studies For Free is very happy to add its congratulations to the many being deservedly delivered today to Lindsay Seers following the award to her yesterday of this year’s Jarman prize for artists working with the moving image. Seers, whose hypnotic work as an artist includes film practice-based research produced as a lecturer in arts practice at London’s Goldsmiths College, receives a cash prize, but also a very valuable broadcast commission – to make four artworks for Channel 4’s acclaimed Three Minute Wonder slot (3MW). FSFF looks forward to watching those.

The Jarman Award was inspired by British avant-garde film-maker Derek Jarman, one of the most innovative, esteemed and visionary artists of the last century. Interviews and features on this year’s award shortlist and Jarman’s legacy can be found at Engine, an online forum from Animate Projects.

Below are some further links to online and openly accessible resources, reviews and information about Lindsay Seers’ work.

>Harun Farocki on the web and in London


Image above taken from The Interview (Video, Harun Farocki, 1997):

‘In the summer of 1996, we filmed application training courses in which one learns how to apply for a Job. School drop-outs, university graduates, people who have been retrained, the long-term unemployed, recovered drug addicts, and mid-level managers – all of them are supposed to learn how to market and sell themselves, a skill to which the term “self management” is applied. The self is perhaps nothing more than a metaphysical hook from which to hang a social identity. It was Kafka who Iikened being accepted for a job to entering the Kingdom of Heaven; the paths leading to both are completely uncertain. Today one speaks of getting a job with the greatest obsequiousness, but without any grand expectations.’ (Harun Farocki on The Interview)

Film Studies For Free can testify that there is no better written introduction to the fascinating work of Berlin-based, visual artist and writer Harun Farocki‘s films and video installation work than a 2002 essay that Thomas Elsaesser (also editor of the 2004 collection Harun Farocki: Working on the Sight Lines – see HERE) wrote for Senses of Cinema. Here are a few insights from the conclusion to this piece in which Elsaesser sets out the reach of Farocki’s artwork:

[…] Farocki has also noticed for us how prisons and supermarkets, video-games and theatres of war have become ‘work-places’ – of subjects as much as of commodities. They are spaces that are converging, once one appreciates how they all fall under the new pragmatics of the time-space logic of optimising access, flow, control. These sites a filmmaker has to take cognisance of and recognise him/herself implicated in, but so has the spectator, whose role has changed so much.

As one walks through Farocki’s works, which have become our worlds, one realises that he may be one of the few filmmakers today capable of understanding the logic of this convergence, contesting its inevitability and yet feeling confident enough to continue to believe in the wit, wisdom and the poetry of images. This certainly makes Harun Farocki an important filmmaker: probably Germany’s best-known important filmmaker.

Inspired by Farocki’s films — which seem more and more relevant to our daily lives — as well as by Elsaesser’s many perceptive words about them, Film Studies For Free wanted to publicize the ongoing exhibition “Harun Farocki, 3 Early Films” at the Cubitt Gallery, London (17 January – 22 February 2009), as well as the surrounding events to be held at the Goethe-Institut and Cubitt Gallery (31 January-20 February).

For those of you in search of more information about, or analyses of Farocki’s work, FSFF decided to produce as extensive a list of live links as it could to some relevant online resources of note: