Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

April 7: Michelle Citron on Narrative and the Digital

On Thursday, April 7 at 6:30pm, Michelle Citron (Columbia College) will present "Is This Cinema? Narrative and the Digital," a talk and screening of her short films. Patrick Jagoda (University of Chicago) will provide the response. The meeting will take place, as always, in the Flaxman Theater, Room 1307, of the School of the Art Institute's building at 112 S. Michigan Ave.

Citron describes her talk as follows:

"My reading of Andrew’s What Cinema Is! raises the question: How far can you push the medium (be it film, video, or digital) and still call it cinema? I will show two works, Leftovers (2010) and Mixed Greens (2004). Leftovers, a linear narrative created from photographs, 16mm film, and cameraless digital images, raises issues about the camera and the real (in Bazin's sense). Mixed Greens, an interactive non-linear narrative created from photographs, 16mm film, video, and cameraless digital images, foregrounds issues about editing/ellipsis and audience. I will argue that Bazin's ideas of what constitutes cinema (as explicated by Andrew) can be applied to Leftovers. But can it also be applied to Mixed Greens? And is Andrew's theoretical paradigm even a useful way to talk about such non-linear works?"

Summary: Elena Gorfinkel on Sexploitation of the 1960s

On Thursday, March 3, Elena Gorfinkel (University of Wisconsin – Madison) presented her talk, “’The Gawker in the Text’: Allegories of Reception in 1960s Sexploitation Film” at the Chicago Film Seminar. Jeffrey Sconce of Northwestern provided the response. In this talk, Gorfinkel discusses the reflexive, self-referential nature of sexploitation films, particularly around the generic problem of ‘consuming sex’, to better understand the specific conditions of reception of adult films and sexualized media in the public culture of the 1960s. Gorfinkel notes that sexploitation films of the 1960s, refracting the era’s contentious sexual politics, frequently retained a dystopian tenor, in which sexual activity and exchange often came at a grave narrative cost. The paradox of sexploitation films, she argues, is the that the expanding sexual marketplace is both exploited economically and aesthetically and disdained rhetorically, negotiating the tensions between strategies of display and denial.

To resolve these contradictory aims, sexploitation films incorporate the figure of the voyeur, the gawker, into their narratives, thematizing the process and ramifications of erotic looking, and, more broadly, sex as an object of consumption and exchange, as both a diegetic and extra-diegetic ‘problem.’ These figures and other devices that narrativize the act of looking enable erotic looking while simultaneously exploring that figure and the looking that he performs. Gorfinkel quotes critic Leslie Fiedler on The Immoral Mr. Teas: “It is not merely like the strip-tease, the candy-box cover, the girlie calendar and the foldout nude; it is about them.”

Gorfinkel provides several case studies, including Teas and Barry Mahon’s 1965 film This Picture is Censore (aka Censored), which she asserts to be indicative, in its extremity, of a tendency that takes many forms in sexploitation film practice of the 1960s. Censored presents itself as a compilation of scenes that have been excised by censors. Actor Sid Berry serves as an onscreen narrator, directly addressing the camera with such commentary as: “Why was this censored? What do you think?” In trying to make the extra-diegetic conditions of regulation into a diegetic narrative, Gorfinkel notes, the film becomes about its own conditions of possibility. By addressing the spectator in this manner, the film conflates the offense-seeking censor and the sensation-seeking gawker, and articulates the conflicts and layers of dissimulation at work between sexploitation filmmakers, their audiences and the censors. Sexploitation films’ mode of address, their consistent allegorization of their own mode of spectatorship, creates a fissure between the textually designated, imagined and actual audience.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Summary: Gregory Waller on Non-Theatrical Cinema in 1915

On Feb 10, 2011 (rescheduled from the blizzard-plagued previous week), Gregory Waller of Indiana University presented his talk "Tracking the Non-Theatrical: The American Cinema in 1915." The response was provided by Northwestern's Scott Curtis.

In this talk, Waller takes a thorough, wide-ranging look at American non-theatrical film production and exhibition in the year 1915 to argue for a re-orientation of our conception of film history in which commercially-released films are but one aspect of “the cinema” among several. Waller focused on the circulation and exhibition of moving pictures outside of what we normally think of as the film industry and the traditional movie theater, as well as the production of educational or industrial film.

Waller argues that designations such as “non-theatrical” and “educational” must be understood in a not-so-stable dialectic with “theatrical” and “entertainment,” terms that were perpetually evolving. Particular attention was paid to the role of sponsorship (including that of corporations, government, religious organizations and other philanthropic institutions), the practice of mixed or multiple-media programming, the targeting of specific audiences, and the recirculation and repurposing of “used” motion pictures. He looks at exhibition practices in the US military (and the related, targeted advertisement of exhibition equipment), the sponsored, motion picture-reliant exhibits at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and the importance of lecturers to exhibition even in more traditional cinema venues. In the PPIE, for example, films were screened as part of an exhibit in a permanent venue called a “theater” that charged no admission, were screened several times daily with a lecture, pitched as informative and education, and were promotional in intent and clearly identified as sponsored by a company or a public institution such as a local chamber of commerce.

Waller looked closely at the Maxwell Industrial Company’s FROM MOLTEN STEEL TO AUTOMOBILE industrial film, advertised as a “$40,000 5 Reel Feature Film Sensation.” Originally presented in theaters by local merchants who distributed free tickets as a sort of entertainment despite its educational, promotional origins, the film moved to being used in more obviously non-theatrical venues such as college lecture halls and churches. By 1916, the film was made available to local YMCA’s across the country by the YMCA’s national Motion Picture Bureau. He then followed with other case studies, including that of films of Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition. The films were presented around the United States along with an illustrated lecture by Mawson and, frequently, an extremely varied program of other educational films (such as films on tuberculosis or the Montessori educational system). Soon, they were being shown around the country with intertitles or with another lecturer standing in for Mawson for additional theatrical runs and then for university screenings. They ended up as an attraction in the late ‘teens on the summertime Chatauqua circuits of small towns across the country.

This picture of what Waller calls “multi-sited” cinema is, Waller notes, one that barely even mention important venues such as prisons, hospitals, churches and schools. Although comprehensiveness may not even be possible, the instances he presented do exemplify and also complicate some of his propositions about sponsorship, programming, targeted audiences, and patterns of circulation. These instances, Waller asserts, point us toward a more expansive sense of the terrain of multi-sited cinema, hinting at the intertwined possibilities, parameters, and trajectories of the non-theatrical and educational in 1915, the moment which arguably marks the coalescence of motion pictures into the Movies.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March 3: Elena Gorfinkel on Sexploitation

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 3 to welcome Elena Gorfinkel (UW-Milwaukee) for her talk, "The Gawker in the Text: Allegories of Reception in 1960s Sexploitation Cinema." Jeffrey Sconce (Northwestern) will provide the response. The CFS will be held, as always, in the Flaxman Theater, Room 1307 of the School of the Art Institute's building at 112 S. Michigan Ave.

Thursday, March 3 at 6:30pm
Elena Gorfinkel, Assistant Professor, Art History and Film Studies, UW-Milwaukee
"The Gawker in the Text: Allegories of Reception in 1960s Sexploitation Cinema"
Respondent: Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern

Gorfinkel describes her talk as follows:

"This talk treats the historical aesthetics of 1960s sexploitation films through the lens of reflexivity. It argues that American sexploitation films, in their style, modes of address, narrative preoccupations and thematic tropes, consistently refer outwards towards their conditions of reception. Sexploitation films were "impoverished" low-cultural texts that were produced in an era of changing codes of sexual permissiveness. Their "circumstantial reflexivity" allows us to make sense of their place in film history and their address to the transitory contexts of erotic consumption in this tumultous era of independent film production. Describing the paradoxical nature of sexploitation films as one that vacillates between strategies of display and denial, and between disdaining and exploiting the promise of sexual spectacle, this talk points to the use value of sexploitation films as seen through an historiographic frame."

Jeffrey Sconce, Associate Professor of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University, will respond.