Cinema Studies Undergraduate Journal Volume 18
CamĂŠra Stylo The Cinema Studies Undergraduate Journal Volume 18
University of Toronto 2018
Table of Contents Caméra Stylo is the undergraduate journal for Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. Its purpose is to promote cinema studies at the undergraduate level and to provide the opportunity for undergraduate students to publish their work related to film. Individual essays are copyrighted by their individual authors. No part of this journal may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. Published and funded by the Cinema Studies Student Union. First edition, April 2018. Printed by Coach House Press.
Beyoncé’s: Lemonade: The Black Feminist Auteur in the Black Feminist Film Text by Shaunesse Frontin
Satyajit Ray in Western Film Criticism, 1957-1958 by Mahdi Chowdhury
Beyond Tactile: Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality by Shaquille Hosein
How Did This Become Cult?: Podcasting and Cult Film Practices in How Did This Get Made? by Anna Swanson
Cléo from 5 to 7 and the Performance of the Flâneuse by Hellen Chan
Re-creating Labour through the Single Stereoscopic Film by Theresa Wang
Editor’s Letter In preparation for this year’s publication, I spent one afternoon scavenging the dusty hiding places of CINSSU’s office for past volumes of Caméra Stylo. I hoped to find between the pages some tangible thing—comfort, inspiration, answers? Looking back at Stylo’s legacy, I found that each yearly edition served as a time capsule of sorts, a treasury of that which had moved the hearts and minds of every person involved in the journal’s production. In its 18 years, Caméra Stylo has not only provided a platform for students of cinema studies to showcase and publish their outstanding work, but it also intimated the ideas, voices and matters of our greatest interest and concern. It is with this in mind that I am so humbled and delighted to present the six essays of this year’s journal. The fabulous editorial team has chosen works that challenge traditional approaches to auteur theory, explore new territories of digital media and technology, and offer a renewed understanding of cult film practices. We have included writings covering global cinema, industry labour, and feminist theory: areas of inquiry whose station in ‘canonical’ film studies is precarious at times. It is evident to me that students are breaking out of the molds established by the earliest thinkers of this field. Of course, we remain indebted to the lessons of our past, as the aforementioned essays will demonstrate—but, there is a desire and dedication to uncover our present truth, a truth that is personal, political, and recovered only to be blown apart again. This may all seem a bit precious, even utopian, but my hope is that this journal stands to represent what I believe are the intellectual, aesthetic, and ethical imperatives of what we have learned as critical thinkers and students of film—to continue to push the boundaries of what is known, to create space for that which is unknown, to release tradition when it no longer serves us and to expand our field of vision. Isn’t that what cinema is all about? See you at the movies. Yours in heart and mind, Rachel Gao 7
Beyoncé’s: Lemonade: The Black Feminist Auteur in the Black Feminist Film Text Shaunesse Frontin
Shaunesse Frontin is a graduating student at the University of Toronto with a Major in Cinema Studies, and double minor in History and Book and Media Studies. Her primary interests include considerations of acting and stardom, issues around representation for people of colour in film and television, and feminism and intersectionality. 8
On April 23, 2017, Beyoncé Knowles Carter released her second visual album, Lemonade, through the premium cable network HBO. This audiovisual text consists of twelve songs from Beyoncé’s musical album of the same name paired with imagery in a disjunctive structure that is more tonal than narratively linear in terms of its storytelling. Its fragmented formal structure often interrupts songs to incorporate extra-textual elements, at least relative to the album, such as verses by Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, home videos of Beyoncé and her family, or an excerpt of a Malcolm X speech on the oppressed condition of Black women. This dynamic text straddles the line between popular entertainment—at times including sensationalist presentations of Beyoncé, one of the biggest pop stars currently—and art, with its carefully-crafted, provocative and evocative elements. Lemonade is perhaps Beyoncé’s most unconventional and confrontational work to date. It utilizes (apparently) intensely personal experiences from her life to explore the experiences of Black women in America, drawing connections between the personal and the importance of collective representation. Meanwhile Beyoncé remains its central author figure, a contemporary auteur. The personal and political Lemonade uses Beyoncé’s figure, appeal and popularity to make its Black feminist message more compelling to its audience than Ivory Tower-oriented academic Black feminism. Lemonade is a Black feminist film project in how it challenges the patriarchal, white-dominated mainstream’s stereotypes of Black women by using techniques associated with music videos and the feminist avantgarde, showing multiple facets of their existence, and through Beyoncé’s use of her platform to celebrate and promote these other voices. This piece explores the nuances represented by Lemonade and the complexity that Beyoncé presents as both a pop cultural icon and a contemporary Black feminist representing a brand of feminism known as “Bey Feminism.” Lemonade was released as a visual album, however for the purposes of this essay, I will be referring to it as a film text. The music video form that was instrumental in Beyoncé’s rise to stardom heavily influences Lemonade’s format. Initially created as song-length commercials to sell records, music videos have long been influenced by and in turn influenced cinema while sharing qualities often with experimental and avant-garde cinemas. While related to film, music videos often present alternatives to the form and content of mainstream cinema and its messages. As per Carol Vernallis, music videos are defined at their most fundamental “as a relation of sound and music that we recognize as such.”1 Her intentionally broad definition nods to the generative possibilities created when combining audio and visual elements that may deviate from narrative-dominant mainstream film and allow for different engagements within the music videos. Music videos, as Vernallis explains: Can be said to be more abstract, context-dependent, episodic and
Beyoncé’s: Lemonade less narratively driven than comparable popular written and visual genres. Transferable to cinema, music video stylistics can include unusual representations of time, space and causality; an emphasis on texture, color, and mode; and highlighting of ephemerality, process and condensation.2
Through the various arrangements of sound and image, music videos allow for various types of meaning-making through montage between sound and image while blurring boundaries.3 As such they can create genealogies4 by opening up multiple meanings and interpretations while presenting a challenge to the establishment of a “deep gaze,”5 and showcasing “fluid, flexible forms”6 that can lend themselves to the creation of meanings outside of the mainstream. Lemonade is largely non-narrative, with various vignettes for its different songs, and with interstitial poetry separating the text into chapters and themes. Though those themes suggest cohesion across the images and sounds, and connections can be made across the disparate videos, Lemonade is unconventional in its experimentation with sound and image and through its fragmented structure. The power of Lemonade’s avantgarde-like use of the possibilities of the music video can be understood further through some of the historical practices of feminist filmmaking, particularly discussed by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her essay “Feminist Film and the Avant-Garde” (1989). Mulvey explores the role of the avant-garde as an important step in feminist film practice combatting the exploitative representations of women and other hegemonic practices common in conventional mainstream filmmaking. Feminist filmmakers have used avant-garde practices to break away from the structure of narrative so as to open up different possibilities outside of the patriarchal mainstream, and to be critical of the visual and narrative pleasures in dominant cinema. Different traits of this tradition described by Mulvey can be seen in Lemonade. Its fragmented and experimental structure moves away from presenting the uninterrupted illusionism of mainstream cinema and contributes to the “disrupting [of the] traditional unity of the sign” projected onto its star.7 This results in the presentation of different points of view of Beyoncé in each section—showing her in both high and urban fashion, in urban and rural settings suggesting different socio-economic situations, in contexts showing her as a performer, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a goddess and much more. Mulvey explains that “traditional forms are known and [recognized], and the spectator can [recognize] and read their negation. In cinematic terms traditional illusionist aesthetics have privileged the signified, organizing a text so that its mechanics would attract minimal notice […] a crucial and 10
influential response within avant-garde aesthetics […] stresses the place of the signifier.”8 This feminist film practice breaks up of the relationship between the sign and the signified, and throws the “signified into crisis,”10 breaking down ‘truths’ and mischaracterizations where women’s images are exploited for dominant masculine desire. Lemonade disavows the tradition of patriarchal ‘truth’ of the meaning of sexual difference, which Mulvey identifies as being embodied in mainstream cinema that places women as passive and men as active in the narrative.11 Throughout Lemonade, it is women that are the most active. Women here confront the camera, removing any possible naturalness to the camera’s conventional gaze structure. This specifically happens with direct address to the camera prominently throughout, particularly by Beyoncé who frequently gestures toward the camera, confronting it passionately as she sings “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” and smashes it with her baseball bat during “Hold Up,” as she asserts her authoritative presence over her image. Mulvey highlights the importance for feminist film culture in confronting film language by “probing dislocation between cinematic form and represented material and investigating various means of splitting open the closed space between screen and spectator.”12 One can relate this to Lemonade’s structure, and particularly its separation between the lyrical description, sound, and visuals that, in combination, create sites of montage that open up spaces for other possible meanings for the viewer, allowing them to find or construct their own meaning, in a way less readily prescribed than by traditional narrative structure. These splits can be found throughout Lemonade, wherein the images shown do not tightly correlate with the lyrical content, or with the inclusions of Warsan Shire’s poetry that further opens up space between song and image. Not part of the album itself, these poems contribute to the abstract and tonal representations of the subjective experiences of Black womanhood, rather than maintaining the focus on the subjectivity of Beyoncé herself. Beyond being just a feminist film project, Lemonade is reflective of some of the discourse of Black feminism and the practice(s) of Black feminist filmmaking. Black feminism is part of third wave feminism, which challenges and modifies some of second wave feminism’s ideas to emphasize intersectionality around race, class, gender, and sexuality, and is concerned with the historical, social and cultural experiences of Black women. Patricia Hill Collins notes in her seminal book, Black Feminist Thought, that Black feminism’s “distinguishing features need not be unique and may share much with other bodies of knowledge. Rather, it’s the convergence of these distinguishing features that gives U.S. Black feminist thought its distinctive contours.”13 Black feminism, like traditional feminism, varies in scope and approaches, including cultural and theoretical strains, 11
but its aim is to include more voices in the discourse about women’s experiences and oppression; it seeks expression in critical discourse and cultural production to participate “in constructing and reconstructing […] oppositional knowledges” through lived experiences of Black women individually and collectively (through community), allowing Black women to refashion “their own ideas about the meaning of Black womanhood.”14 While some strains of Black feminism are more academic and prescriptive, others are more responsive to and recuperative of the grounded lives of women, incorporating their interactions with the cultures around them regardless of its feminist purity. Collins notes that these ideas created collective expression and selfdefinition of Black womanhood, and that they were designed to resist negative controlling images created and perpetrated by whites through discriminatory social practices.15 Negative, controlling images take many forms, but traditionally present Black women in a one-dimensional way, “as sex objects, passive victims, and as ‘other’ in relation to males (black and white) and white females.”16 These images are shaped by societal attitudes and they eliminate or reduce the difference and complexity of the personhood of Black women. It has been Black women filmmakers’ mission to challenge these depictions and instead foreground “Black female cinematic representations that celebrate blackness and womanhood.”17 Rather than static representations, Black feminist films “testify to the intimate relationship between representation, cultural identity, and the politics of race, sex, and class,” reflecting the complexity of Black women’s life experiences.18 Their films seek a balance between the personal and political, reflecting the various social, political, and economic restraints imposed on Black women historically. In her article “The Ties That Bind” Gloria J. Gibson-Hudson describes different Black women filmmakers’ approaches that one finds as well in Lemonade. Their subject matter, content, and style differ from film to film, but a common thread that underpins their “creative cultural expressions”19 is that they “yield images that resist marginality” and promote “unity through diversity” with their representations of Black womanhood.20 She notes that “Black women’s art functions as more than ‘art for art’s sake.’”21 Instead, like the formal focus of some avant-garde film, they seek to explore and depict the experiences of Black women in ways that challenge the (mis)representations of themselves and their culture, and reconstitute their diverse socially, historically, and politically contingent identities.22 Gibson-Hudson argues that these films represent cultural memory often marginalized by the mainstream, “which functions as a personal form of memory” and “functions within the filmmaker’s creative process and […] as a filmic device, it remains intimately connected to cultural history and 12
identity formation.”23 This practice serves as “a bridge to unite the past, present, and future […] and unearth the essence of black womanhood by using history and identity to empower filmic representation,”24 addressing gaps around the history of marginalized groups, emphasizing diverse images of Black womanhood, redressing misrepresentation by presenting cinematic representations that counter mainstream images, and exploring the multiple dimensions of Black women’s cultural identities. “Bey Feminism” is the term applied to a grounded, grassroots type of Black feminism that embraces the complexities of the various livedexperiences of contemporary Black women as represented by Beyoncé’s brand of feminism, featuring a flexibility relative to more academic articulations of Black feminism situated mainly within the academy, less reachable for everyday women.25 The term was coined by Elizabeth Y. Whittington and Mackenzie Jordan in their article “Bey Feminism vs. Black Feminism,” is derived from Beyoncé’s nickname “Queen Bey,” and was sparked following the controversy created when Beyoncé publicly associated herself with feminism in 2013.26 In an essay in The Beyoncé Effect, Whittington Cooper describes Bey Feminism as a broad concept of feminism that “combines traditional feminism with the everyday woman. It allows for a more grassroots platform for women to start discussing feminism and even embrace it in a world where feminism has remained rather elitist.”27 It stresses the demands of (particularly Black) women’s everyday lives, including those of the various other roles they have such as wife, mother, and businesswoman, including any seeming contradictions. Prominent feminist bell hooks and others have criticized Beyoncé’s brand of feminism, critiquing it for the “submissiveness” to Jay-Z in her marriage, as well as for what they see as the over-sexualized presentation of her body, charging that she is using feminism to sell more albums.28 However, even some feminists in the academy have argued in support of Beyoncé’s brand of feminism, in places such as the collection of essays in The Beyoncé Effect. Many argue that what she expresses is an appealing form of feminist body positivity and sex-positive attitude that embraces rather than condemns women’s sexuality and does not regulate that sexuality through men’s desire.29 Others argue that Bey Feminism has liberating potential for Black women resisting racially essentialist meanings ascribed to Black women and their bodies against conventional mainstream beauty standards.30 Others champion aspects of Beyoncé’s public performance that emphasize her curves and popularize Black women’s vernacular dance, as she employs multicultural performers in her concerts and music videos, to the effect of subverting white beauty standards and rejecting the politics of respectability that have been imposed on Black women.31 Though my discussion of Beyoncé’s brand of feminism is in no way exhaustive, it does 13
seek to demonstrate the various ways that Beyoncé crafts her identity in multi-dimensional, complex and fluid ways that challenge mainstream expectations for Black women, in turn opening up space in feminism for other Black women. As I will explain in more detail below, Beyoncé and the construction of her brand of feminism relates to contemporary discourse on auteurs that stress their position as “elaborately wired into their culture.”32 Beyoncé and Bey Feminism are reflective of culture, reflecting it while also influencing it, as her power and station afford it. To understand the authority and centrality of Beyoncé in culture and in Lemonade as a text, despite the numerous directors and creative collaborators and contributors who worked with her, it is useful to look at recent scholarship on auteurism. While previous auteurists focused on identifying ‘genius’ directors, contemporary auteur studies look at how auteurs orchestrate voices with themselves at the center. In the introduction to Part 1 “The Author” in Film and Theory: An Anthology, Robert Stam elaborates on this understanding of auteurism: Auteur studies now tend to see a director’s work not as the expression of individual genius but rather as the site of encounter of a biography, an intertext, an institutional context, and a historical moment. … [Directors] “orchestrate” pre-existing voices, ideologies, and discourses, without losing an overall shaping role. Most contemporary auteur studies have jettisoned the romantic individualist baggage of auteurism to emphasize the ways a director’s work can be both personal and mediated by extrapersonal elements such as genre, technology, [and] studios.33
The auteur functions as a lens through which people approach works like Lemonade, even when they are largely collaborative. The auteur image is in part related to the actual living persona, but it is also tied to the marketing of the artist and the audience’s encounters with their works and publicity— in this case, Beyoncé. She is prominent throughout Lemonade both visually and through her voice constantly foregrounded in its audio. This is further supported by her status and promotion in popular culture, as well as through the marketing, branding, and media coverage of Lemonade. The name Beyoncé is not merely attributed to the personal Beyoncé Knowles Carter; the brand Beyoncé is presented through social media, popular press, past works and their marketing, and the combination of many other aspects of her life that have contributed to her image and brand like her film roles, media coverage of her and her life, and celebrity gossip. Drawing on Stam’s account of auteurism, Brian Michael Goss notes that the figure of the auteur provides “endless possibilities of discourse” in the context of their artistic works.34 This is in large part related to how the 14
figure of the auteur, which suggests that intention and meaning that can be discovered in their work. This idea generates a productive tension when it sparks our curiosity, providing the promise or suggestion of meaning that is rarely fulfilled but always motivating. The charismatic Beyoncé is an enticing auteur figure that draws the audience in throughout Lemonade. Her consistent presence and seeming authority over the text and her image create a tantalizing curiosity about the meaning and interpretation of her art. In addition, the various manifestations of Beyoncé’s image throughout Lemonade show her upholding herself as an example of the variety and complexity of the life of one Black woman, suggesting that there is much more complexity in the lives of other Black women, while also giving the audience more versions of her to desire to know and further frustrating any ability to pin her down in order to know her. Beyoncé operates as a through-line connection from piece to piece throughout Lemonade. Her consistent audiovisual presence and lyrical content evoke Beyoncé’s personal experience—her own subjectivity as a Black woman in society and popular culture, as well as her personal life and her marriage—but also indirectly comments on connected aspects of culture or society. The text continually asserts and reasserts Beyoncé’s place as a strong Black woman in various places and ways. We see a prime example of this during “Hold Up” in which Beyoncé smashes cars in a predominantly Black urban setting. As many scholars have noted, including Whittington and Jordan, within Black communities, there are also oppressive patriarchal structures that Black women continue to confront. To empower themselves they must face this double bind of their position within the community and society at large.35 In this video, we see Beyoncé asserting her presence as a woman in the predominantly Black neighborhood. Here, Beyoncé not only expresses her frustration at the disrespect she has faced in her personal relationships but also the disrespect she and Black women more broadly have faced within their own racial group. The Black feminist reassertion of the presence and power of Black women in places they have historically been oppressed within is also highlighted when she and other Black women are continually shown in the plantation setting. Lemonade zooms out over the course of the piece, from exploring Beyoncé’s own personal hurts and the ways she has been disrespected, to broader cultural issues that are not readily addressed in popular texts. For example, Lemonade employs the images of the Black men slain by the systemic racism of American law enforcement, which related to the oppression of Black women in America when we are shown the surviving partners and mothers of the victims of anti-Black racist violence that led to the rise of Black Lives Matter. I have explained the importance of breaking free from the dominant 15
structure to create space for different, marginalized voices of women through its relation to music video aesthetics, and feminist avant-garde and Black feminist filmmaking. Here I will look at how Lemonade’s structure manifests this space-making. In terms of its formal departures from dominant mainstream culture, Lemonade features a lot of direct address to the camera by its Black women subjects as discussed above. This calls attention to the camera and to Lemonade, to the text’s materiality and its future audience, breaking cohesive voyeuristic gaze. In addition, there is also the fragmentary nature of the text itself. Throughout most of the individual vignettes, the song Beyoncé sings and her image onscreen are interrupted by something outside the song’s diegesis. Examples of this include the clips of people that are seemingly not part of the production of Lemonade but sourced from archival footage or from other sources. Some of these are personal, from Beyoncé’s life, such as the home videos. Others are seemingly not personally related to Beyoncé at all, such as the footage of a man driving while explaining to others in the car that he met the President, just before “Daddy Lessons” begins. An earlier instance of this fragmentation occurs during the third vignette, as the song “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is interrupted by an excerpt of audio from a speech by Malcolm X known as “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself” wherein he states: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” During this audio, the text also presents close-up shots of regular Black women as they stare straight into the camera, emphasizing the oppression women of color have felt in society during their lives; the text is not specific to Beyoncé’s personal feelings of disrespect, but makes a more communal political statement about the treatment of Black women in America now and in the recent past. While I do not argue that Lemonade represents a deconstructive cinema as Annette Kuhn describes in her essay “Textual Politics,” in the mode of the concepts provided by Mulvey’s essay, Lemonade uses techniques found in deconstructive cinema so to call attention not only to its form but also its content. In addition to utilizing deconstructive fragmentation, Lemonade also presents subject matter that “speaks from politically oppositional positions or concerns itself with subject matters commonly ignored or repressed in dominant cinema.”36 Such is the case when Beyoncé presents imagery of African spirituality, as seen at the beginning of “Hold Up” when she emerges in the yellow Roberto Cavalli dress with a massive wave of water, representing the water goddess of Oshún37 or in the various facets of the African-American culture of the Deep South, the inclusion of plantation imagery, or the images of Black men such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown, who were slain by racist law enforcement, 16
being held up by their mothers. Along with the fluidity and openness in the text created by shifting between Beyoncé’s personal experiences and the experiences of a range of Black women in America there is also fragmentation in Lemonade’s structure, through the inclusion of Shire’s poetry and the insertion of thematic intertitles that thematize its vignettes (“Intuition,” “Denial,” “Anger,” “Accountability,” “Hope,” and “Redemption,” to name a few). These fragmentary devices and interruptions within and throughout the text are reflective of Brechtian epic theatre and its deconstructive elements, which Kuhn notes are grounded in “the anti-illusionist stance and strategies of distanciation” which serve to force the viewer into a critical position not commonly provided by dominant cinema.38 This provides an intellectual connection that pulls viewers back from getting lost in the fiction and spectacle of the text. This helps make Bey Feminism intellectual as well as being about tone, subjectivity, and feeling. This creates a more holistic resonance for younger fans of Beyoncé (and helps introduce them to feminism). While Beyoncé remains at the center of Lemonade as an auteur, she ‘samples’ different aspects of culture around her. She uses her platform to feature and promote a range of different Black women. This relates to Goss and Stam’s conception of contemporary auteurs as orchestrating numerous voices and deeply connected to the culture in which they live in.39 As noted above, it is important, especially to Black feminism, to represent the heterogeneous diversity of perspectives and experiences of women, and Lemonade shows this by bringing in diverse voices and bringing attention to them. In the text itself, as I have mentioned the featuring of Shire and her work, is the inclusion of other influences on Beyoncé and the album. A subtler example of Beyoncé promoting the pre-existing work of another Black woman is found before she begins singing “Sandcastles,” in a vignette that features her in a house with husband Jay-Z. The viewer can hear Nina Simone singing softly in the background, and an image of her album Silk & Soul briefly comes into focus. This brief moment demonstrates an acknowledgment of the influence of Simone on Beyoncé, as a woman of color in the music industry who suffered oppression due to her race and gender. Beyoncé is explicitly sampling from another artist and demonstrating that she too is a consumer of her culture. In relation to the grounded, grassroots nature of Bey Feminism, this sampling is reflective of Lemonade’s and Beyoncé’s roots in culture, rather than the more elitist academic strain of Black feminism.40 Throughout Lemonade, Beyoncé features a wide range of Black women from different ages, generations, geographic areas, and places on the socio17
economic spectrum; this includes powerful athletes (Serena Williams), actors (Amanda Sternberg, Zendaya Coleman), models (Winnie Harlow), and poets (Warsan Shire). This speaks to the breadth of experiences and possibilities left out by the dominant mainstream when stereotyping Black women. As most of these women are well-known celebrities in popular culture, they may speak to the audience through their recognition, allowing the audience to attach some meaning to them, ‘read’ through their images. But beyond simply adding more star power, the inclusion of celebrities shows them in different contexts, suggesting that they are more complex than in the limited settings we normally see them. Very rarely are so many Black women of various backgrounds brought together on screen, in a production of this scale. The images of the women do not serve an exploitative function in their depiction. Instead, through direct address to the camera and their framing, the text rejects a voyeuristic view of these women, and the subjects have the ability to gaze on their own terms. In her article “Moving Beyond Pain,” bell hooks notes that part of the distinctiveness of the text is “the broad scope of Lemonade’s visual landscape […] the construction of a powerfully symbolic black female sisterhood that resists invisibility, that refuses to be silent. This in and of itself is no small feat—it shifts the gaze of white mainstream culture.”41 Though hooks’ article was largely a critique of Lemonade as insufficiently feminist, this comment speaks to the text’s adoption of a cinematic representation that accounts for the multiple dimensions of women and particularly the lives of women of color, who are all too often underrepresented or misrepresented in academia and dominant culture, bringing them “from the margins to the center.”42 The decision to release Lemonade through HBO becomes interesting in the discussion of Beyoncé, Bey Feminism, and its populism. Historically, HBO’s viewership is generally characterized as predominantly white and of higher socio-economic status than Beyoncé’s core audience. HBO’s relationship to ‘Quality TV’ and its promotion of itself as a ‘cinematic’ approach to television, characterized by their tag line “It’s Not TV, It’s HBO,” positions its content as somehow more artsy than its competitors, including networks like the music video’s traditional home of MTV. To a degree, Lemonade borrows from that aura, as it prompts the suggestions of elitism and exclusivity that comes with higher art, different from MTV, like in the way HBO is different from TV. Meanwhile, this removes it from the grasp of some of Beyoncé’s fans at that grassroots level associated with Bey Feminism. Lemonade is an important text that, at times, presents contradictions to our expectations, to mainstream cultural divisions, and our understanding of popular music and artistry. Most important is its opposition to the dominant mainstream depictions of Black women through 18
the presentation of Beyoncé and its depictions of previously suppressed elements of Black women’s status, culture, history and experience. Lemonade is therefore a Black feminist project in both its form, by disrupting and rejecting much of the mainstream style of narrative and storytelling, and in its content, through its foregrounding of a strong Black woman, its prominent featuring of a diverse range of Black women, and its efforts to address the past and present-day struggles of both Black men and women in relation to systemic racism. And Beyoncé is a contemporary auteur here, with Lemonade’s assertions and suggestions of meaning, significance and biography centered around her, while she, through elements of her work and lyrics, reminds us that she is a Black woman connected to other Black women in her family and friend groups, her community, and her country, who themselves present rich and varied experiences and intellects in contrast to limiting depictions of Black women in mainstream, patriarchal society. To borrow the words of Kameelah L. Martin, “aided by legion of black, transnational women,” Lemonade takes “the bitter fruit of life and [creates] sweetness.”43
Notes Carol Vernallis, introduction to Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and New Digital Media (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 11. 2 Vernallis, “Chapter 1: The New Cut-Up Cinema,” in Unruly Media, 36. 3 Vernallis, introduction to Unruly Media, 11. 4 Ibid., 4. 5 Vernallis, “Chapter 1: The New Cut-Up Cinema,” in Unruly Media, 33. 6 Ibid., 34. 7 Laura Mulvey, “Film, Feminism and the Avant-Garde,” in Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 122. 8 Mulvey, “Film, Feminism and the Avant-Garde,” in Visual and Other Pleasures, 123. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid., 121. 11 Ibid., 119. 12 Patricia Hill Collins, “Part 1: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,” in Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2009), 25. 13 Collins, “Part 1: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,” 13. 14 Ibid. 15 Gloria J. Gibson-Hudson, “The Ties That Bind: Cinematic Representations by Black Women Filmmakers” in Black Women Film and Video Artists, ed. Jacqueline Bobo, (New York: Routledge, 1998), 43-44. 16 Ibid., 44. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid., 45. 19 Ibid., 47. 20 Ibid., 62. 21 Ibid., 45. 22 Ibid., 47. 23 Ibid., 49. 24 Ibid. 25 Elizabeth Y. Whittington and Mackenzie Jordan, “‘Bey Feminism’ vs. Black Feminism: A Critical Conversation on Word-of-Mouth Advertisement of Beyoncé’s Visual Album,” in Black Women and Popular Culture: The Conversation Continues, ed. Adria Y. Goldman et al. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015), 163. 26 Whittington and Jordan, “‘Bey Feminism’ vs. Black Feminism,” in Black Women and Popular Culture: The Conversation Continues, 159. 27 Elizabeth Whittington Cooper, “Sex(uality), Marriage, Motherhood and 1
‘Bey Feminism,’” in The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism, ed. Adrienne M. Trier-Bieniek, (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2016), 204. 28 Whittington and Jordan, “‘Bey Feminism’ vs. Black Feminism,” 160. 29 Ibid., 160. 30 Janell Hobson, “Feminists Debate Beyoncé,” in The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism, 21-22. 31 Hobson, “Feminists Debate Beyoncé,” 22. 32 Brian Michael Goss, “Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey: Implications for the Auteur Theory and Industry Structure,” in Popular Communication 2, no. 4, (2004), 233, doi:10.1207/s15405710pc0204_3. 33 Robert Stam, “The Author: Introduction,” Film and Theory: An Anthology, ed. Robert Stam and Toby Miller, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 6. 34 Goss, “Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey: Implications for the Auteur Theory and Industry Structure,” in Popular Communication, 235. 35 Whittington and Jordan, “‘Bey Feminism’ vs. Black Feminism,” 159. 36 Annette Kuhn, “Textual Politics,” in Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Patricia Erens (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 254. 37 Kameelah L. Martin, “Epilogue: ‘Good Wickedry:’ Beyoncé and the Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics of Lemonade,” in Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016), 177. 38 Kuhn, “Textual Politics,” in Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, 254. 39 Goss, “Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey,” 233. 40 Whittington Cooper, “Sex(uality), Marriage, Motherhood and ‘Bey Feminism,’” 204. 41 bell hooks, “Moving Beyond Pain,” bell hooks Institute, Berea College, 9 May 2016, http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com/blog/2016/5/9/movingbeyond-pain. 42 Hobson, “Feminists Debate Beyoncé,” 11. 43 Martin, “Epilogue: ‘Good Wickedry:’ Beyoncé and the Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics of Lemonade,” 176.
Bibliography Collins, Patricia Hill. “Part One: The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.” Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. Gibson-Hudson, Gloria J. “The Ties That Bind: Cinematic Representations by Black Women Filmmakers.” Black Women Film and Video Artists. Edited by Jacqueline Bobo. New York, NY: Routledge, 1998. Goss, Brian Michael. “Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey: Implications for the Auteur Theory and Industry Structure.” Popular Communication 2, no. 4. (2004). doi:10.1207/s15405710pc0204_3. Hobson, Janell. “Feminists Debate Beyoncé.” The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism. Edited by Adrienne M. Trier-Bieniek. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2016. hooks, bell. “Moving Beyond Pain.” bell hooks Institute, Berea College, 9 May 2016. http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com/blog/2016/5/9/moving beyond-pain. Kuhn, Annette. “Textual Politics.” Issues in Feminist Film Criticism. Edited by Patricia Erens. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990. Martin, Kameelah L. “Epilogue: ‘Good Wickedry:’ Beyoncé and the Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics of Lemonade.” Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016. Mulvey, Laura. “Film, Feminism and the Avant-Garde.” Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989. Stam, Robert. “The Author: Introduction.” Film and Theory: An Anthology. Edited by Robert Stam and Toby Miller. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. Vernallis, Carol. Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and New Digital Media. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013. Whittington Cooper, Elizabeth. “Sex(uality), Marriage, Motherhood and ‘Bey Feminism.’” The Beyoncé Effect: Essays on Sexuality, Race and Feminism. Edited by Adrienne M. Trier-Bieniek. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2016. Whittington, Elizabeth Y., and Mackenzie Jordan. “‘Bey Feminism’ vs. Black Feminism: A Critical Conversation on Word-of-Mouth Advertisement of Beyoncé’s Visual Album.” Black Women and Popular Culture: The Conversation Continues. Edited by Adria Y. Goldman et al. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.
Introduction & Research Methodology
Satyajit Ray in Western Film Criticism, 1957-1958 Mahdi Chowdhury
Mahdi Chowdhury is a Toronto-based Bangladeshi artist and student at the University of Toronto. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Undergraduate Journal of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations. His favourite Satyajit Ray film is Apur Sansar. 24
In the canon of world cinema, Satyajit Ray is a familiar name. Indeed, one could argue that the very articulation of a critical sphere called ‘world cinema’ has been historically shaped, in part, by Ray’s canonized status. However, at times one may find it difficult to ignore the suspicion that Ray is included in certain discussions, lists, syllabi, textbooks, et al., vis-à-vis film and film history, in a tokenistic manner. In other words, Satyajit Ray is sometimes treated as a common signifier or shorthand for South Asia’s participation in film history at large. In a sharply written article by Girish Shambu, this point is underscored by the fact that “for decades prior [to an interest in Bollywood], Indian cinema in the minds of Western viewers was associated primarily with Satyajit Ray.”1 Shambu asks why “[Ray’s] films stand in for the entire cinematic output of one of the most populous and diverse countries on the planet [and moreover,] how did it come to be this way?”2 While Shambu does not proffer an answer or attempt to historicize Ray’s reception in the West, the questions he poses are at the heart of this paper. Herein, I ask: when in history does Satyajit Ray become the iconic figure that we recognize him as today? How was he initially received in the West? How did Ray become inscribed into the canon of world cinema? In short, this research paper seeks to understand the genesis and trajectory of Ray in Western film criticism. My research will predominantly study English-language print media— largely, from American and British sources—in the years of 1957 and 1958. One may ask: why these years? Pather Panchali partially premieres in 1955 at MoMA,3 is sent by the Indian government (with the personal approval of Nehru) to Cannes in 1956,4 and Aparajito is completed in 1956—so why then, does my research take 1957 as its starting year? This is due to the dearth of English-language sources written about Ray and these events in various news-repository archives. This archival gap is moreover evidenced by Proquest and Google Ngram searches, which only yield Lok Sabha conference papers or family genealogies for “Satyajit Ray,” his films’ titles, and news articles from the aforementioned events. In other words, records of Ray and his films are practically non-existent in English-language print before the year 1957. However, it is crucial to note that my methodology and argument is contingent upon what print is saved in big-data archives. Therefore, it is fair to say that, despite how vast these archives are, there may be outlier articles regarding Pather Panchali and Ray absent herein. Nevertheless, I use these two years—1957 and 1958—not simply out of limitation and necessity. They are critical years because, from 1957 to 1958: Ray’s films begin to debut in domestic theatres in England and the United States; his films screen at notable Western festivals; and lastly, Ray and his films enter the circles and repertoires of Western newspaper film commentators. I argue that studying texts produced between 1957 and 1958 challenge our typical assumptions about the international reception of Ray and his films. 25
Satyajit Ray in Western Film Criticism, 1957-1958
Since my research focuses on how Ray is represented, discussed, and framed among film critics, the majority of my historical research is vis-à-vis (i) film distribution and exhibition history, and (ii) comparative, discursive analysis of this body of print media. Toward the end of this article, I highlight the common themes and tropes employed in these texts, including a binary emphasis on either the exoticism of Ray’s films or their universal or humane quality.
The earliest records of mass Western print media that explicitly mention Ray refer to his win at the Venice International Film Festival. The first one appears on September 9, 1957. The Los Angeles Times prints a small, single column article called “India Takes Gold Lion.”5 If these are the earliest records on Ray, then it seems tempting to think of him, since his inception, as a celebrated director among Western critics. Indeed, Andrew Robinson cites Ray’s win at Venice as the consolidation of his reputable status in world cinema.6 However, this Los Angeles Times article, like many others, frame Ray’s win as a general upset. Ray’s win, reports the article, “was followed by mixed applause and booing” and that the runner-up, Visconti’s Notti Bianche, was given “thunderous applause” in contrast to Ray’s “cold reception.”7 One may speculate that the unexpected nature of Ray’s win, especially against a respected Italian auteur in the homefield of Venice, is a conducive setting for these kinds of reactions. Yet, in a more detailed Variety article written by the senior film critic, Gene Moskowitz, a general and apathetic attitude to Ray appears noticeable. In this article, Moskowitz argues that Venice’s film festival, competing with Cannes, is attempting to re-brand itself as cosmopolitan; to emphasize itself as an “international film fest.”8 Yet Moskowitz does not have a celebratory tone about these reforms. He laments the poor quality of entries being accepted to meet Venice’s more inclusive and internationalized branding. That said, he does celebrates select international films at the festival: some of Mizoguchi’s dramas, the Visconti film which had won second prize, and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. However, there is no mention of the winner, Ray’s Aparajito. One should note that Moskowitz was among the first Western film critics to have seen a Ray film during the Cannes premiere the year before.9 Yet Moskowitz continues to have nothing to say about Ray, even after his win at Venice. There are perhaps two ways of reading this absence: the first, is to consider the subtext in Moskowitz’s argument vis-à-vis Ray’s win; and the other is to say that Moskowitz is not spiteful, but rather, at this moment in time, Ray was simply not a priority or critical node in discussions about cinema. In fact, furnishing the latter point, Penelope Houston—who reported from Venice for Sight and Sound—acknowledges that she did not even see Ray’s winning film while over there.10 Before concluding on this 26
first-wave of print media regarding Ray’s Venice win, it is worthwhile to note an exception. Robert F. Hawkins uncharacteristically defends Ray’s win and writes lengthily about him in a retrospective two weeks after the festival for the New York Times. Although Hawkins defends Ray’s win, he further testifies to the “controversial” nature of the festival and the “divided opinions”11 that intemperately defined it. While one of the most authoritative English-language scholars of Ray, Andrew Robinson, opines that Venice solidified Ray’s reputation, these articles paint a more complicated picture. Controversy, apathy, resentment, the politics of internationalizing festival spaces are subject to amnesia in Robinson’s account of Ray’s genesis. Here, one may even question the idea of ‘genesis’—is there a single point in history where the stature of Ray aligns with the stature of Ray today? Or is this simply a practice in teleologizing Ray? The task of pinpointing the genesis of Ray is further complicated by the messy and ad hoc distribution history of his first two films. It is telling that Ray’s debut film in much of the West—and the film, which went to Venice—was Aparajito, the second Apu film, and not Pather Panchali. Indeed, Pather Panchali’s release was further delayed until late 1957.12 That said, I nonetheless argue that one can see the genesis of Ray begin to form from late 1957, the general moment in which Ray’s films enter into domestic, specialty theatres and Ray becomes a unique discourse among critics.13
End of 1957 to 1958
A shift occurs toward the end of 1957. Independently focused articles and reviews are written about Ray, and there is an increasing paratextual emphasis on the commercial release of his first two Apu films. For example, theatre listings and newspaper ads enter the record of Ray-related print media [Fig. 1]. The language of marketability used to advertise Ray’s films evokes their critical acclaim and their status as immediate classics of world cinema. This becomes an orthodox description of Ray’s films, but it is evidently a new identity for Ray in the context of English-language print media. There is something ironic about Sight and Sound—a British publication, whose staff reporter passed over Ray’s film in Venice—publishing a film guide for the winter of 1957, wherein Pather Panchali is given the highest rating of any film, and described as “without question a classic of the cinema.”14 In this body of texts, there is an increasing standardization of the language used by critics to describe Ray. By close-reading these texts, one may locate the genesis of Ray’s icon in Western film criticism. However, his genesis is not the by-product of a critical consideration of Ray as an artistic auteur. Instead, Ray becomes the subject of a common body of thought, writing, vocabulary, and methodological thinking among Western film critics. His films are defined as ethnographic spectacles. Their appeal is characterized sometimes 27
Satyajit Ray in Western Film Criticism, 1957-1958
for their universal quality or their exotic quality. This non-auteurist, binary representation of Ray’s work is a prevalent discursive trait among these texts, be they conspicuous or indirect in their phrasing. Whichever side a critic may lean toward (the Apu films as universal stories vs. as exotic imports), they inevitably represent Ray as something other than a full auteur or artistic agent. Rather, Ray is a director whose appeal for the sphere of commercial film culture and film criticism is his sensitive ability to capture ethnographic portraits of Bengali peasant life and “The Real India.”15 It is telling that Pather Panchali wins a bizarre award at Cannes: “Best Human Document.”16 Granted, the slow, observational style of filmmaking used by Ray—owed in part to his admiration for Italian neorealists—lends itself to this interpretation of ethnography. Yet it would be strange to see a discursive tradition among film critics who define De Sica or Rossellini, not as auteurs, but as exotic ethnographers. To be fair, one may argue that this label is not given to Ray as a means of intentionally devaluing his work. Rather, early champions of Ray, such as Hawkins, describe this in honorific terms. Hawkins writes, Ray’s “direct yet poetic observation of the human scene recall[s] the best work done […] by Flaherty.”17 This parallel with Flaherty is another prominent trope in the discursive construction of Ray: the author, John Updike, calls the fictional Pather Panchali “in the great tradition of documentary carved out […] by our own Bob Flaherty”;18 and even a Vermont retrospective on Flaherty invited Ray to lecture.19 The next trope is the characterization of Ray’s films as universal or exotic. Certain texts—and particularly, commercial movie bulletins—praise Ray’s films for their “striking quality [of] universality.”20 At other times, Ray’s films are described as humanistic or humane. While this may certainly be a trait of Ray’s films, the proliferation of this framing warrants a closer look. As a marketing device for a non-Western film, universality may imply that everyone can understand and connect with this film. The trope of universality implies the film’s cultural specificity is irrelevant; or as Robin Wood states: “what is remarkable is how seldom in Ray’s films the spectator is pulled up by and specific obstacle arising from cultural differences.”21 While this may be true, Ray’s universality has become a hegemonic lens through which to see his work—so much so that this marketable label is still used to frame his work today.22 Similar assertions about the universal or humane qualities of other non-Western filmmakers by Western film critics, from Ozu to Kiarostami, continue to be normative paradigms for how we view and engage with their work—and one may lament that other qualities, culturally specific to these filmmakers and the stories they tell, are lost in translation vis-à-vis this reductive trope. On the other end of the spectrum, antithetical to universalized accounts of Ray, is an emphasis on difference and exoticism. The exoticism of Ray 28
is indirectly implied by the characterization of his work as ethnography (which is a label unevenly applied to Ray and not, for example, Western neorealist filmmakers). That said, this is coterminous with more conspicuous reaffirmations about the exotic quality of Ray’s films—a style of thought used to, at times, flourish Ray and, at times, dismiss Ray. Howard Thompson writes a very generous and adorning portrait of Ray for The New York Times, but he does so by using exotifying and Orientalist language to flourish the figure of Ray. He introduces the Bengali peasants of Pather Panchali as a “forest family,” is struck by Ray’s arrival in a handsome “occidental garb,” and describes Ray, generally, as a spectacle, a “big, rangy Calcuttan.”23 By contrast, Bosley Crowther makes conspicuous remarks about the exotic quality of Pather Panchali to thereafter equate its exoticness with gimmick. Inevitably, for Crowther, it is not a serious film, but a “rare exotic item” wherein “the dialogue often sounds like a Gramophone record going at high speed.”24 He concludes that due to its loose, listless structure it would have barely passed a “rough cut” within Hollywood. This is a bizarre conclusion. Crowther’s assumption is that the exotic, underdeveloped, non-Western cinema is teleologically marching toward the apogee of Hollywood classicism. Nevertheless, that Ray’s film even makes it to Crowther’s attention testifies to Ray’s presence in the sphere of Western film criticism.
This paper has shown how print media from 1957 to 1958 show the genesis of Ray in Western film criticism. Contrary to the assumption of his initial eminence among critics with Pather Panchali, I show that it was neither the film Pather Panchali nor adoration that defined his first representations within English-language print media. I locate Ray’s solidified presence and genesis as a world cinema icon in print media from late 1957. Influenced by its domestic release, a popular discourse about Ray becomes discernable in newspapers. I have described a few themes typical of this body of texts: a nonauteurist characterization of Ray’s work; a comparison with ethnography and Robert Flaherty; an emphasis on the universality of Ray’s work; and the exoticism of the world of Apu. While Ray’s genesis is related to a problematic discourse and style among Western film critics—which, in many ways, persists to this day—my research can be interpreted as a topical insight into the complicated, scattered, and enfoldment of non-Western cinema into the nexus of Western film criticism.
Satyajit Ray in Western Film Criticism, 1957-1958
Notes Girish Shambu, “The Apu Trilogy: Behind the Universal,” The Criterion Collection, November 19, 2015. 2 Ibid. 3 Andrew Robinson, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), 87. 4 Ibid., 103. 5 “India Takes Gold Lion,” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1957. 6 Robinson, Satyajit Ray, 104. 7 “India Takes Gold Lion,” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1957. 8 Gene Moshkowitz. “The Paradox of Venice: Everyone Running Right in Wrong Direction,” Variety, September 11, 1957, 5. Again, my latent argument that Ray had a formative impact on the articulation of “world cinema” is evidenced by how internationalizing festivals typically invited and awarded his films in the process of rebranding into sites of “world cinema” culture. 9 Robinson, Satyajit Ray, 105. In the style of Professor Keil’s Fun Facts, it is interesting to note that André Bazin was a part of the minor audience that saw Ray’s film alongside Moskowitz. 10 Penelope Houston, “The Festivals: Edinburgh, Venice, Karlovy Vary” Sight and Sound, 1957, 67. 11 Robert F. Hawkins, “Venice Festival in Retrospect,” The New York Times, September 15, 1957. 12 Robinson, Satyajit Ray, 107. 13 Ibid. 14 “A Guide to Current Films,” Sight and Sound, 1957, 160. 15 “The Real India,” The Spectator, January 3, 1958, 20. 16 This award appears to have been improvised: it was never given to a film before or after Pather Panchali. Therefore, what made Pather Panchali a quintessential “human document”? What is a “human document”? 17 Hawkins, “Venice Festival in Retrospect.” 18 John Updike, “After Hours,” Harper’s Magazine, May 1, 1958, 77. 19 Robert A Wilkin, “Seminar to Review ‘Flaherty Touch,’” The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, July 21, 1958. 20 “Pather Panchali,” Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1, 1958. 21 Robin Wood, The Apu Trilogy: New Edition. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016), 6. 22 For example, on the Criterion Collection’s description of The Apu Trilogy, the tropes of these films as “richly humane” persists. It is worthwhile to state, perhaps on slightly reactionary tone, that Ray’s films are indeed quite culturally specific. What is forgotten, in the longue durée of this way of thinking, is: how Ray’s films are adaptations of seminal works of Bangla 1
Figure 1 – Newspaper articles about Ray with commercial paratextual and visual supplements from New York Herald Tribune (September 21, 1958), p. 4
Figure 1 – Advertisement for Pather Panchali (Ibid.) 30
Satyajit Ray in Western Film Criticism, 1957-1958
literature; Ray’s social and familial affiliations with bhadrolok Bengali culture; the spectre and association of Nehruvian or Third Worldist politics in Ray; or Ravi Shankar’s music and a raga structure of the film; et al. 23 Howard Thompson, “‘Little Road’ Into the Big World,” The New York Times, September 7, 1958, 9. 24 Bosley Crowther, “Exotic Import; Pather Panchali’ from India Opens Here,” The New York Times, September 23, 1958.
Bibliography “Pather Panchali” Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1, 1958. “The Real India” The Spectator, January 3, 1958. “India Takes Gold Lion” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1957. “A Guide to Current Films” Sight and Sound, 1957. “Indian Amateurs Did It: There is No Mystery To Making A Movie,” New York Herald Tribune, September 21, 1958. Crowther, Bosley. “Exotic Import; Pather Panchali’ from India Opens Here,” The New York Times, September 23, 1958. Hawkins, Robert F. “Venice Festival in Retrospect,” The New York Times, September 15, 1957. Houston, Penelope. “The Festivals: Edinburgh, Venice, Karlovy Vary,” Sight and Sound, 1957. Moshkowitz, Gene. “The Paradox of Venice: Everyone Running Right in Wrong Direction,” Variety, September 11, 1957. Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, ed. The Oxford History of World Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Robinson, Andrew. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989. Shambu, Girish. “The Apu Trilogy: Behind the Universal,” The Criterion Collection, November 19, 2015, www.criterion.com/current/posts/3804 the-apu-trilogy-behind-the-universal (accessed March 27, 2017). Thompson, Howard. “‘Little Road’ Into the Big World,” The New York Times, September 7, 1958. Updike, John. “After Hours,” Harper’s Magazine, May 1, 1958. Wilkin, Robert A. “Seminar to Review ‘Flaherty Touch,’” The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, July 21, 1958. Wood, Robin. The Apu Trilogy: New Edition. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016.
Beyond Tactile: Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality Shaquille Hosein
Shaq Hosein is a student at the University of Toronto, majoring in English and Cinema Studies, with a minor in History. He serves on the masthead for The Varsity, the campus student newspaper, where he produces videos. Shaq is also a Co-Founder of Labyrinth Media, a non-profit artist-group with an aim of cultivating the local arts community through public events and screenings. 34
In a scene from Spike Jonze’s acclaimed film Her (2013), Jonze’s protagonist Theodore interacts with a vulgar video game character resembling a small animated alien child. The ghostly avatar verbally insults Theodore and comments on his private matters, soliciting reactions from him as he progresses through the game via hand gestures. To a great extent, Her envisions forthcoming innovations, raising the idea of what it may feel like to be surrounded by immersive technologies coming to fruition today. It demonstrates how users will interact with tools of consciousness and idealizes a utopian future. With current technology, physical gestures in the material world can bring sounds, images, navigational data, and other forms into being before us, creating an intuitive relationship between thought and gesture. Augmented reality utilizes networking processes and geospatial data to create an experience of simultaneously real and digitized realities for its user. The tactile qualities and capabilities of augmented reality largely operates in accordance with perception. Perception, simply put, “is the organization, identification and interpretation of sensory information to represent and understand an environment.”1 Augmented reality strives to supplement the tendency of attuning perception towards “mindedness, with agency, with aesthetics,”2 in order to create significant and meaningful cognitive interactions between the self and consciousness. This essay aims to highlight augmented reality’s potential for technological innovation, beginning with an introduction to what it is. After, the use of augmented reality in various academic fields and institutions will be described to further understand its inherent goal of blending the virtual with the real. After analyzing its spectrum of opportunities for optical enhancement and uses, the essay will demonstrate how its multi-sensory effects contribute to an understanding of its haptic, aesthetic, and epistemological qualities. Lastly, it will be examined how spatiality functions in augmented reality applications, what issues can arise, and how these problems must be addressed before this emerging medium becomes widespread. Over the past century, 3D cinema has developed into a medium capable of achieving “kinesthetic sensation, haptic engagement, and an emphatic sense of wonder.”3 The ability to achieve dimensionality in theatres has led to an increased popularity among moviegoers, particularly in the previous decade, who are immersed in the diegesis of the film. Augmented reality takes this haptic effect one step forward, outside the physical confines of movie theatres. Though it is valued for its sensorial experiences (first offered by 3D film) and its mimetic engineering, augmented reality’s power “lies in its ability to generate new ways of perceiving [the environment] effectively and diversely mix the real and the virtual within a same field of vision.”4 The medium’s tendency of superimposing synthetic images can be argued to be superior to virtual reality (which, by contrast, engulfs its user in an artificial environment). By enhancing the real world with digital 35
Beyond Tactile: Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality
information, users are able to interact with both virtual elements and the physical world, existing in a framework of spatial dynamics that place themselves within a personalized interface. In “Spatial Poetics,” Christine Ross elaborates on this notion, stating how it calls “attention to the special status of the spectator whose connectedness is at once a requirement and an uncertainty, a prediction and an anxiety, a principle of localization and a questioning of the capacity to localize.”5 The medium is contingent on current technologies being used in a way for its users to become recognized spatially and open to blending their digital and material worlds. The growing presence and reliance on smartphones has given rise to a flourishing market for augmented reality applications, namely social platforms such as Snapchat or Pokémon Go, which are constantly implementing new features through software updates. Since many smartphone users are already familiar with the haptic feedback of screens, these apps are rather easy to adapt to and use. These apps develop sensory experiences by using images or videos captured with the smartphone camera lens and overlaying them with artificial graphics. With augmented reality, the user’s body becomes fully immersed and integrated; the user’s experience is curated in order for their subjective reality to become enhanced or made more pleasurable. Smartphone tracking features are also used to offer location-specific information in a creative or informative way. Anna Jackman suggests that “the sensorium is adaptive, coevolves and is constantly reinvented through interaction with technology.”6 With introspective and sensible subjective qualities, augmented reality is simultaneously world-expanding and world-shrinking; it is a medium that can allow for contextual data to travel instantaneously, changing views of time and space, and our relation to both. Monique Tschofen argues that “AR can recreate the remembered past through representational strategies that underline how its intangible, magical, and even ghostly qualities permeate the present.”7 Sebastian Hofmann echoes this sentiment optimistically, explaining how the medium’s potential can “keep its users present, and potentially ‘more there.’ When turning one’s attention away from ‘real’ reality to ‘augmented’ reality, one might actually achieve the direct opposite of ‘going away’.”8 Augmented reality ensures that its users are finely attuned to their spatial surroundings through offering a substantial amount of information that uses updatable databases. Rather than opening a physical map or having to purchase a tour guide in a shop, augmented reality can provide its user a newfound sense of ease with quick responses to every and any inquiry. Its unique and subjective presentation style (a result of its user physically wearing the technology) lends itself to readily-available data requiring only a gesture to access. To arrive at this era of computational modernity, it is essential to understand the motivations 36
that led to augmented reality’s existence to appreciate and gain insight into its current potential. The first augmented reality system was developed by cinematographer Morton Helig, who pioneered virtual reality aesthetics with the invention of the Sensorama in the late 1950s. Helig hoped to turn cinema into a less passive act of consumption. In his arcade game-resembling machine, viewers were able to experience the sensations that came with riding a motorcycle through Brooklyn—wind effects, scents, and a vibrating seat were added to replicate verisimilitude. A decade later, the United States Air Force developed helmet-mounted displays in hopes of providing an authentic simulated experience for its pilots.9 Forty years after that, manufacturer Siemens released the SX1 cell phone model in 2003, the first of its kind to feature a mobile augmented reality game.10 Called Mozzies, the game used the phone’s camera to superimpose mosquitos which were viewable on its display. Released during an era when only forty-five percent of twelve to seventeen-year-olds owned their own cell phone, Mozzies can be seen today as an experiment in digital innovation with handheld devices. The mid-2000s would continue to see the creation of portable technologies by video console makers Nintendo and Sony. Today, the percentage of teenage phone ownership has increased to seventy-five percent, and according to Leonard Annetta, it is more apparent that the technology “enables, engages, and empowers today’s student.”11 In a constellation of interconnected networks, augmented reality is becoming popular as an educational tool for private educators and district school boards. Jackman argues how geographical scholarship is also considering the medium’s role “as an increasingly significant player in the wider media landscape.”12 This is credited to its easy process of setting up and ensuring the technology functions accordingly. Users can easily connect with devices that they already own without having to purchase additional hardware that could set them back financially. They are immediately connected to the internet, global positioning systems (GPS), or radio-frequency identification (RFID) technologies—all of which can be used to sense, track, and survey the user. Many universities and other institutions, as well as companies like Apple and Microsoft are currently witnessing augmented reality’s potential and have been developing wearable technologies and applications that can be used by practically any individual in their vicinity. X, an American research-and-development startup, was launched in 2010 as a moonshot company with the aim of testing technologies that can radically change lives. The facility operates under Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google and several of its former subsidiaries. One of its products, Glass, focuses on augmented reality’s capacity to make jobs in manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare sectors easier with eyeglass 37
Beyond Tactile: Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality
technology. With an increase in efficiency, productive time, and providing instant expertise, Glass allows for hands-free displaying of information and interaction with wireless networks. Jackman writes, “[d]ue to its utilisation of prescription glasses architecture, the camera positioning means ‘Glass’ operates at eye-level, providing a ‘natural’ or sensoriallymimicking first-person viewpoint.”13 The glasses themselves are able to perform most functions of a cell phone, except with more functionality and less touching. While using one’s physical body, for instance, the user can control what they need to be augmented simply by looking towards it or giving a verbal command into a microphone. Applications such as Layar pride themselves in “pioneering the interactive print movement and paving the way for a more robust future for the publishing industry in a digital age.”14 Layar allows its users to compare material objects with related digital information. Hypothetically, one could scan an item and have the application return results on where to order it, offer directions to a store, or calculate the gas cost by analyzing the distance. Ross highlights how “AR wants, supports, and facilitates participation and community building,”15 before suggesting how the technology can provide a user with all sorts of knowledge. In Finland, the University of Oulu has created SmartLibrary, which directs readers to shelves holding the book they seek, using RFID and Wi-Fi to track location and relate this to its seeker.16 At the University of Toronto, students in the ‘Digital Tools in a Canadian Context’ course used archival documents to input Kensington Market’s history into an interactive database that can be accessed for free in application stores.17 In each of these examples, users are given the option of seeing photographs and other digitized content just by being in the relevant space. With augmented reality’s most characteristic feature being its multi-sensory effects, it is imperative to describe its philosophical implications. While the multi-touch display on cell phones has changed the contemporary understanding of what is considered ‘natural,’ augmented reality must consciously work through ways of not disrupting this extension of the technologically-infused body. Augmented reality must seek to seamlessly cooperate with one’s own reality, so as not to be considered a nuisance if its user is unnaturally gesturing outwards for it to function. In Monique Tschofen’s The Denkbild (‘Thought-Image’) in the Age of Digital Reproduction, Tschofen alludes to the Frankfurt School’s notion of Denkbild, or thought-images. She defines it as “a poetic or aestheticized fragment—a lyrical-philosophical miniature […] without a developed plot or prescribed narrative agenda, yet charged with theoretical insight.”18 For Tschofen and Frankfurt intellectuals, the Denkbild posed questions about the relationship between knowledge and form, and how the latter can be designed to provide its subject with an answer. Augmented reality, 38
for Tschofen, fuses a camera’s naturalistic tendency to document with an opportunity for augmentation. She writes, “Augmented Reality offered the capacity to combine an architecture of non-linear linking with a practice of collecting that was anchored in the material. AR, in other words, could create concrete sculptures that connected actual objects with concepts.”19 The result is a medium that can distill temporal complexities while adding dimensionality in its presentation of content. It has emerged as a new system of thinking that would have certainly been valued by Frankfurt scholars. In short, augmented reality can bind the material and digital worlds of theory, practice, and knowledge, offering innovations that were only imagined by postmodern philosophers. In 1994, Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino introduced the virtuality continuum. It was an attempt to define ‘mixed reality’ and is often illustrated as a linear plane connecting two extremes, ranging from the completely real to the completely virtual. The spectrum was created to highlight the gradual differences one may experience as they transitioned from one environment to another. Milgram and Kishino argued that augmented reality and augmented virtuality can be located anywhere near either end of the spectrum, noting the sort of familiarity experienced by users as they spatially weaved their way through and between (differing) milieus.20
In “Spatial Poetics,” Ross writes that “AR builds up a continuity between the real and the virtual, in which the two categories tend to lose, although never completely, their distinction in relation to one another.”21 While virtual reality tends to encapsulate its wearer in a wholly synthetic environment, augmented reality resists this encompassment in favour of a fusion, or hybridity. As a result, users are able to navigate both reality and augmented reality simultaneously with a certain degree of ease, as one does not subsume the other. However, in order for the augmented reality to run effectively, the medium requires two dependent elements: participation and interactivity. Critics have emphasized how this can contribute to numerous issues regarding spatial relations and the improper use of equipment. Performance art and installations from as early as the 1960s have continued to contribute to the present-day understanding of matters related to spectator participation. Ross speaks to its double entendre effect, writing how participation became “a mode of address that solicits, even seduces, spectators into a specific environment only to destabilize their sense of 39
Beyond Tactile: Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality
autonomy.”22 In artist Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964), Ono sat motionless on stage and invited observers to approach her and cut a piece of her wardrobe off, of which they kept for themselves. This example of performance art relied on Ono’s determination to remain on stage until after she was fully nude—only then would her creative endeavour be fully realized and completed. Augmented reality functions in a similar fashion: by depending on participation, it faces the possibility of remaining obsolete or abandoned. Erik P. Bucy has elaborated on how interactivity with technology “is not merely located in the properties of technology and communication settings. Rather, it is mostly in the user’s experience and perception of interactivity.”23 Many in attendance were unaware how to critically react to Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. Some were nervous when approaching her to remove parts of her clothing, while others felt anxiety over having to do it in front of others. Ross concludes her essay with somewhat of a warning for prospective augmented reality programmers with ideas surrounding participation and expectations. She writes, “[i]nteractive settings may increase frustration, confusion, and reduced memory when they demand too much time, expertise, and cognitive resources of the user.”24 Augmented reality has also been criticized for its overflow of information in a user’s field of vision, occasional cluttering of data one may not necessarily want to view, and its presentation of text and photos deemed irrelevant by its user. The practice of augmenting reality, it appears, is still in its infancy stage. Despite this, the medium’s positive reputation is indicative of a shift towards the desire to achieve oneness between the self and the world. In his web series Shots of Awe, futurist philosopher Jason Silva claims that “the idea of augmenting reality is part of what it means to be human. From the moment that we started to create architecture, to put objects in the world, to make art, to carve tools, we’ve been augmenting reality. So, for the digital revolution to finally catch up to that is a perfectly natural emergence.”25 Certainly, augmented reality allows its user to manifest their own conscious mind and tweak reality to their pleasing. Now, the world is opening to more opportunities for gamification, education, entertainment, and even enlightenment. Like virtual reality or 3D cinema, augmented reality can be viewed as the intersection of consciousness and process—as well as process and ability—displaying the mind outside itself for one to reflect on the medium; in other words, augmented reality is a culmination of media that forms the modern-day denkbild, the thought-image. AR reflects back to its user the ‘consumption experience,’ a term Jackman uses, which “acknowledges the importance of the changing function and role of technological devices.”26 It has led to widespread advances in ‘mimetic’ engineering, and many industries are currently taking advantage of what these emerging technologies have to offer. ‘Sculptural photography,’ 40
for instance, is an art style reminiscent of Cubist artwork, and has been developed “to capture form as it really is, rather than how it is perceived to be.”27 The hybridization of elements borrowed from various new media and computer sciences are able to function as a synergetic force, one drastically altering the courses of aesthetic and technological disciplines. In her essay on the subject, Helen Papagiannis describes the emergence of the dynamic medium as one “that has the potential to rupture borders.”28 Rather than extending the physical frame in methods akin to 3D cinema, augmented reality seeks to eradicate them completely—manifesting itself within our physical surroundings. Over the course of the past century, scholars studied and bore witness to creators using many new techniques and advancements in film; developments in editing, sound, colour, and dimensionality would drastically change how we see and react to films. Today, it is evident that the theatrical screen no longer separates a viewer from the object of one’s gaze. 3D cinema has blurred the edges with its negative parallax, and new 4DX auditoriums advertise weather effects, scents, and a complete interactive experience. But what about outside the cinema? Emerging technologies are now regularly entering our own spaces—at home, in public—becoming inseparable from reality. In social media applications like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, users are invited to use filters that overlay hairstyles, accessories, or avatars on an image or video when using a smartphone camera. Papagiannis explains that “it is the spectator’s ‘perception and active engagement’ with the AR ‘that orders the illusion.’”29 The lack of either would cause augmented reality to fail in its fundamental aims. In an ideal scenario, a constellated network of meaning—of concepts visualized and knowledge made tangible—can, and surely will, be established. This multidimensional aspect which augmented reality solely possesses and operates within separates the medium from any other that can be seen around us today and can be implemented in nearly all educational faculties. Tschofen highlights how “new media art can intervene in contemporary theoretical debates about the nature and possibilities of art’s philosophical modes of thinking.”30 The medium has continuously proven to possess the potential of engaging with its users’ entire sensory palette and will likely prove itself as an even more influential platform in the coming century. Its multi-sensorial qualities and ability to deliver information and data— including the implementation of other mediums—is proof that it is ready to be integrated and widely accepted.
Beyond Tactile: Exploring the Potential of Augmented Reality
Notes Akif Khan, Shah Khusro, Azhar Rauf, and Saeed Mahfooz, “Rebirth of augmented reality—enhancing reality via Smartphone.” Bahria University Journal of Information & Communication Technology 8, no. 1 (2015): 1. 2 Jason Silva, “Shots of Awe: The Augmented Reality Revolution”. Posted February 2016. YouTube video, 1:59. 3 Anna Hamilton Jackman, “3-D cinema: immersive media technology.” GeoJournal 80, no. 6 (2015): 855. 4 Christine Ross, “Spatial Poetics: The (Non) destinations of Augmented Reality Art.” Afterimage 38, no. 2 (2010): 20. 5 Ross, “Spatial Poetics,” 20. 6 Jackman, “3-D cinema,” 862. 7 Monique Tschofen, “The Denkbild (‘Thought-Image’) in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Theory, Culture & Society 33, no. 5 (2016): 147. 8 Sebastian Hofmann, and Lela Mosemghvdlishvili, “Perceiving spaces through digital augmentation: An exploratory study of navigational augmented reality apps.” Mobile Media & Communication 2, no. 3 (2014): 270. 9 Khan, “Rebirth of augmented reality,” 3. 10 Khan, 4. 11 Leonard Annette, Erin Peters Burton, Wendy Frazier, Rebecca Cheng, and Margaret Chmiel, “Augmented Reality Games: Using Technology on a Budget.” Science Scope 36, no. 3 (2012): 54. 12 Jackman, “3-D cinema,” 861. 13 Jackman, 861. 14 The Blippar Group, “Layar.” https://www.layar.com/ (accessed December 2, 2017). 15 Ross, “Spatial Poetics,” 21. 16 Meredith G. Farkas, “Technology in Practice. Your Reality, Augmented.” American Libraries (2010): 24. 17 Peter Boisseau, “U of T students launch augmented reality app to uncover hidden histories of Toronto’s Kensington Market.” University of Toronto. http://news.artsci.utoronto.ca/all-news/app-kensington-market/ (accessed December 2, 2017). 18 Tschofen, “The Denkbild (‘Thought-Image’),” 141. 19 Tschofen, 145-146. 20 Ross, “Spatial Poetics,” 19. 21 Ross, 19. 22 Ross, 22. 23 Ross, 24. 24 Ross, 24. 25 Silva, “The Augmented Reality Revolution.” YouTube video. 1
Jackman, “3-D cinema,” 862. Helen Papagiannis, “Working towards defining an aesthetics of augmented reality: A medium in transition.” Convergence 20, no. 1 (2014): 37. 28 Papagiannis, “Working towards defining an aesthetics,” 37. 29 Papagiannis, 37. 30 Tschofen, “The Denkbild (‘Thought-Image’),” 154. 26 27
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Bibliography Annetta, Leonard, Erin Peters Burton, Wendy Frazier, Rebecca Cheng, and Margaret Chmiel. “Augmented Reality Games: Using Technology on a Budget.” Science Scope 36, no. 3 (2012): 54-60. Boisseau, Peter. “U of T students launch augmented reality app to uncover hidden histories of Toronto’s Kensington Market.” University of Toronto. http://news.artsci.utoronto.ca/all-news/app-kensington-market/ (accessed December 2, 2017). Farkas, Meredith G. “Technology in Practice. Your Reality, Augmented.” American Libraries (2010). Hofmann, Sebastian, and Lela Mosemghvdlishvili. “Perceiving spaces through digital augmentation: An exploratory study of navigational augmented reality apps.” Mobile Media & Communication 2, no. 3 (2014): 265-280. Jackman, Anna Hamilton. “3-D cinema: immersive media technology.” GeoJournal 80, no. 6 (2015): 853-866. Khan, Akif, Shah Khusro, Azhar Rauf, and Saeed Mahfooz. “Rebirth of augmented reality-enhancing reality via Smartphones.” Bahria University Journal of Information & Communication Technology 8, no. 1 (2015). Papagiannis, Helen. “Working towards defining an aesthetics of augmented reality: A medium in transition.” Convergence 20, no. 1 (2014): 33-40. Ross, Christine. “Spatial Poetics: The (Non) destinations of Augmented Reality Art.” Afterimage 38, no. 2 (2010). Silva, Jason. “The Augmented Reality Revolution”. Filmed February 2016. YouTube video, 1:59. https://youtu.be/9spsx_QSQ9I The Blippar Group. “Layar.” https://www.layar.com/ (accessed December 2, 2017). Tschofen, Monique. “The Denkbild (‘Thought-Image’) in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Theory, Culture & Society 33, no. 5 (2016): 139-157. “X - Glass.” X - The Moonshot Factory. Accessed April 05, 2018. https:// www.x.company/glass/.
How Did This Become Cult?: Podcasting and Cult Film Practices in How Did This Get Made? Anna Swanson
Anna Swanson recently completed a double major at the University of Toronto in English and Cinema Studies. Starting in September 2018, she will be pursuing an MA in Cinema Studies at U of T. She particularly enjoys Old Hollywood and horror movies. 46
In a 2008 article speaking about his own experience as member of a cult film community in the 1970s, film historian and theorist Jeffrey Sconce expresses his belief that due to the rise of technology, moments of communal “cult solidarity” have been lost for modern spectators.1 Indeed, the practice of communal cult film consumption, as seen with a midnight movie such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975) or Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977), was characterized somewhat by the limited availability and accessibility of films at the time the midnight screening trend began. As modern technology has shifted the consumption of film into something more accessible and private than it was in the 1970s, the possibilities of a cult film community have changed and, as Sconce views it, become more limited. One response to this is the rise of podcasts. In particular, the podcast How Did This Get Made? is notable for having a cult-like fan community, despite the fact that the podcast and the films discussed on it have a more private aspect to their consumption than was ever available for midnight movies. The podcast’s use of public and private components produce opportunities for the individual listener’s experience to become part of a communal form of enjoyment, creating a new kind of fan experience with a sense of “solidarity” akin to that of the cult film experience of the 1970s.2 In “Cult Cinema: A Critical Symposium,” Sconce shares his experience of going to see Eraserhead in 1977. Sconce recounts that he formed a sense of solidarity with his friends over the fact that they liked the movie, while one of the ushers working at the theatre did not understand why anyone would enjoy it.3 He also propounds that ‘cult’ films do not exist in his contemporaneous time, as compared to the way they existed in the 1970s and 1980s when “film culture was growing” and yet “access to certain films remained” limited.4 With the availability of films online, it is now possible for viewers to procure many obscure films that used to require the ‘work’ of finding, anticipating, and attending cult film screenings.5 Sconce fears that because of changing consumption practices, there is a possibility that the day will come where he “will have the sick realization that [he has] never had access to so many movies in [his] life, and yet cared so little about any of them.”6 Sconce qualifies a film as cult not based on the film itself, but on the exhibition and viewing practices which position the film viewing as reward for the work that goes into attending a screening. This sentiment is also explored in Bruce A. Austin’s “Portrait of a Cult Film Audience: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Austin examines statistics gathered from attendees of midnight screenings of Rocky Horror during the 1970s. Austin was able to deduce that the quality of the film, the intent of the filmmakers, and the film’s content were not significant motivating factors for people to attend screenings, but rather the film’s exhibition practices involving consistent screenings at irregular hours, in this case at midnight on weekends, and the audience experiences during these screenings.7 As a 47
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part of the experience, Rocky Horror fans would bring props and dress up in costume to attend, arriving sometimes two hours before the screening to socialize with other fans.8 The cult fans of Rocky Horror therefore exemplify Sconce’s ideas regarding the willingness of fans to put work into viewing cult films that they would not otherwise have to do with mainstream cinema. Elena Gorfinkel also discusses the viewing practices of cult fans as she describes the apparent lack of quality in many cult films. Gorfinkel argues that the lack of quality is an indicator of the limited means available during production and allows fans to read the films as being resistant to the dominant Hollywood mode of production.9 Cult fans would embrace the poor quality and poorly constructed narratives as fragments of a film, and to make sense or create enjoyment out of this “fragmentation,” would insert themselves into the screening by throwing props or creating lines of dialogue.10 Much like with Sconce finding solidarity among his Eraserhead-loving friends—a film which they believed mass audiences would not understand—Gorfinkel posits that this positioning of oneself against dominant cinema is part of the cult film’s appeal.11 Based on the ideas of cult cinema held by Sconce, Austin, and Gorfinkel, one can argue that a unifying factor in cult films from the 1970s is the formation of a community around cult cinema through theatrical screenings. Cult movies, however, were “on the wane by the late 1970s,” partially due to the rise of athome viewing possibilities.12 In 1977, the first feature length film was released on VHS and Betamax formats, and by 1985 the first Blockbuster video rental store had opened.13 In 2003, DVDs outsold VHS tapes for the first time, and by 2013 DVD sales had decreased by three billions dollars over four years as streaming services had begun to attract more customers.14 Indeed, as Sconce indicated about streaming possibilities, in the twenty first century, “there have never been more opportunities to sample the entirety of film history” ;it is therefore difficult to qualify a film as cult according to the standards of the 1970s, as the means of consuming cult films have since shifted from theatrical screenings, to VHS, to DVD, and now to streaming services.15 One way to broaden the idea of cult is to look at how podcasts about films have the potential to provide cult-like communal experiences despite their more private consumption practices. How Did This Get Made? (HDTGM) is a bi-weekly comedy podcast in which comedians Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas discuss and joke about movies that are “so bad” they are “amazing,” according to the podcast’s description on iTunes. Two of the frequent qualifiers for a film ‘so bad it’s good’ are actors’ exaggerated performances and incoherent narratives, but as will be explored, there are many different ways the hosts discuss finding enjoyment in the films. The show has regular segments such as “Second Opinions,” where Scheer reads five-star reviews for a film from Amazon.com. On a semi-regular basis, 48
there are live recordings held wherein one of the segments is a question-andanswer session with the studio audience. Through the podcasting format and live shows, HDTGM combines public and private viewing and discussion practices into a format that both embraces the technological availability of films in the twenty-first century, and creates a cult-like sense of solidarity among the hosts and listeners alike. There is an inherently private aspect to HDTGM, attributable to the podcast form as a whole. Episodes are released online for listeners to download, and it is generally assumed that most people listen to the podcast while doing solitary activities. That most listeners perform solitary activities while listening is often found to be a source of comedic fodder on HDTGM. In one episode featuring a live recording discussion of Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), guest host Natasha Leggero pointed out that an audience member was knitting. This prompted Mantzoukas to joke that he would like to see people “come to the live podcast and do what they do when they listen to the podcast,” such as folding laundry or exercising. The format of the podcast is based around the idea that people consume them alone, such that someone doing the tasks they normally do at home and alone at a live episode is considered out of place, pointed out and discussed by the hosts. There is also the assumption that listeners watch the movies discussed on the show privately, as the majority of the chosen films are not regularly screened in theatres at the time of the recording. As a result, if listeners wish to watch a movie in anticipation of its episode, they will have to search it out to watch on DVD or through a streaming platform. Those who have not watched the film before are given a review at the end of the episode by each host on whether or not the film is worth watching. In some episodes, such as those on Hard Ticket To Hawaii (1987) and The Jazz Singer (1980), the hosts’ recommendations are based on the convenience of a film being available on YouTube, or the viewer’s ability to fast-forward through segments of the film. These recommendations are based on convenience, therefore posing a contrast to the screening practices of a 1970s midnight movie, which required a certain amount of work in attending. As will be explored later, however, work is put into the podcast by fans in other ways. In addition to podcast listeners consuming the podcast and the films privately, it is also often noted how the hosts have watched the film. In an episode on Jason X (2001), Scheer joked about watching the film on his iPad on a plane, and was embarrassed of watching in a public setting, in contrast to his usual method of viewing the films in the privacy of his own home. The oddness of viewing these films in a public setting is also noted in a discussion of xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), one of the rare occasions in which the podcast was recorded shortly after the film’s theatrical release. Although the hosts’ consumption is not part of the content of the film, their experiences watching it in theatres was discussed 49
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considerably on the show. This indicates that the cult cinema’s public form of consumption is notably different from that of mainstream cinema, at least to the point that it is deemed worthy of discussion. While there are a number of private components to the podcast, however, there is also a public aspect that allows the communal sense of solidarity among listeners and hosts to thrive. Similar to the fans of 1970s cult films who brought props, dressed up in costume and otherwise put some form of work into their viewing of the film, HDTGM live show attendees also frequently involve themselves in the show and the films discussed. In the question-andanswer segments on episodes such as Hard Ticket To Hawaii (1987), Solarbabies (1986), and The Avengers (1998), Scheer states that he chooses audience members who have made notes and thus have clearly prepared for the show. In the episode discussing The Shadow (1994), Scheer goes to people in the audience wearing homemade HDTGM shirts or have fan art with them. Each live episode also features a “Second Opinions” theme song sung live by a member of the audience. In these cases, audience members have consumed some aspect of the podcast or the film privately and then have put in work to display their appreciation and enjoyment publicly. In addition, there are also a number of ways in which listeners who do not attend live shows are able to participate in the podcast. Earwolf, the network that hosts HDTGM, has a forum on its website where fans can discuss podcasts on message boards. Some of these discussions indicate the work that fans are willing to put into their enjoyment of the podcast. One thread from September 2015 remains regularly updated, featuring listeners who have searched and listed the Rotten Tomatoes critic scores for all of the films.16 Additionally, between episodes of HDTGM are ‘mini’ episodes wherein Scheer receives calls from fans. Often these calls involve listeners asking questions about a film or the podcast as a whole, but some callers discuss personal matters. On the November 17, 2017 episode, Scheer received a call from someone on his wedding night who had proposed to his girlfriend at a live show the previous year. In the same episode, a man called to ask for advice on his relationship and career. Through the message boards and the phone hotline, it is clear that even listeners who do not attend live shows have other opportunities for engagement and participation. One major difference between HDTGM listeners and audience members who attended cult film screenings in the 1970s is the ability to participate despite having not watched the films. As noted, at the end of each episode the hosts state whether or not they would recommend the film, indicating an awareness of listeners who have not seen it. This practice—along with the recommendations based on convenience—demonstrates that while cult film attendees watch the films as endemic to their participation in screenings, HDTGM listeners can choose how much work they are willing to put into 50
watching the film, if at all, as it does not affect their participation in the enjoyment of the podcast. While some listeners may not watch the films, the podcast still models fan engagement in a similar way to the involvement of cult film fans. Following Gorfinkel’s ideas regarding the fragmented nature of cult films, one can argue that fan experiences are a way to blend individual viewing experiences with the content of the film, and that this is part of what garners a movie its cult following.17 HDTGM follows a similar principle by taking the fragmented pieces of a bad movie and constructing jokes and discussions around them. One such example occurs in the live-recorded episode on Bloodsport (1988), during which fans chanted “Kumite,” the fictional martial arts fighting tournament from the film. In other live episodes since, such as Hard Ticket to Hawaii, fans can be heard chanting “Kumite,” and in the official HDTGM store, there is a “Kumite” shirt for sale. This ‘fragmented’ piece of the film has become a frequent reference within the podcast, and much like the cult film audience that enjoys the movies not based on the content but on their own experiences, HDTGM fans can reference Bloodsport regardless of whether or not they care to watch the film. Similarly, the podcast makes repeated references to the film Jacob’s Ladder (1990). According to a user-made list on the website Letterboxd cataloguing every film that has been mentioned on HDTGM—another indication of the work fans are willing to put into the podcast—Jacob’s Ladder was first referenced in the eightieth episode during a discussion on Jack Frost (1998).18 Although the film has never been officially selected for an episode on HDTGM, it has since become a recurring joke whereby Mantzoukas posits that the film being discussed in an episode is similar to the plot of Jacob’s Ladder, in which the film’s scenarios play out in a character’s imagination as they are dying. Because of this reference, the film has become so associated with the podcast that an article from Decider about Jacob’s Ladder’s addition into the catalogue of online streaming service Hulu is explicitly addressed to HDTGM fans.19 Additionally, the joke has been repeated to the point of being somewhat overplayed, as evidenced by the 168th episode of the podcast, released more than three years after the initial reference, wherein an audience member suggests that the film in question is a “Jacob’s Ladder scenario.” Mantzoukas exasperatedly replies that he has “really backed [himself] into this” reference as people continually bring it up over and over again. One notable aspect of cult film is the involvement that fans feel with the text and how they exhibit this attachment. As Sconce divulged, he cannot “imagine that he will ever care as much about a movie as [he] did about Eraserhead in 1977.”20 For podcasts, this care and involvement can be seen in how fans take on aspects of the podcast in their personal lives. One of the running jokes on the podcast, which has been turned into a shirt for sale on the official HDTGM 51
How Did This Become Cult?
store, is a listener being “the Jason of his friend group.” This statement came from an audience member in the episode on The Shadow during the question-andanswer segment. In other episodes, audience members play with this concept of running jokes, such as the xXx episode in which an attendee says she is the ‘June’ of her group. Although these remarks are made in jest, they indicate that fans feel an attachment to the podcast in relating aspects of their own lives to the dynamics they hear on a bi-weekly basis. The hosts often reciprocate the involvement and attachment that listeners feel towards the podcast. On January 19, 2017, a special episode of HDTGM was released in which Scheer discussed the recent announcement that HDTGM, and all Earwolf network podcasts, would become part of the Howl streaming service and, as a result, older episodes would be available only to those who pay a subscription fee. He stated that he does not feel the situation is entirely fair and tells listeners he has worked out a deal so that the last year’s worth of episodes will be available, and every few months they will also add twenty-five older episodes as chosen by fans. Scheer clearly acknowledges the attachment listeners have towards the show and that fans may want to revisit some older episodes and listen again. He also encourages further involvement by having fans decide which twenty-five episodes they would like to have available next. One of the ways that cult film spectatorship creates solidarity among its audience is by positioning itself against mainstream films and their forms of spectatorship. Cult cinema fans create a community around the idea that they are enjoying or appreciating a film that most other people would not understand. They take on a minority identity against the perceived majority of dominant cinema. This is one of the ways in which HDTGM differs from a cult cinema fan base. As part of the “Second Opinions” segment, the hosts position themselves in the majority, and against the minority of people who genuinely like the bad films being discussed. Additionally, the hosts often joke about feeling as though they are forced into watching these films. In the Solarbabies episode, Mantzoukas compared having to watch films for the podcast to being in prison, for exaggerated comedic effect. In the Jason X episode, Scheer jokes that watching the film on a plane could be perceived as rejecting the quality films offered by the in-flight entertainment system. In these cases, the hosts position themselves against the minority in a way cult fans do not. However, though a great deal of humour on HDTGM comes from mocking the films, there are also many occasions when the hosts praise the films discussed for being enjoyable, even good. In the episode on The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012), there was consensus that the film was more emotionally resonant than Scheer, Mantzoukas, or Raphael expected. In the Face/Off (1997) episode, Mantzoukas jokes that they should not be covering 52
this film on the podcast because it is so good. On the episode for The Fate of the Furious (2017), before Scheer begins the “Second Opinions” segment, Mantzoukas immediately states that he would give the film five stars. Though these instances are not indicative of the overall tone of the podcast or its concern with bad movies, they do reveal how the hosts are able to embrace movies that are not conventional examples of mainstream high-quality cinema, much like cult fans. The implication that HDTGM hosts and fans could position themselves in the majority more often than not, while cult film fans are in the minority, is also complicated by the question of how much either group creates a sense of solidarity around the film texts. Though cult audiences may enjoy the content of their films in a way that the HDTGM hosts do not feel about every film they watch, it is primarily because of the “repeated regular screenings,” not the content of the films, that there becomes a “build up of a regular, returning audience which characterizes the cult phenomenon.”21 Similarly, whether any given HDTGM episode has a primarily positive or negative tone is largely irrelevant because of the enthusiasm and involvement regular listeners feel toward the show regardless of the episode’s film. This allows “Kumite” or the Jacob’s Ladder scenario to be popularized among fans, printed on shirts, and brought up for discussion at live shows that do not concern the film the reference was originally seen in. Due to the importance of the exhibition practices of a film achieving cult status, one can argue that the rise of home viewing possibilities has hindered the opportunity for cult film experiences akin to those of midnight movie screenings in the 1970s as with Eraserhead and Rocky Horror. With modern technology, films—even those outside of mainstream cinema—are easily accessible, and streaming services allow people to consume them privately. Although this may be more convenient than waiting two hours in line once a week for a film, it limits the potential for a sense of solidarity to form around the viewing practice. However, with the rise of this kind of viewership technology, audiences like that of the How Did This Get Made? podcast have transformed their individual consumption practices of films and podcast episodes into a communal experience. While technology has made media like films and podcasts more accessible, fans of the show put work into their enjoyment in other ways, such as creating theme songs and shirts. In live shows, online fan websites, and the regular podcast episodes, the hosts and listeners are able to form bonds with each other that extend beyond discussions of the films. All of these aspects indicate Sconce may have no need to fear that having access to so many films will mean he will care “so little about any of them.”22 Although the years when cult films thrived in theatres may be over, the solidarity created among cult fans has not disappeared, but has merely shifted formats. 53
How Did This Become Cult?
Sconce et al., ‘CULT CINEMA’. 48. Sconce et al., 48. 3 Sconce et al., 48. 4 Sconce et al., 48. 5 Sconce et al.,t 49. 6 Sconce et al., 49. 7 Austin, ‘Portrait of a Cult Film Audience: The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ 394, 395, 400. 8 Austin, 400-1. 9 Gorfinkel, ‘Cult Film or Cinephilia by Any Other Name,’ 36. 10 Austin, 395. 11 Sconce et al., 48; Gorfinkel, 37. 12 Gorfinkel, 36. 13 Epstein, ‘The Evolution of Video, from Technicolor to Streaming to 4K’. 14 Epstein. 15 Sconce et al., 48. 16 ‘HTGM Movies and Their RT Scores - Earwolf Forums’. 17 Gorfinkel, 36. 18 ‘All Movies Referenced on How Did This Get Made?’ 19 White, ‘Hey ‘How Did This Get Made?’ 20 Sconce et al., 49. 21 Austin, 394-5. 22 Sconce et al., 49.
‘All Movies Referenced on How Did This Get Made?’ Accessed 29 November 2017. https://letterboxd.com/wallacewells19/list/all-movies-referenced on-how-did-this-get/. Austin, Bruce A. ‘Portrait of a Cult Film Audience: The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. In The Cult Film Reader, edited by Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, 392–402. Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education, 2008. Epstein, Eli. ‘The Evolution of Video, from Technicolor to Streaming to 4K’. Mashable. Accessed 28 November 2017. http://mashable.com/2015/01/09/ ces-tech-video/. Gorfinkel, Elena. ‘Cult Film or Cinephilia by Any Other Name’. Cinéaste 34, no. 1 (2008): 33–38. ‘HTGM Movies and Their RT Scores - Earwolf Forums’. Accessed 28 November 2017. http://forum.earwolf.com/topic/25474-htgm-movies and-their-rt-scores/. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Fate of the Furious” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, April 28, 2017. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “The Jazz Singer” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, November 24, 2017. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Jason X” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, October 22, 2017. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Hard Ticket to Hawaii” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, August 4, 2017. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, February 17, 2017. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “The Shadow” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, July 22, 2016. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “The Avengers” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, May 27, 2016. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Hell Comes To Frogtown” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, May 13, 2016. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Solarbabies” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, April 29, 2016. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Bloodsport” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, March 23, 2016. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “Face/Off” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, May 1, 2015. Web. November 28, 2017. Scheer, Paul, et al. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” How Did This Get Made? Earwolf Network, January 22, 2013. Web. November 28, 2017.
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Sconce, Jeffrey, Joe Bob Briggs, J. Hoberman, Damien Love, Tim Lucas, Danny Peary, and Peter Stanfield. ‘CULT CINEMA: A CRITICAL SYMPOSIUM’. Cinéaste 34, no. 1 (2008): 43–50. White, Brett. ‘Hey “How Did This Get Made?” Fans: “Jacob”s Ladder’ Is Now On Hulu’. Decider (blog), 1 November 2017. https://decider. com/2017/11/01/hey-how-did-this-get-made-fans-jacobs-ladder-is-now on-hulu/.
Cléo from 5 to 7 and the Performance of the Flâneuse Hellen Chan
In his discussion on Claire Denis’ film Vendredi soir (Friday Night), Neil Archer cites Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) as a precursor of sorts to Denis’ film: both films present “the temporary appropriation of different modes of being and seeing that is innate within the cinema’s space of rêverie.”1 These different modes of seeing are an important aspect to Varda’s film. As an early example of filmic female flânerie, Cléo from 5 to 7 offers contemplative explorations on the fluidity of subjectivity and the gaze. Cléo from 5 to 7 suggests that flânerie is performative and applies this principle to the flâneur’s imaginative expeditions into various subjectivities of urban types. In the portrayal of Cléo, Varda’s film draws attention to the performance of the flâneuse as visually kaleidoscopic and reflective of each subjectivity. Anne Friedberg has famously discussed the figure of the flâneuse, but Janet Wolff finds fault within Friedberg’s theory in that the mobile cinematic gaze experienced by female film spectators is an extension of the flâneur’s gaze.2 The film spectator lacks “self-determined direction of the gaze or, indeed, possibilities of reflective response to the parade of images.”3 Wolff continues, “central to the definition of the flâneur are both the aimlessness of the strolling, and the reflectiveness of the gaze.”4 Wolff argues that a nonclassical definition of the flâneur must be adopted to acknowledge the role of the flâneuse. The flâneur is anonymous and part of the crowd in Benjamin’s classical definition. In Franz Hessel’s Ein Flaneur in Berlin (1929), however, the flâneur is “always the subject of suspicious looks”; instead of broadening the definition of the flâneur, Benjamin defines the flâneur as a transient figure that exists exclusively in the Parisian arcades of the early twentieth century.5 A broader non-classical approach must be taken for any account of the flâneur in the modern era, including that of Cléo as flâneuse, who wanders in a Paris markedly different from the city of Benjamin’s time. Benjamin himself has written about the paradox of visuality that surrounds the flâneur: Dialectic of flânerie: on one side, the man who feels himself viewed by all and sundry as a true suspect and, on the other side, the man who is utterly undiscoverable, the hidden man.6
Hellen Chan is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto with a Major in Cinema Studies, a Minor in Linguistics, and a Minor in Italian. In addition to pursuing an academic interest in film and language, Hellen is also a translator, writer, and aspiring ceramic artist. 58
Cléo is also subject to this dynamic of visibility. On the one hand, she is viewed by others, and this is true for both halves of the film. Cléo is certainly looked at when she is acting as the melodramatic singer in the first half of the film. Furthermore, the street scene in chapter eight when Cléo walks to Dorothée’s workplace serves to illustrate that Cléo is looked at even after she dons the sober black dress and becomes a “true” flâneuse, although the gaze from the crowd this time is racked with suspicion. This very important sequence shows the reflective gaze of the flâneuse: Cléo looks at the crowd around her and is at the same time looked at. On the other hand, no one truly sees Cléo except for herself, for she hides behind various facades and 59
Cléo from 5 to 7 and the Performance of the Flâneuse
roles. This is evident in Cléo’s quote: “I thought everyone looked at me. I only look at myself.” Antoine is arguably someone who sees Cléo, but because as a flâneuse Cléo is always performing, it is not Cléo he sees, but Cléo in the role of Florence. Graeme Gilloch identifies two distinct types of flânerie in Benjamin’s texts, the flâneur-as-dandy and the flâneur-as-idler. While many critics underline Cléo’s transformation into the flâneuse, it seems equally likely to me that Cléo was always a flâneuse. Instead of moving from a position of non-identity to a position of flânerie, Cléo embodies the flâneur-as-dandy in the first half of the film and the flâneur-as-idler in the remaining half. Gilloch notes: “The dandy resists uniformity of dress, the idler uniformity of motion. Both casually flaunt precious commodities: expensive clothing on the one hand and time on the other.”7 The performative aspect of the flâneur is further discussed by Gilloch: Whether as dandy or idler, the city of Paris was not so much the home of the heroic bourgeois flâneur as his fantastical theater. Benjamin notes: ‘to the flâneur, his city- though he was born in it, like Baudelaire- is no home. It constitutes for him a stage.’8
Cléo is always performing in the film, acting for the benefit of herself and for others around her. In her role as the flâneur-as-dandy, Cléo is a “selfstyled walking peacock who trod precariously on, and sometimes stepped outrageously over, the limits of bourgeois good taste and sobriety.”9 In the beginning of the film, Cléo wears a wig and a white dress with polka dots, which Valerie Orpen describes as “ostentatious” and “by no means tasteful or even trendy.”10 In her apartment, Cléo changes into a flamboyant white negligee with ostrich feathers, more suited to the stage than the bedroom. In one shot, Cléo is positioned in the foreground of a pair of large white angel wings which hang on the wall behind her, creating a visual pun and the impression that Cléo is—or wanted to appear as—an angel.11 From the kittens to the furniture, everything in Cléo’s apartment serve as props in her saccharine performance. Cléo as a flâneur-as-dandy flaunts the commodity of a performative version of femininity, the same persona which she uses as Cléo Victoire the pop singer, a commodity directly correlated to her wealth. As a woman conscious of impending death, it may seem impossible for Cléo to flaunt time as the flâneur-as-idler; however, this knowledge that time is limited is what motivates Antoine and Cléo to draw out the present. Both Janis Mouton and Elizabeth Anthony discuss Cléo’s transformation; for both Mouton and Anthony, Cléo transforms from someone who is looked at to someone who looks. For Anthony, Cléo’s transformation is closely linked to time. “Cléo changes from one who is seen to one who sees, from ‘Cleopatra’ to 60
‘Florence,’ or ‘Flora,’ and from one who lives time ‘negatively’ and for whom time is ‘running out’ to one who embraces the present.”12 While ‘Cleopatra’ conjures images of femininity, ‘Flora’ evokes images of life and rebirth. In the role of Florence/Flora, Cléo “views time in a positive light.”13 By the end of the film, Cléo has adopted Antoine’s strategy, who “copes with his fear of dying for no reason (in Algeria) by stretching out the present and observing the life around him.”14 This is evident in Cléo’s comment to Antoine in the final chapter: “we have all the time in the world,” despite the reverse being true. Adding to the theme of time is the synchrony of the film’s chapters to real time. Chapter one for instance, is titled Cléo from 17.05 to 17.08. Disjunctively, the last chapter ends at 18.30, thirty minutes short of the time frame indicated by the film’s title. Anthony suggests that “the unused half hour of virtual cinematic time in Cléo prefigures the revolution toward the unknown of New Wave cinema.”15 In my view, the extra thirty minutes further supports Cléo’s role as the flâneur-as-idler, whose performance is “only a hollow protest,” as the flâneur-as-idler always “reaches his goal with time to spare.”16 Mouton sees Cléo moving “from a position of masquerade and nonidentity to subjectivity.”17 In Mouton’s account, Cléo “removes the disguise of a spectacle woman” and transforms into a flâneuse.18 To apply Gilloch’s interpretation of Benjamin, the figure of the flâneur, and especially the flâneur-as-dandy, is one of masquerade.19 Mouton states that Cléo is fearful of losing her “intact, fetishized beauty.”20 In chapter one, Cléo enters the café where Angèle is waiting and cries melodramatically in front of some mirrors. When she realizes that the seams between the panels divide the image of her face, she immediately moves so that her mirror image is whole. Fragmentation is key to Cléo from 5 to 7. In one of the most salient scenes in the film already briefly discussed above, Cléo is walking on the street on the way to meet Dorothée. Mobile shots of the crowd’s gaze are intercut with static images presumably from Cléo’s mind: a shot of a clock, a shot of Angèle, a shot of Cléo’s abandoned wig hanging on the mirror. Effectively an andante montage, the sequence fragments and condenses many of the film’s themes to match Cléo’s walking pace. Mouton notes that Cléo is fragmented herself, and because of this she is not shocked by the city.21 Cléo’s fragmented experience of the self aligns her with the fragmented urban experience. In the scene with Dorothée and the broken mirror, the only part of Cléo visible is her eye reflected in one of the fragments. This image visually represents Cléo’s fragmented self, as well as shatters her “intact” beauty, which she tried to preserve in the other mirror scenes. It is evident that mirrors are an important motif in Cléo from 5 to 7. Firstly, mirrors reinforce the performative aspect of the flâneur-as-dandy. Gilloch argues: 61
Cléo from 5 to 7 and the Performance of the Flâneuse In the mirror-filled spaces of the metropolis, one would endlessly admire oneself and feel oneself admired. For the flâneur-as-dandy, the city was a stage for the phantasmagorical presentation of an outlandishly costumed self.22
Gilloch further cites Benjamin quoting Baudelaire, who posits that the dandy “should live and sleep in front of a mirror.”23 Thus, mirrors are inherent to the urban experience and through their ubiquity enhance the dandy’s experience, for the dandy is forever looked at and looking at herself. Consequently, one way in which the reflective gaze manifests itself is through mirrors. Cléo has several revelatory moments while confronting herself in the mirror. Hilary Neroni sees mirrors in the film as “symbols of femininity and sites of encounter.”24 Neroni likens the image in a mirror to the image on a movie screen: “these images appear as reflections of real life, but they are also distortions of it.”25 Yet, it is through distortion that revelatory truths emerge. The ideal of female beauty and subjectivity does not exist simultaneously according to Neroni, who states that “subjectivity is the failure of the woman to see herself as the ideal of female beauty.”26 We can mark Cléo’s transformation starting from the first mirror scene, when Cléo descends after having her cards read. In the foyer flanked by mirrors, Cléo looks at her infinitely repeating reflections and says to herself: “Don’t rush away, pretty butterfly. Ugliness is a kind of death. As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive and ten times more so than others.” Contrastively, Cléo’s interior monologue expresses a very different perspective later in the film when she faces herself in the mirror of a Chinese restaurant: “My unchanging doll’s face. This ridiculous hat. I can’t see my own fears. I thought everyone looked at me. I only look at myself.” In Neroni’s interpretation, Cléo fears losing beauty as much as she fears death. Mirrors confirm her beauty and at the same time confirm that she is alive. The subject of Cléo is invisible to anyone who looks at her—she is only seen as “an ideological fantasy.”27 As Neroni puts it, “ideology offers every woman this split of being looked at and being erased by this very look.”28 Through the reflective gaze, mirrors are sites of encounter with the self and with one’s subjectivity. Orpen points out that in each chapter of Cléo from 5 to 7 is in the “internal focus” or subjectivity of a specific character.29 Varda intended the title of each chapter to reflect the subjectivity of the character(s) whom the events are filtered through, how they see the world and how they see Cléo. Angèle’s chapters are shot with wide-angle lenses, and they are “static and realist” compared to Cléo’s dreamy chapters shot in long-focus lenses that soften the image and flatten depth.30 The jazz musician Bob’s chapter uses a handheld camera with lots of spontaneous movements. In one shot, the camera swings back and forth as they rehearse, reflecting Bob’s rhythm and his playful 62
perspective. Orpen notes that despite Varda’s statement of intent, “other subjectivities intrude in chapters that should in theory focus on just one.”32 She cites chapter two as an example, wherein Cléo’s perspective masked that of Angèle’s through an aural POV which tuned out Angèle’s voice and focuses on the discussion of a couple sitting behind her.33 Additionally, the nondiegetic music reflects Cléo’s mental state throughout the film. Following the soundtrack of the film, it is fair to say that the film is predominantly from Cléo’s perspective. In fact, if the chapter titles are to be disregarded, then most of the film follows Cléo visually as well. Given the above, it is likely that the chapters are not only filtered through the eponymous characters’ subjectivities as Varda stated, but instead also filtered through Cléo’s subjectivity and how Cléo believes each character views the world and herself. The film style of each chapter is then adjusted according to what Cléo imagines it would look like if seen through other characters’ eyes. In chapter two, before Cléo’s aural and visual perspective is imposed over Angèle’s, Angèle has an internal monologue where she tells the audience “Such a drama queen. She could be happy but needs to be looked after. She’s a child.” Orpen interpreted this as an “insight into Angèle’s thoughts.”34 However, following my interpretation of “other people’s subjectivities as imagined by Cléo,” Angèle’s monologue is in fact how Cléo thinks Angèle views her. Cléo is aware that Angèle sees her as a “drama queen/child” and performs to this role whenever she is in Angèle’s presence. Cléo was still composed on the way to meeting Angèle, but she breaks down melodramatically as soon as Angèle is watching. Similarly, Cléo performs capriciously in Bob’s chapter, because that is how she believes Bob views her. Cléo’s imaginings of other characters’ subjectivities is apparent not only in camera movement and film style, but also in Cléo’s performative behavior. Cléo is sensitive to the people around her just like a flâneur is sensitive to the different types of people in a crowd. The ability to imaginatively enter into the minds of different “types” is important to the flâneur, and something that Cléo excels at: The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself or someone else, as he chooses. Like those wandering souls who go looking for a body, he enters as he likes into each man’s personality. [...] The solitary and thoughtful stroller finds a singular intoxication in the universal communion.35
The above description of the flâneur as poet taken from Baudelaire’s “Crowds” fits Cléo perfectly. In chapter three, Cléo waltzes through the hat shop trying on different hats in a sequence that feels like a rêverie. “Everything suits me. Trying things on intoxicate me,” Cléo says as she flippantly puts 63
Cléo from 5 to 7 and the Performance of the Flâneuse
on different hats and poses accordingly, for the audience of Angèle, the shopkeeper, and herself. As a flâneuse, Cléo finds intoxication in slipping into the personality of others. Whether it be characters who exist around her or personalities conjured up from the suggestion of a hat, the flâneur’s and Cléo’s journeys into “each man’s personality” is in fact a change in subjectivity that is enabled by the imagination.36 The flâneuse’s subjectivity is fluid as she is able to slip into the subjectivities of others at will, yet it is fragmented for the same reason. In Cléo from 5 to 7, Cléo’s performance as a flâneuse is the medium through which she experiences different modes of perspective, suggesting that the distorted images filtered through each subjectivity are as much performed as the characters themselves.
Notes Neil Archer, “Sex, the City and the Cinematic: The Possibilities of Female Spectatorship in Claire Denis’s Vendredi soir,” French Forum 33, no. 1 (2008): 256-7. 2 Anne Friedberg. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 3 Janet Wolff, “Gender and the haunting of cities (or, the retirement of the flȃneur),” in The Invisible Flâneuse?: Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, ed. Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008), 22. 4 Ibid., 21. 5 Wolff, 22. 6 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (1982) (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002), M2, 8, pp. 420. 7 Graeme Gilloch, Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the City (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, in association with Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 154-5. 8 Ibid,. 156. 9 Gilloch, 153. 10 Valerie Orpen, Cléo de 5 à 7 (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 73. 11 On a more ominous note, the image also foreshadows her death. 12 Elizabeth M. Anthony, “From Fauna to Flora in Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7,” Literature/Film Quarterly 26, no. 1 (1998): 89. 13 Anthony, 93. 14 Anthony, 93. 15 Ibid., 94. 16 Gilloch, 1955. 17 Ibid., 5. 18 Ibid., 8. 19 Mouton’s definition of the flȃneuse does not acknowledge the performative aspect of the flȃneur. While she notes the performative nature of early flȃneuses such as George Sand, who disguised herself as a man, in Mouton’s thesis Cléo’s flȃnerie is equated with the permanent removal of masquerade. 20 Ibid., 5. 21 Ibid., 9. 22 Ibid., 153. 23 Gilloch, 153; Benjamin, J10, 8, pp. 246. 24 Hilary Neroni, Feminist Film Theory and Cléo from 5 to 7 (Bloomsbury, 2016), 106. 25 Ibid., 108. 1
Cléo from 5 to 7 and the Performance of the Flâneuse
Ibid., 111. Neroni, 116. 28 Ibid., 117. 29 Valerie Orpen, Cléo de 5 à 7 (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 30. 30 Orpen, 32. 31 Orpen, 34. 32 Ibid, 34. 33 Orpen, 36. 34 Ibid., 34. 35 Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen (1969) (New York: New Directions, 1970), 20. 36 See note 35 above. 26 27
Bibliography Anthony, Elizabeth M. “From Fauna to Flora in Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7.” Literature/Film Quarterly 26, no. 1 (1998): 88-96. Archer, Neil. “Sex, the City and the Cinematic: The Possibilities of Female Spectatorship in Claire Denis’s Vendredi soir.” French Forum 33, no. 1 (2008): 245-260. Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen (1969). New York: New Directions, 1970. Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project (1982). Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002. Friedberg, Anne. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Gilloch, Graeme, and Walter Benjamin. Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the City. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, in association with Blackwell Publishers, 1996. Mouton, Janis. “From Feminine Masquerade to Flâneuse: Agnès Varda’s Cléo in the City.” Cinema Journal 40, no. 2 (2001): 3-16. Neroni, Hilary. Feminist Film Theory and Cléo from 5 to 7. Bloomsbury, 2016. Orpen, Valerie. Cléo de 5 à 7. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007. Wolff, Janet. “Gender and the haunting of cities (or, the retirement of the flâneur ).” In The Invisible Flâneuse?: Gender, Public Space, and Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, 18-31. Edited by Aruna D’Souza and Tom McDonough. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008. Varda, Agnès, dir. Cléo de 5 a 7. Directed by Agnès Varda, performances by Corinne Marchard, Antoine Bourseiller, Dorothée Blank, Michel Legrand, and José-Luis de Vilallonga. 1962. Janus Films; Rome Paris Films; Cine Tamaris.
Re-Framing Labour through the Single Stereoscopic Film Theresa Wang
Stereoscopic cinema is forever unfinished and inconclusive; indeed, its genealogy traces back to cinema, a medium that is also endlessly striving for totality and completion.1 Technological and industrial developments have granted the stereoscope a progressive turn towards the cinematic. Nonetheless, stereoscopic cinema is defined by a lack of identity and erased labour. Borrowing the term “hauntology” from Jacques Derrida, I regard stereoscopic cinema as a ghost trapped in a constant state of presenceabsence, unable to situate itself between flatness and depth. Despite the presence of haptic three-dimensional space in stereoscopic cinema, physical acts of labour inherent in the production of stereoscopic cinema are erased from its ontology. This essay focuses on Lucy Raven’s film installation Curtains (2014), which addresses the invisible labour of cinematic production through stereoscopic cinema’s three-dimensionality. Curtains, which reflects upon erased labour practices in the film industry, elucidates the presence and absence of bodily labour in stereoscopic cinema. In its conversion of threedimensional depth to two-dimensional flatness, Curtains reveals the invisible work behind illusory depth. The film annihilates the illusion of depth and allows the viewer to revel in flatness; through this disavowal, Curtains materializes the invisible acts of labour of stereoscopic cinema production and viewership. Curtains is examined in relation to other stereoscopic films that reconstruct binocular embodiment and challenge optical alignment, conjuring ghosts through virtual bodies. Through an appraisal of techniques of vision and theories regarding hauntology, I consider these films as “single” stereoscopic films, that is, films that encourage eye divergence to break away from stereoscopic imagery and the synthesis of three-dimensional space. In doing so, these experimental films complicate conceptions of depth and flatness for the purpose of re-configuring erased labour. Ultimately, I put forward an examination of the possible procedures one can take to deconstruct traditional stereoscopic means of viewership and relieve the contradictions of flatness and depth within stereoscopic cinema. By hypothesizing the consequences of Curtains and related films, it is possible to renegotiate the identity of stereoscopic cinema.
II. The stereoscope and subjective vision
Theresa Wang is a fourth year student at University of Toronto with a Major in Art History and double Minors in Cinema Studies and French Studies. She is interested in philosophies of media studies, community organizing, and contemporary art. Outside of university, Wang is a producer and creative director specializing in art and editorial productions. 68
The medium of stereoscopic cinema challenges representational and perceptional strategies. Historically influenced by optical devices, 3-D cinema’s identity is rooted in the synthesis of two images to achieve expanded spatial and temporal depth. In “The Dimensional Image,” Brooke Belisle suggests a number of precursors to cinematic 3-D.2 Pioneered by Charles Wheatstone in 1838, the stereoscope preceded contemporary 3-D cinema and explored strategies of depth by challenging the extent of human binocular 69
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vision. It created a dynamic effect of presence by coordinating different perspectival images between the viewer’s eyes, which could be achieved either by dual-lens cameras or two images taken with a slight temporal difference. For Belisle, these two formal methods of stereoscopic production reflect “temporal contours that are inseparable from the re-articulation of spatial cues.”3 The stereoscope did not simply merge existing images for the effect of three-dimensionality, but rather constructed and re-constructed notions of space and time through shifts in perspective. Many writers have further considered visual paradigms involved in the perception and consumption of stereoscopic media. Laura Burd Schiavo, in tracing the development of stereoscopic photography to digital 3-D, suggests that the optical effect of binocular disparity affected the conventional notion of perspective and “insinuated an arbitrary relationship between stimulus and sensation”:4 Wheatstone had purposefully used eleven pairs of simple line drawn shapes and figures including cubes and cones with his stereoscope, contriving each so that it represented the two projections of an object seen from two points of sight… Because Wheatstone’s demonstration sought to display the visual circumstances that contributed to the brain registering dimensionality, he had to isolate the variable of binocular disparity.5
The phenomenon of binocular disparity is central to labour production in stereoscopic cinema. Through binocular disparity, the human eye perceives the paired flat images as a single three-dimensional image, “two flat pictures appear to become a deep space.”6 According to Schiavo, the phenomenological sense of depth associated with binocular vision is achieved by trickery of monocular representation. Jonathan Crary in his book Techniques of the Observer problematizes visual culture by inverting traditional assessments of the image and artwork towards the position of the observer. He engages with theories and models of vision by situating vision as a social construction tied to social power and how the observer governs subjective vision. In analyzing historical optical apparatuses, Crary asserts that the stereoscope and other devices that aimed for realism rather relied on subjectivity to construct illusions of realism. For Crary, the stereoscope was “the most significant form of visual imagery in the nineteenth century, with the exception of photography” in that it prefigured optical experiences based on the body of the observer.7 The viewer of the stereoscope was not just a passive user but also a participant in producing the image and apparition of depth. In using the stereoscope, the eyes of the viewer must operate visual systems such as focus and convergence in order to coordinate the alignment of the stereoscopic image. Yet in this active labour of performing visual representation, the stereoscope and the viewer are limited to fragmented 70
images that model the simulation of the three-dimensional. Crary writes: “[i]f photography preserved an ambivalent (and superficial) relation to the codes of monocular space and geometrical perspective, the relation of the stereoscope to those older forms was one of annihilation, not compromise.”8 In this sense, the stereoscope deranges conventional optical perception of representative objects as it actively erases and annihilates content and also labour. For Crary, the 3-D image is “embodied and illusionistic” by means of the labour in manufacturing and generating binocular disparity. On the relationship between the viewer and the image, he explains, “[t]he relation of observer to image is no longer to an object quantified in relation to a position in space, but rather to two dissimilar images whose position simulates the anatomical structure of the observer’s body.”9 Within the economy of contemporary capitalism and theorizations of art, visuality, and labour, the illusion of depth of the stereoscopic image is a subjective event manufactured through and by the observer.
III. Hauntology and labour: The spectral turn
Since the spectral turn led by Jacques Derrida in Spectres of Marx, questions of haunting and ghostliness have permeated cultural and critical theory. Derrida considered the spectre as a figure of “presence-absence” and proposed it as a method of analyzing beings that are haunted. Sensibilities of the spectral echo an inability to situate oneself within a spatial and temporal whole and a desire to overcome its precise immateriality. Regardless of the conviction of an empirical entity of a literal ghost, the study of the spectral uses “its own status as discourse or epistemology” to question the formation of knowledge itself.10 In other words, the spectre is a conceptual metaphor that provides the basis for analyzing spaces that lack certainty and deconstructing notions of rigidity. Haunting, as such, is the “event by which an in-between space appears.”11 Within this interstice of space and time, haunting engages with the “mode of production of the phantom.”12 Hauntology, which posits a “liminal position between visibility and invisibility,” as well as materiality and immateriality, has been employed across cinema studies to theorize questions regarding history, tradition, memory, and trauma.13 Murray Leeder in The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema regards cinema as an ontologically ghostly medium. Citing film theorists including Béla Balázs and Ricciotto Canudo, Leeder demonstrates that early cinema’s proclivity towards the supernatural resides in cinema’s ability to “circumvent the need for rationality and legibility.”14 Leeder focuses on the role of the supernatural in early cinema: cinema, like photography, operates with referents of the real and lived, and precursors to cinema are embroiled in the inheritance of phantasmagoria and the preservation of the dead. Yet this contradicts the notion of hauntology, which is, as explained by Christine Berthin, “the 71
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dark double of ontology… [for] it deconstructs and empties out ontology, being, and presence.”15 Leeder’s reflections on the supernatural position cinema as ontologically inclined to spectrality, whereas stereoscopic cinema, as established in medium-specific inquiries, is challenged by the simple opposition of flatness and depth. Caught in between the teleological need to “complete” cinema and the impossibility of escaping the constraint of a screen and achieving three-dimensionality, 3-D’s ontology exists only in its inability to be defined. While acknowledging the inherent ghostliness of cinema, which has its ties to the phantasmagoric and supernatural, I interpret stereoscopic cinema as a medium that is more haunted than its two-dimensional counterpart. Discourses on stereoscopic cinema situate it as a supplement to twodimensional cinema, in that it externalizes the “illusory representation of depth.”16 This assessment is echoed by Rick Altman in his conception of crisis historiography. For Altman, “reality is always coded by previous representations,” which is to say that new technologies are judged based on the codes of existing representational forms.17 Stereoscopic cinema’s extradimensional representation of reality is evaluated in accordance to twodimensional cinema’s capabilities, rather than reality itself. In this sense, stereoscopic cinema’s identity is tied to two-dimensional cinema, and its social construction driven by haunting. The revenance of stereoscopic cinema is emblematic of its own endurance for survival, yet in its strife, “the medium continues to be haunted by its failure to overcome itself.”18 The “persistence” of stereoscopic cinema is not a signifier of survival but rather revenance. Rather than expand on Lippit’s position of 3-D as “an unfulfilled promise of future cinema,” I attempt to prove the ways in which 3-D constructs its own identity by emptying out its own ontology. The spectral is semiotically inherent in the poetics of stereoscopic cinema, manifested through techniques and visual cues such as the haptic quality of particle presence and the material ghost of parallax offset. Yet stereoscopic cinema is also, writes Lippit, “an invocation of the future and past, at once anticipatory and nostalgic.”19 In this manner, stereoscopic cinema exists as a haunting future anterior: a non-conciliation between the past and future. While acknowledging the haunting of 3-D’s future, it is possible to look back upon the past and consider the ways in which stereoscopic cinema can reactivate its past for futurity.
IV. The Single Stereoscope: Curtains by Lucy Raven
Curtains by Lucy Raven is a meditation upon labour practices in the film industry. The work, which is exhibited as a single-channel installation piece, comprises of ten different scenes presented through stereoscopic photographs of post-production facilities that specialize in 2-D to 3-D conversion. Premiered in Portikus, Frankurt, Curtains gained notoriety 72
during its exhibition at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 2015, where it was installed and looped inside a cinema that specialized in 3-D exhibition. In the film, workers onscreen face their own digital screens, performing labour-intensive work in office cubicles; viewers sitting in the movie theatre seats stare at the film’s screen, actively confronting the space of cinematic production and consumption. Split into the red and blue panes of anaglyph 3-D, the dual still images slide across the margins of the screen, diverging and converging, teasing the viewer with tantalizing moments of three-dimensionality only to move apart again. Erika Balsom in her article “Parallax Plurality” for Artforum describes the film: Over the course of five minutes, the two components of the stereoscopic image—one red, one cyan—enter from opposite sides of the screen like titular curtains closing. They cross over and resolve into a three-dimensional illusion for just a brief moment before continuing their way. As they vanish into the wings, the next image enters onto the global stage of digital labour.20
Curtains’ formal treatment of the stereoscopic image invites comparison to the innovative split-screen scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage (2014) during which spatial order and representation are deconstructed. The scene in question follows a woman speaking to a man on a bench, when another suddenly confronts her, pulling her away from the bench. In this moment, the 3-D image splits into two: the image in the left eye remains stationary upon the unmoving man, and the image in the right eye pans to follow the moving woman and her assailant. Only when the woman walks back to the man does the three-dimensional image return to order. A similar sequence occurs once more towards the end of the film. Although Adieu au langage was formatted for active 3-D viewership, it is useful to examine the construction of space in passive 3-D, such as with anaglyph, in order to compare with Curtains’ own use of anaglyph 3-D.21 During the separation shot of the 3-D image in Adieu au langage, each two-dimensional moving image, coloured in red and blue, overlays upon one another like a moving double-exposure. Tom Gunning, in his essay “To Scan a Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision,” situates ghostliness within the ontology and phenomenology of modern media. Hearkening the history of phantasmagoria and spirit photography, Gunning observes how the ghost can be manifested both metaphorically and visually to represent untimeliness. Gunning speaks on past theories of ghostliness for the purpose of re-imaging the concept of the phantasm in new visual devices and modern images. This affinity is made explicit in the “separation shots” in Adieu au langage: three-dimensionality is reduced to two-dimensionality, thus flattening the living into a ghost. In this 73
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manner, the camera turns the viewer’s eyes against its natural orientation and reveals dual ghosts. Through its state of two-dimensionality, the sequence maintains the volume of 3-D by using the limitation of eye divergence to construct expanded worlds. Two image sequences play simultaneously through superimposition. Raven’s film iterates movement through the interaction of paired still images, which shift apart and into one another. In Curtains, Raven optimizes the limitation of tension between flatness and volume to manifest the extra-dimensional ghost. When the slides align, the illusion of depth exists but for an instant. For the large duration of the film, Raven “concentrates on the flatness that undergirds [the illusion]… guiding the viewer to intellectually and physically recognize the disingenuousness and artificiality of the marvelous image.”22 By directly annihilating the illusion of depth, Raven reveals to the viewer how they are passively receiving a construction of three-dimensionality. Passive viewership is key to the installation, as it subverts the traditional participatory nature of the stereoscope. The way in which Raven controls the movement of the image panes challenges the viewer’s susceptibility to alter their mode of vision to accommodate for binocular disparity. The lateral movements of the images act as an exploration of space and “the sites where spatial anonymity is reproduced in current movie-making practices.”23 By portraying this act of labour through the movement of still photography, Raven “compels a deceleration of the movies, a return to the isolated frame.”24 With stills that gradually shift, Curtains obstructs binocular disparity and self-reflexively challenges its own illusion of three-dimensionality by juxtaposing itself against photographic perspective. As observed by Noa Bronstein, “the slowed overlay of each image makes visible the odd piece of office insignia (a potted plant) and unobtrusive markers of individual identity.”25 Through movement, the single stereoscopic image challenges the traditional stereoscopic means of viewership by deconstructing labour in production and consumption in order to revel in two-dimensionality. Through the surface of the image, Curtains reveals hidden figures residing in the labour of stereoscopic cinema. Its lack of planar unity directly challenges the subjective vision of the stereoscope and provides a unified visual experience through fragmentation to interrogate upon acts of labour. Raven’s artistic practice explores the intersection between still photography and moving images by addressing concerns about the conditions of image production. Raven notes that although these facilities convert 2-D to 3-D work in “post-production,” the labour involved is anything but postwork, instead heavily reliant upon “twentieth-century modes of industrial production… capitalizing on cheap labour and government subsidies.”26 Despite having evolved into a cutting-edge technology, 3-D cinema is not only haunted by its own inability to overcome itself, as iterated by Lippit, 74
but also its labour. Curtains depicts how 3-D digital cinema is dependent on the labour of global assembly lines that run from India to Canada to China. Indeed, the formal qualities of Curtains are redolent of 3-D cinema’s lineage to the stereoscope in its direct use of still stereoscopic photography. Yet time has passed and industrial relations have remained constant. Through a transparent act, Curtains shows the invisible labour process. As a nexus between visual production and consumption, Curtains challenges the world of globalized labour akin to Ken Jacobs’ work in Capitalism: Child Labour (2006). Capitalism uses archival footage of analog photography to configure modes of active labour through the portrayal of the original instance of industrial labour. The 15-minute film uses a single stereoscope card to flash between two individual images. In this rapid movement, the flat images provide “a shallow but insistent parallax judder,” simulating the volume of 3-D films.27 The source photograph shows a nineteenth-century factory floor of children exploited by the foremen for their labour. Continuing, the film superimposes isolated portions of the image, such as a boy’s face or feet. In her analysis of Capitalism, Jihoon Kim cogently recognizes how the apparatus of Jacobs’ stereoscopic cinema engages with the materiality of its labour and the labour it contextualizes to create the illusion of reality.28 Through the labour of producing and viewing these vibrations, the film generates the illusion and volume of the children’s own labour. Jacobs uses a reverse cyclical manner of un-archiving the past to uncover lost histories, and, in the process, reconfigures the labour of his work. Whereas Jacobs uses the rapid vibrations to generate movement, Raven uses sliding motions, both for the purpose of juxtaposing the relations of still photography and moving images. In Curtains, the episodic manner in which the image panes glide in and out of the margins of the screen directly speaks to the frame-by-frame process used by the post-production designers to convert films. Curtains emphasizes flatness in order to engage with social interests akin to Capitalism. Curtains interrupts binocular disparity to portray the single stereoscopic image; it engages with planar movement as a navigational exploration of labour in moving images and still spaces.29
By bringing forth concerns that bridge hauntology and labour in 3-D cinema, this essay attempts to challenge the status of viewer subjectivity and material labour in the realm of 3-D cinema. In Curtains, Raven explicitly invokes ghosts of labour through virtual bodies, situating the film against the material and immaterial labours of stereoscopic cinema production and consumption. Curtains interrogates industrial relations in the film industry by separating the viewer from their embodiment of 3-D cinema’s optical effect in order to materialize invisible acts of labour both in production and consumption. In 75
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doing so, Raven speaks to how historicized modes of vision are reconstructed and how uncertainty can relieve rather than further agitate tension. Curtains reflects of the current climate in new media studies that seeks to subvert ontological constraints, indicating that a lack of ontology may be the way to negotiate around the irreconcilable tensions in 3-D and reassert the primacy of labour in the construction of space.
Lucy Raven, Curtains (2014)
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Notes With regards to terminology, it is important to note the differentiation between “stereoscopic display” and “3-D display.” Stereoscopic cinema uses dual images to create parallax, which creates the illusion of threedimensionality. Stereoscopic images create a depth illusion viewing experience and stereoscopic visualization involves a great amount of optical work from the viewer. The “stereoscopic” is a form of vision, projection, and production. 3-D cinema is ubiquitously applied to stereoscopic cinema, however true 3-D display utilizes a different form of production and viewership that creates more volumetric, fully three-dimensional images. In this essay, I use “stereoscopic cinema” and “3-D cinema” interchangeably. The stereoscopic films addressed in this essay specifically utilize the traditional method of stereoscopy which presents dual 2-D images to give the perception of 3-D depth. 2 Brooke Belisle, “The dimensional image: overlaps in stereoscopic, cinematic, and digital depth.” Film Criticism 37, no. 3/1 (2013). 3 Ibid., 118. 4 Laura Burd Schiavo, “From Phantom Image to Perfect Vision: Physiological Optics, Commercial Photography, and the Popularization of the Stereoscope” in New Media, 1740-1915, ed. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 116 5 Ibid., 119. 6 Nick Jones, “‘There never really is a stereoscopic image’: a closer look at 3-D media.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 13, no. 2 (2015): 173. 7 Ibid., 116. 8 Ibid., 172. 9 Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT, 2012), 128. 10 María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, The Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 9. 11 Petra Löffler, “Ghosts of the City: A Spectrology of Cinematic Spaces,” communication+1 4, no.1 (2015): 3. 12 Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (New York, NY: Routledge, 2011), 97. 13 Blanco and Peeren, The Spectralities Reader, 2. 14 Murray Leeder, The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema (New York: Springer, 2017), 24. 15 Christine Berthin, Gothic Hauntings: Melancholy Crypts and Textual Ghosts (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 3. 16 Lippit, “Three Phantasies of Cinema—Reproduction, Mimesis, 1
Jean-Luc Godard, Adieu au langage (2014)
Ken Jacobs, Capitalism: Child Labour (2006)
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Annihilation,” 213. Rick Altman. “Crisis Historiography,” in Silent Film Sound, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007): 15-23. 18 Lippit, “Three Phantasies of Cinema—Reproduction, Mimesis, Annihilation,” 213. 19 Akira Mizuta Lippit, “Three Phantasies of Cinema—Reproduction, Mimesis, Annihilation,” Paragraph 22, no. 3 (1999), 216. 20 Erika Balsom, “Parallax plurality: Erika Balsom on 3-D cinema beyond the feature film,” Artforum International 54, no.1 (2015): 360. 21 Active shutter glasses and passive polarized glasses are different methods of stereoscopic visualization. Specifically, passive 3-D uses opposing polarized filters so each eye views content from one projector (left eye for left images, right eye for right images). 22 Ibid., 360. 23 Exhibition text for “Lucy Raven, Curtains,” Portikus (Frankfurt, Germany, 2014 ), http://www.portikus.de/en/exhibitions/190_curtains. 24 Ibid. 25 Noa Bronstein, “Lucy Raven: On Location/Lucy Raven: Curtains.” Afterimage 42, no.2 (2014): 30. 26 Joshua Clover, Exhibition text for “Lucy Raven,” Centre Vox (Montreal, Quebec, 2015), http://www.centrevox.ca/en/exposition/lucy-raven/. 27 Michael Sicinski, “3D in the 21st Century. Flash Forward: Four 3D Works by Ken Jacobs on Notebook,” MUBI, May 11, 2015, accessed December 1, 2017, https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/3d-in-the-21st-century-flash-forwardfour-3d-works-by-ken-jacobs. 28 Jihoon Kim, “Transitional Found Footage Practices: Video in and out of the Cinematic Fragments” in Between Film, Video, and the Digital: Hybrid Moving Images in the Post-Media Age (New York: Bloomsbury Academic USA, 2016), 194. 17
Bibliography Altman, Rick. “Crisis Historiography.” In Silent Film Sound, 15-23. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Balsom, Erika. “Parallax plurality: Erika Balsom on 3-D cinema beyond the feature film.” Artforum International 54, no.1 (2015): 354-361. Belisle, Brooke. “The Dimensional Image: Overlaps in Stereoscopic, Cinematic, and Digital Depth.” Film Criticism 37/38, no. 3/1 (2013): 117-37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24777979. Berthin, Christine. Gothic Hauntings: Melancholy Crypts and Textual Ghosts. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Blanco, María del Pilar, and Esther Peeren. The Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Bronstein, Noa. “Lucy Raven: On Location/Lucy Raven: Curtains.” Afterimage 42, no.2 (2014): 29-30. Burd Schiavo, Laura. “From Phantom Image to Perfect Vision: Physiological Optics, Commercial Photography, and the Popularization of the Stereoscope” in New Media, 1740-1915, ed. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree, 113-138. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Clover, Joshua. Exhibition text for “Lucy Raven,” Centre Vox, Montreal, Quebec, 2015. http://www.centrevox.ca/en/exposition/lucy-raven/. Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. See esp. chap. 4, “Techniques of the Observer.” Derrida, Jacques, and Peggy Kamuf. Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. New York, NY: Routledge, 2011. Devernay, Frédéric, and Paul Beardsley. “Stereoscopic Cinema.” Edited by Rémi Ronfard and Gabriel Taubin. Geometry and Computing Image and Geometry Processing for 3-D Cinematography 5 (2010): 11-51. doi:: 10.1007/978-3-642-12392-4 2. Exhibition text for “Lucy Raven, Curtains,” Portikus, Frankfurt, Germany, 2014. http://www.portikus.de/en/exhibitions/190_curtains Fuchs, Christian, ed. Marx and the Political Economy of the Media. Chicago: Haymarket, 2016. Gunning, Tom. “To Scan a Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision.” In The Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory, ed. María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, 220-257. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
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Ho, Sophie Le-Phat, and Ronald Rose-Antoinette. “Intimating Our Ghosts.” MICE Magazine, October 1, 2017. http://www.micemagazine.ca/issue three/issue-03-editorial-ghost-intimacies/. Jones, Nick. “‘There never really is a stereoscopic image’: a closer look at 3-D media.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 13, no. 2 (2015): 170-188. Kim, Jihoon. “Transitional Found Footage Practices: Video in and out of the Cinematic Fragments” in Between Film, Video, and the Digital: Hybrid Moving Images in the Post-Media Age, 145-195. New York: Bloomsbury Academic USA, 2016. Leeder, Murray. The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema. New York: Springer, 2017. Lippit, Akira Mizuta. “Three Phantasies of Cinema—Reproduction, Mimesis, Annihilation.” Paragraph 22.3 (1999): 213-227. “the medium continues to be haunted by its failure to overcome itself” (213) Lippit suggests that stereoscopic cinema as a medium is haunted Löffler, Petra. “Ghosts of the City: A Spectrology of Cinematic Spaces.” communication+1 4, no.1 (2015): 1-19. Sicinski, Michael. “3D in the 21st Century. Flash Forward: Four 3D Works by Ken Jacobs on Notebook.” MUBI. May 11, 2015. Accessed December 1, 2017. https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/3d-in-the-21st-century-flash-forward four-3d-works-by-ken-jacobs.
EDITORIAL BOARD Editor-in-Chief Rachel Gao Editors Dora Boras Patrick Bull Emma Doerksen Sarah Fellows Evelyn Maude Design Editor Winnie Wang Faculty Advisor Alberto Zambenedetti