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Posts tagged ‘cinephilia’

Beautiful Views, or The Wind in the Trees

It’s one of the most persistent anecdotes of film studies that the first audiences of motion pictures were awe-struck by what Dai Vaughan has called the “incidentals” of scenes: “smoke from a forge, steam from a locomotive, brick dust from a demolished wall.”[1] Most famously, during exhibitions of the Lumieres’ Repas de bebe, audiences were reportedly more interested in the distant tree leaves blowing in the wind than the baby eating breakfast in the foreground.

Most interpretations of the phenomenon tend to explain the attraction as a symptom of a particularly modern epistemology based on chance, ephemerality, and spontaneity or as an effect of cinema’s novel ability to show the autonomy of the world unfold independently of authorial control. In each case, the spectatorial attraction to incidental motion is explained by invoking the contingency of the moving image. Dai Vaughan points out that because the first film audiences would have been familiar only with the painted backdrops of the theater, they were astonished not by the moving figures in the foreground (they’d seen people on stage before) but by the seemingly uncaused, unplanned movement of the previously inanimate background. The surroundings, subject to a thousand spontaneous variations, come to life in a way that threatens to dwarf the actors.  And Mary Ann Doane, less interested in the why than in the so what, associates the attraction to cinematic contingency with a host of then-emerging epistemological discourses that similarly privilege singularity, particularity, and chance (e.g. literary realism, statistics, psychoanalysis, physiology).[2]


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First Encounters: Patton (1970)

In the 1990s, Bravo was a cable network that didn’t have a reputation. When my cable provider first began offering the network, it was not known as a haven for reality programming (such programming had hardly constituted a recognizable genre by that point—something like MTV’s The Real World still retained an aura of authenticity). Rather, it appealed to me because it seemed to buck popular orthodoxy. It showed old movies. As a teenager, my definition for “old” was clearly wanting: “old” meant anything made before I was born, meaning anything produced during the gray and obscure years of the early 1980s (or before).

By this point, I was well on the path to cinephilia, despite not knowing the meaning of the word. What’s more, had I been accused of cinephilia, I would have probably giggled at the word’s seeming relation to necrophilia (though the cinephile and necrophile, I now understand, aren’t so far off: both have an irrational love for a dead object). The years 1998-2000 were key for my formation of an intellectual sensibility. I was ending middle school and starting high school. Some of my tastes remained resolutely and unapologetically populist: I believe I got a copy of Doom II that year, and remember wasting (was it wasting?) a large chunk of the car ride of our summer vacation from that year reading about episodes of The Simpsons. Read more

Sight & Sound Roundtable Part 2/2 – Personal Cinephilia as Public Cinephilia: Individual Lists in the Sight & Sound Poll

This roundtable discussion of the 2012 Sight & Sound Poll continues where we left off on PART I. Participating in today’s conversation are Jeff Heinzl, Natalie Ryabchikova, Ryan Pierson, and Felipe Pruneda Sentíes. This panel was moderated and edited by myself, Katie Bird. For today’s roundtable, my colleagues and I will be looking specifically at the individual critics’ lists and the politics of personal list-making (both in the published poll and in our own top tens). Katie: To build off the current discussion: What is the value of the individual lists (critics or directors) against or as a complement to the main poll? I’m thinking first of those individual lists that do seem to change (Jonathan Rosenbaum is a good example here as he forces himself to choose a new list every time). Secondly, the critics this time were, as S&S editor Nick James describes, invited to think not just about the ‘greatest films,’ or the films of the ‘highest achievement,’ but particularly those films that had “the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.” Many of the critical responses include this idea in their explanations. Felipe: In theory, encouraging that kind of cinephiliac and personal response to the task of making a list would allow for more recent films to enter the highest positions, as new films that take cinema in new directions also reshape the critics’ and directors’ ideas of it. Not that that relationship is always linear. Read more

Sight & Sound Poll Roundtable Part 1/2 – When Institutions Collide: Academics Reading the Sight & Sound Poll

Today begins a two-part 2012 Sight & Sound poll roundtable by PhD students and candidates at the University of Pittsburgh’s Film Studies program. In this roundtable we take on a variety of issues raised by the recent release of Sight & Sound’s 2012 Greatest Films of All Time poll in both its aggregate list and its individual critics’ lists. We also discuss some of the reception and debates in the weeks surrounding the release of the poll. In particular we sought to highlight how the poll is situated in the academic film studies community and the cinephilic community at large in its canon-building debates. We especially wanted to ask what the S&S poll really says about these institutional relationships (between academics, film institutions, critics, filmmakers, and cinephile audiences). Part One of the roundtable will explore in depth how the S&S poll participates in or evades a project of canon-building, how and if at all academics should engage with the S&S poll, and finally how much the Vertigo/Citizen Kane upset really has to do with an increase in academic participation in the poll. Part Two of the roundtable will take a closer look at the individual critics’ lists and the politics of participating in such a project. Participating in today’s conversation are Jeff Heinzl, Natalie Ryabchikova, Ryan Pierson, Felipe Pruneda Sentíes, and moderated by myself, Katie Bird.

Part I: When Film Institutions Collide: Academics Reading the Sight & Sound Poll

Katie: The first question I wanted to pose for the roundtable is: What role does the Sight & Sound poll serve in today’s (2012′s) film environment? (In a variety of contexts: cinephilia, criticism, film studies, etc.?)

Jeff: I think of the S&S critics’ list, even sixty years after the original S&S list, as a starting point of sorts (and a lot of people who have written about the S&S list seem to share this view). It’s a place for those who are interested in film to begin exploring or continue exploring. For those of us who have been looking at these sorts of lists (or canons?) for quite a while now, it may not be quite as mysterious or exciting as we would like it to be, but it signals blind spots – films lots of people have seen, possibly important, that I just haven’t gotten around to (“I” both as a cinephile and a film studies representative).

Felipe: A first impression of the list reeks of a certain nostalgia, one that brings to mind the mindset that, with the advent of the digital image, film has become irrevocably impermanent. The list remains, for some, stodgy, precisely because it seems to resist change.

Ryan: The list continues to speak from a particular time and place of tastes, the kind of cosmopolitan film culture that flourished after WWII; going over even the newer entries, you get a relatively stable profile of cinema as technically stylish, on the ponderous side, and serious … basically the sorts of traits Bordwell pointed out in his “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Practice”.

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Seen in Pittsburgh: Ted/Beer-Pong Cinephilia

It’s been a long time since I was trapped in a dark room with groups of loud dirty-mouthed teenage boys. But I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy myself either. That’s part of the pleasure of Seth MacFarlane’s first feature film Ted, or at least the pleasure of sitting in a fully packed movie theater, on a Friday night, with an audience as excited to see the creator of “Family Guy” make a stuffed bear sing songs and smoke pot as any art house crowd anticipating a new 35 mm print of Godard’s Weekend. No, that’s wrong. These Bros were way, way more pumped.[i] So enthused that their pre-screening chatter of summer high-school gossip mash-uped with smart phone updates of the evening baseball scores, peppered with jeers at their classmates entering the theater and choosing seats was only further kindled when the lights went out and the first bright-green preview screen appeared with a room full of cheers and clapping. Then came the Dark Knight Rises trailer, which received boisterous “oh yeahs” for its locally-filmed Pittsburgh production and a single muffled sssh from one of the two middle-aged couples in the theater. Read more

Updated! Lens Flare, Indexicality, and J.J. Abrams

~Updated~ May 20, 2013

Before probing JJ Abrams’s indexical use of Lens Flare in 2009′s Star Trek and 2011′s Super8 in my January 2012 piece (below), I want to provide a few updated observations about the technique’s use in Abrams’s most recent film.

Over its opening weekend of May 17, 2013, I watched Abrams’s newest lens flare experiment Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). A number of people have remarked on twitter that in this newest film, Abrams has significantly cut down on his use of lens flare. I don’t think this is right. Instead, I want to suggest that Abrams employs the lens flare throughout Into Darkness but its use is smarter, varied, and at times even cheekily mocks or nods to his own overabundant use of the technique.

First, the lens flare here potentially pokes fun at itself while it is dually re-imagined as a vital dramatic element. One scene in particular uses the lens flare to directly correspond to and absorb an intensely dramatic moment. The new shipmate, Carol (Alice Eve), pleas desperately to her father Marcus (Peter Weller) to save the U.S.S. Enterprise from destruction (I won’t say more than this). As Carol’s urges escalate, so does the blue lens flare increase in intensity and size before almost completely overtaking the screen; we no longer see Carol’s body or face only the bright blue flare and its surrounding white halo. The lens flare becomes both comical and absurd (to those in the know or sick of the device), yet it also powerfully takes on the overabundance of dramatic emotion.It absorbs and expands the melodrama of the scene. No longer is the lens flare pure style or production design, the lens flare becomes a dynamic narrative and emotional presence of its own.

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