Friday, 13 December 2013

"Some New Eloquence"? On the written word in audiovisual film studies practice

Film Tweets by Catherine Grant (a video shown in the below talk)

The below embedded talk was given in a seminar on Text and the Moving Image which took place on 16th October, 2013, in the Literature and Visual Cultures Seminar Series, Royal Holloway, University of London. Thanks to Sarah Chadfield and Sophie Oliver for the invitation, and for recording the talk, and to Harriet Wragg for her presentation in the same seminar. You can download the talk as an .mp3 here.

“If, along the hard road to illumination, the audiovisual essay manages to find or create some new eloquence, some new sensation, or evoke some of that ‘mad poetry’ [...] found in intense theorising, […] then that’s all for the good” [Adrian Martin, 'In so many words', Frames Cinema Journal, 1, 2013. Online at:
Long after the advent of the digital era, the overwhelming majority of film and moving image studies scholars still prefer to carry out and publish their film critical, theoretical and historical research in conventional written formats. As digital affordances and publications continue to proliferate, however, more and more academics are turning to multimedia forms of research like digital video essays. Interestingly, some of these emerging modes are especially indebted to the 'provisional and subjective' traditions of the essay film, much studied in written film studies. Such formats can inspire compelling work not only because, with their possibilities for direct audiovisual citation, they can enhance the kinds of explanatory research that have always been carried out on films, but also because of their potential for more 'poetic', creative and performative critical approaches to our research. Yet, even as videographic film studies have the potential to challenge the future hegemony of (especially traditional forms of) academic written language, words are far from banished from these forms. Instead, as Adrian Martin has argued, "it is the economy of critical word to illustrative image, the balance and weighting of their respective functions, that is slowly altering" (ibid.). In my contribution to this seminar I will discuss the role of captioning, written quotation, and titling in videographic film studies practice, including my own, their relation to earlier traditions of written language deployment in the cinema, and their centrality to emerging notions of 'creative critical practice research'.

Videos shown:
First video (9.24): La Cueca Chilena: Raúl Ruiz's Exilic Seductions
Second video (15.56): Notes to a Project on Citizen Kane by Paul Malcolm, 2007
Third video (25.54): Film Tweets
Fourth video (28.58): Uncanny Fusion - still in draft/not yet published
Other videos referenced can be found at AUDIOVISUALCY: Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies

Dr Catherine Grant is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Sussex. She is the author of numerous written studies of film authorship, adaptation and intertextuality and also of some forty film-studies videos many of which have been screened internationally at academic conferences and at film festivals and industry events. She has curated many hundreds of videographic studies at her websites Film Studies For Free, Filmanalytical and Audiovisualcy. In 2012, she commissioned and edited an issue of the peer-reviewed journal Frames on ‘digital film studies’ (, with more than twenty video-related contributions. Her article 'Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies', appeared in Mediascape, 2013:

Monday, 17 June 2013

Un[Contained]? On Todd Haynes's [SAFE]

 WHITE [MATER]IAL by Amber Jacobs and Catherine Grant

According to [W.R. Bion] the infant projects its raw, unprocessed anxiety [...] into the mother, who, through her containing [...], returns the projections to the child in a more digestible (bound) form... [Amber Jacobs, On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis and the Law of the Mother (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), fn. 28, p. 188]
Just as some caretakers are more successful than others in enabling children to develop basic trust (Erikson, 1950), ontological security (Laing, 1960), or a cohesive self (Kohut, 1971; 1977), so some societies are better able than others to provide their members with a coherent world-view, a sense of confidence and belonging, and an integrated system of meaning and value as the foundation of both personal identity and social order. Under conditions of rapid social change and resulting widespread sociocultural dislocation and anomie, a society's capacity to integrate, socialize and provide its members with a meaningful identity (that is, its capacity to fulfill a selfobject function) is impaired; in such a situation numbers of individuals are forced to endure a condition of identity diffusion (Erikson, 1959) characterized by a sense of isolation, meaninglessness, fragmentation, diffuse anxiety and emptiness depression. [Donald Carveth, 'The Borderline Dilemma in Paris, Texas: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Sam Shepard', PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Art, 1997. Online at:

Some years ago I was researching what film scholarship had pronounced on the nature of the illness of the protagonist of Todd Haynes's remarkable film [SAFE] (1995).

In an online search, which threw up lots of interesting references (many of which can be accessed here), I came across a fascinating text posted by a contributor to a scholarly cinema club group discussion of the film:
I wondered what people thought of the associations to mothers' and milk in [SAFE]. In the discussion I think someone briefly mentioned the milk motif and then we didn't take it further.

Several times in the film we see Carol [Julianne Moore] drinking large glasses of milk with a gusto and appetite that we don't see her displaying in any other situation she is in. She drinks with an urgency, need and desire and refers to herself as a bit of a 'milkaholic'. It is her only addiction, her only manifested desire.

There is that scene where she is in her house and there are lots of staff busy in her kitchen and she calls for Fulvia her 'maid'. She calls Fulvia several times with increasing desperation (again one of the rare moments where she displays affect) and Fulvia ignores her for a significant amount of time while she deals with the other staff that she is clearly in charge of. Carol is calling her because she wants Fulvia to get her a glass of milk. I found the moments that Carol's calls are left unanswered significant. Firstly, one thinks, just get the milk yourself! But her refusal to and her clear need for the milk to be given to her by Fulvia signifies for me the idea of the baby calling for its mother's breast not being solely to do with nutrition but a whole set of other intrapsychic emotional needs. Carol doesn't get the milk herself because her need is precisely for Fulvia to give it to her.

There are other times in the film when she enters her house and automatically calls Fulvia's name that reminds me of a child calling her mother with a kind of urgency or need for a particular kind of recognition. She treats Fulvia like a mother -needing her to bring her milk and give her instant attention. Fulvia's resistance to this role is evident in her making her mistress/daughter wait is interesting. There is also peculiar moment where the camera stays still [framing Fulvia's figure] (blank expression) while Carol is 'reacting' to her sofa being the wrong colour. We are forced to ponder Fulvia for those moments.

In addition to the Carol-Fulvia-Milk episodes there is also the fact of Carol being a step mother - not a biological mother. What is the significance of this I wonder? The only time you see her take what could be construed as a maternal role (never with her step son) is with a friend's daughter at the baby shower in that extraordinary scene where the girl sits on her lap and Carol then descends into one of her most extreme fits of nearly suffocating and terrifies the girl. In this scene the Carol/mother figure transmits to the daughter figure something totally overwhelming and disturbing and impossible for the daughter to understand. It just seems that in the Carol-Fulvia and the Carol-friend's daughter scenes something intense with regard to need, desire and affect gets transmitted.
I am not sure where these thoughts are leading but thought it worth thinking about. Milk and mothers (wanting Fulvia) (wanting the girl to sit on her lap) seem to inspire affect in Carol... that which is totally void in her for almost all of the film......Is there significance that it is the mother-daughter structure which is the only 'relation' in the film that conjures up something that seems like affect?

I copied and pasted these words into my burgeoning notes on the film, and mentally tucked them away. But I wasn't able to write anything about [SAFE] at that point.

Then, a few years ago, I was very fortunate to meet the author of this text, Amber Jacobs, and I read some of her academic work on affect, psychoanalysis and 'the law of the mother'. Amber went on to record her reading of these words for me, and the resulting 'audio commentary' very much inspired the form and content of the above video essay on [SAFE]. 

Indeed, the way I would describe it now is that the creative constraints provided by Amber's words met with those of the film footage in the space provided by my video editing programme. By working on them there I was able to forge a container for an audiovisual experience which touches on one of the film's most significant and compelling patterns, in my view: the way that the contrary affects of contentment and anxiety in [SAFE] seem deeply connected to the materiality (and metaphoricity) of mothering.

Also see:

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cinemagogic Echoes? Len Lye's FREE RADICALS (1958) and Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's HOUR OF THE FURNACES (1968)

Above is another of my real-time videographic comparisons, created for the scholarly purposes of exploring instances of cinematic intertextuality, or 'déjà-viewing'. This time, it's a synchronous juxtaposition of Len Lye's 1958 experimental animation FREE RADICALS with the opening minutes of Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's 1968 Grupo Cine Liberación activist film  LA HORA DE LOS HORNOS/HOUR OF THE FURNACES

The quotations below set out the basis for the comparison and also explain the term 'agogics'.

Len] Lye's Free Radicals (1958) […] is a black and white scratch animation short, cut to the insistent rhythmic accompaniment of an African drum solo.* It immediately calls to mind the unforgettable opening scenes of Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas' Third Cinema classic La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968).** While equally exciting and radical, these strikingly similar films hint at the extent to which the world and the political landscape had changed in the decade between their respective release dates, and between then and now. We have no way of knowing if Getino and Solanas knew of Len Lye's film. We know, however, that films exchange ideas, talking to one another across time, and that the conversation between radical aesthetics and radical politics is ongoing, with both daring to 'make it new' and set the world on its feet, by turning it upside down. [Jerry Whyte, 'Free Radicals',, December 11, 2011. Online at:]
A demonstration and a lesson, The Hour of the Furnaces imports into cinema the affirmative aesthetics of the written political treatise. A collective ideal informs the whole film. It anticipates a liberated time. It’s not the product of a single voice but of a chorus of poems (Marti, Césaire), manifestos (Fanon, Guevara, Castro, Juan José Hernández Arregui) and films (by Fernando Birri, Joris Ivens, Nemesio Juárez). It conjoins the powers of didacticism, poetry and agogy (the agogic qualities of a work concern its rhythmic, sensible, physical properties – a notion suggested by the French aesthetician Etienne Souriau). Stylistically, the film uses all possible audiovisual techniques, from flicker to contemplative sequence shots (for instance, the final three-minute shot that reproduces a picture of the dead Che Guevara’s face with his eyes wide open), from collage to direct cinema, from blank screen to animated effects, from the rigours of the blackboard to the hallucinogenic properties of the fish-eye, from classical music to anglophone pop hits. Cinema is an arsenal and here all its weapons are unsheathed. [Nicole Brenez, 'Light my fire: The Hour of the Furnaces', Sight and Sound Magazine, 8 March 2012. Online at:]

'Agogics' is a musical term that designates the use of agogic accents, that is accents consisting in a lengthening of the time-value of the note. The philosopher Étienne Souriau extended the use of the term to include all the arts existing in time. He defined 'agogics' as \what characterizes an artwork that takes place in time, through movement, and specifically through the creation of a fast or slow pace, or the use of different rhythms.' For musicians, the notion is related to gesture, to physical movements, to a bodily interaction with their instrument, to a sense of speed, an energy, a precise handling of a piece. [Christian Jacquemin et al, 'Emergence of New Institutions for Art-Science Collaboration...' [date unknown], Online at: My added hyperlinks.

Souriau developed his idea of the agogic as an explicit reaction to the ‘rather banal description [of] arts of space in contrast to the phonetic and cinematic arts’. [Of] interest is Popper’s use of the term to describe the quality of temporal pattern that he identifies in a range of works. At one extreme [..].] is the velocity and dramatic choreography of a Len Lye installation. The term agogic conflates speed, acceleration and duration and would appear to be a significant aspect of kinetic form. [Jules Moloney, Designing Kinetics for Architectural Facades: State Change (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2011), p. 64.]
This video was produced on the morning of February 18, 2013, using readily available materials for quotation. It was made and distributed as part of a teach-in that day. Staff and students of media and cultural studies, working in a deeply personal, activist capacity, gave short presentations on their research and thinking about ideas of resistance, occupation and neoliberalism. For more information, please visit my other website.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies

Below is a short excerpt from my latest article 'Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies', just published in the Winter 2013 issue of MEDIASCAPE, including one of the five video experiments embedded in it which I discuss in the text.

[About the above video - please watch it before you read on] My latest comparative film study* [...] involves a moment of recognition through a return to [a] personally charged film, indeed to two personally charged films: Vertigo, a favourite Hitchcock film, and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980) which I remember seeing in the cinema with my family three years before I was told that the father who had raised me was not my biological parent. I hadn’t really been aware of any specific aesthetic resemblance between the two films. But they were already connected for me: I had written about both of them at Anagnorisis, one of my research blogs in which, for probably obvious personal, as well as academic, reasons, I had set out to explore the cultural theme and scene of dramatic moments of recognition or personal discovery, moments that Hitchcock and Kershner’s films share.** I became aware of the deeper similarities and inverted echoes only recently, after seeing thumbnail images from the chosen sequences juxtaposed in my video editor project library. And — yes — the exploration that followed prompted some dizzying moments of recognition. In order to showcase this discovery to best effect, I opted [...] for equally sized, horizontally arranged, split screens, but I altered or muted most of the audio track from Vertigo — until the final sting. More importantly, I also slowed the Vertigo sequence — from its original duration of 1:28.5 to 2:35.8 — in order to create the particular synchronous flow that I felt worked best for this, at times very striking, comparison. [Read more]
[From Catherine Grant, 'Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies', Mediascape, Winter 2013. Online at:    * Made specifically in response to Mediascape’s kind invitation to contribute an essay on my videographic film studies experiments. ** See Catherine Grant, “Varieties of ‘The Reveal’,” Anagnorisis, May 25, 2008. And Catherine Grant, “Necklaces and Attentive Recognition 1: Hitchcock's Vertigo,” Anagnorisis, July 7, 2008. Online at: Both last accessed May 28, 2012.]

The intertext constitutes meaning as the work involved in seeking it.1

By the combination of two “depictables” is achieved the representation of something that is graphically undepictable […].
But this is -- montage!
Yes. It is exactly what we do in the cinema […].2

[T]he film essay enables the filmmaker to make the “invisible” world of thoughts and ideas visible on the screen. Unlike the documentary film that presents facts and information, the essay film produces complex thought—reflections that are not necessarily bound to reality, but can also be contradictory, irrational, and fantastic.3

We [film critics and scholars] can now “write” using the very materials that constitute our object of study: moving images and sounds. But doing this demands re-thinking conventional critical forms. Lots of experimenting must be done [...].4

What has always interested me most in film studies is the exploration of what Gérard Genette called “transtextuality,” that is to say, the range of ways in which one film may be brought into relation, whether manifest or hidden, with other films [5]. Sometimes this interest has alighted on matters of cultural influence and film authorship [6]. But, often, my work has addressed the recognition of cinematic interconnectedness, within the specific fields of transtextuality that Genette called “hypertextuality” and “intertextuality.”[7] The latter is also the term that Russian writer Mikhail Iampolski used for his complex explorations of sometimes unlikely, or “anomalous,” figurative connections between films in his 1998 book The Memory of Tiresias [8].
Intertextuality” as Iampolski sees it is an especially helpful concept in working through the many conscious and unconscious processes by which “sources” — other texts or films — are used by filmmakers, as well as the intricacies of the chains of associations that come to produce the energy and force of individual films for spectators [9]. As Helen Grace writes of his work,
[intertextuality] understands the relation between the text and its precursor less in a hierarchical sense and more as an exchange, which adds to both text and source and so it breaks out of the logic of “original versus copy,” which has dominated much of the discussion of this problem […]. [10]
As Iampolski himself puts it, “the intertextual field of certain texts can be composed of ‘sources’ that were actually written after them.”
By inserting the “source” of a cinematic figure into a film as its subtext, the intertext can also function as a generative mechanism. This also implies a new approach to cinematic language, one distinct from traditional semiotic analysis, which normally limits its reading of a figure to the confines of a given film (or group of films). [11]
Iampolski wasn’t writing about literal forms of “insertion,” of course, but about a process of intertextually motivated reading [12]. At the time his book was published, experiments with digital forms of textuality, or with academic audiovisual “quotation,” were still in their relative infancy. But a decade and a half later, in an age of increasing digital and multimedia scholarship, indeed, of “expanded film studies,” [13] how better to explore filmic connections and ‘insertions’ of different kinds than to take Iampolski at his word, and experiment with working them through generatively and practically, in this way? 
Read the whole of this article here.

  1. Mikhail Iampolski, The Memory of Tiresias: Intertextuality and Film (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) 47.
  2. Sergei Eisenstein, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram [1929],” Film Form: Essays in Film Theory and The Film Sense (Clevedon and New York: World Publishing Co., 1964) 30.
  3. Hans Richter, “Der Filmessay: eine neue Form des Dokumentarfilms,” paraphrased by Nora Alter, “Memory Essays,” Stuff It: The Video Essay in the Digital Age, ed. Ursula Biemann (Zurich: Edition: Voldemeer, 2003) 13.
  4. Christian Keathley, Comment on “Close Up: The Movie/Essay/Dream,” Scanners, October 17, 2007. Last accessed May, 7, 2012. I’d like to register here my warm thanks to Chris for his wonderful contributions to our on-going dialogue about video essays, as well as for the inspiration of his own pioneering work in this field.
  5. Gérard Genette, Palimpsestes: Literature in the Second Degree (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press,1992) 83-84.
  6. Catherine Grant, “La función de ‘los autores:’ la adaptación cinematográfica transnacional de El lugar sin límites,” Revista Iberoamericana, Vol. LXVIII, Núm, 199, Abril-Junio 2002, pp. 253-268). English translation online here:
  7. Genette 5.
  8. Catherine Grant, “Recognizing Billy Budd in Beau Travail: Epistemology and Hermeneutics of an Auteurist ‘Free’ Adaptation,” Screen 43:1, Spring 2002, 57-73. See Iampolski.
  9. Here, I am paraphrasing from Grace, Helen, “Review of Iampolski’s, The Memory of Tiresias: Intertextuality and Film,” Screening the Past, Issue 7, July 1, 1999. Online at: Last accessed May 28.
  10. Grace.
  11. Iampolski 246.
  12. David Bordwell regards this as transtextual motivation: Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Routledge, 1985) 29.
  13. In his influential book Gene Youngblood discussed various kinds of filmmaking, moving beyond mainstream commercial cinema, which used special effects, computer art, video art, multi-media environments, multiple screens, and holography. See Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema (New York: P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1970). I argue that, thanks to easily available and user-friendly forms of digital technology, we are now seeing the emergence, and more widespread acceptance, of a variety of “expanded film studies forms.” See my essays: Catherine Grant, “Film and Moving Image Studies: Re-Born Digital? Some Participant Observations,” Frames Cinema Journal, Summer 2012, online at:; and “Bonus Tracks: The Making of Touching the Film Object and Skipping Rope (Through Hitchcock’s Joins),” Frames Cinema Journal, Summer 2012, online at: