Some Thoughts on SCMS
A personal note about the blog: I’d like to try a new experiment. I’m giving myself a deadline to post regularly every 2 weeks — on every other Monday. No matter how much or how little material I’ve accumulated each time, I’d like to stick to this magazine-style posting schedule and put up what I have. We'll see how it goes!
I recently returned from an energizing four days at the SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference in Boston. The highlight of the trip was spending time in extended conversations with fellow cinephiles — friends both old and new such as Chris Keathley, Catherine Grant, Zach Campbell, Joe McElhaney, Victor Perkins, Nico Baumbach, Steve Shaviro, Dave Johnson, Michael Talbott, and Jenna Ng. (I thank them all for the long, fun conversations!) I participated in two panels: one on film criticism and cinephilia put together by Steve Rybin, and the other on the “video essay” spearheaded by Chris and Catherine.
I was struck by the sheer size of the conference: it was common for as many as twenty-five panels to be taking place at the same time. The cinema/media studies field has expanded promiscuously over the last couple of decades, and the topics for the panels included such areas as TV studies, gaming, radio studies, production histories, reception studies, technological histories, fan cultures and practices, historical research methodologies, early cinema, global media industries and infrastructures, digital media, and more.
This was my second trip to SCMS — the first was to New Orleans last year — and I am eager to return to the conference each year. The conversations and social aspect alone make the trip eminently worthwhile.
But I can’t get away from the fact that I have a slightly peculiar relation to SCMS. I’m not a research professional within the cinema/media studies field. Instead, I approach the conference as a cinephile who is passionate about two broad strands of activity: (1) Individual films themselves, their concrete details, their analysis and interpretation, their evaluation, extending then to filmmakers, performers, genres, etc., and (2) Theory, by which I mean film theory but also, more broadly, philosophical thinking that is on some level politically motivated (structuralism, Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and so on, and the broad field one loosely labels post-structuralism). Thinking about cinephilia and film criticism is also, for me, part of this theoretical curiosity.
(1) and (2) are crucially related in that the former is primarily criticism and the latter is primarily a speculative, philosophical kind of activity we call theory: each feeds and responds to the other, and each activity sharpens and deepens the practice of the other. Doing either criticism or theory exclusively, without close and constant relation to the other, seems insufficient and unappealing to me.
Given the vast scope of the cinema/media studies field today, the majority of the panels weren’t directly related to my two primary areas of interest. But it was easy to find, in each time slot at the conference, at least two or three strongly interesting sessions.
The field has been through its share of upheavals since its establishment in the 1960s: auteurism, the “Screen theory” of the 1970s, the turn to history in the last couple of decades, and two developments that I personally find especially interesting: the emergence of cinephilia and film criticism as itself an object of close study in the last 10 years; and a “philosophical turn” which is surveyed by recent books like John Mullarkey’s Philosophy and the Moving Image: Reflections of Reality and Robert Sinnerbrink’s New Philosophies of Film: Thinking Images. The fact that this “film-philosophy” project has reached a certain critical threshold of interest is signaled by the fact that Sinnerbrink’s book aims to effect a sort of synthesis of two broad philosophical traditions — analytic and Continental — within film studies, and proposes a kind of pluralist film-philosophy that tries to draw together what is best and most useful from both traditions in order to do so.
I’m very curious to hear from those working in the field: Are there certain areas within cinema studies which are seeing an increase in interest? And in terms of the two broad areas of cinephilia/criticism and film-philosophy, are there certain directions that appear to hold particular promise? Any speculations or predictions about the future of the field? Or the future of SCMS? I’d love to hear them.
Links to recent reading:
-- Caboose has announced the release of Jean-Luc Godard's Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, translated by Timothy Barnard, and has made available a sample chapter for download.
-- Nicole Brenez in Sight & Sound on the revolutionary, activist film The Hour of the Furnaces: "Taking the Marxist concept of praxis seriously, The Hours of the Furnaces wages its battle not only on the Argentinian political front but also on the aesthetic and theoretical fronts [...] As Jean-Luc Godard once said about Solzhenitsyn: “We already knew all about what he wrote, but he was listened to because he had style.”"
-- At Film Quarterly, Jonathan Rosenbaum reconsiders A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
-- Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin exchange letters in Spanish on the Rotterdam film festival at Cine Transit. Also: Adrian on Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin. Via Adrian: an issue of the journal New Readings with the theme "Truth Claims in Fiction Film"; and "10 Photographers You Should Ignore" at Wired magazine.
-- In the new Senses of Cinema, two interesting pieces by Daniel Fairfax: an interview with Jean-Louis Comolli; and an essay on director Artavazd Pelechian. Also, an article by Comolli, "Ginette Lavigne’s La belle journée," which first appeared in Trafic, now translated into English by Fairfax.
-- A recent blog discovery: Steve Rybin's Cinephile Papers. Also, via David Hudson, the cinephile Tumblr site This Must Be The Place. Related: I notice that Steve has put out a call for essays for the book project "Cine-aesthetics: New Directions in Film and Philosophy."
-- After having followed her blog for almost 10 years, it was a treat to meet Amy Monaghan in person at SCMS.
-- Steven Shaviro's SCMS paper, "Post-Continuity," is now available at his blog.
-- Via Catherine Grant: A 7-minute video essay by Omar Ahmed on the representations of Naxalism in Indian cinema.
-- Trevor Link whets our appetite for Abel Ferrara's new film, 4:44 Last Day On Earth. At Fangoria: an interview with Ferrara.
-- Good news: friend, cinephile and filmmaker Dan Sallitt's latest, The Unspeakable Act, has been chosen to play the BAM Cinemafest in NYC.
-- Michael Sicinski on Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein at Fandor.
-- I've been checking in regularly on Nicholas Rombes' terrific "Blue Vevet Project": he posts 3 times a week, spurred each time by a frame from the film.
-- Owen Hatherley at The Guardian on "How Patrick Keiller is mapping the 21st-century landscape".
-- I've heard through the grapevine that a North American Werner Schroeter retrospective is in the offing. Does anyone have additional information to share? I'd love to know more.