Though he cannot join us for Thursday's kickoff session of the 2010-11 Chicago Film Seminar, Dudley Andrew has kindly offered some words about his book What Cinema Is in advance of our panel discussion. Here, he underscores and in some ways expands the sense of the book's core assertions as they were crystallized in the prompt that the CFS officers circulated in advance to our scheduled speakers.
"I shouldn't try to inflect Thursday's discussion since I had an entire book to say what I wanted to say, but I do worry that the provocative passage excerpted from the book on the blog's 'invitation' for Thursday may unduly limit discussion. The 'feature film' is not meant to absorb all the attention of the book and shouldn't absorb the attention of the discussion. True, I do call it the bull's eye in the concentric rings of a target, but I also say that we should be concerned with the entire target. Nor is the bull's eye necessarily a normative assessment of value (50 points if you hit it, only 30 points if you hit the documentaries that circle it in the next ring, 20 points for animation etc).
"I wanted to keep in view the 'centrality' that the feature played in film studies when the field gained its great strength in the 1960s and especially the 1970s. So this is a description of both the cinema when it thought itself unrivaled, as well as cinema studies when it felt sure of its coming power. I do think we should recognize this moment of postulated ascendancy, and it is associated with strong feature films, modern ones, not 'classical' as the blog's invitation has it. But my book itself needs to deal with other forms and it addresses such works as WWII docs (The Battle of Midway, Battle of San Pietro, Why we Fight), the two great Resnais docs of 1955-56, plus Les Maîtres fous). These short films are directly in the 'line' I am intent to trace and they help to produce it. As for experimental work of this modernist period, from Maya Deren to Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage, it forms another line, one that was and remains personally important to me, but that was parallel to, not part of, the line that emerges clearest in my last chapter. Bazin himself of course wrote on all sorts of non-features as well as on animation and TV shows. He was a media-fiend; but the main line of his ideas came through features and documentaries (films of exploration, of painting, etc). So don't let my initial plea for a concentrated corpus completely take over Thursday's discussion. It has a place in discussion but not a constitutive place.
"Finally, let me wish you a good discussion where the target may be my book, or at least its title (and without benefit of concentric circles), but where the real goal is the expression of new ideas and understandings. May these come in abundance."
Thanks, then, to Dudley Andrew for taking the time to say more about the motivating impetus of the book and the range of its investmentsand for taking the very welcome initiative to make this blog a site for additional conversation, before, about, and after our formal Thursday sessions. Again, feel free to register your own first impressions about What Cinema Is or the questions you'll be bringing with you on Thursday night in the comments.
Reminders: Today is the deadline to RSVP if you'd like to stay around for dinner after Thursday's discussion. See the previous entry for more info about the format of the evening and about practical logistics of location, parking, etc.