Lives on Film: Auto/Biographical Fiction and Documentary Film Studies


Film as a Subversive Art: R.I.P. Amos Vogel

Film Studies For Free was very sad to learn of the death yesterday of Amos Vogel. Austrian born Vogel was best known for his bestselling book Film as a Subversive Art (1974) and also as the founder of the New York City avant-garde ciné-club Cinema 16 (1947–1963).

David Hudson has gathered some great memorial links. And at the Sticking Place website you will find lots of links to excerpts from Vogel’s writings as well as writing about him.

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

The Veridical Artist: Jean Epstein Studies

“With the notion of photogénie was born the idea of cinema art.”
[Jean Epstein, quoted in Ian Christie, “French Avant-Garde Film in the Twenties,” in Film as Film (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979), 38

  Sequences from La Chute de la maison Usher/The Fall of the House of Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928)

Sequence from Le Tempestaire/The Storm Tamer (Jean Epstein, 1947) 

In the early twentieth century scientists recognized cinematic slow motion, along with its opposite, time-lapse photography, as providing major tools for observation and demonstration. Enabling through cinema the extension and compression of the flow of time respectively, these techniques revealed aspects of the world that human vision could not otherwise see, and yet they did not distort the world into an aesthetic image. Rather they opened up a new visual dimension. Epstein’s manipulation of time in cinema revealed a different rhythm to the universe, a ballet of matter. Thus, the intuition of Roderick Usher, the protagonist of Poe’s story, that matter itself may have a sentient and animate dimension was visualized in Epstein film’s La Chute de la maison Usher through the use of slow motion. The constant vibration of the material world, whether the flowing of fabric caught in the breeze or the cascade of dust falling from a suddenly struck bell does not simply provide a visual metaphor for the haunted house of Usher. Rather, they capture a universal vibration shared by the soul of things and the structures of the psyche, invoking the senses of both vision and sound (and even touch) placed before us on the screen. In his penultimate masterpiece from 1947, Le Tempestaire, Epstein not only used slow motion to display the currents of ocean surf as he had in his earlier silent films made in Brittany, but innovatively introduced the timbre and resonance of slowed down recorded sound, enfolding us as auditors not simply in defamiliarized sonority, but allowing us to dwell within an extended soundscape filled with the uncanny echoes of nature. [Tom Gunning, ‘Preface’, to Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations, edited by Sarah Keller and Jason N. Paul (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012)]
As Jean Epstein went on to say, the camera is the veridical artist. But the role of this veridical artist can be understood in two ways, as can the relation between its artistic power and its veridicality. On the one hand, the camera is the artist, because it produces a kind of writing, and more precisely because it has an impersonal power in it—the light—which writes. The sensory milieu, then, is one in which light and movement constitute a new writing. Yet, on the other hand, it is a veridical artist insofar as it does not write anything, insofar as all it yields is a document, pieces of information, just as machines yields them to men who work on machines and are instrumentalized by them, to men who must learn from them a new way of being but also domesticate them for their own use. [Jacques Rancière, ‘What Medium Can Mean’, Translated by Steven Corcoran, Parrhesia, 11, 2011: 35-43]

Epstein, at the beginning of his career, claimed that cinema has nothing to do with logic or any other kind of intellectual reasoning. He relegated films to the realm of the so-called emotional reflex, fundamentally irrational in its premises. At the same time, however, he elaborated his own notion of photogénie as an almost mystical increase in the meaning of a cinematic image. A photogenic image, according to him, is not simply one transformed by the camera lens, but it is also purified and abstracted. Thus, a photogenic image belongs to the world of the intellect as well as the world of physical phenomena:

This is why the cinema is psychic. It offers us a quintessence, a product twice distilled. My eye presents me with an idea of a form; the film stock also contains an idea of a form, an idea established independently of my awareness, an idea without awareness, a latent, secret but marvelous idea; and from the screen I get an idea, my eye’s idea extracted from the camera; in other words, so flexible is this algebra, an idea that is the square root of an idea.

This abstracting of an image allows Epstein to explore the subject of cinematic logic that will come to occupy a dominant place in his later film theorizing […]. In his books starting from 1946 (L’intelligence d’une machine), Epstein claims that cinema is not beyond logic but develops its own logic, whose laws are still obscure and mysterious. Epstein calls this logic ‘la pensée méchanique’ – mechanical thought. This thought is not human, but is produced by the cinematic machine itself. […] According to Epstein, cinema produces thinking because it generates forms of time and space. [Mikhail Iampolski, ‘The Logic of an Illusion Notes on the Genealogy of Intellectual Cinema’, in Allen, Richard, Malcolm Turvey (eds), Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson (Amsterdam University Press, 2004), pp. 44-45]

Filmmaker and theoretician Jean Epstein profoundly influenced film practice, criticism and reception in France during the 1920s and well beyond. His work not only forms the crux of the debates of his time, but also remains key to understanding later developments in film practice and theory. Epstein’s film criticism is among the most wide-ranging, provocative and poetic writing about cinema and his often breathtaking films offer insights into cinema and the experience of modernity.
      This collection – the first comprehensive study in English of Epstein’s far-reaching influence – arrives as several of the concerns most central to Epstein’s work are being reexamined, including theories of perception, realism, and the relationship between cinema and other arts. The volume also includes new translations from every major theoretical work Epstein published, presenting the widest possible historical and contextual range of Epstein’s work, from his beginnings as a biology student and literary critic to his late film projects and posthumously published writings. [Blurb for Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations, edited by Sarah Keller and Jason N. Paul (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012)]

Film Studies For Free today celebrates the publication of a wonderful, and hugely important, new book on a wonderful, and hugely important, old figure in film history: Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations edited by Sarah Keller and Jason N. Paul.

Epstein has been a very neglected figure in anglophone film scholarship. Unduly so, as Tom Gunning writes (in his preface to Keller and Paul’s collection),

To my mind Jean Epstein is not only the most original and the most poetic silent filmmaker in France, surpassing impressive figures like Abel Gance, Jacques Feyder, Marcel L’Herbier and even Louis Feuillade; I also consider him one of the finest film theorists of the silent era, worthy to be placed alongside the Soviet theorists (Eisenstein, Vertov and Kuleshov) and the equal of the extraordinary German-language cinema theorist, Béla Balázs. [Gunning, ‘Preface’; hyperlinks added by FSFF]

The book, available for purchase in print, has also been made openly accessible online thanks to its publisher Amsterdam University Press‘s laudable partnership with the online OAPEN library (Open Access Publishing in European Networks). The volume is part of the AUP series Film Theory in Media History, published in cooperation with the Permanent Seminar for the History of Film Theories (read FSFF’s post on the Permanent Seminar), and edited by Prof. Dr. Vinzenz Hediger (Frankfurt), Dr. Trond Lundemo (Stockholm), and Prof. Dr. Oliver Fahle (Bochum).

This series

explores the epistemological and theoretical foundations of the study of film through texts by classical authors as well as anthologies and monographs on key issues and developments in film theory. Adopting a historical perspective, but with a firm eye to the further development of the field, the series provides a platform for ground-breaking new research into film theory and media history and features high-profile editorial projects that offer resources for teaching and scholarship. Combining the book form with open access online publishing the series reaches the broadest possible audience of scholars, students, and other readers with a passion for film and theory.

FSFF is very excited by the prospect of subsequent open access publications in this series. Below, it has reproduced the table of remarkable contents of the AUP volume. As it always likes to add scholarly value in its entries, below the table of contents, there are direct links to further wonderful Open Access resources on Epstein.

Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations, edited by Sarah Keller and Jason N. Paul (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012)

Table of Contents

  • ‘Preface’ by Tom Gunning
  • ‘Introduction’ by Sarah Keller


  • ‘Epstein’s Photogénie as Corporeal Vision: Inner Sensation, Queer Embodiment, and Ethics’ by Christophe Wall-Romana
  • ‘Novelty and Poiesis in the Early Writings of Jean Epstein’ by Stuart Liebman
  • ‘The Cinema of the Kaleidoscope’ by Katie Kirtland
  • ‘Distance Is [Im]material: Epstein Versus Etna’ by Jennifer Wild
  • ‘“The Supremacy of the Mathematical Poem”: Jean Epstein’s Conceptions of Rhythm’ by Laurent Guido
  • ‘The “Microscope of Time”: Slow Motion in Jean Epstein’s Writings’ by Ludovic Cortade
  • ‘A Different Nature’ by Rachel Moore
  • ‘Cinema Seen from the Seas: Epstein and the Oceanic’ by James Schneider ‘A Temporal Perspective: Jean Epstein’s Writings on Technology and Subjectivity’ by Trond Lundemo
  • ‘Ultra-Modern: Jean Epstein, or Cinema “Serving the Forces of Transgression and Revolt”’ by Nicole Brenez
  • ‘Thoughts on Photogénie Plastique’ by Érik Bullot


  • ‘Introduction: Epstein’s Writings’
  • La Poésie d’aujourd’hui, un nouvel état d’intelligence (1921); Introduction / Sarah Keller; Cinema and Modern Literature
  • Bonjour Cinéma (1921) Introduction / Sarah Keller; Continuous Screenings
  • La Lyrosophie (1922) Introduction / Katie Kirtland Excerpts from La Lyrosophie
  • Le Cinématographe vu de l’Etna (1926) Introduction / Stuart Liebman; The Cinema Seen from Etna; On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie; Langue d’Or; The Photogenic Element; For a New Avant-Garde; Amour de Charlot; Amour de Sessue;
  • L’Intelligence d’une machine (1946) Introduction / Trond Lundemo Excerpts from L’Intelligence d’une machine; Le Cinéma du diable (1947) Introduction / Ludovic Cortade Indictment To a Second Reality, a Second Reason

Later Works

  • Introduction to Esprit de cinéma and Alcool et Cinéma / Christophe Wall-Romana
    Esprit de cinéma; The Logic of Images; Rapidity and Fatigue of the Homo spectatoris; Ciné-analysis, or Poetry in an Industrial Quantity; Dramaturgy in Space; Dramaturgy in Time; Visual Fabric; Pure Cinema and Sound Film; Seeing and Hearing Thought; The Counterpoint of Sound; The Close-up of Sound; The Delirium of a Machine

Late Articles

  • The Slow Motion of Sound; The Fluid World of the Screen; Alcool et cinéma; Logic of Fluidity; Logic of Variable Time
  • ‘Afterword: Reclaiming Jean Epstein’ by Richard Abel
    Filmography; Select Bibliography; Notes on Contributors; Index of Names; Index of Films and Major Writings by Jean Epstein; Index of Films

Further Open Access Epstein Studies

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:


Seven Great Film Studies PhD Theses from the University of Edinburgh

Framegrab from Jeux interdits/Forbidden Games (René Clément, 1952)

The classically idyllic, carefree world of childhood would appear to be diametrically opposed to the horrors of war and world-wide conflict. However, throughout film history, filmmakers have continually turned to the figure of the child as a prism through which to examine the devastation caused by war.
This thesis will investigate the representation of childhood experience of the Second World War across six fiction films: Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946) and Germany Year Zero (1947), René Clément’s Forbidden Games (1952), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Night (1964) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985). [Pasquale Iannone, Childhood and the Second World War in the European fiction film PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2011: 11; hyperlinks added by FSFF]

Film Studies For Free went a-hunting at the research repository at the University of Edinburgh and found that seven great full-text PhD theses have been archived there.

Each of these works of original research has a huge amount to offer any student of cinema, and so it’s really great that their authors and their university have made them publicly available online.

FSFF hopes its readers will join it in saluting them!

Animation Studies: Three Fabulous Online Resources

Updated with a call for papers on November 15
Lignes verticales/Lines Vertical (Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, 1960). Read Aimee Mollaghan’s article on McLaren’s Line Films here.

Animation has an unlimited potential to visually represent events, scenarios and forms that have little or no relation to our experience of the ‘real’ world. Implemented in many ways, in many disciplines, it is increasingly influencing our perception and experience of the world we live in. This timely and groundbreaking international conference unites speakers from a wide range of research agendas and creative practices. It facilitates much-needed dialogue centred on the ubiquitous and interdisciplinary nature of animation, its potentially radical future development, and its ethical responsibilities for spatial politics in moving image culture. The conference’s contributors include Norman Klein, Michael Snow, Vivian Sobchack, Tom Gunning, Anthony McCall, George Griffin, Suzanne Buchan, Beatriz Colomina, Edwin Carels, Siegfried Zielinski, Lisa Cartwright, Johnny Hardstaff and Esther Leslie. Especially since the digital shift, the uses of animation are no longer exclusive to cinema, and animation’s origins in pre-cinematic optical experiments through avant-garde experimental film continue to evolve in fascinating ways. Artists increasingly incorporate animation in installations and exhibitions, architects use computer animation software to create narratives of space in time, and scientists use it to interpret abstract concepts for a breadth of industries ranging from biomedicine to nanoworlds. Pervasive Animation provides a dynamic international forum to explore animation’s myriad forms and applications across a wide band of creative and professional practice. Organised by Suzanne Buchan, Reader in Animation Studies and Director of the Animation Research Centre at the University College for the Creative Arts, and Stuart Comer, Curator of Film at Tate.

Film Studies For Free animatedly highlights three fabulous Animation Studies resources today. First up, through the second of the two videos embedded above, you can access the entire, recorded proceedings of a very high quality conference on animation held in 2007 at London’s Tate Modern.

FSFF heard about those videos through the fantastic Experimental Animation website which houses, and links to, many more animation treasures, like Lignes verticales/Lines VerticalNorman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart‘s brilliant 1960 opus embedded at the top of this post.

Finally, the third amazing resource du jour are the below contents of the volumes of Animation Studies, the online, Open Access and peer-reviewed Journal of the Society for Animation Studies (also on Twitter as @anistudies). See also the Society’s Call for Papers for an upcoming conference at the foot of this post.

“Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

Animation Studies – the Journal of the Society for Animation Studies

Call for Papers:
‘The Animation Machine’ – The 24th Society for Animation Studies Conference

Date: June 25-27, 2012

Hosted by: RMIT University
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Keynote speakers include:

•         Thomas Lamarre (McGill University, Canada)

•         Tomotaka Takahashi (The University of Tokyo, Japan)

The Society for Animation Studies (SAS) invites submissions of proposals for individual papers and panels for its 24th Annual Conference, which will be held in Melbourne, Australia at RMIT University, 25-27 June 2012.

Animation production and consumption has continued to grow as animation itself has become ever more prevalent and visible in recent years. In parallel, the field of animation studies has expanded excitingly and dramatically, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines.

The theme of this year’s conference, ‘The Animation Machine’, reflects the wide range of processes, technologies, histories and structures in animation. As movement is an essential aspect of animation, whatever creates that movement may constitute an animation machine and one could conceive that animation is itself a machine. The animation machine can be considered from both the production process and the end product. Therefore, it refers to the machines of animation presentation, be these pre-20th century animation devices, movie or video screens, or even automata. The animation machine also relates to the multitude of animation production processes – from animating technologies (animation stands, cameras, computers), through to the animator’s individual creative practice. Ultimately, the animation machine can be described quite broadly and we welcome your own interpretations.

With the centenary of Australian animation approaching, the 2012 conference will also provide an opportunity to highlight some of Australia’s animation heritage. The conference will coincide with the Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF) and a number of crossover events are planned.

We invite proposals on a wide range of animation topics on all aspects of animation history, theory and criticism for 20-minute conference presentations. Proposals may include (but are not limited to) the following topics:

•         Australian Animation

•         Animation and the Asia-Pacific Region

•         Animation Histories

•         Future Forms of Animation

•         Industrial Methods and Changes

•         Materiality of Animation

•         Algorithmic Animation (including Games)

•         Philosophy and Animation

•         Motion Graphics

•         Scientific Visualisation

•         Contemporary Art and Animation

•         Architecture and Animation

•         Drawing and Animation

•         Web Animation

•         Narrative and Non-Narrative Animation

•         Obsolescence and Questions of Materiality

•         Augmented Reality and Vision

•         Automata (including Robotics)

•         Animation and Pedagogy

•         Documentary and Animation

•         Animation Fringes and Counter-Cultures

•         Sound and Animation

Please include with your individual submission the following:

•         Title and abstract of no more than 250 words (suitable for publication).

•         A brief biographical statement (suitable for publication).

•         Complete contact information, including name, institutional affiliation (if any), postal address, e-mail address and telephone number.

•         A head shot photo of yourself that will be suitable for publication (optional).

For panel proposals of 3-4 presenters, the chair of the panel should submit the following:

•         Overall panel title/theme, plus a 100-word description suitable for publication.

•         Name and contact information for the panel chair.

•         Titles and abstracts for each paper (as noted above).

•         Biography statement for each member (as noted above).

•         Name and contact information for each member (as noted above).

•         Photo of each presenter suitable for publication (optional).

Submit abstracts to:
Submission deadline: December 12, 2011
Conference website:
Conference Chair: Dr Dan Torre, RMIT University