Report From… – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 First Forum Conference, USC School of Cinematic Arts Wed, 11 Nov 2015 17:29:42 +0000 by guest contributors Eleanor Huntington, Kelsey Moore, and Robert Sevenich


(photos by Sebnem Baran and Jinhee Park)

On Friday, October 16th and Saturday, October 17th, USC School of Cinematic Arts hosted the First Forum academic conference. This two-day event, “On the Fringe: Understanding Alternative and Subversive Media,” was executed by the ZdC Graduate Council through the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies, the co-sponsorship of the USC Graduate Student Government and the African American Cinema Society. First Forum assembled an international collective of industry professionals including filmmakers and actors, Academy archivists—as well as scholars—professors and graduates students—across an array of academic disciplines. The weekend events included five academic panels, a USC faculty roundtable discussion, keynote address, the exclusive screening of The Assassin (2015) with the presentation of the prestigious Sergei Eisenstein Award to its director Hou Hsiao-hsien, and “The Legacy of Blaxploitation” event. While coming from multi-generations and diverse backgrounds, research experience, and professional objectives, the conferences participants—comprised of panelists, respondents, guest and keynote speakers—were all committed to exploring filmmakers and media researchers focused on non-traditional works as well as marginalized modes of production, consumption, and reception for underrepresented spectators.

Much of the conference focused on the graduate student panels. Though the majority of presenters attend prominent Californian institutions including USC, University of California, San Diego, California State University, Northridge, and University of California, Santa Barbara, there were also participants from Northern Illinois University, University of Toronto, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The panelists approached “fringe media” by defining and locating the fringe in particular generic, geographic, or historic contexts. The scholars identified fringe media in such disparate examples as public access television, ultrasounds, and K-pop fan activism and showcased works from widely diverse locations, including India, Kenya, East Timor, and Cuba. The five panels, featuring three to four presenters, established urban spaces, technology, cult cinema, national cinema, and pornography as the foci, which presented a broad knowledge range for conference attendees with little background in fringe media.

FirstForum6(Faculty roundtable — moderator Lorien Hunter, Akira Lippit, Michael Renov, Priya Jaikumar, and Marsha Kinder)

Following the completion of the student panels, the faculty members of the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies took center stage at an incredibly well-attended and well-received roundtable discussion on the role of academics in addressing marginalized fields of study. Drs. Priya Jaikumar, Akira M. Lippit, and Michael Renov, in addition to Professor Emerita Marsha Kinder, connected their own experiences researching and writing to issues facing the current generation of aspiring academics. This roundtable provided an opportunity to highlight the diversity of research at USC among its most noted scholars while it also allowed graduate students the chance to witness preeminent scholars debating the contentious issues involved in researching marginalized media topics.

In conjunction with these enriching panels, First Forum hosted and co-sponsored special presentation and events. Afternoon events included “Coming Soon! A History of Movie Theater Advertisements in the U.S.” presented by Academy film archivists Alejandra Espasande and Kelly Kreft. This visually enhanced presentation successfully tracked the historical trajectory of film advertisement from its beginnings grounded in vaudeville—and other forms of mass entertainment—to the conception and modernization of the film trailer. Espansande and Kreft concluded their work with an in-depth glance at the archival process itself and emphasized the importance of the archival field and its place within film scholarship.

FirstForum2(Academy Film Archive Presentation)

Their presentation was followed by a sneak preview of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assasin (2015), which was co-sponsored by USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Outside the Box [Office], East Asians Studies Center (EASC), USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative, and First Forum. Following the screening, USC professor Dr. David James presented Hou Hsiao-hsien with the School of Cinematic Arts’ Eisenstein Award, which has been presented only three times before. It is awarded to “world filmmakers for distinguished and visionary contributions to the cinematic arts,” and its past recipients include Agnès Varda, Costa-Gavras, and Pedro Almodóvar. Dr. Akira Lippit, Vice Dean of the School of Cinematic Arts, moderated a Q&A with the esteemed director, and their conversation primarily focused on Hou Hsiao-hsien’s unique style and the significance of the image.

The evening special event, “The Legacy of Blaxploitation,” was co-sponsored by USC’s African-American Cinema Society and First Forum. This discussion, moderated by Dr. Christine Acham, featured revered panelists Melvin Van Peebles, Antonio Fargas, Scott Sanders, and Michael Jai White. The panelists discussed on various elements of the 1970s Blaxploitation films, including the enduring influence of Peeble’s legendary first film, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (1970), and its effect on contemporary films such as Sander and White’s Black Dynamite (2009). Alongside accounts of individual films, they discussed the influence of Blaxploitation as a filmic movement. Panelists reflected on the economic influence of Blaxploitation films within the 1970s mainstream Hollywood market, and recognized their importance in introducing the black male anti-hero to the screen. This event—as well as First Forum’s additional special presentations—expanded the conference’s overall examination of “fringe media,” as it allowed for spaces of discourse concerning marginality that exist outside the traditional scope of academia.

FirstForum5(Christine Acham chats with guests discussing Blaxploitation)

Before the weekend was officially capped off with a celebratory party at Hotel Figureoa in downtown Los Angeles, Dr. Fatimah Tobing Rony provided insight into her current research that builds on her revolutionary publication The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle in her keynote address to the conference. Following two days of student panels and outside events that sought to focus attention on media that is too frequently marginalized, her speech, entitled, “After the Third Eye: Theory and Practice,” cemented the importance of all the scholarship presented in moving towards a more inclusive academic and mediated landscape. All the presentations on fringe media during the First Forum conference spoke the evolving industrial practices, accessibility concerns, niche spectatorship and pleasure, and ideologies of the academy. Ultimately, the presented research and impassioned—even polemic—discourse surrounding marginalized media emphasized the increasing need to interrogate underrepresented entertainment production, distribution, and consumption.

Eleanor Huntington, Kelsey Moore, and Robert Sevenich are second year Masters students in the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California.

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antenna: Responses to Media & Culture and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’ Cinema Journal.


New York Film Festival 2015 Part Four: Reclamation Mon, 19 Oct 2015 13:00:28 +0000 Where to Invade Next and Don Cheadle's biopic Miles Ahead.]]> zQssFugQPost by Martha P. Nochimson, Critic

And now we come to loss, and the magical ability of the movies to stand as a bulwark against the fearful dissipations of death and time. In a multitude of ways, film has joined the more established arts in promising eternal life and recovery of what had seemed gone, and it is in that spirit that Michael Moore, apparently the world’s oldest college junior, has sought to reclaim the seemingly moribund spirit of America in Where to Invade Next, by embarking on the most interesting junior year abroad ever, while, in Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle rocks a faith that the only thing that makes sense is to speak of long dead Miles Davis in the present tense.

Underneath Moore’s very funny Where to Invade Next lurks a serious determination to explode the obscene, ultimately un-American mantra that we are obligated to spread democracy through military conquest. It begins with Moore’s grandiose fantasy that the Chiefs of Staff have fallen at his feet to beg for direction, and Moore’s reassurance that he can recapture our former glory by becoming a very different kind of invader. He proceeds as if he has succeeded in getting the military to chill for a moment and let him take over the business of being an invading conqueror. Although his comic take on international relations only glancingly permits reference to our economic motives for burning down other countries and killing their children, he is not copping out, but rather he is hell bent on a therapeutic process of showering us with memories of what made us great, instead of rubbing our noses in what we have become. In fact, during his press conference he said that he’s trying for a subversive approach. If you wonder if that can work, you are not likely to be alone, but you will still be hard pressed to resist the infectiousness of Moore’s good nature.

Where To Invade Next

Moore carries forth his playfully reconfigured military metaphor, standing at the prow of a boat with a big American flag blowing in the wind, as, suited up and waddling in his familiar grunge wear, his face beaming with good will, he descends upon Italy, France, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Finland, Tunisia, and Iceland. In each country, he claims, for the United States, their projects that honor the kind of human dignity espoused by our Constitution. Among the objects Moore covets are labor practices in Italy, school lunches in France, prisons in Norway, and women’s rights in Iceland. At each stop, he juxtaposes with his foreign discoveries sometimes brutal film clips of American life that  reveal just how lacking we are in the areas in which the “conquered” countries excel. Often Moore’s “hosts/captives,” amused, tell him they got their inspiration from us.

In Italy, Moore interviews a young Italian couple who would do very nicely for a tourist bureau poster. Relaxed, effortlessly sensual, and open, they speak matter-of-factly about her five guaranteed months of paid maternity leave and his amazingly generous eight weeks union-guaranteed annual leave. They unquestioningly yearn to go to the United States, but their faces freeze when Moore informs them that there is no guaranteed paid maternal leave here and that a mere three weeks paid annual vacation is only for the very few and select. Later, the owners of an Italian factory breezily endorse all the labor perks. They’d prefer to work with happy people. It’s only natural. Certo. And so it goes. School lunches in France, in the provinces as well as in sophisticated Paris, are four-course gourmet affairs served to the children at their tables. The children pity us when Moore shows them pictures of what American school children eat. Prisons in Norway are true rehabilitation centers. Yes, they know what happens in American prisons today, but didn’t we inaugurate the proscription of cruel and unusual punishment? Women will save the world, the Icelandic women tell Moore. Didn’t American women begin this process long ago? There’s lots more, but you should see it for yourself.

I don’t doubt Moore’s sincerity. But that is no guarantee of validity. I am painfully aware that women will not save America. If we can claim with pride Elizabeth Warren, Jane Goodall, and all the American women who fight daily for health care, women’s rights, the environment, and children’s education, and struggle to feed their kids and love them; we must also admit the existence of the hateful, ignorant, and delusional Sarah Palin, Phyllis Schlafly, and Carly Fiorina. And Italian laborers are not uniformly happy. Only a week after I saw Where to Invade Next two Italian expats from Rome told me it was impossible to find employment there. We are already following Italy’s example: some of our work force is blessed, some is suffering mightily. No, Moore isn’t lying; he’s hoping to light candles rather than curse the dark. And he does bring the illumination. When his big finish called upon an American classic film I will not name to remind us that our ideals have not left home for good, I wanted to click my heels for joy.

Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead is also exhilarating. Electrifying from the first, more because of its sound than its images, which makes sense in this case for obvious reasons, the film opens with Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), a hustling free lance reporter, regurgitating into a tape recorder a standard introduction to what could have been the opening of some undistinguished Miles Davis bio-pic. Brill’s rote prose is interrupted by the hoarse, whispery voice of Davis himself (Don Cheadle). That’s not the way to do it, says Davis. What would you say? asks Brill. In response, Davis puts trumpet to lips and blows a few stanzas. This shift from the failures of cliched verbal language to the full throttle expressiveness of Davis’ music, for which no words are necessary, introduces the rhetoric of this film.

Miles Davis

Cheadle has made it so that Davis would have wanted to star in it, by dispensing with linear time—editing incidents that echo each other from all parts of Davis’ life for resemblance not chronology—and thus dispensing with the simplistic bio-pic cause and effect structure.  Davis is not the outcome of mommy, daddy, the kind of inciting incident assumed by all dumbed down psychologizing in movies, or even the racist impact on a black, American musical genius. Instead his identity grows from the music that continually shaped him and the part of America that responded to it, regardless of psycho-socio-economic circumstances. The love of his life, Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is a dancer whose art shapes her in the same way. As the film shucks off meaningless time lines and dead words, it asserts its own poetry about the way art brings an indestructible life force into the world. David Chase once told me that he made Not Fade Away to meditate upon art as his way of praying, and there seems to be much of the same energy in Miles Ahead.

Miles Ahead counterpoints artistic energy with the contrasting American materialism that spawns greed, degenerative drugs, sexual excesses, and racism. The disparities emerge vividly in an early scene in which Davis, who has only just met Taylor, comes to see her dance at what appears to be an audition. Love blooms as Taylor’s dance becomes visible to Davis as the physical equivalent of his bodiless music and removes them into a realm momentarily safe from the despicable white men conducting the audition, who leer at Taylor, one muttering, “It looks like there’ll be a little dark meat for Thanksgiving.” Ultimately, the world takes a toll on their marriage and on Davis’ health and career, but Cheadle follows through on his promise to lift us away from the dross in a music-drenched final scene in which he cheats the social destruction inflicted on Davis by imprinting the screen with the parentheses that routinely contain biographical birth and death dates, with a difference. There is no death date (1926-).

Both Where to Invade Next and Miles Ahead acknowledge the burdens of history; and both defy them, epitomizing in their different ways, this nugget of wisdom from the Talmud, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

AntennaCinemaJournalJune-300x103Same time next year!

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antenna: Responses to Media & Culture and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’ Cinema Journal.

Martha P. Nochimson is a film and media critic, and the author of David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty from Lost Highway to Inland Empire (University of Texas Press, 2013). More about her work can be found .


New York Film Festival 2015 Part Three: Only Connect? Mon, 12 Oct 2015 13:00:36 +0000 Mountains May Depart, James D. Solomon's The Witness, and Stephane Brizé's Measure of a Man.]]> zQssFugQPost by Martha P. Nochimson, Critic

There is no dearth of writing on the human cost of technology, urban anonymity, and the monstrous conquest of cultures by bottom line values. Yet there remains more and more to say and a need for our artists to have their say. I note with pleasure three must-see NYFF 2015 films that do the necessary, opening lines of communication with our hearts and arming us against chaos and disengagement.

The first is by Jia Zhang-ke, returning to the New York Film Festival with Mountains May Depart (131 mins.), a film about changing cultural tides in China that offers a fresh and gloriously cinematic perspective on modern alienation. The director’s press kit refers his film’s title to Buddhism, “Buddhist thought sees four stages in the flow of life: birth, old age, sickness, and death….Whatever times we live through, none of us can avoid experiencing those states, those difficult moments. Mountains may depart, relationships may endure.” Strangely enough, precisely those same words occur in the English Standard Version of the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament: “For the mountains may depart and hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you….” Both assert the inevitability of tribulation, but with differences that will strike different chords with different people. The Old Testament affirms abundant hope in the steadfastness of the The Lord while Jia’s Buddhism offers only a thin slice of consolation. Or does his film offer even that?

Mountains May Depart agonizes over the power of money in the new China, through its depiction of the vicissitudes of the life of the lovely Tao (Zhao Tao), who chooses affluent but patently shallow Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi) over rock solid but poor Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong). At first she seems to have made an obvious and terrible mistake; however, as the film unfolds, we discover that happiness for her was always an impossibility, given the new Chinese context. Liangzi’s strong character and ideals will doom him to the life of a miner, and the lung cancer endemic to an industry in which the worker is routinely sacrificed to the profit motive, while Zhang’s callous greed inevitably leads to wealth and dehumanization. Tao’s alternatives are desperate. Choosing Liangzi would have meant grinding poverty and the loss of her husband, but choosing Zhang has meant divorce and losing custody of her son (Dong Zijian) whom Zhang raises in Australia cut off from his mother and his culture. As the film moves from 1999 to 2014 and then leaps to 2025, the China around Tao reflects her dilemma, gaining in material wealth at the same time that it visibly loses the warmth and richness of community. Jia intentionally thins out the presence of human beings and bleaches out the colors in his frame compositions as time marches forward, until we are left with solitary figures in colorless horizons.


But in the lonely future, Jia tantalizes us with an inexplicable moment of contact—perhaps. Lost and confused in an Australian summer, Tao’s son whispers his mother’s name, and Tao, whose enigmatically smiling face threads this film like silver moonglow, at that moment, hears his voice thousands of miles away in wintry Fengyang. She brushes away this aural apparition as implausible. Some in the audience may do the same. But those of us who cling to possibility (though mountains may depart) will yield to the poetry of Jia’s (possible) salute to the power of the primary human connection and to Tao’s (possible) assertion of the endurance of joy as she dances alone while the snow falls around her. You will have to see the film to determine for yourself whether this delicate conclusion is a funereal coda to a downward cultural slide, or the indomitable laughter of Sisyphus in the face of despair.

The Witness (86 mins.) directed by James D. Solomon, is rather in the Sisyphean category when it comes to questions of human interconnection, though laughter is not quite the form of resistance this documentary takes through its revision of urban legends about the famous Kitty Genovese case. In 1964, as reported by A. M. Rosenthal of the New York Times, Kitty was returning home from work at about 3:00 a.m., when 38 people stood by the windows of their apartments and watched her being murdered by Winston Moseley, who assaulted her three times during a period of about 40 minutes in which no one did anything to help her. That was Rosenthal’s story. In 2004, Kitty’s brother William undertook a lengthy re-examination of the facts of his family’s tragedy, and that is Solomon’s story.


The double perspective, that of the Times and William Genovese’s as it evolves, is the fulcrum of this film. Suffice it to say that you will discover that it is most likely that it was neither Kitty’s neighbors, nor the psychotic Moseley, who committed the greatest crimes, but rather a cowardly and arrogant American press, which misreported important facts in order to “get a better story.” The fact that William Genovese had both of his legs amputated because of wounds he suffered during the Vietnam War, a war based on the deception of the American people, brings yet another layer to his journey, through which he, and perhaps we, achieve some closure. Genovese, who had felt adrift on a sea of doubts, finds a kind of peace through his investigations. The fact remains that his is a victory, qualified by his painful awareness that nothing can ever reconnect him with Kitty, and that he can never know the incontrovertible truth, since many of the witnesses are dead, and perhaps the newsmen and the remaining witnesses he interviews are reinventing the situation to save their own faces—a model to all of us who hunger for reality in a complex world.

Finally, we come to Measure of a Man a film by Stephane Brizé, (93 mins.)—its French title, La Loi du Marche, or the law of the marketplace. Now, imagine, if you can, that a hand is gently touching your face but that you feel as though you have been walloped hard enough to be knocked off your feet, and you will have some idea of the experience in store for you when you see this film. (As you should do.) Brizé draws a brilliantly understated, quiet portrait of Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon), a man in his fifties who has lost his job and is valiantly seeking a way to support his family: you barely know that your heart is being wrenched until the tears stream down your face (yes, the men in the audience too).


Actor Vincent Lindon carries forward the torch of Jean Gabin, whose muted but intense portrayals of an iconic, devastatingly attractive, sublimely decent and strong French working man in a number of movies defined the French cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. Lindon updates that man as he exists in the increasingly dehumanized France of today, and we watch him tap every resource open to him, however unpromising, while continuing to warmly lavish love and care upon his supportive and lively wife (Karine de Mirbeck) and his feisty and upbeat disabled son (Matthieu Schaller). It doesn’t look good. Lindon’s Thierry is so impassive in the face of the ineffective government bureaucracy and the venal callousness of big business that he seems to be on his way to becoming numb. However, when the inhumanity around him reaches an impossible nadir, you realize you have been watching a deeply compassionate person being pushed beyond his limits. His final heroism defeats every American stereotype of a real man, an act of truth you must discover for yourself because any verbal description would diminish its astonishingly reserved beauty.

AntennaCinemaJournalJune-300x103NEXT WEEK: RECLAMATION

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antenna: Responses to Media & Culture and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’ Cinema Journal.

Martha P. Nochimson is a film and media critic, and the author of David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty from Lost Highway to Inland Empire (University of Texas Press, 2013). More about her work can be found here.


New York Film Festival 2015 Part Two: The Banality of . . . Mon, 05 Oct 2015 13:00:16 +0000 zQssFugQ

Post by Martha P. Nochimson, Critic

William Wordsworth made us believe in the ecstasy of the humble daffodil. Hannah Arendt isolated the potential for evil in the ordinary acts of people doing the business of their society. There is a long history that affirms that banality isn’t banal, for better and for worse. Three noteworthy films in the Main Slate of the New York Film Festival that draw us into this tradition delve with imagination, tact, and skill into the ordinary to reveal the horrible, the beautiful, and the marvelous (in the root sense of the word.)

Experimenter, directed by Michael Almereyda (108 mins.), obviously one of Arendt’s spiritual children, is a highly imaginative yet cleanly factual, quasi-fictionalized documentary about the 1961 experiments Stanley Milgram conducted at Yale University. Almereyda breaks the fourth wall repeatedly to guide us toward the text and subtext of Stanley Milgram’s controversial engagement of numerous ordinary people, both male and female, and of various races, in what he presented to them as an exploration of how people learn. The truth was, however, that, directing them to administer electric shocks to a “learner” with a “heart condition” when they answered questions incorrectly, what Milgram actually discovered that the vast majority of what we consider decent citizens will inflict terrible violence on fellow human beings, albeit generally unwillingly, if ordered to do so by a confident, seemingly rational authority.


Well we know that, don’t we? So Almereyda’s film is less concerned with the results of the study than with the responsibility of the experimenter and the response of a society confronted by what is literally in this film an elephant in the room. (You will need to see Experimenter to understand what that means.) If you believe that America willingly embraced Milgram’s revelation, you have an interesting awakening in store for you. Peter Sarsgaard plays Milgram, the son of Holocaust survivors, with just the right blend of sincerity, irony, compassion, and disdain as he is drawn into combat with the academic, scientific, and entertainment establishments because of his chilling discoveries. Winona Ryder brings abundant, nuanced life to her portrayal of his wife, Sasha, a role that could have blended into the furniture in lesser hands. Kellan Lutz and Dennis Haysbert turn in hilarious performances as Ossie Davis and William Shatner, respectively. Yup they’re there too, in a devastatingly bad fictionalized television drama about Milgram which unsurprisingly turns his exploration of the evils embedded in the banality of obedience into a hymn to American exceptionalism and individualism.  None so blind as those who will not see.


No Home Movie (115 mins.), the new Chantal Akerman, is of the Wordsworthian persuasion about banality. A valentine to her aging mother, this vérité, digitally shot documentary finds Akerman in top form as she demands that we slow down and really look at landscapes, people, and, above all, at the apartment occupied by her mother that she puts before us, usually with a static, unmoving camera. Akerman aficionados will grin with pleasure at the film’s very Akerman-like initial approximately five-minute shot: an unchanging perspective on a lone tree buffeted by a howling wind that might have the duration of almost five minutes. “This must be for some purpose,” said the critic next to me, with affection rather than exasperation. Once we learn, through very understated, matter-of-fact conversations between Akerman and her mother of Mama Akerman’s life, particularly her survival of the Holocaust, it seems more than likely that it is a metaphor for her endurance. But the real point is patience, the patience required for observation. So Akerman directs our eyes toward lengthy wide angle shots of desert terrain through the window of a moving car; extended images of the simple unmoving green turf of mama’s backyard; and the light, comfortable rooms in which mama lives, seen from so many perspectives you almost feel you’ve walked through them. From time to time, Akerman surprises with severely framed perspective shots that limit our vision to thin slivers of sight through almost completely closed doors that are fascinating digressions from full frontal visual exposure. How does this visual rhetoric contribute to the film’s portrait of a genuine mother-daughter relationship on-screen, untricked out by the decades-long Tinseltown distortions of this crucial connection? Perhaps it’s all about what we miss in Hollywood films that are too fast and furious to allow us an unsentimental but warm and caring experience.

Finally, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour (122 mins.). Although in previous films, Weerasethakul has at times stunned us with mythological beast humans, and suspense-packed tracking shots through portentously mysterious jungles, in this film he locates almost all the action in the monotonous quiet of an unexceptional rural Thai hospital in which the patients, wounded soldiers, sleep almost all the time. Out of this somnolent, dully routine setting, Weerasethakul out-Wordsworths Wordsworth by producing miracles. By this I do not infer miracle cures discovered by intrepid medical practitioners, but the sudden visibility of the invisible, the psyches of the slumberous soldiers, and the spectacular history, now long gone, of the land on which this modest structure now stands, and the delicate emotional tides within ordinary hearts. The main characters are Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas), a dumpy, middle aged, lonely volunteer; a young, pretty psychic (Tawatchai Buawat); and Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), a young, handsome patient who sometimes wakes up. Jenjira and Itt form a quasi-maternal, quasi-erotic relationship, as they make the most of his waking time by going to local events and to dinner. The psychic makes the rounds of the hospital beds, holding the hands of the sleeping men and reading their dreaming minds in order to give administrators information about who they are.


The psychic also takes Jenjira on a tour of the grounds mystically filling the the space, through her words alone, with evocations of the completely vanished elaborate and beautiful castle that only she can “see.” Her excavation of the past lives of the men and the place is complemented by strange futuristic machines to which each soldier is attached, bizarrely expensive technology for such a makeshift hospital. Composed of computer-like boxes to which are attached long question mark shaped tubes that glow red, white, and green in succession, they are said to be gifts from the United States, medical devices developed to help American soldiers in Afghanistan. I have no idea if they are completely fantastic or actual technical support equipment. But it is clear that this ordinary place is packed with past-present-and-future, once Weerasethakul shows me how to look. His is not a Western sensibility, and all western influences intrude on the scene as alien objects while westerners, like Jenjira’s American husband Richard Widner (Richard Abramson), appear as alien intruders on whom we get unexpected perspectives that may move many pleasurably beyond their comfort zone. One of the most amusing is Jenjira’s regret that she didn’t marry a European. They, she says, and not the Americans, are currently living the American dream, a sentiment that I found unexpectedly, poignantly, and insightfully echoed in an American film I will discuss next week.

UPDATE: On October 6, 2015, it was announced that Chantal Akerman died at the age of 67. I mourn the much too early death of this wonderful filmmaker. Her passing adds a new dimension to the context of No Home Movie.

AntennaCinemaJournalJune-300x103NEXT WEEK: Only Connect?

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antenna: Responses to Media & Culture and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’ Cinema Journal.

Martha P. Nochimson is a film and media critic, and the author of David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty from Lost Highway to Inland Empire (University of Texas Press, 2013). More about her work can be found here.


New York Film Festival 2015 Part One: Schrodinger’s Cinema Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:00:03 +0000 Journey to the Shore and Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights trilogy dissolve the boundaries between life and death, then and now, and here and there. ]]> zQssFugQ

Post by Martha P. Nochimson

The New York Film Festival 2015 began with offerings that included two compelling, challenging films. Like the famous thought experiment by physicist Erwin Schrodinger that proposed a cat in a box that is both dead and alive because observers cannot know the totality of its situation, the films I will discuss in this first posting dissolve the boundaries between life and death, then and now, and here and there. Fittingly, what follows here today concerns either two or four films, depending, as I shall discuss both Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, in three parts, each over two hours long, which might be programmed as one or three films, and Journey to the Shore, the single two hour work of cinema to which we are more accustomed.


In Journey to the Shore (127 mins.), director Kyoshi Kurosawa enigmatically portrays the grieving period of widow Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu), who, while cooking, discovers her dead husband, Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano), in the living room hoping to sample his favorite dish. It’s not a ghost story. K. Kurosawa is following in the footsteps of his great namesake’s Rashomon, in using metaphors from cutting edge physics to craft narrative about the human condition. We can never know enough about either Mizuki or Yusuke to make any of the usual decisions about characters. What are their goals? Their purposes? Their intentions? Indeterminable in a quantum universe of infinite numbers of randomly moving particles. K. Kurosawa points us toward this kind of universe through Yusuke, a dentist who died at sea, but whose body was never recovered, who takes Mizuki on a journey of shoreline places he had been, and in one location gives a lecture on the mysteries of particle physics. His expertise–the physics is accurately formulated–would not seem to have been acquired during his lifetime, suggesting that death is an expansive process. Since Mizuki’s horizons are literally and figuratively broadened as she moves through life with new eyes, this would seem to be true even if the death is not your own. There is nothing but the surprising, confusing, exhilarating journey for her and us to any number of literal and figurative shorelines. The liminality of this lovely film is multiplied by 10 in Miguel Gomes’ trilogy.


The three parts of Arabian Nights are Volume 1: The Restless One (125 mins.); Volume 2: The Desolate One (131 mins.); and Volume 3: The Enchanted One (125 mins.). It is a Portuguese production of breathtaking scope. The frame that encompasses the three films is the legend of Scheherazade, a quasi-historical/quasi-mythical ancient queen, who has offered herself to Shahryar, the King of Persia, to save the lives of her country women. In a monumental rage caused by the infidelity of his first wife, Shahryar had taken to relentlessly marrying the virgin of his choice, and killing her after the wedding night. Scheherazade schemes to postpone her execution (and many subsequent deaths) by telling Shahryar a story on their wedding night but refusing to finish it once dawn arrives, causing Shahryar to spare her in order to her the end of the story. She continues to regale him with unfinished stories for 1,001 nights, by which time he loves her too much to kill her. Appearing in Volume 1, Gomes reveals that he has chosen this frame because he is struggling to make a film that will encompass the great sources of narrative: history and myth. None of the trilogy’s many intertwining stories has been adopted from the old Arabian Nights; rather Gomes has adapted the spirit of the multitude of tales offered in the face of death.

In Gomes’ Arabian Nights, the misanthropic Portuguese austerity government takes the place of the misogynist Shahryar. The many stories reflect the suffering inflicted on people, animals, and the planet by modern day economics, interspersed with fables and fantasies that transpose the pain into imaginative terms. So, while Volume I contains a scenario adapted from the news story of the shutdown of the Viana do Castelo shipyards, causing thousands of workers to lose their jobs, and the ecological disaster of a plague of Asian wasps killing off bees, it also contains a fanciful village story of the trial of a handsome cockerel who is facing a death sentence for waking up the villagers too early. Volume 2 traces the path of a sinewy, old survivor who is tracked by government drones through the high grasses of rural Portugal, and also tells a fantastic tale of what at first seems to be a cut and dried trial of a woman and her son for stealing furniture from their landlord. As ordinary people, strange creatures in costume, and puppets testify, the judge, who has taken the bench immediately after successfully coaching her daughter in how to secure a husband, is confronted with an impossible tangle of causes and effects in which the theft is embedded that reduces the judge to frustration and tears. “This grotesque chain of stupidity, evilness and despair,” as she calls the mass of desperate testimonies, leads her to curse those assembled in her court, and by extension the human race. Volume 3 includes scenes of Scheherazade flirting with a beautiful but stupid man who is already the father of 200 children, and speaking of her desperate, growing fear that her husband will kill her. It also follows the progress of a competition among men who train chaffinches for a singing contest.

Time in this trilogy flows both backwards and forwards, untrammeled by linearity. There are moments when there appear together on the screen printed words, a voiceover, and images that seem to have no rational connection, but are parts of a whole united beyond the logic we usually apply. Songs from the United States and Europe, modern and ancient, sung in numerous languages appear in all the Volumes, all of which are threaded by English and Spanish version “Perfidia,” (“For I have seen the love of my life in somebody else’s arms”) to remind us of King Shahryar’s rage. What is Gomes telling us of value to us in his densely and gorgeously interwoven poetic epic?

Gomes’ masterwork demands many screenings. But we can make a start at interpretation through the clues in the Arabian Nights frame. First, we should note that none of the stories in the film concludes, not even the story of Scheherazade, since we never reach the 1,001st story. Then, most seemed headed for unhappy endings, including that of Scheherazade, who is sure her death is imminent. And that that is the most important clue. After all, we know that the king ultimately does not kill her. Gomes would seem to be putting us through a complex experience to suggest that the process of narrative itself is the healing experience of the human race. All stories intersect and interconnect no matter how disparate they may seem, and through the humanizing process of telling tales we get through our pain and fear, always headed toward a distant, imagined moment, that we may never personally see, of restorative conclusion. A marvel of human cinematic art!

AntennaCinemaJournalJune-300x103NEXT WEEK: “The Banality of…..”

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Antenna: Responses to Media & Culture and the Society for Cinema & Media Studies’ Cinema Journal.

Martha P. Nochimson is a film and media critic, and the author of David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty from Lost Highway to Inland Empire (University of Texas Press, 2013). More about her work can be found here.


Videographic Criticism 101 Thu, 09 Jul 2015 13:00:27 +0000 Post by Melanie Kohnen, New York University

Tweet by NicI spent the last two weeks of June at Scholarship in Sound & Image: A Workshop in Videographic Criticism at Middlebury College. A generous grant from the Office of Digital Humanities at the NEH made it possible for fourteen scholars to live and work together for two weeks, resulting in an experience that is among the most rewarding of my entire career.

Tweet by JaapOur hosts Chris Keathley and Jason Mittell, both faculty members in Film & Media Culture at Middlebury, designed a workshop that conveyed technical skills and stimulated discussions about how to craft scholarship in the form of the video essay. The combination of carefully planned exercises and informal conversations at our shared dorm, at the dining hall, or at the computer lab made this a truly unique and intensely lived experience.

sample assignment We spent the first week learning how to use Adobe Premiere (or, in some case, refining existing skills) through a series of five exercises. Starting on Day 2, we spent the mornings in small groups discussing our finished exercises and then usually screened everyone’s videos, followed by receiving our next assignment. Afternoons consisted of learning new aspects of Premiere and starting our video of the day. The assignments included a videographic Pecha Kucha, a trailer, a video with voiceover, a response to someone else’s video using multi-screen technique, and a video using epigraphs (see Jason Mittell’s post Making Videographic Criticism for more details on these daily exercises). Considering that as academics, our attention is often divided between many different tasks, it was wonderful to focus on finishing only one project at a time.

Each participant selected one familiar text to work on during the entire first week, ranging from The Water Nymph, Trouble in Paradise, The Magnificent Ambersons, Imitation of Life, Belle de Jour, The Stepford Wives, Suspiria, to La Ciénaga. I worked on the web series Husbands. I had closely analyzed the series before in traditional academic writing, but cutting up and rearranging it revealed new aspects about content and characters. For example, I re-evaluated my previous rather harsh critique of the queer representation in the series, and I realized that one of the protagonists is on screen more frequently than the other. At the end of the week, I also knew far more about video and sound editing than I had anticipated (shout-out and thank you to Ethan Murphy, Film & Media Culture’s Digital Media Specialist, and Stella Holt, a recent graduate of Film & Media Culture, who were always around to provide technical advice).

editingDuring the second week, we worked on drafting a video essay, and we had videographic experts Eric Faden, Catherine Grant, and Kevin B. Lee join our workshop. It was immensely useful to hear Eric, Katie, and Kevin talk about their approaches to creating video essays and to be able to get their feedback on our drafts. I talked to both Katie and Kevin at length about how to structure my video essay on Husbands since I didn’t want to include a guiding voiceover but rather wanted to let the argument emerge mostly through editing and select on-screen text. My intention to skip the voiceover—a staple in many video essays—certainly stems from my familiarity with fan-made remix videos that excel at cultural critique through the use of editing and music alone.

Spontaneous screenings of works-in-progress in small groups provided further suggestions. This intensely collaborative atmosphere set the workshop apart from the often solitary work of Humanities scholars and makes me wish that we could create scholarship in collaborative ways more often.

The second week ended with a four-hour screening and discussion of our video essay drafts. The range and creativity in the presented works was impressive, especially considering that most of us had never used Premiere before arriving at Middlebury. A selection of these video essays will be revised for a special issue of [in]transition, a peer-reviewed journal of videographic criticism. We have also begun talking about a workshop for the upcoming SCMS ’16 conference. I certainly hope that another iteration of this workshop will happen again, either at Middlebury or at another institution. What we learned during the two weeks at “video camp” is too valuable not to share more widely. There is also much left to explore regarding the format of the video essay and which kinds of scholarship it suits best. For form and content analyses, the video essay is a rich tool, but I still wonder how the video essay can work for Media Industries Studies, for example, which is a field of inquiry dedicated to exploring the production, circulation, and reception of media texts. How can you represent a para-textual analysis in the format of the video essay?

To my fellow videographers, I’m already looking forward to our reunion at SCMS next year, and remember: we’re all winners, baby.

My multi-screen exercise “Brady and Cheeks Watch TV,” which samples videos made by other workshop participants. Inspired by the remix video Channel Hopping from _mesk on Vimeo.

Select work produced by #videographic participants at the workshop:

Corey Creekmur’s AmbersonsBachelard

Allison de Fren’s Stepford Wives Trailer

Shane Denson’s Sight and Sound Conspire: Monstrous Audio-Vision in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931)

Liz Green’s Velvet Elephant

Patrick Keating’s Epigraph Exercise: Trouble in Paradise

Jaap Kooijman’s Close|Up

Jason Mittell’s The Logic of Mulholland Drive


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Volunteers Wanted: Transforming SCMS From Within Fri, 03 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 scms1I’ve described SCMS to non academics as being akin to summer camp, offering a range of fun events and friends new and old with whom to reconnect. The conference also operates within a nebulous realm of work and non-work, apart from the routines of normal life yet also deeply ingrained within the professional rhythms of the scholarly vocation. It can be a grind, but it can also be rejuvenating. It is easy to complain about various aspects of SCMS, but ultimately, your conference experience is always unique based on how you choose to navigate its many panels, workshops, and events (official and otherwise).

The experience of the conference seems to evolve as one’s career grows—from the overwhelming experience of the graduate student newbie to the new challenges of working the publishing tables as a tenure-track faculty member developing a book. I seem to be in the joiner stage. A member of two special interest groups (SIGs), one caucus, and a committee, I devoted a good part of my conference to meetings rather than panels. This was somewhat disheartening, as I missed a lot of good work, but it has also made me think about value of working to improve SCMS from within.

Petruska-1I’ve been a core team member of the Media Industries SIG since its inception in 2012. In only three years, this SIG, which pulls from film, television, game, and new media studies, has grown to become one of the largest SIGs at over four hundred members. This year, we received an incredibly diverse range of proposals for SIG sponsorship, many more than the eight we are invited to submit. Among the topics reflected were media metrics, historical queer film, independent media, and advertising. The SIG’s growth is at once a testament to the vitality of this expanding area of research and a responsibility to continue articulating what is the role of the SIG within SCMS. For example, we’ve been working to create an “experts page,” detailing the particular subject areas of interest for our members, with the idea that this could become a resource for journalists needing quotes and talking heads. While we haven’t cracked the code of how to publicize this sort of resource, the desire to promote our members remains a priority for the SIG. I should note that this topic—identifying the continuing purpose and mission of a special interest group—came up at the Television Studies SIG meeting as well. For new and older SIGs, then, members seem eager to continue to push the possibilities of what an organization as large as SCMS can help us achieve.

My view of the possible scope of an organization like SCMS has been enlarged by serving on the public policy committee. The work of this committee tends to take place behind the scenes, so you may not know it exists even as it works to suggest policy updates and innovations to the SCMS Board that help you do your jobs better. In the past two years that I’ve been a member, the committee has provided advice for the board and drafted documents to advance the organization’s efforts to advocate for Fair Use protections (in publishing and teaching), Open Access, DMCA exemptions for teachers, and Network Neutrality (more on SCMS policies can be found here). There’s a whole world of activity at SCMS beyond the conference, and volunteering can be one path towards uncovering those efforts.

Petruska-3In the past few years, we’ve seen a wide range of new activities created solely through the support of the Board and the willingness of SCMS members to volunteer their time. Cinema Journal has expanded its reach online in a variety of (open access) ways to serve member interests. First, there is the “Teaching Dossier,” which features blog posts from members discussing their teaching strategies in line with particular themes for each issue. Second, the always entertaining “Aca-Media” podcast co-hosted by Christine Becker and Michael Kackman delivers a monthly program that features scholar interviews and discussions of current issues within media studies. The Media Industries SIG sponsored an affiliate event (one of three) at this year’s SCMS about the Sony Hack. Super topical, this event, too, helps us envision additional ways that SCMS can address current events and the place of scholars analyzing and commentating upon them. All of this activity confirms that SCMS members have the potential to inspire the organization to become more visible to scholars and the broader public across a range of platforms, transforming the conference into only one more opportunity to enhance the value of SCMS for all who work to give it meaning.





The Importance of Being SIG’d: Scholarly Interest Groups and Their Role at SCMS Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:08:15 +0000 scms1Let’s be frank. The Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ annual conference is massive. This year’s annual conference in Montreal hosted 1,952 registered participants and 485 scheduled sessions. Over a span of five days, this breaks down to roughly 24 sessions every two hours with 15 minute breaks in between, at which time we dash to the restroom and grab a cup of coffee before we head to our next stop.

The magnitude of our annual meeting resembles a force of nature. Every March, as the tide of SCMS rises, we scurry to finish our papers and pack our bags. We arrive to the airport in droves and board buses to the conference hotel, mounting a peaceful but impressive take-over of the conference city. This year, one customs official looked over my shoulder at the line behind me with some wonderment, asking, “How many of there are you?” My favorite tweet of the conference came from Daniel Grinberg, who posted this exchange at the airport: “Customs guard: How much money are you carrying on you? Me: $10 to $15? Customs guard: Oh, are you here for the film conference?”

FairmontAt the conference hotel, we squeeze into elevators, dash from panel to panel, converse in hallways, and, later, drain the liquor supply, a sea of name badges dotting the hotel bar in bursts of red and black. Anticipating our whirlwind conference schedule, we plan dinners and drinks with publishers, colleagues, and fellow panelists weeks in advance, and still somehow miss seeing some of our friends, hence texts sent like, “Hope you’re having a good SCMS. I’m here, too. Miss you.” Finally, we return home, exhausted but exhilarated, already contemplating what panel we may propose for next year’s conference.

Ultimately, SCMS’s large conference size marks an advantage for all its members, offering a diverse and stimulating meeting and increasing our odds of getting papers accepted, a factor we all deeply appreciate. The spring gathering provides a central, one-time-a-year gathering point for film and media scholars in all of our various interests, which allows us to more accurately trace shifts in our fields, as well as to engage in truly interdisciplinary scholarship.

Yet, for those conference attendees who seek a stronger network in their field or who feel lost in the crowd, allow me to pass along some good advice that I took this year: join a Scholarly Interest Group. While this is especially important for those film and media scholars who are still in the process of making professional connections, such as graduate students and junior faculty, it holds true for any SCMS members who wish to make meaningful, professional contacts.

scms_blogThere are now 27 Scholarly Interest Groups in SCMS, ranging from Animated Media to Radio Studies to Scandinavian Studies.

These groups provide a meeting point and a forum to share ideas for scholars who share particular interests in sub-fields within film and media studies. However, SIGs can also provide the much-needed service of reducing the enormous scope of SCMS to a manageable and productive size. Thus, SIGs function like a home base, a site where fellowship, mentorship, and scholarship can ignite and flourish under the umbrella of a shared concern/passion.

This year, I joined the War and Media Studies SIG, a newly-formed organization devoted to studying war and militarism in film, television, radio, and an array of new media formats. Exploring the history and culture of warfare, the War and Media Studies group will be highly interdisciplinary, intersecting such varied fields as rhetoric, history, political science, sociology, trauma studies, gender/race/sexuality studies, surveillance studies, cultural studies and peace studies. At the inaugural meeting, the range of scholars (grad students to full profs) and approaches to studying war and its representations impressed all of us. This was also reflected in the conference program, which listed several sessions that spoke to the theme of war and militarism in some form or fashion. I found the “Teaching 9/11” workshop, for example, to be especially thought-provoking and relevant, not only in terms of how we can address the subject of 9/11, and war in general, in our classrooms, but also how we can face the challenges of teaching in post-secondary institutions that are increasingly under threat of severe cutbacks and censorship. In other words, SIGs and their related sessions—especially workshops—bridge scholarship and pedagogy and provide a forum for larger professional concerns to be discussed openly.

The War and Media Studies SIG, of course, is only one of many. The list of SIGs grows each year. Scholarly Interest Groups are poised to provide support, fellowship, and mentoring for their members. When they do, SIGs help balance the scale of SCMS, making it navigable, while also allowing us to mine the riches of the vast conference.


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#DHSCMS: Digital Humanities, Tools, and Approaches at SCMS 2015 Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:01:55 +0000 Arclight_DemoThis year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Montreal featured a number of excellent panels that were broadly dedicated to “the digital.” Eric Hoyt (@HoytEric) and I (@DerekLong08) live-tweeted digitally-themed panels using the #DHSCMS hashtag, through our personal Twitter accounts as well as the Project Arclight account (@ProjArclight). We defined the digital broadly in our Twitter coverage, attending any panels that conceptualized the digital as a research tool, a methodological approach, or an object of study. What follows are some themes, questions, and trends that emerged from those panels, along with brief thoughts on that status of digital work in our field, and how it might move forward. This summary is far from exhaustive: there were many compelling presentations beyond the ones discussed here. For more extensive coverage, check out #DHSCMS on your preferred Twitter platform.

Wednesday’s panel on “Network Studies” (B19) situated the digital as itself an object of study, and offered a number of valuable insights into historical and contemporary digital practices. Steven Malčić offered a particularly valuable history of the early Internet, carefully contextualized in object-oriented ontology as well as the history of computer science as a discipline. According to Malčić, ARPANET engineers conceptualized network “entities” in an inverted way, positing the stability of “processes” (protocols and applications) and the ephemerality of “objects” (users, hosts, and servers). Sheila Murphy, in her presentation on fitness trackers and other wearable devices, showed some of the ways in which personal data collection on them has been framed as a game. She made an important distinction between two different models of data collection: that of all-powerful, active “surveillance,” and the more passive “capture model” of wearables. Malčić and Murphy’s papers were only two of the many that explored the important intersections between the digital-as-technology and the digital-as discourse/rhetoric/philosophy, demonstrating that our understanding of how digital technology is implemented is fundamentally linked to the ways in which it is conceptualized.

Thursday offered a pair of workshops on digital archives and their uses, and both testified to the ways that digital technologies are changing research, publishing, and pedagogy. The workshop on “Making the Past Visible” (F19) modeled a number of innovative practices. Michael Newman made a compelling case for the use of archival images as evidence instead of simple “illustration.” He showed how platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr might be used as a supplement to the traditional book publishing model, not only as a means of preserving color, sharing evidence productively, and making visual arguments, but also as a way to connect scholars and other users with common interests. Deborah Jaramillo made the interesting point that pedagogy should be considered an integral part of archival research; teaching students with documents can be a way to curate the often-intimidating volume of digital archival documents. Curation was a theme that returned throughout the workshop, with several participants arguing for a greater valuation in our field—particularly for the purposes of hiring and promotion—of data collection, processing, and sharing.

A pedagogically-focused workshop later in the day (G18) showcased several resources for and approaches to teaching film and broadcast history. Beth Corzo-Durchardt stressed the growing importance of teaching students how to evaluate online sources, as well as how to be collaborative in their primary document research. Catherine Clepper modeled a fascinating assignment using the Cinema Treasures website ( to engage students with the exhibition history of their own hometowns, while Eric Hoyt, citing Franco Moretti, argued that the humanities needs to do a better job of teaching students how to read data at scale. Toward that end, Hoyt gave first public demonstration of Arclight, an app that visualizes hits, by year, for search terms across the entire corpus of the Media History Digital Library.

In keeping with Hoyt’s hands-on demonstration of the turn toward digital archives, Martin Johnson made the crucial point that despite this turn, scholars often proceed as if they are still using physical collections. This echoed nicely with the valuation point made in the earlier workshop, hammering home the importance of crediting—and being critical of—digital collections.

Finally, Friday afternoon’s panel on Digital Film Historiography (L8) showcased a large-scale digital project underway at the EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam. Christian Gosvig Olesen presented on the project, which uses the 900 early films, 2000 photos, and 120,000 business documents of the almost completely digitized Jean Desmet collection. As Olesen explained, the Desmet project combines a mapping of early film distribution in the Netherlands (based on the business documents) with ImagePlot visualizations of the collection’s color films, in an exploration of the ways in which New Cinema History and statistical style analysis might be combined. Work toward combining these two very different modes of analysis for the project’s ultimate question—Did films with certain patterns of color aesthetics correlate with particular distribution patterns?—remains in an experimental stage. However, the project’s mapping component offers an interesting model for laying bare the inherent uncertainty and often-invisible lacunae of digitized corpora. By using color, the Desmet project clearly distinguishes between all the films in the collection and those for which distribution data actually exists, modeling one solution to the problem of corpus transparency in digital scholarship.


My personal takeaway from Montreal is that scholars are increasingly using digital tools for every aspect of their work, be it analysis, archival research, publication, or pedagogy—and with a healthy critical understanding of their advantages and pitfalls. Truly exciting work is being done in all of those arenas. What remains, as I see it, is the problem of technical implementation. Aside from a breakout session in the pedagogy workshop, none of the panels I attended offered practical training in the use of software tools or coding. Even a broad discussion of the kinds of tools, platforms, or languages that might be useful for approaching particular problems or research questions would help to expand the base of scholars able to do digital work. Some kind of forum focusing on the use of specific digital tools would almost certainly be well-attended if it were to be offered at next year’s conference, whether as a workshop, practicum, or even a poster-style “drop-in” exhibition. Such a forum would be invaluable, even if it were only a starting point; getting hands-on has a wonderful way of reducing the intimidating character of some more advanced digital tools, for students and advanced scholars alike. If the last few years have seen a digital turn in media studies, then solving the problem of technical implementation may very well usher in a digital acceleration.


Radio Studies at SCMS: From Justification to Exploration Tue, 31 Mar 2015 14:00:21 +0000 scms2015In his SCMS 2015 conference preview, Alex Russo looked at the presence of radio studies in Montreal and suggested that “the seeds planted in past years are beginning to reach fruition.” That prediction was more than borne out by the conference itself:  in Montreal, it was clear that radio studies within SCMS is coming (has come?) into its own, and the Society is better for it.

Radio scholars–and I include myself–tend to have a love-hate relationship with their marginalization within cinema and media studies, but that identity is fortunately becoming harder to sustain. This year, instead, I felt a palpable confidence among radio scholars that hasn’t been there in years past. That might be because of the Serial-driven “year of podcasting,” which helped aural media appear more relevant to a wider range of scholars; the continuing strength of the broader field of sound studies doesn’t hurt either.

But most of the credit should go to the hard work of field-building: the conferences and list-servs; the Radio Studies scholarly interest group and the Radio Preservation Task Force; the soon-to-be resurgent Radio Journal; folks like Andrew Bottomley here at Antenna and Brian Fauteux and Jennifer Waits over at Radio Survivor working tirelessly to keep the voices of radio scholars included in the broader media studies conversation; even the growing cohort of young (and decreasingly young) radio scholars finding professional success (however defined for them).

I wasn’t able to attend all the radio-themed papers and panels this year, but that’s part of the point: a few years ago I could; this year, no one could. (Before anyone reads that as a veiled critique of the conference program, in which a couple of radio-heavy panels were scheduled concurrently, please listen to my interview with SCMS scheduler extraordinaire Bruce Brassell and know that I have only respect and admiration for the folks who put the conference together.) Nonetheless, based on my subjective sampling, it appears that many of the goals that we have for radio studies are clearly being met:

  • Quantitatively, the number of radio-themed panels (and the audiences for those panels) continues to grow
  • Papers that consider radio are increasingly found on mixed-media panels
  • The “donut hole” of scholarship on 1960s-1990s-era radio, which seemed so self-evident in years past, is slowly closing
  • Radio scholars are increasingly engaging the kinds of broader disciplinary conversations that help move the field beyond justification to exploration

Of course, some goals remain on the horizon for us to continue working toward. For example, I had hoped that the Montreal location might bring more international scholars to the conference, but clearly we still have a lot of work to do if we want expand the conversation significantly beyond North America. There are logistic, linguistic, and disciplinary challenges to overcome, but that must remain a top priority.

The necessity of such work notwithstanding, the 2015 conference was clearly a moment of consolidation and advancement. As I write this on a plane out of Montreal, it is hard not to feel optimistic about the state of radio studies, within both SCMS and the broader field of film and media studies.