Thursday, 11 June 2015

New Issues of NECSUS on 'Animals', Godard, Sobchack, Mulvey, Musicals, Documentary, Feminisms, and PARTICIPATIONS on film festivals, internet, television, Twitter, film and theatre audiences



A concise video primer by Catherine Grant on phenomenological film theory as well as a tribute to the works of René Clément, Henri Decae, Vivian Sobchack, Steven Shaviro and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Published in NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, Spring, 2015, where you can also read an accompanying text: "Film studies in the groove? Rhythmising perception in Carnal Locomotive."

Today, Film Studies For Free brings very glad tidings of two newly published, open access journal issues, from NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies (still rolling out, and which, alongside its regular features and sections, offers a special dossier on 'animals') and PARTICIPATIONS: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies. All the contents are listed and linked to below.

If you're attending the annual gathering of the Network of European Cinema and Media Studies (NECS) in Łódź, Poland, have fun! It's a great conference. This year, FSFF's author is presenting instead at the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities-funded workshop on Scholarship in Sound and Image, taking place from next week at Middleburg College in Vermont, U.S.A. from which some wonderful (and certainly open access) things will soon come.


NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, Spring 2015


Audiovisual essays:

Special section: Animals (rolling out shortly)
  • Animals, anthropocentrism, media by Barbara Creed and Maarten Reesink
  • Why not look at animals? by Anat Pick
  • When Lulu met the Centaur: Photographic traces of creaturely love by Dominic Pettman
  • Tasmanian tigers and polar bears: The documentary moving image and (species) loss by Belinda Smaill
  • Cinematic slowness, political paralysis?: Animal life in ‘Bovines’, with Deleuze and Guattari by Laura McMahon
  • Horseplay: Equine performance and creaturely acts in cinema by Stella Hockenhull
  • Cows, clicks, ciphers, and satire by Tom Tyler

Book reviews:

(edited by Lavinia Brydon and Alena Strohmaier [NECS Publication Committee])

  • Television studies reloaded: From history to text review by Massimo Scaglioni
  • The documentary film book review by Malin Wahlberg 
  • Storytelling in the media convergence age: Exploring screen narratives review by Emre Caglayan
  • Education in the school of dreams: Travelogues and non-fiction films review by Adam Freeman

Festival reviews:

(edited by Marijke de Valck and Skadi Loist [Film Festival Research Network])
  • Dossier: International Film Festival Rotterdam 2015 edited by Marijke de Valck
  • Dispatches from the dark: A conversation with Neil Young at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2015 by Daniel Steinhart
  • Hollywood legacies and Russian laughter: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto / Pordenone Silent Film Festival 2014 review by Gert Jan Harkema
  • We can haz film fest!: Internet Cat Video Festival goes viral review by Diane Burgess

Exhibition reviews:

(edited by Miriam De Rosa and Malin Wahlberg [NECS Publication Committee])
  • Too much world: A Hito Steyerl retrospective review by Paula Albuquerque
  • McMansion of media excess: Ryan Trecartin’s and Lizzie Fitch’s SITE VISIT review by Lisa Åkervall
  • Reaching out!: Activating space in the art of Olafur Eliasson review by Olivia Eriksson
  • David Reeb: Traces of Things to Come review by Leshu Torchin


PARTICIPATIONS 12. 1, May 2015

All the below contents are linked to herehttp://www.participations.org/Volume%2012/Issue%201/contents.htm


Editorial: Barker, Martin (Editor): 'Thinking differently about "censorship"''


Articles

Themed Section 1: 'Theatre Audiences' (Guest editors: Matthew Reason and Kirsty Sedgman)

Themed Section 2: 'Tweeting the Olympics: International broadcasting soft power and social media' (Guest editors: Marie Gillespie and Ben O'Loughlin)


Themed Section 3: 'EIFAC 2014' (Guest editors: Lesley-Ann Dickson)


Reviews

Monday, 1 June 2015

THE CINE-FILES on Film Sound (Chion, Flinn, Beck) & FRAMES CINEMA JOURNAL on "Conflicting Images, Contested Realities"

Screenshot from Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006). You can read Mack Hagood's article “The Tinnitus Trope: Acoustic Trauma in Narrative Film”, which refers to this film)

Film Studies For Free is thrilled to rapidly relay news to its readers of two new open access film journal issues: The Cine-Files (8, 2015) on Film Sound and Frames Cinema JournalConflicting Images,Contested Realities (7, 2015). Both volumes boast truly magnificent contents, but the Sound Dossier and Issue at The Cine-Files is something really special, with contributions from the likes of Michel Chion, Caryl Flinn, Jay Beck and Kate Lacey among many other luminaries.

FSFF's author also contributed to this excellent issue - on the emergent focus on film sound, music and listening in audiovisual essays.




Frames Cinema JournalIssue 7, June 2015 on Conflicting Images,Contested Realities, (click here to access all the below contents)

Contents
  • Conflicting Images, Contested Realities: An Introduction to Frames 7 by Eileen Rositzka and Amber Shields
Feature Articles
  • "Goya on his Shoulders: Tim Hetherington, Genre Memory, and the Body at Risk" by Robert Burgoyne and Eileen Rositzka
  • "New Ethical Questions and Social Media: Young People’s Construction of Holocaust Memory Online" by Victoria Grace Walden
  • "The War Tapes and the Poetics of Affect of the Hollywood War Film Genre" by Cilli Pogodda and Danny Gronmaier
  • "A Revolution for Memory: Reproductions of a Communist Utopia through Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Posters from the Cultural Revolution" by Nathan To
  • "The Long Life of Belgian WWI Documentaries in the Interwar Period" by Natalia Stachura
  • "'Choirs of Wailing Shells': Poetic and Musical Engagements in Derek Jarman’s War Requiem –between Documentary and Fiction" by Caroline Perret
Point of View
  • "Matricídio, or Queerness Explained to My Mother" by Diego Costa
  • "Bollywood Bodies: Turning the Gaze from Babes to Boys and Back Again in Farah Khan’s Happy New Year" by Amber Shields
  • "Civil War Photography and the Contemporary War Film" by John Trafton
  • "Argentine Documentaries on the Malvinas (Falklands) War: Between Testimony and Televisual Archive" by Mirta Varela
  • "The British Docudramas of the Falklands War" by Georges Fournier
Book Reviews
  • In Contrast: Croatian Film Today by Ana Grgić

Monday, 25 May 2015

[in]TRANSITION Issues! Rossellini, Marclay, Burnett, Snow, Emoticons, Time, Surveillance, Volumetric Cinema, Experimental Cinema, Spaghetti Westerns, Women in Prison Genre


THEORY OF RELATIVITY by Catherine Grant is an experimental video about digital intertextuality and cinephiliac relativity. It was inspired, in part, by (the non-open access article) "Time and Time Again: Temporality, Narrativity, and Spectatorship in Christian Marclay’s The Clock," just published in the Spring 2015 issue of Cinema Journal (54.3) by film scholar Julie Levinson. You can read a little more about this video and the connections it makes here. It was also made as a reserve entry for the new issue of [in]Transition linked to below.

Film Studies For Free is truly thrilled to present an entry on the last two issues of [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, of which FSFF's author is proud to be a co-editor. The journal and its editors and project managers recently won an 'Award of Distinction' for Innovative Scholarship thanks to the 2015 Anne Friedberg Award Committee and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Board of Directors, presented at the annual SCMS conference in Montreal. Woohoo! (Btw, look out for content related to this conference in FSFF's next entry, coming soonish!)

The first of the two issues FSFF is catching up with was published to coincide with the Montreal conference back in March. It was the first issue of [in]Transition devoted exclusively to peer-reviewed videographic work! Each video was accompanied by a curatorial statement from the maker, as well as the peer reviewer evaluations, all transparently published in the spirit of openness, to encourage scholarship as conversation, and to help our discipline establish a set of criteria for what constitutes valid scholarship in this emerging, audiovisual form. [in]Transition continues to accept submissions of videographic work for peer-reviewed publication in subsequent issues. Guidelines for submission are here.

[in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, 2.1, 2015
And the second issue to be publicised here (commissioned and edited by FSFF's author) has just been published! It features content generated as part of an exciting collaboration with Cinema Journal, its partner publication. That journal's editor, Will Brooker, shared with [in]Transition's editors (some six months in advance of publication) four articles from the latest issue of this highly esteemed journal—54.3, Spring 2015—and asked if we would be interested in commissioning videographic responses to the work. We accepted this challenge, conceiving of it as an experiment to see how audiovisual essays (produced and published relatively quickly) could take up, adapt, or riff off debates and arguments posited by written scholarly texts (which, as is customary, had taken several years to produce and publish).

Five sets of audiovisual essayists accepted the unusual commission, and their creative, critical work forms the basis of the issue. Each video is accompanied by a written statement from the maker(s) discussing the matters at stake in composing such audiovisual responses. Further responses to the work from viewers and readers are invited in the comments threads to the entries.

[in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, 2.2, 2015
[Note: The video at the top of this FSFF entry was made as a reserve video for the issue. You can read more about that one here.]

There is further open access content connected to the above articles from the latest issue of Cinema Journal with which [in]Transition 2.2 interacted, as follows:

Cinema Journal Afterthoughts and Postscripts, Spring 2015, 54.3

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

STUDY OF A SINGLE FILM: On Godard's ALPHAVILLE - Dystopia 50 Years On!

Frame grab from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)



"One never understands anything...then suddenly, one evening...you end up dying of it."
Lemmy Caution, Alphaville

In 1965, Jean-Luc Godard—the quintessential European auteur, the first cinephile director, the man who took it upon himself to reinvent the cinema and then to declare its death—directed a black-and-white science-fiction film noir: Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution. Mixing genres, combining a distant future and the recent past, pop and high art, total alienness and twentieth century Paris, dystopian scenarios and modernist architecture, the celebration of familiar tropes and the annihilation of stereotypes, Godard made a highly hybrid and visionary film that was many things at once, but also irreducibly singular. With international funding, an expatriate American lead actor (famous in France and Germany for his roles as British pulp character Lemmy Caution), foregrounding Paris simultaneously as the heart of European modernism and as the standardised, international metropolis of the future, Alphaville nodded to the tropes of an Americanised global culture while being utterly European—and the product of the post-New Wave coproduction practices of continental art cinema. Alphaville was a film that both exploited and exploded the tropes, conventions and expectations that constituted “European cinema” as a commercial product, as a critical concept and as an aesthetic category. Laura Rascaroli, Alphaville editorial

Fifty years ago today Jean-Luc Godard's dystopian science fiction film Alphaville was released in France. It remains one of the most compelling fictional studies of 'technological totalitarianism', as Andrew Sarris put it, ever produced for the cinema. To commemorate this important anniversary Film Studies For Free publishes its usual list of related scholarly links and wonderful embedded videos (including a brand new tribute video on the film by renowned film scholar Patricia Pisters) on the subject of this redoubtable film.

In an era in which many aspects of the dystopia so brilliantly and originally portrayed in Godard's film seem only too real, FSFF additionally celebrates the French director's 'strange adventure', and much of the politically committed writing about it, by declaring its solidarity with ongoing struggles to defend progressive and free education around the world, including the Amsterdam New University movement (see also here), and other valuable challenges to the logic of "Market-Driven Education" in the UK (including at the LSE) and elsewhere, including the defence of Film Studies in Hungary (see the petition here).

Finally, FSFF would also like to flag up a CFP for the wonderful journal named after Godard's film - Alphaville is planning a special issue on Women and Screen Media in the Twenty-First Century.
See the details here: http://alphavillejournal.com/Submissions.html#CFP

Coming very soonFSFF's roundup of online resources resulting from this year's annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Montréal!




In honor of the 50th anniversary of Jean-Luc Godard's film Alphaville (1965).
Watching Alphaville fifty years after its making in 2015, most striking is the enduring presence of wounds of the Second World War. The ruins, scars and the horror of the war can be felt in every image of this film, even if it is set in the future. But what is even more striking is that so much of the film's traumas related to the past, and related to the cold logic of modernity, still resonate with today’s reality. Just replace ‘Alphaville’ with ‘NSA’ and think of Lemmy Caution as Edward Snowden, and the future that Godard captured in Paris of the 1960s represented by the totalitarianism of the Alpha 60 machine has transformed into the more invisible algorithms of the billions of metadata patterns that trace, predict and control our steps in today’s global digital networks. 
The allegory I mention in this video-essay not only concerns [...] the past and an imaginary future, but [...] the actual present of our control societies that have taken the snake-like intricateness and hard to grasp modulations announced by Gilles Deleuze about twenty-five years ago. Patricia Pisters 

Henrike Lindenberger, 'On Alphaville: The Crystal Maze', The Audiovisual Essay: Practice and Theory of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, September 2014. Online at: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/audiovisualessay/reflections/intransition-1-3/henrike-lindenberger/ Also fCurated at [in]Transition, 1.3, 2014 by Cristina Alvarez López

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Passion(s) of Sam Rohdie (1939-2015)

UPDATED with a new reflection by William Routt on April 19
'In Vertigo, James Stewart's look is as important as the figure [...] whom he regards and who he transforms by his desires [...] It is important that the sight seen has in it something out of place, out of true and the normal, which engages the look of the character and lures him or her into an imaginary.'
Sam Rohdie, Montage (Manchester University Press, 2006), pp. 63-64 (Also see here)

The sad news has arrived of the sudden death, on April 3 in Florida, of film scholar Sam Rohdie, a hugely important, if at times also a divisive figure in our discipline.

In the last years, Rohdie held the position of Professor of Cinema Studies in the Department of Film at the University of Central Florida. He had previously held the Chair in Film Studies at The Queens University of Belfast and before that was Professor of Film Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He also held academic posts in universities in England, Ghana, Italy and the United States and was an original member of the Cinema Studies Program at La Trobe University, Melbourne. He published widely on film in academic journals and books (see below). Rohdie was the editor of Screen in the United Kingdom from 1971 to 1974.

FSFF's author never met Rohdie, but was an avid reader of his work. He not only made a huge contribution to film studies as a discipline, he was also an important author and supporter of online and open access film scholarship, particularly at the pioneering Australian open access journal Screening the Past (including co-editing two dossiers for the journal with Des O-'Rawe - on ‘Cinema/Photography: Beyond Representation [Screening the Past, Issue 29]' and 'Cinema/Theatre: Beyond Adaptation [Screening the Past, Issue 21]'; see the journal's own Facebook page for its tributes to Rohdie). The latter is one of the reasons why his contribution is especially dear to FSFF.

Below, you can find invited tributes to Rohdie's work, beginning with Adrian Martin's memories of Rohdie - more will follow on a rolling basis in the next days. 

Below the tributes is FSFF's characteristic gathering of links to online scholarly works - ones by or about Rohdie, as well as a list of his major books.

If you have any resources you would like to be added, please email FSFF. Thanks.


Sam Rohdie 
By Adrian Martin
It was 1978. I was a student in the Media course at Melbourne State College (a training institution for secondary school teachers) in Australia, and that semester we had (thanks to his friend Tom Ryan) an illustrious guest lecturer: Sam Rohdie. At that time, Sam was completing his PhD, a minute analysis – written somewhat in the manner of Barthes or Derrida – of a segment from Rossellini’s Rome, Open City. We worked through this same segment in class, week after week, with a 16mm print and projector (those were the days!).
Sam’s goal was to show, intensively, that what history had taken for ‘realism’ (or even neo-realism) was entirely fabricated, shot for shot, cut for cut. That what happened apparently ‘incidentally’ in the scene was connected, by numerous narrative and semantic chains, to every other moment in the film. There was the thrill – de rigueur at the time – of the micro-analytic exposure of common sense and transparency, an almost paranoiac ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ as it came to be called. But there was also a sensual joy in this analysis, and that quickly came to mean more for Sam, in all the work that followed this doctoral culmination of what we might think of as his ‘Screen years’ – i.e., his time as editor, contributor, instigator and agitator at that (now august) cinema studies journal.
Almost at the second the ink was dry on that thesis, Sam got into the habit of downplaying the Screen legacy in his life – and he was still doing so when Deane Williams interviewed him in 2010 for a history of film theory in Australia. He had developed a marked aversion to the ‘dry taxonomies’ of Metz, as he told me, and indeed with the entire dream of structuralist-semiotic film analysis. He was through with the pretension to scientific rigour and certainty. He was heading somewhere else, and now in a more post-structuralist spirit, but without all the lengthy citations and footnotes of the then-recent academic past: into paradox, into pleasure, and above all into writing as a creative as well as critical art.
In 1978, Sam had given me the draft of his PhD to read – and he curtly dismissed me from his presence on the day I handed it back without any particularly searing critical comment to offer on it. That’s how he was: like Godard, Sam was always in search of an interlocutor, and so rarely found one who he deemed worthy. It was his personal style, and it infused his singularly disconcerting teaching method. Sam was aggressive and provocative in the classroom; he was impatient with having to be ‘the teacher’. This seems to have remained his teaching mode, more or less, to the end of his life (he was about to retire from the game in May). In 1978, at least, he was in the habit of identifying the ‘gifted’ students – this was to be my role, alas – and, when he got bored, giving the signal for that chosen delegate to keep the class going by yapping on without missing the beat, as he looked off and thought of more pleasant things, such as what he would cook that evening (Sam was a true foodie). 
Rossellini: Sam came to love him, not to expose him – as his essay on India eventually showed. I came to see, by the mid 1990s, when he launched his personal book-writing crusade with the brilliant Antonioni – and after articles he had written in various Australian magazines like Cinema Papers and Filmviews – that Sam now grasped every film he liked (in deep-dish Derrida style) as a conceptual paradox: a statement or position always undoing itself, implying its opposite term. This idea tracks through all of his writing on the great auteurs of Italian cinema. Fellini, for instance, may make films that, on the surface decry a world of artifice and superficiality – but, in their very being, they celebrate this artifice, and invite us to (as he once wrote) “join the party”. Rocco and His Brothers may seem to be groping toward a stern moral statement about the “conflicting claims of passion and duty, art and reason”, but Visconti is forever fascinated by the decadence that he dramatises. Sam was no longer out to expose or correct these wayward, paradoxical expressions. On the contrary, he took them for constitutive paradoxes, generating the most agonised, soulful and beautiful of films. 
I don’t pretend to have really known Sam, or to know now what ever made him tick. I have the impression that he was someone who constantly reinvented himself and his life, in terms of the places he lived (and taught), the languages he learnt, the books he read and the films he saw (and re-saw). In Australia in the 1970s and ‘80s, he hurled himself into the public works of film culture: he appeared on radio (very memorably), chaired feisty public discussions at the National Film Theatre, and contributed to curriculum committees for screen education at tertiary and secondary levels. The most remarkable sign of this intense desire to ‘assimilate’ was in his finding and championing of Australian avant-garde work – work that has rarely been approached with such theoretical zest ever since. 
But I think that, in later times and places – in Hong Kong or Belfast or Florida, by which time I had totally lost touch with him – he no longer longed to fuse himself with local scenes in the same way. Rather, he preferred to look backward (and yet forward) into history, histories of film and culture; and it was writing that sustained his interest and his passion, as we see in his final essay collections, Montage and Intersections, and no doubt the posthumous Film Modernism appearing later this year. I spotted him at the Godard conference at the Tate in 2001 – a rather lonely, sullen figure, he seemed to me, and unaccountably silent at each session’s question time, where once he would have been so vociferous – and again in 2006 on the streets of Paris, once more on a rendez-vous with Godard, this time the astonishing Pompidou exhibition Voyage(s) en utopie. And it is Godard and his Histoire(s) du cinéma that, judging from the essays he would regularly send the editors of Screening the Past in his last years, form the spine of Film Modernism
I am back in that classroom of 1978. Sam gives me ‘the sign’ to speak – I am utterly terrified, but kind-of used to this sadomasochistic ritual by now – and he looks away from the sea of students, indifferent to either their delight or their dismay. I remember one day, when he did this, just about everyone present could forgive his perennial tactic, because he was concentrated by something that formed a quite lovely spectacle: his very young daughter had fallen asleep in his lap at the front of the classroom, and he caressed her very gently and tenderly, soothing her dreams. This is the image of Sam Rohdie I choose to remember today.
© Adrian Martin, 14 April 2015


Sam Rohdie: Three Times 
By Deane Williams 
(1)
In 1989, after many years away from the University, I enrolled in an Honours year at the then legendary La Trobe University Cinema Studies department, home to Bill Routt, Rick Thompson, Barbara Creed, Lorraine Mortimer, and, of course, Sam Rohdie. I wanted to write a dissertation on Chris Marker’s Sunless and was assigned Sam as a supervisor. Sam told me he didn’t, at that time, like the film much, wasn’t a very good supervisor, suggested I might be interested in Italian neo-realism and that I couldn’t write. He also suggested that I read Proust and Jean Rouch on the “cine-trance” in the essay in Mick Eaton’s collection Anthropology, Reality, Cinema. It turned out to be not much of a dissertation. No matter. 
What Sam did was introduce me to was what I think of as intellectual film studies, what Sam, in an interview I did with him in 2009, called “serious film studies”, a term he used over and over in that interview, as distinct from a theoretical approach to film studies; an approach taken by everyone at La Trobe in this period. He continued:
I think the more correct word is seriousness and that engaging with a film or a group of films was risky and exciting and you needed to do it seriously and whatever would help you in that seriousness you should employ and so it was very… anything, anything would do but there certainly wasn’t a ‘film theory’ that I had any particular loyalty towards. You used ideas when they seemed appropriate and you went to things when they seemed appropriate and if certain structures of ideas helped you to see things, you employed them but they were kind of instruments.
In this way Sam was a kind of deep intellectual, with a formidable knowledge across, film and art history, literature, critical theory et al., matched by an equally fearsome confidence in both his own criticism of any presumed knowledge as well as his own manner in pursuing his own ideas. Sam was forthright, difficult and a hell of a writer. 
(2) 
In my PhD dissertation completed in 2000, I tried to mimic Sam’s writing on Italian neo-realism in my own discussion of Rossellini’s Stromboli in relation to R Maslyn Williams Mike and Stefani. A few years later I read and reviewed Sam’s essayistic Promised Lands: Cinema. Geography, Modernism for Framework. It is my favourite book of Sam’s, even though his Antonioni floored me at the time. I wrote then that,

Promised Lands is a book that is formally like the cinema that Rohdie revels in. Like Rohdie’s beloved neo-realism the book is invested with the present but only as it relates to what Rohdie and Bazin understood to be “the unforeseen”. In adopting this approach Rohdie divests himself of intention, of arguing a point, of calling on reliable witnesses to nail the reading of any situation, photograph or film. The book is open ended, free flowing marked by gaps, fissures and repetitions masking an intricacy at its heart.
I wrote that Promised Lands was a kind of ideal film studies book, eccentric to the pressures many of us submit to in academic life, a book that worked away at Albert Kahn’s The Archives of the Planet, in an imaginative, indirect and marvellous work of writing about cinema. 
(3) 
In 2009 I travelled to Orlando Florida to spend the day with Sam, eating at a Vietnamese restaurant, interviewing, talking about Sam’s latest interests and writing endeavours: Chris Marker, Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma and Johan van der Keuken.  Sam was incredibly generous with his time and his remembrances, able to understand his enormous contribution to film studies in a measured and engaging way. Sam had obviously thought a lot about his various roles, in Ghana, in London at Screen, New York, Australia, Hong Kong, Belfast, Florida with each move understood in amongst the significant cultural shifts occurring around him. I think the interview captured the intellectual spirit of a truly eccentric character. Rest in Peace Sam Deane Williams 
“Journeying” Rev of Promised Lands: Cinema. Geography, Modernism – Sam Rohdie”,Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media. 45: 2 (Fall 2004): 118-120.
 “Some Things You Never Learn” – Sam Rohdie Interviewed by Deane Williams. in Noel King and Deane Williams. Australian Film Theory and Criticism. Vol. II: Interviews. Bristol and Chicago, Intellect, 2014. 157-168.  
© Deane Williams, 15 April 2015


In Memoriam: Sam Rohdie 
By Lesley Stern 

The film is beautiful. The Chinese authorities wanted a film which glorified the Revolution, a film full of certainties. Antonioni gave them instead a film of immense affection, care, and attention, but one as a result at odds with the official, the sure, the conventional, and the false. In doing so, the film suggested a politics of art based on openness, on looking, on wondering, on respect for the specific, the particular, the individual. It was a journey in search of what was hidden and interior in China, not its political public face, but its human one.[i]
Sam, here, is writing about Antonioni’s 1972 film, Chung Kuo Cina. But it seems to me this could also be read as an account of his own journey through cinema, and about the relationship between writing about films and films themselves. Sam’s later books and writing hover between a careful attention to the films he discusses, as entities existing independent of the individual gaze, and as worlds that bring into being the consciousness of the writer, that elicit and shape a mode of writing and reflection that is acutely personal. 
Sam and I worked together, along with others, in the Cinema Studies Program at la Trobe University in Melbourne for about six years, from 1977-1982. During that time we maintained a strong collegial relationship and a kind-of-friendship. A couple of years later he cut me out of his life as he was wont to do. And we had no further contact. 
I learnt more, teaching with Sam, than from any other single person. He might have been cavalier with students (Adrian describes his mode very well and also captures the way in which Sam, despite his unorthodox pedagogic mode, had a tremendous impact on those students who endured) but he never condescended and always (usually correctly) assumed that people were capable of grasping much more complex ideas than commonsense dictated. As a colleague, though, the thrill was in the preparation, in the discussion about the curriculum and courses, in the space opened up in these discussions and debates to really interrogate why the cinema mattered (interrogate? oh where did this word come from? It just torpedoed right out of the 1970s, exploding into this so much more subdued bit of writing). We had a lot of fun devising and imagining courses, like an introductory unit that would begin with All that Heaven Allows and end with River of No Return
Sam was a formidable presence. He could be charming, seductive, engaged -- or cruel, malicious, capricious, indifferent. And sometimes it varied from one moment to the next. I learnt early on that if you could get a toe hold in an argument with Sam the important thing was to hang on, even if you had to swing from the chandeliers or more often from decidedly less glittering perches. We argued a lot during those years. Some of those arguments were predictable but you could also be blind-sided. One day, seemingly out of the blue, he lit into me with particular fury about Jeanne Dielmann. He chose his moment well: a party, when there was a hush in the room. He denounced the film (and me) as retrograde, as exhibiting all the worst tendencies of neo-realism, as a huge black mark against feminist film and any claims made on its behalf for experimentation. Indeed, in general he considered my feminism as proof of an impoverished imaginative grasp of cinema. Robbe Grillet is another figure about whom we disagreed. For Sam all relations in film could be plotted, figures positioned and transposed, the game enjoyed. 
This is the story I now tell; his story would no doubt be different. He would be the first to say that we all tell stories, and indeed he reveled in performativity. He picked up and dropped people just like he did ideas. He would include people in his will and excise them, often publicly. If you were able to grasp the performative aspect of his vitriol you might survive, and even on occasion enjoy the drama, but a lot of people didn’t survive. 
Let me qualify or reconsider what I have just said. Sam did not treat people and ideas in quite the same way. I think he had a lot more respect, on the whole, for ideas; he was a tenacious and passionate intellectual, he never floated ideas whimsically, always his arguments were based in extensive and deep reading, viewing, thinking through. In the interview he did with Deane Williams he reconsiders his position of the Screen days, and talks about how he has no canon, no fixed allegiances, how he likes to probe and find out what curiosity yields, what ideas are useful, or new—generated by a text. I think this is true in his criticism, but I would also say that he has remained remarkably true to certain film makers and writers: to Italian cinema of the postwar period, to Godard, to Proust and Barthes. 
Take A Lover’s Discourse. Sam and I were in agreement in loving that Barthes. Though at the time its influence did not actually register in much film writing. But it does register in later Rohdie, reading a book like Promised Lands: Cinema, Geography, Modernism is also to reread the Barthes of A Lover’s Discourse
Ideas/people: are they so distinguishable, or so interchangeable? Surely not, but it is not always so easy to tell how, in what circuitous and often unexpected ways they are connected. 
After living for some years in Melbourne Sam bought a place on the outskirts of the city where he (I think) remodeled the existing house and terraced the hillside to landscape a vegetable garden. He was a marvelous cook, his touch was light and deft. I remember a particular lunch he conjured: raw crunchy fresh vegetables and a rich yellow mayonnaise, and then a stir fry with snow peas from the garden. But most of all I remember how he showed with great pride his pantry. It was cool and spacious, shelves lined with jars of fruit and jam and chutneys he had bottled. 
I often recall that day, a poignant pleasure, not long before we became no-longer friends. Often when I am feeling sorry for myself, when I start cataloguing all the things that are missing from my life, top of the list is usually a pantry. I always think, then, with considerable envy, of Sam’s pantry. But as I walk in and start browsing the shelves ideas start bubbling. The Rohdie pantry is also a library, an archive, a film museum, a curiosity cabinet. 
Looking forward to meeting Sam again in his forthcoming Film Modernism.
[i] http://www.littlerabbit.com/antonioni/masamrohdie.html
© Lesley Stern, 18 April 2015



JUST ADDED  
Cut 
By William Routt 


Perhaps I should begin by pointing out that what you read here was not written by Bill Routt. It is being written by William D. Routt, an identity with which Bill should be intimately acquainted but who is by no means me. 
And what I am writing or have written emphasises a specific and crucial element of my (and your) relation to Sam Rohdie: Sam as a distorted reflection. In 1989 I, the one who writes this, dedicated an essay about cinema and architecture to “Sam – miroir insolite,” a pretty up itself way of telling him (if he ever read it or understood the secret message) that I was writing about this topic because he had been teaching and thinking and occasionally talking about Antonioni and architecture, and that I was also conscious of having taken other cues from what he had done. Of course, as it turned out, my dedication was much more than that. 
I had taken a lot of pleasure in the disturbance Sam caused when he initially arrived in the same batch of media faculty as I and another, at La Trobe's School of Education. There had been a raucous, pointed exchange with other members of the School on matters of history in which Sam was the Big Dog and I was the Small Dog. Even when he scared me, I thought it probably did me some good – because he could not shut up, because he had to say what he thought (or, rather, felt), because he was a bully, because he liked to embarrass and destroy. And because I also thought that there was no particular, no specific malice in what he did and said. There was a malice towards all, not malice towards one. He wanted no part of anyone (he wanted us all, all of us). Don't you wish you were like that? I did. 
So Sam was my bizarre mirror, an inversion of vision as printing is an inversion of what has been written, in which I identified myself distorted, no good, and truly. Saw the Big Dog without ever being the big dog. My reflection, projection, identification. The triumph of the finite me in the Absolutely Other. I hope he was that for at least some of you as well because, I think, it may have been something of what he intended, if he ever intended, if we ever really intend. 
Almost to the measure that his later, post-La Trobe, work was not within a mainstream that he, as editor of Screen in the early seventies, did so much to establish, that work is a benchmark of the best that a passionate, loving, and ambitious curiosity about  the cinema can produce. What interests me most about Sam's writing after Promised Lands, however, is its form. Fellini Lexicon, Montage, Intersections, and the forthcoming Film Modernism are all what I will call quilts, made of pieces that “stand alone”, related by colour and shape set in a certain relation to one another, a relation that might be another relation in another context, a relation that perhaps only seems to suggest a bounded whole – each a small model of community that does nowork. In this sense, what he wrote in that period takes us back to the  dissertation on just 43 shots of Rossellini's that he wrote, and I read, during his first years at La Trobe University. 
Fourteen years ago (almost to the day that I heard about Sam's death), he sent me an email asking what I knew about Primers. The wonderful, perfectly elementary Fellini Lexicon was about to come out and he was working on a short book about Godard along similar lines. Diane, who makes the actual quilts and to whom my writing is always (sometimes also) dedicated, collects childrens' books and she and I began to talk about such books. I picked through what she said and I said and wrote back to Sam. Some time after that he told me that he might quote/use what I had sent him in his Godard book. 
Two intriguing things happened since then. 
The first is that "the Godard book" no longer exists. Instead there is Film Modernism, which apparently is/will be something of a Primer on the topic of its title and on Godard and on Godard's Histoires, which Sam loved and lured me to love in a certain "round and round we go, down and down we go, into that old black magic" fashion. I do not know what may be in that book beyond love and black magic. 
The second intriguing thing is that in sorting through my computerised files a couple of year ago, I came across a couple of pages about Primers which I thought must have been written by Sam - for what would I have to say on such a topic? Since they had been placed, clearly by mistake, among the files of my own writing, I conscientiously deleted them in order to avoid inadvertent plagiarism. Now I remember that I was keeping them because they belonged with my notes about The Fairy Spectator, a very interesting book about mirrors and morals - thus, like Lois Weber's Hypocrites and other texts, about the cinema (only The Fairy Spectator was written in 1784). But now those pages are lost utterly because I was not able to distinguish myself from Sam. Or so it may be. There was no mirror left, no inversion. In writing, to my mind and for a couple of paragraphs, we were one. 
* 
I am thinking just now, intermittently, of Sergei Eisenstein's glass house in which no one notices anymore that the walls are glass, that someone can see and be seen through them. Instead all behave as though they are invisible to others. And this is the cinema: we watch, we judge. In the end our judgement is delivered; the glass house is smashed, and with it everything else is destroyed. One reason I am thinking about this is that I was first drawn to Eisenstein's glass house project while I was writing the essay I dedicated to Sam. 
"I wrote a story about living in the city, you know, after the end of the world thing. Just glass, everywhere glass" (an Author). 
For every image is  a sememe, that is, an assertion, a speech act. Every image demands interpretation, that is, judgement. Every image in this way reflects its viewer; every image is a figure. Every figure cuts itself off from other figures, every figure foresees its own destruction and everyone knows the exploding dice are loaded. 
Or at least this is what happens when one sees the thing in the mirror - a figure, a singularity, always already a monster. But this is also what happens when one stops looking, stops being distracted by the refractions of the light, the unending proliferation of sense. All that glass is, of course, already in the city before world's end, but invisible. All those reflections refracting reflections. We have but to look (again). 
There are more than a Viewer, or Viewers, and a Figure, or Figures, here. There is an Author. There are Authors. Histories, Memories, Texts, Secrets, Erasures, Lies, the Unnameable, the Unintended. And Futures, of course.  There is a community there and here, an unworking or nowork community, lured by curiosity, and awakened by a touch.  
The Big Dog - is it ambition? And the Little Dog - curiosity? What does ambition want - is it love?  Surely curiosity wants only understanding? They lie there together in the hall, waiting for me (and others) to take them for a walk. 
(But I would say that, about understanding and love, wouldn't I?).  As though one had to make a dichotomy here, as though this writing has been an act of separation instead of conjuncture. I am not writing about Sam. I cannot write about Sam, for there are no words of mine to replace his words which I make my own whenever I read them. I can write only about me, about the part of me that I sense as Sam. This is what I would write about you also. You know that. 
And you would make of me. 
*
© William D. Routt, 19 April 2015



Works by Sam Rohdie online

Online works about Sam Rohdie's work:

Sam Rohdie's Books
  • FORTHCOMING Film Modernism, New York : Manchester University Press, October 2015 (see below for blurb)
  • JUST ADDED Intersections: Writings on Cinema New York : Manchester University Press, 2012
  • Montage, Manchester ; New York : Manchester University Press ; New York : Distributed in the USA by Palgrave, 2006
  • Fellini Lexicon, London : BFI Publishing, 2002
  • Promised Lands: Cinema, Geography, Modernism; London : British Film Institute, 2001
  • The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini, London : British Film Institute / Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1996
  • Rocco and His Brothers, London : BFI Publishing, 1993
  • Antonioni, London : BFI Publishing, 1990
Film Modernism publisher's summary
This book is at once a detailed study of a range of individual filmmakers and an exploration of the modernism in which they are situated. It consists of fifty categories arranged in alphabetical order, among which are Allegory, Bricolage, Classicism, Contradiction, Desire, Destructuring and Writing. Each category, though autonomous, interacts, intersects and juxtaposes with the others, entering into a dialogue with them and in so doing creates connections, illuminations, associations and rhymes which may not have arisen in a more conventional framework. The apparent arbitrary order and openness of the book, based as it is on the alphabet, is indebted to Jean-Luc Godard's interrogation of history and of film history in all his work, especially in his Histoire(s) du cinema and its associative reach.
     The author refers to particular films and directors that raise questions related to modernism, and, inevitably, thereby to classicism, and often offers more in the way of questions and speculations than answers and conclusions. Jean-Luc Godard's work is at the centre of the book, though it spreads out, evokes and echoes other filmmakers and their work, including the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, João César Monteiro, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Orson Welles. This innovative and eloquently written text book will be an essential resource for all film students.