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'Under Construction' Seminar Series

2008 Seminars

Recordings of papers are available from the links below. For more recordings, see our podcasting page.

6 March

Julia Vassilieva (Monash)

Eisenstein at 110 - Between Utopia and Event: some reflections on the relationship between Eisenstein’s theorising and practice

The year 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of Russian cinema and 110 anniversary of Eisenstein, one of the most committed theoreticians and radical practitioners of this new medium. On such occasions cinema scholars around the world tend to engage in the re-assessment and re-interpretation of Eisenstein’s heritage with heightened vigour . I do believe however that there are some substantial reasons to carry on with such a work of re-evaluation apart from the urge of continuing an honourable tradition. The overall assessment of Eisenstein’s theory-and-practice as one that so powerfully embodied art and politics dynamics continues to generate controversy. Our position at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century delivers the advantage of a broader perspective on some overarching tendencies, streams and developments within the complex tapestry of the political, philosophical and aesthetic landscape of the previous century as a context for a more nuanced and balanced understanding of Eisenstein’s opus. The substantial time has passed now since the communist project to which Eisenstein’s cinematic practice and theoretical work have traditionally been tied closely failed in Russia, while Eisenstein’s heritage continues to fascinate viewers across the world and inform cinema scholars of various schools and orientations. It is also only during this decade that Eisenstein’s writing such as Montage started to be published in the uncut, uncensored form and his late opus magnum Method finally came to light, allowing the broad audience to see Eisenstein’s heritage in a more complete and internally complex form than ever before. In light of these new developments the present paper questions and challenges the understanding of Eisenstein’s position as, in the words of Annette Michelson, “indissolubly linked to the project of construction of socialism” which has been almost universally shared in Eisenstein’s scholarship: from Marie Seton to Jacques Aumont, from Kirstin Thompson to Ian Christie and from David Bordwell to Anna Bohn. This paper argues that the relations between Eisenstein’s thought and Soviet ideology should be re-examined and problematised and that it is more constructive to think about them in terms of an overlap – at most, rather than the former expressing the latter. Furthermore, it demonstrates that the relation between Eisenstein’s theorising and cinematic practice proves to be of an even more complex nature. The discussion of Eisenstein’s theory-and-practice is positioned between two almost diametrically opposed philosophical concepts – utopia and event, and it is argued that it is in the field produced by the tension between these two that Eisenstein was operating. However, the utopian vision that was at the core of Eisenstein’s political and philosophical view was of a different vector and larger scale than the one articulated by the ideologists of communism, while his practice as a director had a broader focus than that of a prophet and poet of the revolution. The idea of unity which formed the kernel of Eisenstein’s utopian theorising is further examined in its relation to the official Soviet ideology, Russian philosophical tradition and the resonance which it has in contemporary political scholarship. On the other hand it is argued that Eisenstein’s directorial practice was concerned essentially with the possibility of modelling of Event, a radical break or something new coming into the world beyond any historical particularity. It can be said – on a metatheoretical level that, using Eisenstein’s own words, “a leap of thought” is needed to account for the paradoxical relation between his utopian theorising and practice, a leap, that reciprocates, however, the questions that Frederic Jameson positions so resolutely at the centre of any productive discussion of utopia, politics and art:

…how works that posit the end of history can offer any usable historical impulses, how works which aim to resolve all political differences can continue in any sense to be political, how texts designed to overcome the needs of the body can remain materialistic, and how visions of the “epoch of rest” (Morris) can energise and compel us to action.

20 March

Gabrielle Murray (La Trobe)

Images of Torture, Images of Terror: Post 9/11 and the Escalation of Screen Violence

There is enormous unease in western society about the affects on audiences of being exposed to screen violence. An overriding perception exists in the critical discourse that an upsurge in “film violence” in popular western cinema occurred in relation to the social upheaval of “the Sixties” (Alloway 1971; Slocum 2001 & 2004; Schneider 2004; Prince 1998 & 2000). Similarly, current public and critical perception is that there is a strong link—a contagion—between violence in society since 9/11 and the escalation of images of explicit violence on the screen.

David Edelstein, the New York Magazine film critic, commenting on the surge in extreme, prolonged graphic torture, abduction, rape and dismemberment in films such as The Devil’s Rejects, Saw, Wolf Creek and Hostel, dubbed the phenomenon “torture porn” (2006). The current box-office success of films like the Saw and Hostel series stunned many critics; most seemed bewildered by young audiences’ thirst for such graphic fare. Edelstein’s uneasy review suggests that the media release of documentary images of US and UK military personal torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib helped feed the escalation of uninhibited images of torture, degradation and mutilation in fiction film. This claim is echoed in most reviews and commentaries on the phenomenon (Barber 2007; Douthat 2006; Rimanelli and Liden 2006; Newman 2006). Furthermore, the critical literature argues increasingly graphic scenes are appearing in a broader range of mainstream and art-house releases.

However, while much of the critical literature agrees that public attitudes toward violent imagery are generally historically determined, most discussion of the nature of the linkages between social and cinematic violence remain circumstantial and speculative (Slocum 2004). This paper poses questions regarding the public and critical perception post 9/11 that there is a direct link between increased visual knowledge of violence and torture in the “real” world acquired from images on television and the internet, with an escalation of representations of explicit violence in the commercial and cultural medium of popular western cinema.

Dr Gabrielle Murray is a Lecturer in the Cinema Studies program at La Trobe University in Australia. Her research areas include screen violence, phenomenology, film and philosophy, and aesthetics. She teaches a course on “Violence and the Cinema” and has published in several journals including Metro, Senses of Cinema and Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media. She has contributed chapters to the anthologies The Cinema of Australia and New Zealand (Wallflower Press 2007) and Super/Heroes (New Academic Publishing 2007) and is the author of This Wounded Cinema, This Wounded Life: Violence and Utopia in the Films of Sam Peckinpah (Praeger 2004). Her article “Representations of the Body in Pain and the Cinema Experience in Torture-Porn”, is forthcoming in Jumpcut in Spring 2008.

3 April

Claire Perkins (Monash)

Your Friends and Neighbours: Recent Suburban Utopias

Photo: Claire Perkins

In February 1998, UK film journal Sight and Sound reached the letter “U” in an “A-Z of Cinema” series and set out a catalogue of various cinematic utopias and dystopias. Unsurprisingly, it was overwhelmingly science fiction works that were cited here as examples of films that animate utopian dialectics: Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927); Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982); Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997). Outside of this paradigm, though, another type of cinema that can be approached in this way is the “suburban nightmare” film that has been exemplified variously in The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967), Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) and The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley, 1992). Throughout the 1990s, the suburban nightmare became a particularly popular myth for both popular and independent American filmmaking and, of course, popular television (Six Feet Under, Desperate Housewives, Weeds). In much of this work, suburbia appears as a typically inverted utopia: a depersonalised world that, extrapolated from consumer capital, is dominated by attitudes of despair, anxiety and violence. This paper will discuss the articulation of this myth in the more nebulous tendency of the American ‘smart’ film. Drawing on examples including Your Friends and Neighbours (Neil LaBute, 1998), The Safety of Objects (Rose Troche, 2001), Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999) and The Chumscrubber (Arie Posin, 2005), the paper will argue for the existence of the ‘suburban smart film’ as a specific anti-utopian type concerned with the exposition of social fact. With particular attention to the example of Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) - a suburban smart science-fiction film - the paper will conclude by considering how some of these films mobilise discourses on becoming to animate a properly utopian dialectic, and advance a new cinematic utopianism.

17 April

Guy Harris (Monash)

Video Potlatch: video sharing and the contemporary pre-capitalist cinema

Exploring the banal and the beautiful; the profane and the profound, Guy Harris (Monash) plays virtual tour guide this week as part of Film and Television’s Under Construction series navigating the terrain of various video portals and webcasters to consider a number of theoretical concerns that inform the contemporary phenomenon of ‘video sharing’.

Attendees are invited to bring the URL of their favorite online video work to contribute to the potlatch. Think collective ‘guest programming Rage’!

1 May

Dianne Daley (Monash)

A special Apitchapong Weerasethakul screening : Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad)

A film by internationally acclaimed experimental Thai filmmaker, Apichatpong (Joe) Weerasethakul. Cannes Festival Jury Prize winner (2004), Tropical Malady at first appears to be a relatively straightforward story of the developing, and at times tentative, gay relationship between a soldier and young villager. But the film takes an abrupt, unexpected and emotionally charged change of direction into the jungle. This highly personal, feature-length, experimental narrative, characteristically pushes boundaries and has puzzled critics. From the mundane to the mythical or supernatural and in “the space between”, the film operates on many levels, especially on the senses and heart, and can’t be easily categorised.

Thai films have created recent global interest with what has been described as a New Wave of Thai filmmakers since 1997. Few Thais work in experimental film and Apichatpong, also an artist, is one of the few filmmakers working outside the local studio system. He’s been described as “transnationally cosmopolitan” (Brett Farmer), and his films, despite their distinct “Thainess”, strike a chord with international audiences. Influences include Andy Warhol, Buddhism, early Thai melodramas and American B-grade grizzly bear movies. His latest feature, Syndromes and a Century (Sang Sattawat) 2006, which premiered at the 63rd Venice Film Festival, was banned in Thailand. Apichatpong refused to cut the film. Subsequently, he and other directors formed the Free Thai Cinema Movement. Apichatpong promotes experimental and independent films through his production company, Kick the Machine.

Dianne has a background in the print media and film and television (including Thailand). She teaches journalism at Monash (part-time) and has just begun work, at Monash, on her PhD thesis: “Beyond Eurocentric and exotic views of Southeast Asian cinema: gazing empathetically at the works of Thai filmmaker Apichatpong (Joe) Weerasethakul”.

15 May

Adrian Martin (Monash)

Social Mise-en-scène: A New Idea in Film Analysis

Photo: Scene from 'You, The Living'

The idea of mise en scène has become a classic - meaning historic and traditional – tool in film analysis. Conceived as the ‘creative gesture’ par excellence, the director’s mise en scène (the positioning and moving of actors and camera in relation to an environment) has long been imlicitly or explicitly seen as a way for cinema to give ‘form to the formlessness’ of space, time, body and place. But, more recently, particularly in various parts of Europe, a new idea has emerged: the idea that the ‘pro-filmic’ reality with which cinema frequently works is itself already (as sociology has long investigated) a complex matter of cultural or social mise en scène: a series of customs, rituals and manners that set bodies in circumscribed places and behaviours. Cinema, then, would be the interleaving or collision of two kinds or levels of mise en scène: social mise en scène and artistic mise en scène. My presentation will offer examples, from fiction films by John Ford to Roy Andersson, also taking in comedy and documentary, to demonstrate this fertile new idea in cinema analysis.

Since 1979, Dr. Adrian Martin has combined work as a professional writer and film critic with a university career. He was film reviewer for The Age between 1995 and 2006. For his numerous books, essays and public lectures he has won the Byron Kennedy Award (Australian Film Institute) and the Pascall Prize for Critical Writing, and his PhD on film style won the Mollie Holman Award. He is the author of four books and hundreds of essays on film, art, television, literature, music, popular and avant-garde culture.

29 May

David Hanan (Monash)

Launch of DVD: Indonesia at the Margins

In this session David Hanan will introduce and screen two films from the DVD he has recently completed, entitled Indonesia at the Margins: Political Documentaries and Essay Films by Garin Nugroho (1991-2002). The screening will be followed by a paper exploring issues pertinent to the films, including the filmmaker’s discourses on culture and multi-culturalism in an Indonesian context.

Video Still: Garin Nugroho

Garin Nugroho is Indonesia’s leading director of features and documentaries, having had a new film in international film festivals every two years since 1992, his most recent feature being the acclaimed Opera Jawa (2006). This new DVD, produced for distribution by the Monash Asia Institute’s ‘Between Three Worlds Video and DVD’, makes available for the first time a properly subtitled collection of four of Nugroho’s rarely seen documentary and essay films. The films to be screened are My Family, My Films and My Nation (1998), a unique 30 minute essay film, in which the film-maker reflects on five of his own films at a time of crisis in Indonesia, and Icon: A Cultural Map (2002), a 20 minute essay film about the May-June 2000 West Papuan Congress, in which Nugroho explores the significance of this opportunity—briefly provided during the Wahid era—for the West Papuans to celebrate their own culture and to openly express their views about their incorporation into Indonesia.

Included in My Family, My Films and My Nation are excerpts from the two other films on the DVD, Romi and Water (1991), a documentary (which Indonesian intelligence agencies attempted to ban) about pollution in the river systems of Jakarta and the delivery of clean water to slum areas, and Kancil’s Story of Independence (1995), a one hour documentary about street kids in Yogyakarta, deeply critical of Indonesia’s ability to support its own young people. Both these films were funded with foreign money, and are rare examples of critical documentaries made by an Indonesian during the repressive Suharto era.

David Hanan has a long history of engagement with film in South East Asia and particularly with the film industry in Indonesia, where his work has included film subtitling, film restoration projects, and film distribution, in addition to a variety of lengthy articles. He was the editor of the book Film in South East Asia: Views from the Region (Hanoi: SEAPAVAA and the Vietnam Film Institute, 2001). In the last two years he has had major projects with three of the most important film-making groups in Indonesia. He is currently completing a book entitled Moments of Renewal in Indonesian Cinema.

5 June

Robert Stam (NYU)

From Revolution to Resistance: Alternative Aesthetics in Brazilian Film/Media/Music Video

Stam’s talk will consist of a taxonomy of aesthetic strategies in Brazilian media aimed at critiquing social/racial exclusion. He will present a series of brief clips (about 15 or so) drawn from fiction films/documentaries/and music videos. The talk will be followed by audience discussion.

Robert Stam’s books include: Flagging Patriotism: Crises of Narcissism and Anti-Americanism (Routledge, 2006); Francois Truffaut and Friends: Modernism, Sexuality, and Film Adaptation (Rutgers, 2006); Literature through Film: Realism, Magic and the Art of Adaptation (Blackwell, 2005); Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Adaptation (Blackwell, 2005); Companion to Literature and Film (Blackwell, 2004); Film Theory: An Introduction (Blackwell, 2000); Tropical Multiculturalism: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture (Duke, 1997); Reflexivity in Film and Literature (UMI Press, 1985); Brazilian Cinema (Associated University Presses, 1982), as well as many co-authored and co-edited books. His works are translated into and published in: French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Farsi, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew.

3 July Eleanor Kaufman

The Botany of Inertia

This talk is co-sponsored by Communications and Media Studies

A lively discussion of the role and significance of botany in the annals of philosophy from the Ancient Greeks, and Linnaeus in 18th century France, through to Foucault, Sartre and Lacan (who once remarked that it is “infinitely painful to be a plant”) … from botanophilia to botanophobia.

Eleanor Kaufman is associate professor of Comparative Literature and French and Francophone Studies, and an affiliate in Jewish Studies. She received an A.B. in English and French from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Literature from Duke University and has taught at Cornell University and the University of Virginia. Her primary research is on twentieth-century French philosophy, with secondary interests in Medieval Christian philosophy, literature and philosophy of the Jewish diaspora, Maghrebian literature, and modern American literature. She is the co-editor of Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy and Culture (Minnesota, 1998) and the author of The Delirium of Praise: Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuze, Foucault, Klossowski (Johns Hopkins, 2001) and At Odds with Badiou: Politics, Dialectics, and Religion from Sartre and Deleuze to Lacan and Agamben (forthcoming, Columbia University Press). She is working on three additional book-length projects: “Gilles De leuze and the World without Others”; “The Incorporeal in French Phenomenology” (the subject of the Gauss Seminars that she will be delivering at Princeton in spring 2009); and “The Jewry of the Plain,” on the archives, museums, and cemeteries that commemorate Jewish settlement in remote regions of the American West at the end of the nineteenth century, and simultaneously a meditation on the work of Jacques Derrida. She has published essays in journals such as diacritics, parallax, SAQ, Postmodern Culture, The Oxford Literary Review, Criticism, Polygraph and Angelaki.

 

31 July James Curnow

The Third Wave of Disaster: Science Fiction Cinema and the New Era of Anxiety

Photo: Restroom Signage by Marcin Wichary

Photo: Restroom Signage by Marcin Wichary

The science fiction disaster film has had sporadic success over the last 60 years, the peaks of which can be seen in three distinct waves – those of the 1950s, the 1990s and the 21st century. The wave of the 1950s has largely been seen as a kind of response to the social anxiety brought about by the nuclear threat exemplified by the cold war. The wave of the 1990s can be seen as the result of a rapid increase in special effects technologies and a decade of mild paranoia brought about by millennialism, as well as being a kind of nostalgic reinvention of the SF disaster films of the 1950s, appropriating the imagery whilst detaching it from any real social anxiety.

This paper focuses on a third wave of science fiction (SF) disaster films that has come about in the 21st century as a response to present social anxiety. This anxiety is fuelled by a multiplicity of events, including but not limited to those of September 11; the Iraq war and the subsequent shift in the standing of the United States; as well as the theory of global warming. This wave, like that of the 1990s, appropriates and references the films of the 1950s. However, unlike the films of the 1990s, these films self-consciously declare their own status as representations of contemporary social anxiety, drawing comparison between the first wave’s preoccupation with the nuclear and the contemporary wave’s preoccupation with present concerns. These films also differ from predecessors in their aesthetic of realism and a shifting of focus from images of destruction themselves, to a focus on the way in which characters react to these disastrous environments – the imagery of destruction being too close for comfort in the 21st century.

James Curnow is now into the eighth month of his Masters thesis, currently entitled Imagining the Next Disaster. The focus of this thesis is on the science fiction disaster film and the way in which it seems to obtain popularity under specific social and cultural conditions. A prior honours thesis on the contemporary Hollywood biopic and the representation of history has fostered this interest in the relationship between films and their broader social context. James has recently written a review of Christine Cornea’s Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy & Reality, which will appear in the upcoming issue of Screening the Past.

14 August Tessa Dwyer

Slashing and Subtitles: Romanian Media Piracy, Censorship and Translation

Romanian California Dreaming

Based on research undertaken in collaboration with Romanian national Ioana Uricaru, this paper focuses on media piracy in pre-1989 communist Romania involving the translation of banned foreign-language films and television programs. Noting how translation can function both in the service and subversion of censorship, and how both roles are complicated by contradictory notions of quality and authenticity, I begin by pitting Romania’s government-sanctioned translation methods against the unofficial, amateur practices that typify piracy operations. I then proceed to unpack and expand notions of media piracy to include niche, expert and online modes of engagement. It is my contention that the audiovisual translation techniques that accompany both censorship and piracy processes provide a largely unexamined angle from which to interrogate the politics of film exhibition, distribution and reception.

Tessa Dwyer is a doctoral candidate in the School of Culture and Communication, the University of Melbourne, researching issues surrounding film and translation. Her film articles have been published in journals such as The South Atlantic Quarterly, Polygraph and Linguistica Antverpiensia, and in the anthology A Deleuzian Century? (1995). Currently co-editing a special issue of the online journal Refractory on the subject of the split screen, she is the former Director of the Centre for Contemporary Photography and a member of the World Picture e-journal advisory board. Her article ‘Slashings and Subtitles’ on which this talk is based, is forthcoming in The Velvet Light Trap.

 

28 August John Conomos

Mutant Media: Cinema, Video Art and New Media

Book cover: Mutant Media

John Conomos is a media artist, critic, and theorist who extensively exhibits both locally and internationally. His art practice cuts across a variety of art forms - video, new media, installation, performance and radiophonic art - and deals with autobiography, identity, memory, post-colonialism, and the “in-between” links between cinema, literature and the visual arts. He is a prolific contributor to local and overseas art, film and media journals and a frequent participant in conferences, forums and seminars. In 2000 he was awarded a New Media Fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts. His recent book Mutant Media (Artspace/Power Publications, Sydney) collects his essays from over a 20-year period.

In his presentation, John will discuss issues arising from Mutant Media, illustrated with clips.

11 September Sian Mitchell

A Historiography of Psychoanalytic Film in Hollywood, 1920-1960

Film Poster: Freud

This seminar looks at some of the films influenced by the introduction of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic practice to the United States in the early 1900s. This was a period where psychoanalysis grew in popularity and support within mass culture before undergoing a crisis within academic and professional circles. Films that will be discussed in this seminar include Carefree (Mark Sandrich, 1938), Lady in the Dark (Mitchell Leisen, 1944), Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945), and Freud (John Huston, 1962). Elements such as the image of the analyst and the neurotic patient within these films form an exaggerated and sometimes melodramatic (mis)representation of psychoanalytic practice, however, such insistence on therapy as a narrative device has assisted in its popularisation and ongoing love/hate relationship psychoanalysis has with American cinema.

Sian Mitchell is a PhD candidate in Film and Television Studies at Monash University, researching parody, psychoanalysis, and therapy culture in the films of Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.

podcast icon Download a recording of this paper in MP3 format

25 September

Dr Melissa Gregg
Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland

Work on TV

Film still

Moving beyond the established benchmarks of crime, law and medicine, the past ten years has seen an expansion in the number of workplaces depicted as prime time television entertainment. Not only have these shows created new opportunities for empathy with employees at the front line of the service industry (airlines, beauty, and border security, for example) they have positioned the viewer as a knowing insider to an ever greater range of jobs beyond their own training and expertise – an extension of what John Hartley calls television’s ‘cross-demographic’ function.

From the White House to the underworld, the kitchen to the office park, work on TV has been one of the most successful of recent television genres, reaching its zenith in a suite of programs that have dramatised the art of TV production itself. Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, 30 Rock, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Extras all base their appeal on familiarity with the routines of the cultural industries and the vicissitudes of portfolio careers, providing fresh possibilities for TV content in the process. Coming at a time of increased union activity with the 2007 writers’ strike and its associated publicity, these programs deliberately confused insider/outsider status: viewers were invited to identify not only with the fate of creative talent but also the challenges they posed to management.

This paper suggests that on the surface these shows can be read as evidence of a new style of labour politics befitting the creative economy, where narcissistic self-representations are used to articulate and justify a devalued work ethic. Yet in a post-broadcast era, they might also be regarded as a last-ditch attempt on behalf of a vulnerable industry to gain the support of an audience with little compulsion to remain loyal to its offerings.

Dr. Melissa Gregg is an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia. She is author of Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices (Palgrave, 2006) and co-editor, with Gerard Goggin, of the ‘Wireless Cultures and Technologies’ issue of Media International Australia (November, 2007). Her current projects include The Affect Reader (co-edited with Greg Seigworth, forthcoming), Broadcast Yourself: Presence, Intimacy and Community Online (with Catherine Driscoll) and Working From Home, a three year study of new media technologies’ impact on work and home life.

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16 October Craig Frost

Re-gendering the Final Girl: Eli Roth's Hostel Films

Image: Clean Cut by Ora Pera

Image: Clean Cut by Ora Pera

Described by Carol J. Clover as “abject terror personified”, the traditional Final Girl has long been a staple figure of the slasher sub-genre of the horror film. Providing audiences with both a narrative anchor and a point of identification, the virtuous Final Girl has been presented as the binary opposite of her murderous antagonist. In Hostel, writer/director Eli Roth inverts the gender of his ultimate survivor and through his Final Boy re-configures gender constructs and audience identification within the contemporary slasher-horror film.

In this paper I will address how Roth’s film reinvents genre conventions and forces audiences to shift not only their pre-existing knowledge of the genre, but also how they relate, react and judge the images presented on screen.

Craig Frost is a PhD candidate in Film and Television Studies at Monash University. He is currently researching the horror sub-genre of “Torture Porn” and its relation to notions of gender, the body, and images of torture in a post-911 cinematic landscape.

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13 November Special Bonus Session: Gotot Prakosa

Preview Screening of Paroska's New Film Kantata Takwa

The Indonesian experimental filmmaker, animator and painter, Gotot Prakosa, who is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Film and Television at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts, will visit Monash next Thursday, 13 November, and present a preview screening of his latest film, Kantata Takwa, at the Film and Television Studies ‘Under Construction’ seminar. Gotot is in Australia for the Asia-Pacific Film Awards in Brisbane, where Kantata Takwa is in competition for the Documentary Award. His visit to Monash is sponsored by the Monash Asia Institute.

This Bonus ‘Under Construction’ Seminar will take place in Theatrette S704, 7th Floor, South Wing, Menzies Building, at 4.00 pm, Thursday 13 November.

Gotot will provide a brief introduction and answer questions at the end of the session. Two earlier short films by Gotot will also be screened:

  1. Non KB (Family Planning, 2 min.) (Animation, originally shot on 16mm, colour, 1979) “The letters KB refer to the official term ‘Keluarga Berencana’, i.e. ‘Family Planning’. This is a “Non KB” film. A spontaneous vision on the introduction of family planning.”

  2. Meta Ekologi (14 mins) (Originally shot on 16mm film at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts, B.& W., 1979). Directed by Gotot Prakosa and based on a performance event developed by Sardono W. Kusuma. “This film is a response to an attempt to enter into dialogue with the ecology of earth and water. Humanity expresses its feelings through its body by striving to become one with the universe. It is like farming peasants who work on the land, covered with mud. A process of poeticisation.” One of the most remarkable films ever made in Indonesia.

  3. Kantata Takwa (68 mins) (Directed by Gotot Prakosa and Erros Djarot, Colour, English Subtitles, 1990 - 2008) Kantata Takwa is an experimental political music documentary, initially filmed in 1990, during the Suharto period, but for political and (related) financial reasons, only completed and released in 2008. This ‘fiction-documentary’ film focuses on the public lives and ideas of Indonesia’s most important contemporary pop singer of the time, Iwan Fals, and his Swami group, who in June 1990, held a huge pop concert, entitled Kantata Takwa, at the large Senayun sports stadium in central Jakarta. At this concert they sang many of their famous protest songs, together with a set of new Islamic songs, written specifically for the cantata, at the same time inviting Indonesia’s leading poet and playwright, W. S. Rendra, to recite his powerful protest poetry as part of the concert.

    This concert has been described as ‘a mega-show, the ultimate gedongan Islamic chic’, gedongan meaning here, in effect, the property of the wealthy classes. But in fact the Kantata Takwa concert was a clever way of focusing and bringing together the suppressed anti-Suharto feelings of the population, both in the circle of Indonesian artists and amongst the ordinary people. The pop songs of protest could not be banned, for the group was now so popular that such a move by the government would have been counter-productive, and the film, and also private videos made at the time, show popular enthusiasm for the sentiments expressed in the songs, the unruly crowd vigorously participating in the singing (‘Apparently we must take to the streets in order to get rid of this Satan who stands over us’), while police and army stand by, for the time being relatively helpless. After a second concert, this time in Surabaya, further performances of the concert were not permitted.

    The film had reached rough-cut stage by December 1991, but further work on it was abandoned, for the time being, due to the knowledge that it would not be allowed to be released. The film contains powerful footage of the concert, but also includes scenes of philosophical speculation by the singers, and dramatises both the songs and Rendra’s poetry in a range of other contexts, including scenes reminiscent of traditional peasant rebellions against exploitative village heads, ultimately, by implication, seeing the youth of Indonesia as being those who would eventually throw out the oppressors. But the film ends on a decidedly gloomy note, in allegorical scenes showing members of the Swami group being hunted down by unidentifiable masked representatives of the state, in one scene Iwan Fals himself is being held down and having his teeth removed by masked figures. The society in the film is represented as, in some regards at least, as almost worse than the colonial period, for it is as though one cannot identify one’s enemy.

    The European premiere of this film is an invited screening at the Rotterdam International Film Festival next January.

    A subtitle translation for this film was prepared by David Hanan from Film and Television Studies, Monash University and Basoeki Koesasi from the Indonesian Studies Program at Monash University.

Past and Present Conferences and Seminars

Visit our archives of conferences and seminars - recordings of many papers are available for download: