Sunday, December 14, 2014

Self-Theorizing Nostalgia

With grading and syllabi (for the moment) mostly behind me, I'm spending the next three weeks finishing revisions on Flickers of Film. At the core of revisions is fleshing out the primary idea of what kind of nostalgia is at work (beyond regurgitating Svetlana Boym's reflective and restorative modes, or simply following the Jameson/Hutcheon/Dyer debate over pastiche). The idea in progress is one I'm calling "self theorizing nostalgia" (with a knowing node to both Caldwell and the book's inherently autobiographical nature). Here's a possible thesis paragraph I came up with this afternoon:



 . . . This reflexivity—cinema’s self-referential homages to itself—in so many recent nostalgia movies should be read less as some kind of radical innovation in a new age of technological possibility and more as Hollywood’s further appropriation of the reflective potential which a more progressive (mostly unfulfilled) nostalgia might offer by questioning the necessity of the kind of forward-thinking innovation for its own sake which defines post-industrial late capitalism. This kind of self-theorizing nostalgia involves Hollywood media and their paratexts’ lovingly explicit foregrounding of its own pastiche past in reflexive but uncritical ways, celebrating the relationship between film’s past and cinema’s future through reassuring narratives that promote the imagined inevitability of aesthetic and technological change. Yet moments of this kind of self-aware nostalgia block off the possibility of resistant space for doubt, critique and alternatives regarding the messy economic realities of a digital transition which contains more troubling questions than answers beneath its self-referential surfaces. There remains room, of course, for a more fragmentary and individualized kind of a truly “reflective” nostalgia, one somewhat outside the “official” channels of contemporary Hollywood. But they remain dependent upon active and idiosyncratic impulses hardly outside the present cycles of consumption (indie movies, archives, rethinking the past self-theorizing of older films), while their ultimate value remains generally unclear, particularly in a postmodern culture that too often rewards the kind of ignorance and passivity that further feeds the market imperatives and de-historicizing logic of such self-theorizing impulses in the first place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Flickers of Film / Nostalgia in the Time of Digital Cinema

I'm happy to announce that my next book has been contracted with Rutgers University Press, entitled Flickers of Film / Nostalgia in the Time of Digital Cinema. I suspect the plan is to have it out by the end of 2015, but I can't confirm that for sure. I'll be spending most of the next month on revisions, with the deadline of having the final manuscript to Rutgers by mid-January.

Flickers of Film is an ambivalent polemic about the uses of nostalgia for the fading medium of film in an cinematic age where the production and distribution of movies are increasingly dependent upon digital technologies. Although the dependence on nostalgia can serve as a reassuring aesthetic guide through this period of profound technological change, it can also cloud many of the distressing economic shifts within the movie industry that are representative of larger changes in the post-industrial era of late capitalism. I'll have more to say about it in the next few weeks.


Material from Chapter 2 will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of Jump Cut, probably as early as the end of this month.



Table of Contents

             Introduction /
                        Self Theorizing Nostalgia

1)      I’ll (Always) Be Back /
                  Virtual Performances, or the Cinematic Logic of Late Capitalism

2)      They Saw No Future /
New Nostalgia Films and Digital Exhibition

3)      Digital Decasia /
Degrading Film, Database Histories and the Value of Reflective Nostalgia

4)      Going Home . . . For the First Time /
Pixar Studios, Digital Animation, and the Limits of Reflective Nostalgia

5)      TRON Legacies /
Nostalgia Blockbusters and Disney in the Age of Transmedia Storytelling
 
6)      Game (Not) Over /
Videogame Pastiche & Nostalgic Disavowals in the Post-Cinematic Era

Conclusion /
      On Clouds and Be Kind Rewind

Thoughts on Inherent Vice

I posted my thoughts on the film, which I caught last week in Evanston, over at PopMatters, if anyone's interested.

Peace,
js

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

RTVF321 The Films of Billy Wilder



NOTE: Tentative, as always. Consult Canvas for final version and more info on official policies, etc.



Winter 2015
Tuesdays 3:00-6:00
Louis 119

Course Description
Modern conceptions of many noted auteurs from Hollywood’s “classical” era tend to be dominated by ambitiously visual directors, those (Hitchcock, Minnelli, Ford, Welles) who largely distinguished their films from the studio norm through the use of striking innovations in how films could look. Less visually-oriented directors from the period—such as Billy Wilder—have often been regulated to second-tier status in the pantheon of Hollywood directors, despite the fact that just as many studio classics from the Golden Age (1930s-1960s) bear their names as any other. While the compositional impact of his films shouldn’t be underestimated (Double Indemnity, for instance, set the template for noir iconography), Wilder nonetheless was first and foremost a writer. His films privileged visual efficiency in the service of witty and often cynical dialogue, which he co-wrote with a number of collaborators, including Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond. Like many Hollywood directors, Wilder was a European √©migr√©—a Jewish filmmaker who fled the rise of Nazi Germany early in the 1930s. Most of his family was left behind, many of whom died later at the concentration camps. To a point, this may help to explain the deep cynicism which underlines much of his work; yet Wilder’s films often buried that bleak view of the world within a more playful relationship with some of the lighter genres of Classic Hollywood—romantic comedy and screwball farce. And within his body of work is a fascinating historical glimpse into the contradictions of modernity, gender identity, the cultural logic of capitalism and media institutions in the mid-20th Century. While this course will attempt to cover Wilder’s entire career, the primary emphasis will be on the most noted films from the height of his Hollywood fame. These may include: The Major and the Minor (1942), Double Indemnity (1943), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953) Sabrina (1954), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), One, Two, Three (1963) and The Fortune Cookie (1966). The assigned readings will be posted to Canvas.

Evaluation Method
The final grade will be determined by shorter papers, a research essay, presentations and participation.

Required Course Materials
Crowe, Cameron. Conversations with Wilder. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Phillips, Gene. Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2010 (*-available through NUCat as an e-book).
Additional readings will be posted to Canvas

Course Objectives
1) Identify some of the major thematic and stylistic tendencies in Wilder’s films; 2) study the biography of Wilder, his collaborators, and the production histories as they shed light on some aspects of this body of work; 3) engage with some of the broader cultural and industrial contexts which shaped the films’ production and reception; 4) reflect on, and challenge, some of the basic tenets of auteur theory.

Assignments* 
Response Paper 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15%
Response Paper 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20%
Presentation (oral) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5%
Presentation Summary (written) . . . . . . . . . . .  20%
Research Essay. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30%
Participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10%

*Completion of all assignments is required to pass the course.

Grading Scale: A = 100%; A- = 93%; B+ = 88%; B = 85%; B- = 82%; C+ = 78%; C = 75%; C- = 71%; D+ = 68% D = 65%; D- = 62%; F = 50%

Assignment Descriptions

Response Papers—the following is a list of prompts for the two response papers required in class. They outline the general content for each one. Consult the schedule for due dates. Please be sure to also first look over the general grading criteria, listed below:

Originality of argument (which means avoid excessive summarizing of sources, plots, lecture notes, etc.); clarity of argument and organization; effective incorporation of textual evidence from both the readings and the selected film(s)/episodes; and general writing concerns (typos, wording, sentence structure, etc.).

*Other notes: typed; 3-4 full pages, double-spaced; 1” margins; clear thesis, writing style, organization.

A Works Cited page is required for both papers.

Response Paper 1 (due Friday, 1/30): For the first paper, write a stylistic and thematic analysis that draws on textual evidence from at least 2 or 3 of the first four films screened in class: Major and the Minor, Double Indemnity, Lost Weekend and/or Sunset Boulevard. The topic for your thesis is flexible, as you’re welcome to draw on issues such as representations of gender/sexuality, genre, voice-over narration, narrative plotting/flashbacks, “performance,” collaboration (Chandler, Brackett, etc.), Modernity, cultural taboos/censorship, writers/writing, literary adaptation, self-destructive characters, and so forth. Additionally, be sure to draw on autobiographical evidence for your argument from either the Crowe book, Conversations with Wilder, and/or Phillips’ Some Like It Wilder, which should be properly cited in text and in the works cited list.

Response Paper 2 (due Friday, 2/27): For the second paper, draw on Richard Dyer’s theories of stardom to analyze one of the prominent actors and their respective personas who appeared in one or more Wilder films (Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, William Holden, Jack Lemmon, etc.). Additionally, find one outside source—either scholarly or biographical—on the same actor to provide more context to the actor’s body of work overall. Some questions you may wish consider (but are not limited to): how do these films intersect with the actor’s star persona? Do they fit or depart from the usual connotations of that performer? Are their certain stylistic or narrative motifs distinctive to that star? What extratextual (outside the film) elements might play a part in how we read the actor and/or the working relationship with Wilder? How might their presence interact with Wilder’s auteurist sensibilities? Are their moments/movies where their persona overwhelms potential auteurist readings? The thesis statement should offer both a historical (biographical) and a critical (theoretical) analysis of how one or more of these films speak to the star’s persona, and vice versa.

Presentation (Oral: 5%; Written: 20%): In the second half of the quarter, we will devote some class time to looking at the many interesting films Wilder co-wrote and directed that we won’t have time to screen: Stalag 17 (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Love in the Afternoon (1957), Spirit of St. Louis (1957), Irma La Douce (1963), Kiss Me Stupid (1964), and The Fortune Cookie (1966). This project includes both an informal group presentation and a formal individual writing assignment. Working in groups of three or four, you will select one clip from the film that you feel overall does the most effective job of conveying some key ideas about the entire movie—it can be stylistic/narrative, cultural/historical, production/industrial, and so forth in nature. Screen this clip in class.
Then, each of you will speak for roughly five minutes, sharing with the class your personal take on the movie as a whole—what’s the possible historical or aesthetic value in looking at this film in particular? It does not necessarily have to be focused closely on Wilder. This perspective should be what’s articulated more formally in your individual writing assignment (2-3pp), where you explain the idea in greater depth. This writing assignment should be emailed to me before the start of class (3pm) that same day.

Research Essay (8-10pp; 5 sources)—For your research paper, expand on material put forth in one of your three earlier writing assignments (response papers or presentation writing). The final essay should be 8-10 pages, with at least 5 scholarly sources (at least three of which must be from outside course readings). It should be both an expansion and revision of the earlier work. Proper in-text citations and a works cited list (in correct format) are required.
 




Winter 2015 Schedule

Notes: All assigned readings must be completed before class that day. Readings marked as “Crowe” are in Conversations with Wilder, while “Phillips” is located in Some Like It Wilder (NUCat). All other readings will be posted to Canvas. Listed media titles will be screened all or in part in class. Readings and screenings may be tentative, but any changes will be announced in advance.

1/6 – Introductions; Reading: Crowe, pp. xi-xix; screening: The Major and the Minor (1942)

1/13 – Reading: Crowe, pp. 233-234, 284, and Philips, “New Directions”; screening: Double Indemnity (1944)

1/20 – Reading: Crowe, pp. 48-49, 53-55, 252-254, Phillips, “The Rise of Film Noir,” and Naremore, “The Death Chamber”; clips: Death Mills (1945); screening: Lost Weekend (1945)

1/27 – Reading: Crowe, pp. 269, and Phillips, “Through a Glass Darkly”; clip: Five Graves to Cairo (1943); screening: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
            First Paper Due: Friday, 1/30, 3pm (via email)

2/3 – Reading: Crowe, pp. 47, 150-152 and McGuire, “Exploring the Urban Milieu”; clips: Bridge of the River Kwai (1957); presentation: Stalag 17 (1953); screening: Ace in the Hole (1951)

2/10 – Reading: Crowe, pp. 82-84, 142-143, and Hoyt, “Writer in the Hole”; presentation: Witness for the Prosecution (1957); screening: Sabrina (1954)

2/17 – Reading: Crowe, pp. 9-13, 51-52, 107-109, 145-148, and Smith, “Global Cinderella”; presentation: Love in the Afternoon (1957); screening: Some Like It Hot (1959)

2/24 – Readings: Crowe, pp. 34-38, 157-165, 215-225, and Dyer, “Stars” & “Monroe and Sexuality”; clips: Mister Roberts (1955); presentation: The Seven Year Itch (1955); screening: The Apartment (1960)
            Second Paper Due: Friday, 2/27, 3pm (via email)

3/3 – Readings: Crowe, pp. 55-67, 134-137, and Rogerson, “Wilder’s Mensch”; presentation: Irma la Douce (1963); screening: One Two Three (1961)

3/10 – Reading: Sarris, “Notes on Auteur Theory” (excerpt); presentations: Spirit of St. Louis (1957), Kiss Me Stupid (1964), The Fortune Cookie (1966); clips: Avanti (1972); Fedora (1978)

Final Papers Due: Thursday, March 19th (3pm), via email