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Film and Television 'Under Construction' Seminar Series

2010 Seminar Series

April 13

Bridging Cinema Theory and New Media Art

Adrian Martin

We all know that cinema is changing in its encounter with new media forms, whether on the Internet or in the art gallery. But, just as new artworks and cultural practices of the digital age are compelling us to look back anew at cinema, so too cinema theory provides many powerful theoretical tools for understanding the mutations and expansions happening today. One such conceptual tool is that of the dispositif, which I am currently exploring as part of my Australia Research Council grant. This talk will introduce the concept and its uses, exploring it across a colourful and international range of cinematic and new media examples from the present and the past.

BIO: Since 1979, Associate Professor 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. He was recently awarded (with Professors Nicole Brenez and Meaghan Morris) an ARC grant for a large international study of intermedial cinema.

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April 27

American Theme Parks and Live Experience of Contemporary Horror

Craig Frost

On June 25th, 2009 Universal Studios and Twisted Pictures, circulated a press release announcing that the American horror franchise Saw bleeds off the screen into ‘live’ experience at Universal Studios Hollywoods Halloween Horror Nights. This live, large-scale Halloween attraction constituted a full sensory experience in which the film’s fans not only witnessed recreations their favourite “traps” from the series but were also invited to interact and engage with the film’s mythology in interactive set-ups taking them beyond traditional modes of cinematic spectatorship.

Craig Frost travelled to Los Angeles to document this attraction as part of his research on contemporary horror film. In this paper he will present audio-visual materials gathered on site. He will attest that the attraction is indeed an imaginative and truly terrifying ‘live’ experience. But he will also argue that it is not an entirely new cultural experience, exploring how significant characteristics of this event align with the traditions and modes of spectatorship created by the French theatre of horror, The Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. Synonymous with narratives of violence and cruelty; and performances based on realistic recreations of torture and mutilation, the Grand-Guignol proved to be a popular source of live spectatorial pleasure from its opening in 1897 until the last performance in 1962. He will use this historic mode of audience engagement with the ‘real’ to discuss forms of pleasure associated with this contemporary live event. He will pay particular attention to the way in which this ‘re-spatialisation’ of the cinematic image invites audiences to become a part of the narrative itself and to actively engage with familiar characters in a new mode of spectator-text relations.

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May 11

The Films of Sean Penn

Deane Williams

Film and Television Studies’ research seminar series ‘Under Construction’ promotes vigorous discussion of work in progress in film research, theory and related areas.

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May 25

Tense Disgusted Laughter and ‘Cringe’ Film and Television

Stuart Grant

Film and Television Studies’ research seminar series ‘Under Construction’ promotes vigorous discussion of work in progress in film research, theory and related areas

Download a recording of this seminar here

July 20

“Look Ma! No Lens”: Machinima and the Digital Culture of Virtual Filmmaking

Jenna Ng

Lev Manovich observes in The Language of New Media that digital cinema operates as a function of the pictorial—a subset of animation, a medium whose “distinct logic” “subordinates the photographic and the cinematic to the painterly and the graphic, destroying cinema’s identity as a media art”. He thus contrasts the graphic methods of digital cinema against the recording process of (photochemical) film cinema, the latter which he describes as “the art of the index… an attempt to make art out of a footprint.” The digital is pit against the analogue: one in a painterly mode, the other an indexical trace—light on film—with all the associated temporal and spatial logic of a specific object recorded in a specific place and time.   
However, machinima—films made by 3-dimensional graphics rendering engines in virtual worlds—represent a realm of moving images which amalgamates precisely the oppositional graphic and recording processes: digital images as recorded by a virtual camera without lens, light or film stock, with all objects existing and filmed not in the real world but via a graphics rendering engine. While Manovich’s definition of digital cinema incorporates the real world (“digital film = live action material + painting + image processing + compositing + 2-D computer animation + 3-D computer animation”), machinima has no need for physical reality, object, light, camera or lens. Being neither hand-made imagery nor filmed live action, it eschews the binary of the graphic and the recorded. Machinima is images recorded from objects generated in virtual worlds—cinema in total virtuality. 
This seminar discusses machinima in the light of its problematic ontology and relationship to other media forms: how may we think about machinima in terms of the classifications between animation, digital and film cinema? In the process, we open up fundamental questions about the definition and/or re-definition of cinema: what is was cinema? What is a virtual film? What is an object? What is an image? What is a camera? “Look, Ma, no lens” is a take on the colloquial phrase for pride at a particular achievement. This seminar is about whether machinima really is so.

Jenna Ng was awarded a PhD in Film Studies in February 2009 from University College London (UCL), funded by the UCL Graduate School Research Scholarship and the Overseas Research Scholarship (ORS) Award. Her doctoral thesis, titled “Mutations of Pastness: Time, Cinema, Ontology”, investigates how recent digital technologies of cinema—digital video, CGI, virtual cinematography and motion capture—reconfigure the nature (and, in turn, temporalities) of the moving image; her thesis abstract was recently ranked by a peer review panelist as one of the top abstracts in the Leonardo Abstracts Service (LABS) Database and has been invited to be published in the Leonardo Electronic Almanac (LEA). Ng is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at HUMlab, Umeå University, Sweden (dually affiliated with the Department of Culture and Media), where she is working on a book project on camera-based images in digital media, including machinima, virtual worlds, 3-D cinema, chatroulette and mobile media, specifically in terms of examining presence and embodiment in (cyber‑)space and time. She is also co‑editing a collection of essays on machinima, titled “Understanding Machinima: essays on filmmaking in virtual worlds”. She has written on cinephilia, digital media, cinema and memory, and East Asian cinema, and her work has been published in Cinema Journal, 16:9 and Rouge, as well as various essay anthologies. 

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August 3

My Own Private Kazakhstan: The Body, Borders and Bio-Politics in Borat (2006)

Julia Vassilieva
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Kazakhstan, the second largest republic of the former USSR, emerged from the shadow of its Big Russian Brother and claimed its presence on screen, as a range of films by Kazak, Russian and Western filmmakers demonstrate: Ulzhan (2007), Mongol (2007), Paper Soldier (2008), Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006). While the romantic figurations of Kazakhstan offered in both Ulzhan and Mongol delivered a new take on Orientalism, and Paper Soldier re-articulated Kazakhstan’s pivotal role in the Soviet space program, Borat resonated with the most controversial and repressed side of Kazak history – the fact that, for almost 200 years, Kazakhstan functioned as a site where the darker aspects of biopolitics, or the management of a population’s ‘life’, was played out. Both through its imperial and totalitarian (or Czarist and Soviet) stages of history, Kazakhstan was repeatedly used for the mass relocation of people selected on the basis of their ethnic, racial, political and/or religious characteristics, with the aim of  radically transforming those people or sacrificing them to Kazakhstan’s harsh and unforgiving land. As an ethnic Russian who — like Sasha Baron Cohen’s satirical alter ego, Borat Sagdiev Kazakh — was born in Kazakhstan, I consider it no accident that this location (albeit thoroughly fictionalised) should have been used as a setting for a film that explores multiple aspects of the regulation of the body through attitudes to issues ranging from feminism to homosexuality, and through norms governing practices of family life, child-rearing, eating, hygiene, sex and prostitution. In this paper I offer a biopolitical reading of Borat and assess the degree to which the film’s powerful impact rests on a positioning of the body as both a site of normalisation and a site of resistance, imbued with the potential to subvert political systems.

Dr. Julia Vassilieva teaches in Film and Television Studies at Monash University. Her interdisciplinary research work takes place at the intersection of cinema studies, cultural studies, Slavic studies, philosophy and psychology. Her publications appeared in Rouge, Continuum, Sense of Cinema, Film-Philosophy, Psychoanalytic Encounters, The International Journal of the Humanities, History of Psychology as well as two leading Russian journals of interdisciplinary critical theory,Kabinet and Cinema Studies. She is an author of Re-thinking the Experience of Immigration: From Loss to Gain (Saarbrucken, Germany: VDM Verlag, 2010) and a co-editor of a special issue of Continuum, After Taste: Cultural Value and the Moving Image, forthcoming in October 2010. She is currently completing her second research monographLife. Narrative. Event and continues her research work on Sergei Eisenstein’s heritage. 

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August 10

Emersonian Perfectionism and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock

William Rothman  
William Rothman  is Professor of Motion Pictures and Director of the Graduate Programs in Film Studies at the University of Miami. He was founding editor of Harvard University Press's "Harvard Film Studies" series, and is currently series editor of Cambridge University Press's Studies in Film. His books include Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze, The "I" of the Camera, Documentary Film Classics, Reading Cavell's The World Viewed: A Philosophical Perspective on Film, Cavell on Film, Jean Rouch: A Celebration of Life and Film and Three Documentary Filmmakers. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled Emersonian Hollywood as well as a new book on Hitchcock and a second edition of Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze.

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August 24

Vernacular Modernism and the Italian Giallo Film

Alexia Kannas

The idea of vernacular modernism has been celebrated most often as an inclusive and enabling position for cinema that stands outside the modernist canon as it is traditionally conceived. This paper will explore the possibility that the application of this idea to the Italian giallo film exposes a tension that exists between the terms vernacular and modernism – a tension that problematises the cultural value of such films. When conceived of as a diluted form of the canonised modernist text, the recognition of these films’ contributions to modernism as a movement is evaded and the concept of vernacular modernism inadvertently begins to reinforce the problematic notion of a pure modernism. These questions form part of a larger research project that considers the Italian giallo film in relation to theories of genre and national cinema. This paper will pay particular attention to this problematic as it is played out in Mario Bava’s 1963 film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che saperva troppo). 
Alexia Kannas is a PhD candidate and lecturer in Film and Television Studies at Monash University. She is the author of Deep Red (London: Wallflower, forthcoming) and co-editor, with Russ Hunter (Aberystwyth, UK) of The Cinema of Dario Argento (London: Wallflower, forthcoming).

October 5


Philip Brophy (Australian critic, filmmaker and composer)

Under the title “De-sign”, Philip Brophy presents an overview of his work in combining film score and sound design to create immersive surround-sound designs for film. This event is a formal and public condensation of the presentations Philip did when teaching the Soundtrack course at RMIT Media Arts, Melbourne, plus as components of short courses he has presented at the Australian Film TV & Radio School, Sydney. For “De-sign” he focuses on demonstrating scenes from his commissioned projects in order to guide the audience through the technical, creative and collaborative aspects of working in this sono-musical mode. Formulated for those wishing to know the methods and processes that can be used for film scoring and sound designing, “De-sign” is particularly focused on how one can be attuned to the psychological and narrative effects of audiovision when engaged in doing the sound and/or music for a film.“De-sign” was first formally presented at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image in 2004, and was an event supported by both ACMI and Arts Victoria (Music for the Future). It has since been presented at many venues internationally.

Past and Present Conferences and Seminars

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