Thursday 20 December 2018

FATED TO BE MATED: An Architectural Promenade

Sawing Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in half
- A queer experiment in cinephilic re-spatialisation.

Spatialité (or spatialisation) refers to the ordering or arranging of space (by both the set and the camera) in order for it to be perceived in a specific form...
ALAIN MASSON, 'An Architectural Promenade', Rouge, 2005, fn. 1. 

The representation of objects in the actual (absolute) proportions proper to them is, of course, merely a tribute to orthodox formal logic. A subordination to an inviolable order of things [. . .]. Absolute realism is by no means the correct form of perception. It is simply the function of a certain form of social structure. 
SERGEI EISENSTEIN, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory. Ed. and Trans. Jay Leyda. (San Diego: Harcourt, 1949), 34–35

'Fated to be Mated' [a Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dance number in Silk Stockings (Rouben Mamoulian, 1957)] choreographs the sexual relation quite differently, on a more egalitarian ground [...]. 
A great deal of side-by-side dancing keeps [Astaire and Charisse] together in the frame spatially, and this relation is then reinforced by the precision with which they synchronise their movement while facing the camera. As a consequence, when the many lifts, spins and bends of this rather athletic number physically differentiate the dancers’ positions, they do not connote Astaire’s male superiority so much as continue to keep reconfiguring the dances in relation to each other as two equally spectacular bodies moving through cinematic space they synchronize their movement while facing the camera 
STEVEN COHAN, '"Feminizing" the Song-and-Dance Man: Fred Astaire and the Spectacle of Masculinity in the Hollywood Musical' in Cohan and Hark (eds), Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema (Routledge, 1993), 58-59.

FILM: Silk Stockings (Rouben Mamoulian, 1957) starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.

MUSIC: Pyramidia by Ja Prawn is licensed under an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Wednesday 4 July 2018

My video essays on cinematic mirrors

Screenshot from MAGIC MIRROR MAZE by Catherine Grant

To celebrate my latest video essay on the topic of cinematic mirrors—a study of the homage to the hall of mirrors sequence in The Lady of Shanghai in Enter the Dragon—I have gathered below (in a Vimeo album) all of the short video essays I have made involving movie mirrors of one kind or another.

I made the latest video at the June 2018 National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Scholarship in Sound and Image: Workshop on Videographic Criticism, at Middlebury College, Vermont, USA, where I was once again a guest scholar resident. I am very grateful to the organisers (Profs Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell) as well as the other participants for the inspirational space of this event.

See also my written (and photo) essay on one of the videos:

'Notes on Mirror Visions in Modesty Blaise (Joseph Losey, 1966)', published in La Furia Umana, Paper #3, 2013/La Furia Umana, 17, 2013 (online here).

An excerpt from the essay's introduction is given below.
"Modesty Blaise (Joseph Losey, 1966) travels the cinematic distance between an opening shot of the seemingly contented sleeping face of its star Monica Vitti and an extreme close-up of her eponymous character’s over-stimulated, rapacious look directly at the camera in the film’s final frames. This is a deceptively simple journey, perhaps. But, while making it, what she and certainly we do with our eyes repeatedly involves mirrors, as is so often the case in Losey’s looking-glass cinema. What Losey and his cinematographer Jack Hildyard achieve with reflective surfaces in this pop and op art spy film, a ‘remediation’ of Peter O’Donnell’s much loved comic strip (1963-1986), however, has not been nearly as well received as the director’s earlier signature experiments with those forms, for example in The Servant (1963), or in Eve (1962), another of his ‘cosmopolitan’ films. In the latter work, locations in Venice afforded him the challenge of photographing, for the first time, ‘reflected surfaces: mirrors – one of his most cherished symbols – and water, in baths, fountains, canals and the sea’ [De Rham,Joseph Losey (London: André Deutsch, 1991), p. 133]. Are Modesty Blaise s multiple mirrorings a symptom of unrestrained and muddled fetishism, or, integral to what Durgnat takes as Losey’s film poetry? The following notes offer some specular reflections."
Continued at:

Tuesday 13 December 2016

My Year’s Work in Audiovisual Essays and Videographic Film Studies

Below is a list of the thirteen videos I have made and formally published in the last twelve months. There are a few unlisted ones that I made and haven't yet published: these should see the light of online day in the next calendar year.

It's actually been quite a slow year for me on the production front as I had a lot of teaching as well as editorial and curatorial work at [in]TransitionREFRAME, and elsewhere. In 2017 I hope to make more research-related videos, and also to work on some longer pieces, as I am fortunate to have a six-month long paid study leave (the second such period in my twenty-five years as an academic). #newyearsresolutions.

  • SPARKLE: A tiny video-remix comparison of some glimmering audio/visual moments from Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999) and The Falling (Carol Morley, 2014).
  • THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION: A video tribute to the work of film scholar Elizabeth Cowie, featuring Morocco, Now, Voyager and Let There Be Light, as well as the voices and choices of Andrew Klevan, Christine Evans, Coral Houtman and Sarah Wood
  • MATCHES - featuring Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios / Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)

Sunday 20 November 2016

A GIRL LIKE I: Unruly Women, Masquerade and Mimicry

A Girl Like I -- A companion video to Matches -- by Catherine Grant


Film extracts from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)

With thanks to Kathleen Rowe for her wonderful 1995 book The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter, from which the below quotation was taken:
[Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’] faithfulness to the structure of gender inversion is most evident in the dominance of the female couple, at a time when a female star could rarely carry a film alone. Hawks’s interest in “female buddies” is similar to that shown in his earlier His Girl Friday (1940), a revision of The Front Page (1931) in which he turns the male buddies into a heterosexual couple by making one of them, Hildy, a woman. The buddy mystique clings to Dorothy [Jane Russell] and Lorelei [Marilyn Monroe] who have been described as strutting their wares like a couple of gunslingers [by Molly Haskell]. They know what their weapons are, they know how good they are, and they’re loyal to each other, above all. Dorothy is Lorelei’s straight woman and sidekick, her shadow and chaperone. Her unruliness both completes and sets off Lorelei’s, representing the more familiar version of the romantic heroine, a bit world-weary but still a believer in love. The real love story, however, is between Lorelei and Dorothy. Not only does the film reserve its most spectacular visual effects for them, it also begins and ends with the two women dressed alike, performing together.
Such a bond between women is dangerous, and the degree of its threat most vividly indicated by Dorothy’s disruptive masquerade of Lorelei in the French court. Courtrooms offer ideal sites for unruly challenges to patriarchy and the authority of the law, and this one is no exception. The darkness of the surroundings, meant to convey tradition, and the old male judges in wigs and black robes heighten the impact of Dorothy’s blonde wig and silver spangles. In this scene, Dorothy’s multiple masquerade—of Lorelei playing the dumb blonde—shows the easy identification between the two women. “Life is sometimes hard for a girl like I, especially when she happens to be pretty, like I, and have blonde hair,” Dorothy whispers in a voice mimicking Lorelei’s. Mr Pritchard, one of the old lawyers, is suspicious, but like Hopsy and the other “mugs” of the earlier comedies, he cannot see past the surface—the wig, the exposed leg, the simpering voice. A close-up of her face under the wig, however, shows Dorothy as a drag queen, suggesting that the dumb blonde is only a more exaggerated masquerade of a femininity constructed to please, and appease men. In a reprise of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” Dorothy stages her own version of the song by abruptly throwing off her fur coat to expose her body dressed in a skimpy black costume with silver fringes on her breasts and hips. She performs the number with the bumps and grinds of burlesque, and a voice that growls rather than purrs like Lorelei’s. The performance draws on the camp elements of Mae West that linger about Dorothy, with her blunt interest in men for sex, her manipulation of her Olympic musclemen, and the masculinity suggested by Russell’s broad shoulders and deep voice. Mr. Esmond later expresses the danger of that image during his conversation with Gus and the real Lorelei. He describes the woman he saw in the courtroom as “That monster, Lorelei,” and the fact that there now appears to be more than one opens up the frightening possibility to him of an all-engulfing swarm of them—“How do you think I feel, with thousands of Loreleis coming at me from everywhere?”
Dorothy’s performance sends the courtroom into turmoil. When the judge restores order, however, it is a new order that has been brought about by Dorothy and that accommodates the desires of both women. In one blow she has cleared the way for the double wedding that concludes the film. Rather than doubly affirming the heterosexual couple, however, the ceremony is filmed to subvert it. Dorothy and Lorelei walk down the aisle together, dressed identically as they were in the opening scene, and singing a reprise of their song. Briefly, the two bridegrooms are shown standing by their sides, but then the camera moves closer in on Lorelei and Dorothy, excluding the bridegrooms and framing the two brides together in a celebration of the female couple.

From Kathleen Rowe, The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995/2011), pp. 182-3. 
Also see Laura Mulvey’s 2013 remixed version of her (primarily) visual analysis of a fragment of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in particular of the song and dance duet, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” performed by Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. At [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, 1.1, 2014:

Friday 3 June 2016



A pioneer in psychoanalytic and feminist approaches to cinema studies and author of two important books in our field (Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, 1997, and Recording Reality, Desiring the Real, 2011), Professor Elizabeth Cowie recently retired from the post she had held in Film Studies at the University of Kent since 1982. I was very fortunate to work alongside her in that department between 1998 and 2008. I enjoyed and learned so much from that experience that I wanted, personally, to mark this moment of transition in her work with a tribute to it, one especially fuelled by the hope that she will have even more time and space in which to watch and write about movies and the visual arts in future.

To make this tribute I asked a few people to whom Elizabeth also means a lot, either as a colleague or as an advisor in the distant or recent past, to pick a favourite short passage from her work, and to record themselves reading it. They sent me the recordings and I crafted a video around them. Thanks to them, and of course to Elizabeth, for the inspiration.

ANDREW KLEVAN chose to read from Elizabeth Cowie’s ‘Figuring the Fetish’, Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 267-8, His reading is accompanied by a remix of Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930).

CHRISTINE EVANS chose to read from Elizabeth Cowie’s ‘Fantasia’, Representing the Woman,  p. 163. Her reading is accompanied by a remix of The Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls, 1949).

CORAL HOUTMAN also chose to read from ‘Fantasia’, Representing the Woman, p. 149. Her reading is accompanied by a remix of Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942).

SARAH WOOD chose to read from Elizabeth Cowie’s ‘Documenting the Real’, Recording Reality, Desiring the Real (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), pp. 121-2. Her reading is accompanied by a remix of Let There Be Light (John Huston, 1946).

MUSIC transformed from Cylinder 9 by CHRIS ZABRISKIE as shared at the Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license:



Sunday 3 April 2016

SIDE-BY-SIDE | UP-AND-DOWN: Comparative Videographic Approaches to Transnational Cinema Studies [#SCMS16]


Techniques of parallel comparison have always been central to literary translation studies. But what of the cinematic “translation” - the film remake?

[Screenshot from Jonathan Evan's article, "Film Remakes: The Black Sheep of Translation", Translation Studies, 7:3, 2014, 300-314]

Given that “Translation is a process that involves looking for similarities between languages and cultures”— (Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (London" Routledge, 2008): 264) how might the kinds of parallel comparison techniques emerging as a result of the use of easily available and operable video technology help us in examining questions of audiovisual transnational translatabilty? [LINK to YouTube video cited: "How to Split Screen on Final Cut Pro X" by Red Black Productions (2014)]? Let’s take a look at the work of a master to find out [LINK to ::kogonada, "What is Neorealism?", Sight and Sound, May 2013]

I’m just a novice video editor in comparison with kogonada, but less than a year after his video was published, I think I was very much insipred by it in deciding to explore videographically the opening of a Uruguayan low budget horror film and its US remake

Some of kogonada and my findings about transnational cinematic differences were, funnily enough, strikingly similar. But I would argue that this has as much to do with the fact that we were both comparing film openings. [Citations in the video: Peter Bradshaw and Xan Brooks, "Get Them by the Throat", The Guardian, July 17, 2007 ; and Thierry Kuntzel, "The Film Work 2", Camera Obscura 2 (2 5), 1980].

I also used split screens to explore different parts of the films I was studying and through those comparisons I found that the differences did not turn on sequence or shot duration or expositional detail

My principal interest in reflecting on this audiovisual research in this video concerns the utility of the multiple screen comparison. I’m so fascinated by how, as I've reflected before, these techniques frame similar kinds of phenomenological possibility.

[quotations from: Catherine Grant, "Deja Viewing...", MEDIASCAPE Winter 2013:]

They can’t help us with every scholarly question we might have, but such sensuous methodologies seem to me to be eminently suited to the epistemology and hermeneutics of cinematic intertextuality, and are of particular interest in expanding the range of what we can look at in relation to film aesthetics — and in particular - our experience of these - transtaional cinema studies too.



Chair: Tracy Cox-Stanton (Savannah College of Art and Design) Workshop Participants:
Nicolas Poppe (Middlebury College)
Michael Talbott (Castleton University)
Austin Fisher (Bournemouth University)
Catherine Grant (University of Sussex - in absentia))
Jeffrey Middents (American University)

MUSIC: APRIL by KAI ENGEL, 2016. Licensed under an Attribution 4.0 International License and shared at the Free Music Archive:

  • Catherine Grant, ‘Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies’, Mediascape: Journal of Cinema and Media, Winter 2013. Online at:
  • Christian Keathley, Cinephilia and History, or The Wind in the Trees (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006) 

  • David Martin-Jones and María Soledad Montañez, “What is the “Silent House”? Interpreting the international appeal of Tokio Films’ Uruguayan horror La casa muda/The Silent House (2010),” Forthcoming. 
  • Victoria Ruetalo, “La casa muda (2010): Miedo Real en Tiempo Real” in Rosana Díaz and Patricia Tomé (eds), Horrofìlmico. Aproximaciones al cine de terror en Latinoamérica y el Caribe (2012) 


Wednesday 27 January 2016

UN/CONTAINED: A Video Essay on Andrea Arnold's FISH TANK (2009)

The above video presents "a dense yet concise study (and experience) of the intricate poetic-cinematic patterning of Andrea Arnold’s 2009 film Fish Tank as it is disclosed in a few fleeting shots from the film that I explore in relation to psychoanalyst-theorist Wilfred Bion's understanding of the “Container-Contained” (a theorization of the idea that we need the minds and bodies of others to contain our deep existential fears, from the very moment of our birth onwards, in order to properly develop our own emotional and cognitive capacities)." [Catherine Grant]

The above video essay of mine on  has just been published as part of my article:

This video originally formed part of my presentation at the 7th Annual Contemporary Directors Symposium: On Andrea Arnold at BFI Southbank, London, 13th MAY 2014 - NFT3: 1.00pm-5.00pm.

From the Oscar-winning short WASP (2003) to the innovative adaptation WUTHERING HEIGHTS (2011), Andrea Arnold’s films have established her as one of our most uncompromising and important directors. The Contemporary Directors Symposium [returned] to the BFI Southbank for an afternoon of presentations and discussion exploring Arnold’s films, including WASP, RED ROAD (2006), FISH TANK (2009) and WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

Speakers included:
Catherine Grant (University of Sussex)
Amber Jacobs (Birkbeck College, University of London)
Michael Lawrence (University of Sussex)
Jonny Murray (Edinburgh College of Art)
Sue Thornham (University of Sussex)

A full list of my 2012-1016 publications on audiovisual film studies [videos and texts], with links to all the material, is being maintained here: