December 2, 2016 – Dr. Constantine V. Nakassis

Please join us on  Friday, December 2nd at 10:30AM in Cobb 311 for the next meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop. This time, we welcome Dr. Constantine V. Nakassis, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the College at the University of Chicago. Professor Nakassis will be presenting a paper entitled “The Hero’s Mass and the Ontological Politics of the Image in Tamil Cinema.

Dr. Nakassis’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu] for the password.

Refreshments will be provided.

We look forward to seeing you at the workshop!

Your coordinators,

Katerina Korola and Dave Burnham


 

“The Hero’s Mass and the Ontological Politics of the Image in Tamil Cinema”

This paper looks at so-called mass heroes of the Tamil film industry of South India, auratic figures that are bombastic and larger than life on and off the screen. Abiding a particular aesthetic and political regime of the image, the screen image of a mass hero is less a representation of his personage than a presencing of his being. Such presence affords a range of affective performativities, whereby representations of the mass hero constitute performative acts by/on the actor himself. Drawing on interviews with fans and filmmakers of a recent mass-hero film (“the Ultimate Star” Ajith Kumar’s 2011 Mankatha), the paper interrogates this form of presence and the ontology of the image it instates; in particular, it asks what happens when the mass-hero’s affecting presence is framed within a representationalist realist aesthetics whose liberal politics eschews the populist politics immanent/imminent in the mass-hero’s presence? Putting these ethnographic and textual materials in dialogue with classic questions of the “ontology” of the film image, the paper argues that in Mankatha one can detect the uneasy play of a multiplicity of ontological tendencies and forces that unsettles any attempt to account for “the” ontology of any image-type. This unsettling suggests that questions about the ontologies of images must be posed relative to the open-ended political processes through which images come into being.

Constantine V. Nakassis is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the 2016 book, Doing Style: Youth and Mass Mediation in South India (University of Chicago Press, Orient Blackswan), and has published essays on Tamil film, trademark law and piracy in the US and India, youth cultural practice in south India, and the semiotics of performativity and citationality. He is currently working on a book manuscript, tentatively entitled Onscreen/Offscreen: Ontologies of the Image in Tamil Cinema. 

 

November 11, 2016 – Priya Jaikumar

Please join us on Friday, November 11th at 10:30AM in Cobb 311 as we welcome Priya Jaikumar, Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of the Cinematic Arts. Professor Jaikumar will be presenting a paper entitled “Between Love and Orientalism in Jean Renoir’s The River.”

Professor Jaikumar’s paper will not be pre-circulated. A discussion will follow her presentation.

Please email either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu] for the password.


Between Love and Orientalism in Jean Renoir’s The River

Jean Renoir’s The River opens with the claim that, “First love must be the same any place…But the flavor of my story would have been different in each.” The pivot of a qualifying “but” indicates that the universalist premise of experience hinges on negotiating with the particularities of place. It represents the desire to make generalizable truth-claims (in this case, about the nature of first love) compatible with the lived and visceral singularity of location (claimed by the camera and cinematography in Renoir’s film). The River shows India as full of transcendent and immanent meanings, as metaphysical yet mundane, real but providing intimations of a sublime that exceeds the geographical imagination. Emphasis on one or the other aspect of the film has characterized its historical interpretations. The challenge in thinking about The River, which comes to us across a political divide of opposing responses, is to be neither dismissive of the principles of humanism and love embraced by Renoir and André Bazin, nor dead to the geopolitical asymmetries of their well-intentioned empathies. The River’s orientalism opens (rather than forecloses) my analysis, because the film’s use of India as a visual backdrop is one part of a varied and profuse history of personal revelations, artistic ambitions and political contentions generated during a landmark location shoot. If the film’s production history pushes us to discern its rich material contexts, Renoir’s visual ambition reaches across time with its artful activation of the cinematic medium’s particularizing and abstracting tendencies. With this presentation, I reinvest in the intersecting realms of film aesthetics and politics, too frequently separated by current disciplinary divides between the philosophical and cultural study of cinema.

Priya Jaikumar is Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. She is author of Cinema at the End of Empire: A Politics of Transition in Britain and India, 1927-47 (Duke, 2006), and has published essays on Indian cinema, transnational feminism, film policy, film and geography, postcolonial cinemas and colonial cinemas, one of which received the Society of Cinema and Media Studies award for best essay in an anthology (2013). She is completing a manuscript titled Where Histories Reside: India as Filmed Space for Duke University Press. The book offers five arguments in favor of a spatial film history, by following a range of films shot on location in India from the 1930s to the present. This talk borrows from a section on “Affective Space.”


Refreshments will be provided.

**Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu].**

November 4, 2016 – Mikki Kressbach

Please join us on Friday, November 4th at 10:30AM in Cobb 311 as we welcome Mikki Kressbach, Ph.D. Candidate in Cinema and Media Studies. Mikki will be discussing her dissertation chapter-in-progress, “Found Footage Horror and the Evidentiary Effect, or How to Know an Outbreak.”

Mikki’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu] for the password.


Found Footage Horror and the Evidentiary Effect, or How to Know an Outbreak

“Found footage horror and the evidentiary effect, or how to know an outbreak,” examines the coupling of found footage horror and emergent infectious disease (EIDs).  While most discussions of the genre focus on its stylistic affinities with documentary film, this chapter seeks to understand the epistemological paradigms that underscore this comparison through the lens of visual evidence.  Developing the term “evidentiary effect,” I argue that the reflexive aesthetic of found footage horror encourage the viewer to examine the image as visual evidence, leaving them vulnerable to the shocks and scares of the genre.  EID found footage films use the evidentiary effect to create a sense of viral omnipresence as the viewer anxiously scans the image in search of information.  In upending the functional use of visual evidence, EID found footage films confront us with the epistemological paradigms and visual rhetoric with which we understand and control real world outbreaks.

Mikki Kressbach is a PhD candidate in the department of Cinema and Media Studies.  Her dissertation, titled “Perfect Contagion Machine,” explores the representation of emergent infectious disease in contemporary films, television, and video games.  Her broader research interests include popular representations of science, health technologies, and science studies.


Refreshments will be provided.

**Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu].**

October 21, 2016 – Will Carroll

Please join us on Friday, October 21st at 10:30AM in Cobb 311 as we welcome Will Caroll, Ph.D. Candidate in Cinema and Media Studies. Will will be discussing his dissertation chapter-in-progress, “Meta-cinematic Space in Suzuki’s Nikkatsu Films; or, Can Cinefication Emancipate the Frame?”

Will’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu] for the password.


Meta-cinematic Space in Suzuki’s Nikkatsu Films; or, Can Cinefication Emancipate the Frame? [Excerpt]

 

Man Fall Down. Funny.

In one of the most fascinating sequences in Suzuki’s career, Tetsu the Phoenix pursues a rival yakuza boss and his underlings just after they have stolen a land deal and killed the realtor. The yakuza boss and his underlings are framed in the back and Tetsu is in the front, but he races to the back as some elevator-style doors close in front of him. Within the same shot, he pries them open and enters the newly reopened space in the background. He then seemingly inexplicably falls out of the frame. In the following shot, an overhead, we see Tetsu on the floor while the yakuza boss drops a wooden plank over him that he and his underlings then walk across.

Narratively, this scene fulfills a fairly straightforward purpose—it shows the villains putting the protagonist out of commission to allow them to fulfill their plan, but in a way that will allow the protagonist to surprise them by escaping and complicating their plans at the last minute. Since this type of development is common to the point of being a cliché in action movies, we may look at Suzuki’s decision to film the scene in this way as merely a comic way of making the cliché interesting again, because man fall down=funny.

However, upon closer examination, Suzuki’s method of executing the simple visual joke of showing a man falling down is a self-reflexive play on the visual construction of three- dimensional space onto a two-dimensional image. The joke works because of our conditioned optical assumption that the floor in the foreground carries into the background. Indeed, more than it is a joke on a character in the film’s diegesis, who would realistically be more likely to notice the absence of the floor in front of him, the joke is on us, and it rattles our faith in the assumptions of how cinematic space works, even after Suzuki provides us with a diegetic explanation of what has happened in the following shot.

Will Carroll is a PhD candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His dissertation, Suzuki Seijun and the Redemption of Cinephilia, deals with the filmmaker Suzuki Seijun and the fallout from his firing by Nikkatsu Studios in 1968, focusing particularly on the ways in which his films were subsequently championed, or perhaps commandeered, by various groups of film theorists. His further research interests include popular cinema (especially Hollywood 1920s-1960, Japan 1930s-1968, and Hong Kong 1980s-present), formalist film theory, cinephilia, auteur studies, phenomenologies of film experience, and cinemas of East Asia.

October 14, 2016 – Jordan Schonig

Please join us on Friday, October 14th at 10:30AM in Cobb 311 as we welcome Jordan Schonig, Ph.D. Candidate in Cinema and Media Studies. Jordan will be discussing his dissertation chapter-in-progress, “Habitual Gestures: Postwar Realism, Embodied Agency, and the Inscription of Bodily Movement.”

Jordan’s paper is available for download here.

Please email either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu] for the password.


Habitual Gestures: Postwar Realism, Embodied Agency, and the Inscription of Bodily Movement

In one of the most paradigmatic sequences of post-war realism in film history, Maria the young maid is shown toiling about the kitchen in Vittorio de Sica’s Umberto D, performing actions and everyday gestures that would generally be elided in classical narration. Most critical accounts examine such gestures as instruments of non-narrative cinematic temporalities. For Andre Bazin, Maria’s gestures helped foster a “cinema of ‘duration,’” and likewise for Gilles Deleuze, such gestures would epitomize the time-image, a cinema in which the movement of narrative action is subordinated to the flow of lived time.

But what if we don’t take such gestures simply as instruments of cinematic time, but rather consider them as forms of movement unto themselves? My chapter argues that what I call habitual gestures—such as walking, sitting, smoking cigarettes, lighting matches, washing dishes, grinding coffee—produce a unique form of cinematic realism not simply because they suspend the flow of narrative action, but because such gestures encourage our attention to ordinarily overlooked forms of bodily motion. As Walter Benjamin observed in his “Work of Art” essay, while we “hardly know what really goes on” in the “familiar routine” of reaching for a spoon, cinematographic inscription never fails to pick up the exact muscular twitches that make up such a habitual gesture. I argue that the aesthetics of habitual gestures puts this epistemological capacity of cinematographic inscription to a realist aesthetic enterprise, foregrounding both the overlooked details of bodily movement and the autonomy of bodily habit that lies beneath the artifice of performance.

Examining habitual gestures across a range of films emblematic of post-war realism, including the laboring bodies of De Sica’s films, the ordinary gestures of a WWII veteran amputee in Wyler’s Best Years of Our Lives, and the skilled manual techniques in the films of Robert Bresson, I show how an aesthetics of habitual gestures compels our attention to the invisible bodily movements between and within willed actions, and in doing so foregrounds the body’s non-conscious and automatic ways of moving. Reading such gestures alongside the notion of “bodily habit” in the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I argue that an aesthetics of habitual gestures not only helps us articulate the reality effects of bodily movement, but also can help rethink film theory’s fundamental assumptions about the relations between agency, performance, and the cinematographic inscription of the moving body.

Jordan Schonig is a sixth-year PhD candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His dissertation, Cinema’s Motion Forms: Inscribed Motion and the Problems of Film Theory, rethinks central debates in film theory by examining the phenomenology of cinematic motion. He is broadly interested in the intersections between philosophical aesthetics and film theory, phenomenological approaches to film studies, and genealogies of modernism in film and the other arts.


Refreshments will be provided.

**Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact either Katerina Korola [katerinakorola@uchicago.edu] or Dave Burnham [burnham@uchicago.edu].**

Mass Culture Workshop Fall Schedule

Greetings All!

The Mass Culture Workshop is thrilled to announce our Fall Schedule. We look forward to seeing many of you at these discussions and presentations!

Our fall program begins on Friday, October 14th from 1030am-1230pm with Cinema and Media Studies PhD candidate Jordan Schonig. Jordan will be presenting a chapter-in-progress from his dissertation, tentatively titled “Habitual Gestures: Post-War Realism, Bodily Movement, and the Problem of Agency.”

Mass Culture meets Fridays from 10:30-12:30 in Cobb 311. Below is a copy of our schedule, which is also available on our website, along with more details about many of the presentations: https://voices.uchicago.edu/massculture/. We will typically post papers to the website about a week in advance. You will need a password to access these papers, which will be circulated to our listserv as soon as the materials are available. If you are not signed up for the listserv, but would like to be, please follow this link.

 

October 14: Jordan Schonig, PhD Candidate, Cinema and Media Studies
Habitual Gestures: Post-War Realism, Bodily Movement, and the Problem of Agency

October 21: Will Carroll, PhD Candidate, Cinema and Media Studies
Meta-Cinematic Space: or, Can Cinefication Emancipate the Frame?

November 4: Mikki Kressbach, PhD Candidate, Cinema and Media Studie
Need to Know: Found Footage Horror and Emergent Outbreaks

November 11: Priya Jaikumar, Associate Professor, Cinema and Media Studies, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts
Between Love and Orientalism in Jean Renoir’s The River

December 2: Costas V. Nakassis, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Chicago
Paper Title Forthcoming

 

We are committed to making Mass Culture an inclusive and accessible environment for everyone. If there is anything we can do to facilitate your participation, or if you simply have questions, please do not hesitate to email Dave (burnham@uchicago.edu) or Katerina (katerinakorola@uchicago.edu), your 2016-2017 workshop coordinators.

We look forward to seeing you!

Dave and Katerina