Deadline Extension: CFP Console-ing Passions 2018

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: CONSOLE-ING PASSIONS

International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media, and Feminism

July 11-13, 2018

Bournemouth University,

Faculty of Media and Communication,

Poole, UK

New Deadline for submissions: 23.59 (Greenwich mean time) 26 January 2018.

Further details may be found at the conference website here.

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Conference Report: Women in The American New Wave: A Retrospective

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Retrospectives: Another opportunity to rethink women’s contribution?

In this week’s contribution, Fjoralba Miraka reflects on a conference at Bangor University on The American New Wave.  Out of a wide-ranging event, she focusses on key aspects in relation to women and film history, not least in some challenges to the dominance of the prevailing idea of the New Hollywood male auteur. Her report provides further evidence for WFTHN readers of how looking back continues to provide vital material for reassessment and moving forwards.

The American New Wave: A Retrospective: School of Creative Studies and Media, College of Arts and Humanities: Bangor University, 4-6 July 2017

The American New Wave or New Hollywood cinema, a period of American cinema understood as spanning the late 1960s through the 1970s, remains a rich era of film research for current generations of cinephiles and film scholars. This July it was again the object of inquiry at a conference organised by Bangor University which invited and welcomed an international group of scholars to celebrate the period’s legacies and re-examine its significance. Panels discussed a variety of aspects of New Hollywood, from questions of authorship, histories and inheritances to analyses revisiting key films, stars, genres and production companies. All three days featured a special keynote address and ended with the screenings of key films from that era: Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), and Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979).

Women’s contributions featured in various ways during the conference. Of particular interest was the panel on women practitioners, which featured a presentation by Aaron Hunter[1] on ‘Polly Platt’s New Hollywood Aesthetic’ and a second presentation by Aimee Mollaghan on ‘Barbara Loden’s Influence on the Contemporary American Female Road Movie’. Both presentations argued convincingly for the inherent sexism of traditional auteurist criticism and illustrated the ways in which it has invariably disregarded and overlooked the work of women both in front of and behind the camera. Hunter’s discussion about production designer Polly Platt’s aesthetics of realism and hyper-realism present in Peter Bogdanovich’s films offered the designer the creative credit she has usually been denied. Mollaghan’s discussion of Barbara Loden’s road movie Wanda (1970) challenged our perceptions of gender and genre by examining how the metaphoric use of landscape in the film reconstituted gender representations in relation to images of open space. My own presentation focused on the under-explored function of melodrama in the New Hollywood films, taking Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) as an example of the way in which the woman in this era is typically displaced from the central position she occupied in the melodramas of Classical Hollywood.

The function of melodrama featured elsewhere in relation to male film directors. Linda Williams focused on the wonder boy of New Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, considering the framing influence of melodrama in his films, through recurrence of childhood experience, prominent in Spielberg’s films. She elaborated on the function of nostalgia and sentimentality, which hold a significant place in Spielberg’s melodramas, and the wonderful workings of his music which produce ‘the bodily fluids of melodrama’, tears.

The second pair of panels offered explorations of alternative perspectives which challenged the dominance of the film auteur, bringing to our attention the creative contributions of scriptwriters, sound designers and film editors. Oliver Gruner, Frederick Wasser, and Warren Buckland discussed the contribution of scriptwriter Waldo Salt, sound designer Walter Murch and film editors Sam O’Steen, Dede Allen, and Ralph Rosenblum respectively, making the case for the valuable contributions of film practitioners other than the director. Their presentations were an attempt to pay tribute both to the collaborative nature of the filmmaking experience itself and the hidden figures of the industry and its history. Dede Allen’s editing work on Bonnie and Clyde was presented as typical of the period’s innovation and experimentation with stylistic choices, and reflected on how these choices functioned as cultural commentary. Thanks to her pioneering contribution to the aesthetics of key films of the era, Buckland argued convincingly that Allen is equally deserving of the title ‘auteur’. Returning to the director role, Jimmy Hay related River of Grass director Kelly Reichardt’s ‘cinema of weariness’ to New Hollywood; a cinema of passive, muted characters with restricted movements, and stylistically very close to the European film sensibility of long takes and exterior places.

At a point at which discussion of the gender imbalances of much conference activity has become an increasingly pressing conversation in academia, the conspicuously limited number of women presenters at the event, as well as the limited number of presentations focusing on women actively involved in film during the Hollywood Renaissance era, was striking. Some interesting, illustrative numbers were: only 1 out of the 4 keynote speakers was a woman; only 6 out of the 37 presenters were women (myself included); only 4 out of all 37 presentations involved discussions about women in New Hollywood (those were sound editor Dede Allen, designer Polly Platt, directors Barbara Loden, and Kelly Reichardt); all three screenings were films directed by men.  This offers the chance to think about possible reasons behind this imbalance in numbers. Is it indicative of a limited presence of women active during that period in film production? Could it indicate a perception of New Hollywood as male topic or terrain in the approaches adopted in film history and criticism? Can we, positively, perceive these questions as a spur to engage in a determined manner, to reassess film history and work towards a more inclusive canon? In that respect, the Women and New Hollywood conference organised by Maynooth University for May 2018 comes at the right moment to offer fresh, challenging, and inspirational perspectives on the innovative and influential contributions of women whose labour has been overlooked, dismissed, or simply erased from critical perspectives.

In a subsequent discussion, Yannis Tzioumakis (University of Liverpool) reflected upon the ongoing passion scholars show towards the films of that period and expressed aims of interest to Women’s Film and Television History Network. In recent scholarship in this area, he commented that ‘there has been a strong emphasis on looking beyond a director-centred or auteurist cinema that has tended to dominate existing studies and a focus instead on such issues as the role of other collaborators, the distinction between myth and fact, an examination of little-seen films and little-discussed companies and indeed an emphasis on the ways in which we can potentially reassess the period with the help of these new perspectives and focal points. For me, all these developments are very positive and are bound to produce new and exciting work on the topic. And I think female scholarship/scholarship on women and the Hollywood Renaissance can play a vital part in this project.’ As Robert Kolker also reflected: ‘it was especially gratifying to meet so many young scholars. Their passion for the field proves not only the lasting value of American films of the 1960s and 70s, but also the health of cinema studies.’

The conference was hosted and organised by academics and staff from the School of Creative Studies and Media which is part of the College of Arts and Humanities at Bangor University. We extend, thus, our warm thanks to Bangor University and to its lead organizers Gregory Frame and Nathan Abrams, for offering the necessary space for such concerns to be raised and addressed.

For the conference programme, see here http://americannewwave.bangor.ac.uk/

Fjoralba Miraka is a Ph.D student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on the postclassical melodramatic imagination in the Hollywood Renaissance period. She is currently working on a chapter for publication concerning the male melodramas of Scorsese’s early films. She is also writing an entry on the history of Feminist Film Theory for the first Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication, scheduled for publication in 2019, as part of the ICA series of the Sub-disciplinary Encyclopaedias of Communication.

[1] Aaron Hunter is on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship which focuses on Women and New Hollywood, based at Maynooth University, Department of Media Studies and sponsored by the Irish Research Council. Details about their forthcoming 2018 conference on ‘Women in New Hollywood’ are available on the website

 

Glamour, Nostalgia and Film Memory: Contemporary Popular Culture and the Femme Fatale

In this week’s blog, Katherine Farrimond writes from a very contemporary perspective on the enduring cinematic figure of the femme fatale. Further to the publication of her monograph, she considers how recent examples in film and television create different dialogues between past and present.

In my book, The Contemporary Femme Fatale: Gender, Genre and American Cinema, I was keen to expand research on the figure beyond the erotic noir thrillers of the 1980s and 1990s that have been so central to the majority of research on the femme fatale in the post-studio era. Such films have been interrogated in terms of their representation of the dangers of professional women, their complicity with backlash discourses against second wave feminism, their controversial representations of violent women, and their updating of the classical noir narratives that have been central to foundational work in feminist film studies. Rather than thinking about the value and limits of the femme fatale per se for feminism (a tempting but irresolvable debate), I found it more productive to think through the details of those representations. Therefore, I moved away from theoretical narratives of backlash and sought to address the representation of teenagers as femme fatale figures in an era of ‘girl culture’, by using bisexuality to frame my readings of neo noir and by re-reading science fiction films’ use of the femme fatale in its hybrid human/alien bodies.

What I was most taken with, however, was the constant return to film history, or at least, film memory, in representations of the femme fatale over the past quarter-century. As James Naremore argues in More Than Night (1998), contemporary noir films are often “about” their noir look. This attention to aesthetics is uniquely tied up with nostalgic fantasies of glamour, femininity and power when it comes to the femme fatale. This is most obvious in retro noir films set in the 1940s or 50s, or drawing on the iconography of classic noir. Films like LA Confidential (1997), Lonely Hearts (2006) and Gangster Squad (2013) lean heavily on the aesthetics of the femme fatale in their promotional materials, despite being reluctant to follow through on their initial promise by creating truly dangerous femme fatale characters. Exploring the specific ways that the cinematic memory of the femme fatale has been put to work as a useable myth complicates attempts to claim the figure as being intrinsically feminist or antithetical to feminism. The aesthetics of the tough, glamorous retro femme fatale have been deployed in wildly divergent ways. Emma Stone’s passive moll in Gangster Squad is horribly at odds with the hard glitter of her appearance, whereas Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) provides Eva Green (who studied Barbara Stanwyck’s noir performances in preparation for the role) an unlikely opportunity to fulfil the role of femme fatale with excess and camp abandon. Thus, the figure’s nostalgic glamour is often used simply as an appealing and marketable surface, but it also presents an opportunity to revisit and adapt the energetic femininity of the classic noir femme fatale.

Figure 1: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 3, Episode 1) ‘from a victim to a woman scorned.’ © Netflix.

A timely example of this can be found in the opening of the new season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2017), a series characterised by its knowing deployment of genre and popular culture tropes and clichés.  Having been left at the altar, the titular character Rebecca Bunch pulls herself out of her hotel room depression with a trip to the shops to transform ‘from a victim to a woman scorned’. This makeover includes dark nail varnish, dark hair dye, a tight white dress cut in a retro style, and most tellingly, DVD copies of Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992). She returns to her workplace to enact an elaborate, exaggerated and self-referential performance of sultry femininity. As she informs the friend who interrupts the routine, ‘Paula, I’m trying to do a thing!’ Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s ‘doing’ of the femme fatale allows for a clear explication of both the aesthetics of the figure and some of her more violent and vengeful incarnations in film history. The femme fatale becomes a ‘thing’ reducible to a palette of aesthetic choices, but is also presented as an available and malleable fantasy. The cinematic memory of the femme fatale is employed as a transitional myth, used to shift from one way of being to another. Rebecca’s ‘doing’ of the femme fatale provides her with a sense of control, and a reprieve from the humiliation of her circumstances, even as the series’ narrative presents the femme fatale as a comically unlikely and unsustainable fantasy.

Figure 2: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 3, Episode 1) ‘My hair is dark so I look evil, but I’m wearing white which is ironic.’ © Netflix.

The femme fatale is a consumable and compelling archetype that gestures back to Hollywood history in fascinating ways, and demonstrates the complex power of cinematic nostalgia. The looking back facilitated by the femme fatale does not simply represent a desire to return to how things once were, but rather invites a reconsideration of the pull of past femininities, and provides an opportunity not for wholesale recreation, but for playfulness and transformation.

Katherine Farrimond is Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex. Her research explores gender and genre in contemporary popular culture with particular focus on the femme fatale, mediated constructions of virginity, and the politics of nostalgia. Her monograph, The Contemporary Femme Fatale was published with Routledge in 2017, and she has published numerous articles and book chapters on representations of girlhood, femininity, sexuality and the uses of the past in popular culture. She is book reviews editor for Feminist Theory Journal and co-editor of SEQUENCE.

DWFTH4: CFP Deadline Extended

Due to popular demand, the proposal deadline for DWFTH4 has been extended to: Monday, November 13th 2017 (10pm GMT)

The decision date – 20 December 2017 – remains the same. If you have submitted already you should have received an email confirmation and any new submission will receive confirmation within three days. If you have not/do not receive confirmation, please email Shelley Cobb at s.cobb@soton.ac.uk

Please see ‘Upcoming Events‘ on this website for full details:
Doing Women’s Film and Television History IV:
Calling the Shots – Then, Now, and Next
May 23 – 25, 2018

University of Southampton, UK
Organising team: Shelley Cobb, Linda Ruth Williams, and Natalie Wreyford

Whedon, Weinstein and Why Feminism Matters

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In a very timely reflection, Lorna Jowett considers the position of the feminist scholar in the light of recent revelations of systemic abuse within Hollywood. Weinstein may present a depressingly familiar story; by comparison, the case of Joss Whedon has given rise to different questions for feminists concerning Buffy and authorship.  Is there a need for a reassessment of this influential television female character?

In August 2017, The Wrap published an article written by Kai Cole, architect,actor and producer who was married to producer, writer and director Joss Whedon for 16 years. Under the title ‘Joss Whedon Is a ‘Hypocrite Preaching Feminist Ideals’ , Cole claimed that Whedon had a series of affairs with young women he worked with in the film and TV industry while married to her. This sent shockwaves through various fan communities, and, the following day, long-running Whedon fan site Whedonesque effectively closed down with the following announcement:

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‘So farewell then. 15 years is a long time…But now it’s time to say goodbye…’ (Whedonesque: http://www.whedonesque.com)

Cole’s accusations towards Whedon have since been eclipsed by the revelations regarding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein In October 2017, he was accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape by growing numbers of women; a number of men felt able to share their harassment stories. Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company’s board of directors and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The allegations against Weinstein became headline news in various countries, sparking debates about sexism and misogyny within Hollywood and more broadly, the way it is often excused, ignored and therefore enabled by those working in the industry. Actor Tippi Hedren’s tweets in support of those coming forward to accuse Weinstein, comparing him with Alfred Hitchcock, indicated how endemic this behaviour has been in Hollywood, and how it is widespread, even integral, in its system both historically and into the present.

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@tippihedren (www.twitter.com)

The sheer number of those coming forward to accuse Weinstein, coupled with his inadequate response, and—of course—his reputation as a producer and co-founder of Miramax, means that the ‘news’ about Weinstein has eclipsed the revelations Cole made about Whedon. Clearly, whilst both are abuses of authority and power, having affairs with work colleagues is not the same as persistent harassment, assault and rape. Moreover, many commentators seem to have taken the allegations against Weinstein as simply the public disclosure of an open secret; by comparison, Whedon’s ‘betrayal’ or ‘hypocrisy’ elicited emotional, conflicted, and confused responses. The difference seems to lie in the way Whedon, or the Whedon brand, was rooted for by many viewers and fans, as ‘feminist’. This is encapsulated in The Wrap’s opening quotation from Cole : ‘He used his relationship with me as a shield … so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.’

For many fans and followers of Whedon, this was the crux of his hypocrisy: he claimed to be a feminist and to use feminism in his creative work—starting with TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)—and feminism, or a particular take on gender representation, was certainly used to promote subsequent productions. No one ever imagined Weinstein to be a feminist; apparently many saw Whedon as one and were bitterly disappointed when they seemed to be proved badly wrong. The titles or headlines of articles alone set out the allegiances (and emotional responses) of their authors, from ‘Clementine Ford: Why Joss Whedon’s treatment of ex-wife Kai Cole matters’ to ‘Buffy’s Legacy Does Not Belong to Joss Whedon’.

I am Vice President of the Whedon Studies Association, an association devoted to the academic study of Whedon’s work, and an academic whose first monograph was about gender and Buffy (Sex and the Slayer, 2005). My work is perpetually informed by feminist theory and feminist thought and I find I have mixed feelings about  this issue myself. And here’s one of the things that seems to me to be tricky about working out what, if anything, to think about these revelations: academic analysis and publication is not supposed to ‘feel’ anything, it is traditionally supposed to present objective examination and evaluation. I say ‘supposed to’ because I have never believed in academic objectivity and I am acutely aware of how my various identities, personal and professional, inflect my ‘feminist’ perspective and my academic work. To me, critical examination and personal investment need not be mutually exclusive. Members of the Whedon Studies Association have always attempted to offer critique and rigorous analysis and the organisation and its members have often found themselves having to defend the notion that they are not simply fans of Whedon who adore everything he produces, and accept everything he says publicly at face value.

One of the issues most debated on the WSA Facebook page following Cole’s revelations about Whedon’s personal life was how to distinguish between personal and professional, or between creator and their work. Should we re-evaluate whether Buffy (and other Whedon productions) was ground breaking in terms of how it represented ‘strong women’? Or should the personal failings of its named creator be considered separately from the impact of the TV series and films that made his name?’ One thoughtful response was Matthew Pateman’s blog, Celebrity Culture, Brand Whedon and the post-Romantic fallacy,’ which notes how in many discussions or judgements ‘the semi-sainted Whedon of Equality Now and Planned Parenthood has been assumed to be identical with the legally named owner of rights to television shows.’ Pateman delineates the complexities involved in unpicking the various ‘Joss Whedons’, concluding that ‘Buffy hasn’t changed and to think it has is to oddly privilege Whedon as the sole arbiter and purveyor of its meaning. Even in the days of ‘St Joss’, that was always a fallacy.’

So what can I draw from these complex and often painful discussions? Here are some of my initial conclusions:

  • ‘Feminism’ does not have a clear definition and means different things to different people. Like any perspective or ideology it can be used for different purposes and co-opted by those whom others may not consider ‘feminist.’
  • Buffy has had an impact, on viewers, and on representations, as widely circulated memes (arising from Sarah Michelle Gellar’s own twitter post) demonstrated recently.
    smg meme

    @SarahMGellar (www.twitter.com)

    It wasn’t perfect, of course.

  • Whether we credit Whedon or others (such as Jane Espenson or Marti Noxon) for this impact does not change it.
  • In 2017, 20 years after it first aired, Buffy’s ‘feminism’ is dated because feminism, society, and television drama have moved on and developed, though arguably it is still relevant.
  • Studies continue to show that while productions featuring female protagonists are more commercially successful than those featuring males, such productions are far from common.
  • Sexual harassment, assault and rape are all too common for many women and other people in everyday life (as evidenced by online campaigns such as Everyday Sexism and the recent #MeToo hashtag).
  • Men exploiting positions of power via affairs, sexual harassment, assault and rape are not uncommon within major institutions. Such institutions may express surprise when these practices are revealed but do little to discourage them.
  • Studies also show that the film and TV industries in the UK, US and elsewhere, are far from diverse, rather they are deeply unequal and dominated by white men.

 

  • I wish to remain hopeful about the future of feminism and a future that values girls, women, and those with minority identities. Therefore, I need to believe that series like Buffy can continue to inspire those who watched it to think differently about gender and the inequities of power that structure gender roles, irrespective of whether some of those involved in creating it have taken advantage of these inequities while purporting to challenge them. I need to believe that feminism can bring people together to work for effective change even as it troubles, disturbs, and upsets how we see things. Whedon and Weinstein are individual examples of what unequal systems and societies can produce. I need to believe that, collectively, we can learn from the disturbing stories about such individuals and start upsetting the system that enables them.