Cinema, Experience, Vernacular Modernism: More on the Work of the late Miriam Bratu Hansen


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.

"Timeline of Historical Film Colors" now online

Frame grab from Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993)

More than ever we need access to solid knowledge about historical film color processes in order to save our beautiful filmic heritage. [Barbara Flueckiger]

Film Studies For Free urges its readers to go and check out University of Zurich Institute of Cinema Studies professor Barbara Flueckiger‘s Database of Historical Film Colors and its amazing timeline of historical color processes.

Professor Flueckiger is certainly no stranger to making her important work freely accessible online for scholars all around the world to access. FSFF has previously covered some of her phenomenal sharing in its On Digital Cinema, Visual Effects, and CGI Studies entry, in which links were given both to a free download of ‘Digital Bodies‘ (a chapter, translated into English, from Flueckiger’s 2008 German-language book Visual Effects. Filmbilder aus dem Computer), as well as to her great online database on the history of CGI, VFX, and computer animation.

As of April 2012, the latest of the resources she is making available, the Historical Film Colors database consists of 290 entries. It comes in the form of a timeline that connects historical and bibliographical information with primary resources from several hundred original papers and more than 400 scanned frames provided by archives and scholars from all over the world.

In this current form the database is a nucleus for a much more advanced project which will be elaborated in the forthcoming months. It is Flueckiger’s plan to develop a digital platform which allows experts and researchers to collaborate on a global scale.

To date, Professor Flueckiger has been solely responsible not only for gathering and analyzing all of the data, which derives from her studies of several hundred original papers and secondary sources at Harvard University in the fall term of 2011, but also for programming most of the database and organizing all the images and copyright clearances. Only to a very limited extent has she received financial support from the Swiss National Science Foundation in the framework of her research project “Film History Re-mastered“. She has therefore financed a major part of this project herself.

She has thus set up a crowd-funding campaign to invite you (or your institution) to support the further development of the project, either by sharing it or by contributing financially. The goal is to raise at least $10,000 in the upcoming 90 days. There are several contribution levels, starting at $25 for buying the rights for one image and extending to $5,000 for possible co-chairs of this project.

She will be very grateful for any kind of support and will be more than willing to give proper credit for conceptual or financial contributions. Many renowned scholars and institutions have contributed already.

Film Studies For Free hopes that its readers will support this project, either by contributing themselves, or by spreading the word.

"Between Past and Future": ROME, OPEN CITY Studies

Updated November 19, 2011
Frame grab from Roma, città aperta/Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)

Projected on the war torn landscape for a weary people, Rome Open City poetically serves the goals of unification and restoration. In many respects, this film both conforms to and promotes an ideal image of a courageous, Resistant and unified population – from communist intellectuals, to catholic priests, to working class women and their children. Open City maintains the comfortable melodramatic schema of Rossellini’s earlier Fascist-era films in which the forces of good (the Italian people) struggle triumphantly against the forces of evil embodied in the Nazi general Bergmann and his deviant cronies. The director’s fondness for his people culminates in an apologetic portrayal of Italian fascists as either wretched or unwilling collaborators. However, in the end, Open City’s epic scope effectively precludes the possibility of another film like it: all the “fathers” (Manfredi, Pina, Don Pietro) are dead and the child soldiers are abandoned to the city, suspended “between past and future”. The conclusion, the partisan priest’s execution, witnessed by the children of his parish, forewarns of the fragmentation, destitution, and moral poverty to come. With his last words, “non è difficile morire bene, è difficile vivere bene” (it’s not difficult to die well, it’s difficult to live well”), Don Pietro intimates the struggles ahead. [Inga M. Pierson, Towards a Poetics of Neorealism: Tragedy in the Italian Cinema 1942-1948′, PhD Thesis, New York University, January 2009  97-98] 

Another teaching week beckons, and Film Studies For Free‘s author looks forward to pondering, for the umpteenth, pedagogical time, that intensely strange film Roma, città aperta/Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945).

There are some excellent resources on this film, and on related issues of (neo)realism, that are openly accessible online. So, andiamo felicemente with one of FSFF‘s regular studies of a single film.

Master Hands: A Video Mashup Round Table at Enculturation

Part of the Prelinger Archives and openly accessible online as a Public Domain film at the Internet Archive: Master Hands (as embedded in full at YouTube above) is a classic “capitalist realist” drama showing the manufacture of Chevrolets from foundry to finished vehicles. Though ostensibly a tribute to the “master hands” of the assembly line workers, it seems more of a paean to the designers of this impressive mass production system. Filmed in Flint, Michigan, just months before the United Auto Workers won union recognition with their famous sitdown strikes. Released in 1936, the same year as two other films with which it shares similarities: Modern Times and Triumph of the Will, it was selected for the 1999 National Film Registry of “artistically, culturally, and socially significant” films [text mostly taken from the entry at the Internet Archive; hyperlinks added].
Today, Film Studies For Free is thrilled to flag up a truly “unique experiment in digital publishing”: Master Hands, A Video Mashup Round Table,” a project commissioned by the ever innovative online journal Enculturation and published as Issue 11 in the last few days.
Here’s part of a short explanation of the project by the issue editors:

Master Hands is a 1936 film sponsored by the Chevrolet Motor Company that shows the inner workings of a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan. It is available for download at the Internet Archive, and it offers rich material for mashups and remixes. [Richard Marback, Wayne State University] had been considering a project involving Master Hands for some time, and when he shared his mashup of the film with [James J. Brown, Jr., University of Wisconsin-Madison] in May it triggered a discussion between the two of us about how such a work might be published. Richard was not interested in writing an essay to accompany his video project – he wanted the video to stand on its own. Jim suggested that the best way to engage with such work was to create another mashup, and we began discussing a round table format in which other scholars would create their own mashups using the same source footage and respondents would discuss the mashups.

The videos (all under ten minutes in length) and the formal responses to them are linked to here. The individual mashup titles and their artists are set out below.
This is a great project in its own right, but what a wonderful model for future (and, of course, present!) forms of Film Studies, FSFF (rather typically for it) thinks…

    Media History Digital Library

    It has been brilliantly publicised already, but Film Studies For Free wanted to make sure all its readers were alerted to the launch of an amazing new website for the Media History Digital Library, an excellent non-profit organisation that, for a good while now, in conjunction with the Internet Archive, has been working to digitize and open up full public access to collections of classic film and media periodicals that belong in the public domain.

    On the site, you will find access to over 200,000 digitized pages of public domain media industry trade papers and fan magazines, including Moving Picture World (1912-1918), Film Daily (1918-1936), Photoplay (1917-1940), Radio Broadcast (1922-1930), and much more.

    As well as its collections, the new website sports a great blog by MHDL Founder and Director David Pierce, and it also has its own Facebook page.

    You are also encouraged to support this brilliant project with sponsorship. As such brilliance doesn’t just come about by accident, nor can it possibly come about for free, FSFF strongly urges you to think about supporting this work financially, especially if you know that you, or your institution, are likely to benefit to any great degree from access to these wonderful resources.

    Bitter Brilliance: Links to Nicholas Ray Scholarship and Criticism

    If the cinema no longer existed, Nicholas Ray alone gives the impression of being capable of reinventing it, and what is more, of wanting to. While it is easy to imagine John Ford as an admiral, Robert Aldrich on Wall Street, Anthony Mann on the trail of Belliou la Fumée or Raoul Walsh as a latter-day Henry Morgan under Caribbean skies, it is difficult to see the director of Run For Cover doing anything but make films. A Logan or a Tashlin, for instance, might make good in the theatre or music-hall, Preminger as a novelist, Brooks as a school teacher, Cukor in advertising – but not Nicholas Ray. Were the cinema suddenly cease to exist, most directors would in no way be at a loss; Nicholas Ray would. After seeing Johnny Guitar or Rebel Without A Cause, one cannot but feel that here is something which exists only in the cinema, which would be nothing in a novel, the stage, or anywhere else, but which becomes fantastically beautiful on the screen. [Jean-Luc Godard, [On Nicholas Ray’s Hot blood]’, Cahiers du cinéma, 1957, cited by Sam Rohdie, ‘Studies’, Screening the Past, Issue 19, 2006]
    In the opening credit sequence of Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Jim Stark, played by James Dean, stumbles to the foreground of the wide, Cinemascope image and lays down to play with a miniature toy monkey. After winding it up and childishly watching it march and clap its cymbals, he paternally makes a bed for it out of assorted litter and puts it to sleep under a blanket of wrinkled paper. This brief moment not only provides immediate insight into Dean’s character, but it also foreshadows the entire story to come: young Jim’s paternal drive to ‘be a man,’ induced in part by a pathetically weak father figure, leads him to adopt Plato [Sal Mineo] as a younger sibling/child whom he can protect (like he wishes he was protected). In fact, Plato acts as a direct visual stand-in for Jim’s toy, as is clear from the latter’s attempt to give Plato his jacket in the police station moments after the opening sequence, a gesture that Plato would finally accept seconds before his death at the end of the film, when Jim would put him to rest—like his cherished toy that had run out of energy—by zipping up his jacket for the cold beyond. Jim’s own father surprisingly repeats this gesture by putting his jacket over his son’s shoulders in an inaugural act signaling his desire to protect his child from the gratuitous cruelty of the world. [Gabriel Rockhill, ‘Modernism as a Misnomer: Godard’s Archeology of the Image’, Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy – Revue de la philosophie française et de langue française, Vol XVIII, No 2 (2010) pp 107-129: 110-111]
    Today, inspired in part by the appearance yesterday of Serena Bramble’s video tribute (above), Film Studies For Free collects snippets from and links to scholarship and critical writing on the films of Nicholas Ray.

    This year marks the centenary of Ray’s birth. Interestingly, the years since are remarkably short on online and openly accessible scholarly studies of his work, but mightily longer, luckily, on some really excellent film critical work. The below list aims to link to the best and most interesting of both those categories, but if you know of great items missing from this selection, please feel free to tell FSFF about them in the comments. Thank you!

    Evan Meeker’s video The Rebel Within uses experimental editing techniques “to probe Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause analyzing scenes and dialogue with the intention of drawing out hidden themes and character traits easily glanced over in the original.”

    New online film journal LOLA launches with an issue on "Histories" !!

    Framegrab from Ohayo/Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959), an image of the ‘in-between’ as analysed by Andrew Klevan in the inaugural issue of LOLA.

    A big day! Film Studies For Free is delighted to relay the news that Girish Shambu has just published at his blog: LOLA, a new online film journal edited by Adrian Martin and Shambu, has just launched.

    Below, FSFF also reproduces the wonderful table of contents which include some very hotly anticipated items, among many other must-read essays… So that’s what FSFF is heading off to do now: it must read them!

    For once, the links below don’t take you straight to the item, but, instead, to the entry at girish‘s where you can find the full links as well as a brief summary of each article.

    Congratulations, and many thanks, Adrian and Girish. Let all film scholars and cinephiles bless the birth of LOLA and all who sail in her!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Online tributes:

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

        >FILM MOMENTS and other free book excerpts from Palgrave Macmillan and BFI


        Image from The Band Wagon ( Vincente Minnelli, 1953) starring Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire (above)

        Today, Film Studies For Free celebrates the bountiful, free, Film Studies book samples available for perusal and download at the Palgrave Macmillan website. These may not be the Open Access works this blog normally labours to ferret out and champion. But there have been some astonishingly generous excerpts available online at Palgrave lately, perhaps most notably 72 pages from one of the most exciting of recent film publishing efforts, edited by and with stunning contributions from some brilliant former students, colleagues and friends of FSFF‘s author: James Walters and Tom Brown’s remarkable collection Film Moments: Criticism, History, Theory.

        Full contents of the free sample pages are given below, together with numerous other references and links to Palgrave PDFs below those.

        If you are in London tomorrow you may like to know that there will be a Film Moments launch event, with some fascinating-looking talks by a number of the contributors to the collection at 2pm at the BFI Southbank (full details here).

        • James Walters and Tom Brown (eds), Film Moments: Criticism, History, Theory (2010) (72 free pages including the chapters below)
          • Preface
          • PART ONE: CRITICISM 
          • Shadow Play and Dripping Teat: The Night of the Hunter (1955); Tom Gunning 
          • Between Melodrama and Realism: Under the Skin of the City (2001); Laura Mulvey
          • Internalising the Musical: The Band Wagon (1953); Andrew Klevan 
          • The Visitor’s Discarded Clothes in Theorem (1968); Stella Bruzzi
          • Style and Sincerity in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004); James Walters
          • The Moves: Blood (1989); Adrian Martin
          • The Properties of Images: Lust for Life (1956); Steve Neale
          • Two Views Over Water: Action and Absorption in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957); Ed Gallafent
          • Making an Entrance: Bette Davis’s First Appearance in Jezebel (1938); Martin Shingler 
          • A Narrative Parenthesis in Life is Beautiful (1997); Deborah Thomas 
          • The End of Summer: Conte d’été (1996); Jacob Leigh
          • Enter Lisa: Rear Window (1954); Douglas Pye
          • Opening Up The Secret Garden (1993); Susan Smith
          • A Magnified Meeting in Written on the Wind (1956); Steven Peacock
          • ‘Everything is connected, and everything matters’: Relationships in I [heart] Huckabees (2004); John Gibbs 
          • The Ending of 8 ½ (1963); Richard Dyer 
          • Full book info.