Women Film Pioneers Project at Columbia University

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New SCREENING THE PAST: Special Issue on KNOCKNAGOW (1918)

Silent film based on 1873 novel of the same name by Charles J. Kickham. Production company: Film Company of Ireland. Director: Fred O’Donovan. Screenplay: Ellen Sullivan. Released in Ireland, the United States, and Britain in 1918. This film is in the public domain.
Film Studies For Free happily tips its readers the wink that there’s a new special issue up of the high quality open access film studies journal Screening the Past
Issue 33 is devoted to the study of one of Ireland’s first feature films, Knocknagow, an incredibly popular historical drama set during the land-clearances of the 1840s. Six articles by specialists examine this cinematic landmark in relation to Irish history, politics, sport, literature, and cinema in Ireland and the United States.

Appendices include a plot summary, contemporary press reviews and publicity materials, and a copy of the screenplay.

The issue contains a link to the film itself (embedded above), which was shot on location in Tipperary in summer 1917.

On Railways and the Movies

The Railway Children (Lionel Jeffries, 1970) was a film I ardently watched countless times on television as a child, and, I have to confess, I have seen and loved it countless times since. I had certainly seen it long before I saw  L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de la Ciotat (Lumière Bros., 1895). I noticed the resemblance between the two films only when watching Jeffries’ film again recently. But when I explored this, I was struck by the extent of their resonance, and by the uncanniness of the later film’s pastiche of the earlier one: Bernard Cribbins‘ Perks revivifies, down to his moustache, the La Ciotat station porter; an identical luggage trolley lurks in the background; the beshawled woman looks like she stepped off the earlier train, except that she’s in Technicolor.
     I began to figure, to fantasize, that the uncanniness of The Railway Children‘s penultimate sequence was not only set off by its graphic and musical evocation of the uncertainty of young Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) about quite why she was standing by the rail track, but also by its palpable haunting by the Lumière’s originary scene, with its powerful, ghostly, urtext of a, much more bustling, railway platform just after the arrival of cinema.
 For me, of course, it will also always be the other way round: that The Railway Children, and this film’s own afterwardsness, haunt L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare
[From the introduction to “Uncanny Arrival at a Railway Station” by Catherine Grant

In the ‘folklore’ of cinema history there is one anecdote which seems to be perennially fascinating to layman and historian alike. It might be summarised as follows: an audience in the early days of the cinema is seated in a hall when a film of an approaching train is projected on the screen. The spectators are anxious, fearful –    some of them even panic and run.
     This fearful or panicky reaction has been called ‘the train effect’. It is such a common anecdote, cited by so many writers both at the time and later, that it has also been called `the founding myth of cinema’ or the cinema’s ‘myth of origin. [Stephen Bottomore, ‘The Panicking Audience?: early cinema and the “train effect’”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1999
]

Rather than mistaking the image for reality, the spectator is astonished by its transformation through the new illusion of projected motion. Far from credulity, it is the incredible nature of the illusion that renders the viewer speechless. What is displayed before the audience is less the impending speed of the train than the force of the cinematic apparatus. [Tom Gunning, ‘An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator [1989]’, in Linda Williams, ed. (1994) Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film. 114–133.]

Cinema as we know it, as an institution, as an entertainment based on the mass spectatorship of projected moving images, was born in ’95, in the Golden Age of railway travel. As the prehistory and beginnings of cinema strongly suggest, film finds an apt metaphor in railroad. The train can be seen as providing the prototypical experience of looking at a framed, moving image, and as the mechanical double of the cinematic apparatus. Both are means of transporting a passenger to a totally different place, both are highly charged vehicles of narrative events, stories, intersections of strangers, both are based on a fundamental paradox: simultaneous motion and stillness. These are two great machines of vision that give rise to similar modes of perception, and are geared to shaping the leisure time of a mass society. [Lynne Kirby, ‘Male Hysteria and Early Cinema’, originally in Camera Obscura May 1988 6(2 17)]

Following on from Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s now seminal account of the nineteenth-century railroad and the institution of “panoramic perception” as being emblematic of modernity, critics like Lynne Kirby and Mary Ann Doane have already explored the historic connections between film and the train’s profound re-configuration of vision, with its mechanical separation of the viewer’s body from the actual physical space of a ‘virtual’ ‘perception. [Saige Walton, ‘[Review of] Jeffrey Ruoff (ed), Virtual voyages: Cinema and travel. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2006′, Screening the Past, 20, 2006]

Above, Film Studies For Free gifts to you another of its author’s experiments with real-time video comparison (also a further exploration of cinematic pastiche).

This tiny videographic donation accompanies the links, below, to Omar Ahmed‘s truly wonderful, much more comprehensive and informative video essay series on trains in Indian cinema.

And below those links are others to further, openly accessible online scholarship that touches on the topic of railways — a very cinematic apparatus indeed — in the movies.

Bon voyage!

    New Issue of SENSES OF CINEMA

     Film Studies For Free brings you the ever happy tidings of the new issue of Senses of Cinema.

    It’s a fascinating collection of work, and very wide-ranging: from part one of an interview with, and an article by, Jean-Louis Comolli, film theorist and Cahiers du cinéma editor in possibly its most political period (1966-1978) through Murray Pomerance on Hitchcock to a number of articles on the Oscar-laden French film The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011).

    Links to all the great contents are given below.



    Senses of Cinema, Issue 62 Contents

    Editorial

    Feature Articles

    Great Directors

    Festival Reports

    Book Reviews

    Cteq Annotations

    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

    Essays

    • ‘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

    Translations

    • ‘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

    Garden of forking paths? Hitchcock’s BLACKMAILs – a real-time comparison

    Having begun production as a silent film, the studio, British International Pictures, decided to convert [Blackmail (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1929)] to sound during shooting. A silent version was released [probably only in Britain] for theaters not equipped for sound (at 6740 feet), with the sound version (7136 feet) released at the same time.[*] The silent version still exists in the British Film Institute collection.[**] [Blackmail Wikipedia entry, last accessed March 12, 2012]
    Critic and historian Charles Barr, in his 1976 article “Blackmail: Silent and Sound”, in which he closely compares the two versions, notes that the silent version shows Hitchcock striving to escape a ‘theatrical’ style in which the action is generally viewed face on, with the camera occupying the position of the ‘fourth wall’. In a theatre, this represents the position of the proscenium arch, which marks the boundary between a conventional stage and the audience.
         In the silent version, Hitchcock experimented with changing the position of the camera within a scene, and tried to avoid ‘face-on’ set-ups, that is, where the camera is placed at ninety degrees to the action. Because of the limitations of sound at this early stage – for example the need to position the microphone where it can pick up all of the actors in the scene but cannot be seen – Hitchcock was obliged to adopt a less experimental approach in the framing of the sound version. [Mark Duguid, ‘Hitchcock’s Style’, BFI Screenonline]
    Although 1929 was rather late for a “first” sound film, the delay enabled Hitchcock to produce an advanced meditation on the possible uses of sound. The text incorporates silent footage (lifted whole from the original silent version, made immediately prior to the sound version), which allows for a series of comparisons/contrasts between sound and silents/silence. The conceit of this early sound film is an attempt to keep a man silent (paying off a blackmailer). The heroine spends over a third of the film virtually speechless. When she finally speaks, her boyfriend urges her to keep quiet. The dialogue is laughably banal, yet the right word can cut like a knife. The opening scene, an exciting silent chase, is immediately contrasted with a poorly dubbed, confusingly cut dialogue scene that seems as if it will never end. But before we glibly assume silents were “better” movies, sound becomes a moral force, while silence is linked with corruption and moral lassitude.
         The text’s position on “sound plus image” versus “image alone” is carefully paralleled with the depiction of Alice. Thematically, she veers from one extreme to the other. She is introduced as a chatterbox. After a violent assault, she becomes almost catatonic. Finally, she accepts speech as a moral imperative, achieving maturity and the audience’s respect before slipping back under patriarchal control and enforced silence. Alice White becomes Hitchcock’s personification of the course the sound film must take. [Amy Lawrence, Echo and Narcissus: Women’s Voices in Classical Hollywood Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 119]

    Hitchcock first makes us aware that he is distorting the sound track subjectively when he exaggerates the loudness of bird chirpings to stress Alice’s agitation on the morning after the murder. When the mother enters Alice’s bedroom to wake her, she uncovers the cage of Alice’s canary. Once the mother leaves the room, the bird’s chirping is loudly insistent while the girl takes off the clothes she wore the night before and puts on fresh ones. The chirps are loudest, unnaturally so, when she is looking at herself in the mirror, the most “interior” action she performs while dressing. The sound reminds us of the tiny, birdlike jerkings that the girl made immediately after stabbing the artist. Just after the knife sequence there is another subjective distortion of sound, when a customer rings a bell as he enters the store. We are in the breakfast parlor, and yet the bell resonates much more loudly than it does elsewhere in the film. The camera is on a close-up of Alice’s face to indicate that it is her point of view, once again, from which we hear.
         In a sense the use of bird noises in the bedroom scene should be distinguished from the other techniques mentioned here. Whereas aural restriction and distortion of loudness are related to character point of view, the choice specifically of bird sounds has a particular meaning for Hitchcock independent of the film. This sequence marks the beginning of an ongoing association of murder and bird noises in Hitchcock’s mind that accrues meaning from film to film, from Blackmail and Murder through Sabotage (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), and Psycho, and culminates in The Birds. [Elizabeth Weiss, ‘Chapter 2: First Experiments with Sound: Blackmail and Murder in The Silent Scream – Alfred Hitchcock’s Soundtrack (Rutherford, Fairleigh: Dickinson University Press, 1982) p. 46]

    One of the elements that Film Studies For Free appreciates most about online audiovisual film studies (film studies in digital video forms) are the phenomenological possibilities they offer viewers for the experiencing of moving image and sound juxtapositions in real time. We can synchronously feel, as well as know about, the comparisons they make. In other words, unlike written texts, they don’t have to remove themselves from film-specific forms of meaning production to have their knowledge effects on us.

    Embedded above is FSFF‘s homemade example of this kind of simple, more or less medium-specific, eloquence: a real-time video juxtaposition, made for the purposes of scholarly comparison, of corresponding sequences from the silent and sound versions of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Blackmail (1929). It is a work intended to supplement the contribution of an earlier blog entry here, entitled Thrilling the Ears: Sound in Hitchcock’s cinema in which the two sequences were separately embedded.

    But it is also intended to publicise FSFF‘s support, as ever, for the very relevant For the Love of Film Preservation Blogathon which will take place this year between May 13-18, 2012 . The blogathon has a Hitchcock theme and will support an important film preservation and dissemination project focusing on an early ‘Hitchcock film’: The White Shadow (1923).

    You can read more about the blogathon below, and much more about it at the linked-to websites. But suffice to say this may not be the last Hitchcockian video study here at Film Studies For Free this Spring!

    It’s time to reveal our fundraising project for 2012: Online streaming and recording of the new score for THE WHITE SHADOW, directed by Graham Cutts and everything else done by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s all about access this year, folks. [For the Love of Film Preservation Blogathon Facebook page, February 1, 2012]

    The good people at National Film Preservation Foundation are committed to making many of the films they have rescued available for cost-free viewing by streaming them on their website. But online hosting ain’t cheap. NFPF estimates that it will cost $15,000 to stream The White Shadow for four months and record the score. It is the mission of this year’s For the Love of Film Blogathon to raise that money so that anyone with access to a computer can watch this amazing early film that offered Hitchcock a chance to learn his craft, with a score that does it justice. [Marilyn Ferdinand introducing the cause supported by this year’s For the Love of Film [Hitchcock] Blogathon at her website Ferdy on Films]

      v

      Thrilling the Ears: Sound in Hitchcock’s cinema

      Hitchcock’s use of sound in Blackmail and Murder is important in three respects. As historical documents the two films overturn some accepted notions of what was technically possible in filming with immobilized cameras and uneditable sound systems. As personal documents they represent Hitchcock’s first major experiments in combining sound and image in ways that would not subordinate pictures to dialogue. As films that extend Hitchcock’s expressionistic interests into the sound era, they reveal Hitchcock’s earliest efforts to use aural techniques to convey a character’s feelings. In addition, Blackmail already establishes Hitchcock’s predilection for integrating music and sound effects with plot and theme, and it introduces most of his favorite aural motifs. Both films are interesting historically, but Blackmail is the more successful work of art because its aural techniques and motifs are an integral part of a stylistic whole. [Elisabeth Weis, Chapter 2: “First Experiments with Sound: Blackmail and Murder”, in The Silent Scream – Alfred Hitchcocks Soundtrack (Rutherford, Fairleigh: Dickinson University Press, 1982), p. 28]

      A new academic year is upon us and Film Studies For Free‘s author is very happily gearing up to teach, inter alia, Alfred Hitchcock‘s film Blackmail for the umpteenth time.

      It’s a truly great teaching topic, one which usually takes off from the fact that Hitchcock converted his silent film to sound during its production. And it has very fruitfully inspired today’s entry on scholarship about sound in Hitchcock’s cinema.

      There are some excellent, openly accessible resources linked to below, most notably Elisabeth Weis’s wonderful book on this topic, now added to FSFF‘s permanent listing of online and freely accessible Film Studies e-books.