Real and Fictional Monarchies on Screen

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>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.

In-between-isms: Winnicottian film, media, and cultural studies

As the first credit [of Michael Haneke‘s 1989 film Der Siebente Kontinent/The Seventh Continent] rolls, the view shifts to the inside of a car [as above]. It is a shot from the rear: a man and woman are seated in the front, towards the left and right edges of the frame, their heads silhouetted against the windscreen. Immobile, silent, they stare straight ahead, neither speaking to nor looking at one another. With its hold on that image, Haneke’s long take does its work. Taking its time, The Seventh Continent centres its audience in the space between two, in the place where a look, or a word, that might happen does not […]’Vicky Lebeau, ‘The arts of looking: D.W. Winnicott and Michael Haneke’, Screen, 50:1 Spring 2009

‘Part of [Vicky] Lebeau’s work [previewing her forthcoming book The Arts of Seeing: the cinema of Michael Haneke (Reaktion)] focuses on Haneke’s use of absence and duration in his ubiquitous lingering shots, which Haneke himself has suggested (echoed by Lebeau) are not so much meditations on death, but unlived lives. Lebeau illustrated by examining the opening sequence of The Seventh Continent (1989), in which the camera is fixed in the back seat of a car, looking forward through the windscreen as the vehicle travels through a car wash. In her analysis of this scene and Haneke’s work in general, Lebeau evoked Donald Winnicott‘s discussion of infantile gazing and the horror of the reflection-less specular image, and ultimately challenges us to consider cinema itself as a form of aural and visual thinking.‘ Davide Caputo, ‘Conference Report: Emergent Encounters in Film Theory: Intersections between Psychoanalysis and Philosophy’, Scope, Issue 14, June 2009

‘Freud did not have a place in his topography of the mind for the experience of things cultural. He gave new value to inner psychic reality, and from this came a new value for things that are actual and truly external. Freud used the word “sublimation” to point the way to a place where cultural experience is meaningful, but perhaps he did not get so far as to tell us where in the mind cultural experience is.’  D.W. Winnicott in The Location of Cultural Experience

“The concept of transitional phenomena, introduced by the object-relations psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, stems from his ‘discovery’ of transitional objects–the ubiquitous first possessions of young children that belong both to the child and to the outside world, and which occupy an intermediate position between fantasy (inner world) and reality (outer world). Importantly, while transitional objects have a physical existence, they are also pressed into the service of inner reality. Winnicott used the term ‘potential space’ to refer to the intermediate zone inhabited by transitional phenomena. For the child, playing inhabits this ‘intermediate zone’, which is consequently significant in developmental processes. Winnicott argued that this grounds all kinds of adult cultural experience, which is located in ‘the potential space between the individual and the environment’, a space of ‘maximally intense experiences’.
     This model has much to offer by way of understanding of how we might engage with the world at a public level without setting aside our inner lives, our emotions and psychical investments. In the context of T-PACE, it offers new directions for the cultural researcher interested in exploring interaction between the psychical and the social/cultural, between our inner (psychical) and our outer (material) worlds, aiding understanding of key aspects of the way we relate to, consume, produce and use cultural resources, cultural objects and texts of different kinds.” Annette Kuhn, T-PACE Project website (hyperlinks added by FSFF)

‘Roger Silverstone’s approach to television relies on the insights of D.W. Winnicott for whom the social subject emerges in the “potential space” between the individual and the environment in relation to a transitional object. It is here, in this potential space, that the subject acquires agency, attempts to fulfill its needs, and begins to master space. That process, however, is never complete, and the subject spends much of its life searching for “ontological security” through the appropriation of other transitional objects—such as television—which help ground its experience of time and place and satisfy its needs and desires.’ Bryan Ray Fruth, Media Reception, Sexual Identity and Public Space, PhD Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, August 2007 (citing Roger Silverstone, Television and Everyday Life (New York: Routledge, 1994), 9 and 10-12)

Today, Film Studies For Free focuses its attention on some of the highly promising turns taken by the particular branches of film, media, and cultural studies that have been inspired and informed by the work of the British object-relations theorist and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott.

As FSFF‘s links-list below testifies, there is an extremely rich vein of openly-accessible Winnicottian film and media research and scholarship online, much of it, happily, authored by the pioneers in, and/or champions of, this field, including the late Roger Silverstone, Annette Kuhn, Victor Burgin, Susannah Radstone and Matt Hills.

Those interested in this field of work should definitely visit the website of the Transitional Phenomena and Cultural Experience (T-PACE) project based at Queen Mary, University of London, convened by Annette Kuhn, with fellow members Matt Hills, Patricia Townsend, Tania Zittoun, and Phyllis Creme. Here, you will find an excellent bibliography of offline research as well as other useful research resources.

At the foot of the post, FSFF has embedded a short and snappily informative video from the excellent Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded collaborative research project Media and the Inner World. The project is directed by Caroline Bainbridge (Roehampton University) with Candida Yates (UEL). MiW brings together academics, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and media figures for a series of discussions about the role of emotion and ideas of therapy in popular culture, and is always keen to attract new writer-contributors for its website: you just have to be interested in the psychocultural aspects of popular culture.