Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

February 2: Noa Steimatsky on Barthes, Warhol and the Face

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar at 6:30 pm on Thursday, February 2 to welcome Noa Steimatsky (UChicago) for her talk, "Death at Work: Barthes and Warhol Look at the Face." Scott Durham (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, February 2 at 6:30pm
Noa Steimatsky, UChicago
"Death at Work: Barthes and Warhol Look at the Face"
Respondent: Scott Durham, Northwestern

Steimatsky describes her talk as follows:

Enframed in a consideration of Andy Warhol’s mid-1960s film portraiture, my talk for the Chicago Film Seminar will dwell on Roland Barthes’s “modern anthropology” of the cinematic face. A deep ambivalence, involving de-mythifying and re-mythifying maneuvers, haunts Barthes’s reflection on the facial image, and foreshadows some of the deepest concerns of Pop in the following decade. Especially in the almost forgotten essay, “Visages et figures,” Barthes diagnoses a fallacy of “expressivity” of the contemporary movie star juxtaposed with a vision of lost plenitude (real or imagined) invested in an earlier moment of film history. The up-front material artifice of late-silent and Classical cinema is predicated on a layering and masking that endow it with cultic, auratic charge. Yet the archaic functions of the mask might still be operative in Warhol’s deployment of multiplicity and temporality in his great film portraits.

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 19: Miriam Petty on African American Children's Spectatorship

Please join the Chicago Film Seminar at 6:30 pm on Thursday, January 19 to welcome Miriam Petty (Northwestern) for her talk, "A Dance with Uncle Billy: Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and African American Children's Spectatorship." Karen Bowdre (Indiana) 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, January 19 at 6:30pm
Miriam Petty, Northwestern
"A Dance with Uncle Billy: Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson and African American Children's Spectatorship"
Respondent: Karen Bowdre, Indiana

Petty describes her talk as follows:

My paper uses celebrated tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and his cinematic relationship with child star Shirley Temple as the springboard for an examination of African American children’s spectatorship in the 1930s and early 40s. Relying on a variety of autobiography, memoir and personal essay as the work’s source material, I argue that the stories of the authors’ childhood moviegoing experiences complicate accepted theories of the African American viewer as "resistant" and "oppositional." These personal accounts challenge and dimensionalize such theorizing in important ways. In them, we find Black children spectators who are willing to identify and fantasize across the boundaries of race in addition to, or even instead of a "resistant" posture. The viewing and identificatory practices of Black children revealed in these accounts also emphasize the importance of context, and point toward the impact that segregated venues made upon the African American viewing experience in the classical cinema era.

Summary: Hamid Naficy on Early Iranian Cinema's Production Mode

On Thursday, October 13, the Chicago Film Seminar commenced its 2011-2012 season at Northwestern Law School by welcoming Hamid Naficy of Northwestern to deliver a talk on “Early Iranian Cinema’s Production Mode.” Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa of Columbia College provided the response.

This talk centered on Iranian cinema’s silent and early sound period, which Naficy describes as the pre-industrial “artisanal era.” In examining the historical circumstances that gave rise to early Iranian film, Naficy focuses on the unique production circumstances of this national cinema while also situating it alongside other contemporaneous Iranian arts and social structures. From the artisanal era’s outset in 1897, Iranian cinema was distinct from Western national cinemas in its close association with elites and royals rather than the masses, a connection that would grow via the Shah’s interest in and official sanctioning of the new medium. Beyond just this support of the privileged class, Naficy further provides an in-depth framework of the specific societal conditions that contributed to the artisanal, rather than formally industrial, aspects of Iranian cinema. Among the many roots of this production mode were a focus on foreign film imports and exhibition over local production, a cottage industry based on workshops and ateliers rather than studios, and a predominant system of patronage that was highly unstable and heavily present in other media of the period as well. This infrastructural arbitrariness, part of what Homa Katouzian calls a “rickety” society, was notable throughout Iran and was characterized by decentralized power, social volatility and the unaccountability of the state, all of which required a particular flexibility and ingenuity on the part of filmmakers and other artists in order to successfully navigate the unsteady social structures.

While this rickety society provided the artisanal mode of production’s socio-historical roots, Naficy further develops its specific manifestations within the early Iranian film industry into a detailed exploration of what he calls a “rickety cinema.” The twelve specific elements of this rickety cinema are not, however, solely linked to early Iranian film, as Naficy asserts that many of these traits are likely present within numerous non-Western national cinemas. Among the chief components of the silent and early sound period’s artisanal mode of production was the multifunctional craftsmanship of its filmmakers operating as part of horizontally and vertically integrated film workshops, as well as the presence of liminal middleman filmmakers who were often positioned between foreign, secular modernity and traditional, pre-modern Iran. Additional characteristics include the multiculturalism and deep diasporic connections of these often minority filmmakers, the hybrid self-fashioning of film workers to shape non-traditional cultural identities, and the interstitiality of operating outside of established dualisms of East/West or colonized/colonizer. Improvisation in the face of unreliable legal and technological structures, the instability of exhibition due to the paucity of established venues, and the indirectness of foreign film imports (then the majority of films shown) as negotiated by intermediaries without regard for local tastes were also key to Naficy’s examination of the rickety, artisanal structure that would so define the period.

To best exemplify these various components, Naficy highlights pioneering filmmaker Ovanes Gregory Ohanians, a multiethnic and transnational immigrant who founded Tehran’s first film studio and Iran’s first acting school, as well as directed the nation’s first feature length commercial silent film, a self-reflexive movie about a traditional man’s gradual acceptance of, and incorporation into, the film industry titled Mr. Haji, the Movie Actor (1933). As a figure, Ohanians embodied the multicultural, improvisational, entrepreneurial and structurally rickety nature that shaped early Iranian cinema’s artisanal era even into the present moment.