Archives for posts with tag: Laura Mulvey

Highlights and thoughts regarding embodiment, affect, film and media from this year’s conference

by Victoria Grace Walden

Conference director Phillip Drummond hospitably accommodated more than 150 speakers, including key note presenters professors Laura Mulvey and Toby Miller alongside Dr. Cathy Ross, Jeremy Black and film and television writer Joe Ahearne at this year’s Film and Media conference. Below I share just some of the highlights which refer to issues of affect and embodiment.

Dr. Cathy Ross’s (Museum of London) opening keynote on Thursday explored how the city museum incorporates new technology into its museum spaces. She discussed the museum’s augmented reality phone app which allows users to see “this spot in history” at certain places in the capital. Then explained how digital imagery and film were used in a variety of exhibitions, discussing the mixed reactions of visitors in some areas such as the slavery gallery and the Blitz.

Dr. Ross touched on how our perception and desires of museum spaces are changing. Visitors expect interaction and emotional experiences in museums and the more traditional “knowledge” online. This made me reflect: what is knowledge? Do we always have to consider it as a cognitive asset? Can becoming submerged in interactive experiences that provoke emotions and sensations not offer a corporeal form of “knowledge”? Are we moving into an age which we might define by this “new knowledge”?

Also, how do/ can we engage with affect and the historical in museum spaces though media? What are the limitations? What are the ethical implications? Are there any topics where the digital and moving image could be deemed inappropriate?

I’ll be focusing on some of these issues in a future blog after visiting some of London’s museum sites this summer.

Mason Kamana Allred (University of California Berkeley, USA)  spoke at the “Spectacles of History 1” panel about Ernst Lubitsch’s Madam Dubarry (1919) questioning whether cinema could offer a new form of history to traditional, epistemological and scientific representations of the past. He linked the work of Frank Ankersmit on sublime historical experience to the phenomenological ideas of Vivian Sobchack in order to explore a prelinguistic, subjective history that perhaps can be felt at the cinema.

Three other papers which particularly grabbed my attention and jointly encouraged me to think about my relationship with the screen were Dr Douglas Keesey’s (California Polytechnic State University, USA)  discussion of the illusion of choice and morality regarding death in the Final Destination franchise; Elena Wooley’s (King’s College, London)  paper on disaster movies and the use of surrogates) for suffering in films of the genre in order to translate terror into entertainment (such as spectacularly collapsing buildings rather than close-ups of human victims); and Dr Sian Mitchell’s (SAE, Australia) exploration of her experience of a delayed (or continuous) affect after watching Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2010).

These three papers raised questions about how I relate to bodies on screen. In the Final Destination films I discover, like the characters, I cannot cheat death. As such, the diegeses of the films extend beyond the frame as my understanding of real life is affected by the actions on screen. In films such as 2012 (Emmerich, 2009), I see only the protagonists up-close therefore connecting with the survivors. I never see the human extent of the catastrophe, yet the entire world seems to collapse around me. I leave the auditorium with an ecstatic sense of immortality – I have cheated death, I have survived the end of the world. In contrast, as the credits close on Melancholia I feel I have been cheated of death. As the beautiful closing light sucks the colour from the film and Wagner’s music crescendos neither reach their conclusion before the fade to black. The audio-visual image seems transcendental, but never allows me to fully submerge in its glory. As Dr Alex Ling (University of West Sydney, Australia) noted that’s because Von Trier is continuously reminding us that his films are only movies. This is Otherness, this is fantasy, this is not my experience to claim.

film and media conference film studies phillip drummond toby miller

 Phillip Drummond and Toby Miller at the closing key note

Image: Victoria Grace Walden



by Victoria Grace Walden 

Speculations on a cinema of moments.

Tom Gunning (1995), in his paper An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator, defines the cinema that preceded classical narrative films “the cinema of attractions”. He describes it thus:

The aesthetic of attraction addresses the audience directly, sometimes… exaggerating this confrontation in an experience of assault. Rather than being an involvement with narrative action or empathy with character psychology, the cinema of attractions solicits a highly conscious awareness of the film image engaging the viewer’s curiosity. The spectator does not get lost in a fictional world and its drama, but remains aware of the act of looking, the excitement of curiosity and its fulfilment.

 (Gunning in Williams (ed) 1995: 121)

Gunning’s cinema of attraction is an attack on the senses; a cinema of moments which engages the spectator with the fundamental essence of cinema: the look. He is aware that the cinema of attractions did not completely disappear with the advent of classical narrative cinema. When you watch many films from the classical, new and contemporary eras of Hollywood there are evidently sequences which could be classified under a cinema of moments. These moments are perhaps not “attacks” on the senses, but certainly sensual moments which encourage the spectator to comprehend the cinematic image through the body. These images highlight what Laura U. Marks (2000) calls “haptic visuality” – images which provoke sensations of touch and movement. I argue, it is not just the “act of looking” which audiences are aware of in these moments, but the act of sensing, through all the senses: through the body. These “moments” are asides from the narrative. Through foregrounding the body they encourage the spectator to consider how the body is socialised within the film’s context: issues of gender, power and emotion become the focus rather than narrative storytelling. They could be considered corporeal monologues or asides.

Let me share three brief examples:

The Great Dictator (1940)

Ballet sequence: Slapstick is a genre conventionally characterised by “moments”: comical set pieces. In Charlie Chaplin’s commentary on Nazi Germany, the ballet sequence is a typical example of the cinema of moments. Chaplin signifies his aside by stating “leave me. I want to be alone.” This is followed by a majestic ballet routine in which he bounces a balloon which represents the globe. The dance illuminates the absurdity of man as all-powerful. In the moment in which he holds the whole world in his hand, Chaplin’s dictator loses his power. As he spins the balloon, lies on the desk, flicks the balloon with his buttocks and gazes at it romantically, his gestures feminize the body. He is beautified – an image of performance and theatre; a subject of the gaze, quite contrary to the strong Aryan worker concept of masculinity. The disappearance of the balloon emphasises his bodily gestures and signifies the end of the aside.

It Happened One Night (1934)

Hitchhiking: When Ellie Andrews and Peter are walking down a deserted road, she dictates the start of the aside when she decides to “go sit right down, over here” on a roadside fence. Peter’s carrot munching is reminiscent of Bugs Bunny’s iconic image establishing him as rough and perhaps animalistic. The gag that ensures focuses on gestures. Peter illustrates a variety of hand gestures, each more confident and stronger (and more absurd) than the one before. The certainty of his final gesture mimics the patriarchal mythology of the strong handshake and the importance for a man to perform his dominance through gesture. As Peter fails to hail a car his gestures become less controlled, more frantic and finally plain rude.

In contrast, Ellie’s first attempt is successful. Rather than bothering with firm hand gestures, she simply raises her skirt to expose her thigh. Interestingly, this sequence does not portray the female as object for the male gaze (as Laura Mulvey notes in many films of the time (1975)), rather the female controls it. Ellie gains power over Peter, the driver and the spectator by telling all of us when and where to look at her body. This is a fabulous sequence illustrating how performance of the body emphasises gender difference.

Taxi Driver (1976)

You talkin’ to me: In this scene, most famous for its dialogue, the concentration of medium and medium close-up shots of Travis emphasise it is a sequence about the body. Again, it is established as a narrative aside: Travis is alone in his apartment. Travis begins by pacing and crossing his arms, the latter motion is an attempt to establish a defensive position. Then he begins to flick his gun out rhythmically. As he does so, the gun and the body’s movements become one – a symbol of his body at its prime: his body as war machine. He later turns his back slightly to the spectator signifying he is gaining control over the fictitious conversation. Travis establishes himself as choreographer of the scenario – when he turns away, he stops talking and the interaction ends. After a pause of motionless, Travis turns once more towards the camera flicking the knife with ease and thus establishing his violent intentions. He is a threat. He dominates. He is restoring patriarchal power to his body and to his country. The sequence illustrates the crisis of masculinity imposed by the Vietnam War and Travis’ attempt to restore order.

These are just quick thoughts on a notion and not completely theorised as yet, but to think about a cinema of moments we must think through the body. Haptic moments are not confined to the avant-garde, the most mainstream narrative stories are interrupted by such moments which help us to reflect on the body and its social role.