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: