SCMS 2012 discovery: It's great but no fun to attend a conference in a city you consider home. Hanging with my [understanding] family was compressed into a single dinner Wednesday night; the only non-conference friends I saw were the one I stayed with and the one who works across the street from the Park Plaza, SCMS HQ, at Pearson. I didn't go to my favorite shop, or movie theatres, and most restaurants [although hats off to Barbara Lynch and her mighty empire -- I managed two dozen bivalves over two days at B&G Oysters, each time with a 'gansett back, and was well-served Saturday post-panel by childhood pal and now fancy cocktail luminary John Gertsen and crew at Drink -- one Tennessee and one Little Giuseppe/Italy hybrid]. I discovered that the gridded high-rent district of the Back Bay/South End was mysterious, probably because I was far too broke to spend much time at any of its tony establishments when I lived in 02134 or even 02138. Delux was the exception, and confidential to Jennifer MacMillan: it is exactly the same.
But what about the conference? I didn't see nearly enough presentations. I managed to miss all three of my colleagues and my friend and former colleague who's at OSU now [although I did see him receive an award for his essay on Mad Men in front of his wife, children, and mom, which was excellent]. Panels on directorial gestures, American independent cinema, Barbara Stanwyck, moving images/movie environments; presentations on the WGBH and Northeast Historic Film archives; a screening of Veritas, which was advertised as of interest to those who might want to attend my panel: all transpired in my absence. Friends, mentors, people who've written letters on my behalf, folks I've e-mailed with, Facebook pals... It was all very "All Summer in a Day." Yeah, I suck.
Who did I see? Chuck, on a stairwell; Hanna on the phone outside the hotel; Chicago classmates at the big reception; NYU classmates at the last 20 minutes of the NYU party; Flaherty pals like Leo and Paul; bloggerati including Zigzigger, Shaviro, Girish, and Catherine Grant. My excellent editor Ada, who invited me to a schmancy dinner to celebrate the 3rd edition of The Film Experience [for which I again wrote the instructor's resource manual], at which I finally met Tim Corrigan and reconnected with the guy who put together the panel at which I gave my first SCMS paper in Chicago. All dizzying for an interweb introvert like me.
What did I see? A McGraw-Hill presentation on the 10th Bordwell and Thompson, now with flavor crystals! Criterion clips. [Also, some cool pedogogical stuff like online tutorials laying out, say, high- and low-key lighting that I'm not done mulling over.] Papers on Lionsgate, and Summer Hours, on Jackie-O and Dick & Liz, and those of my super-smart co-panelists. Seriously, guys. They were awesome. Not to mention our heroic respondent, Carlo Rotella, who braved Amtrak back from EMP [one day... ] in New York the morning of our panel. They all made me feel like a self-aware Rupert Pupkin [which would be Masha, maybe?], a showboating imposter.
The cinetrix is not just being the panel equivalent of house-proud, either. For example, J.D. killed on how the Brutalism of Government Center, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and the Modern Lovers all hang together. More TK, one hopes, if we find a journal keen to adopt a Boston accent for an issue.
And then there was the workshop on the video essay, which the cinetrix would have gone to even if it didn't also afford her the opportunity to stalk Girish and C. Grant in an academically sanctioned fashion. Here's Catherine:
As Marks writes, 'Whether criticism is haptic, in touch with its object, is a matter of the point at which the words lift off' (2004: 80). Haptic criticism must be what happens, then, when the words don't lift off the surface of the film object, if they (or any of the other film-analytical elements conveyed through montage or other non-linear editing techniques and tools) remain on the surface of the film object, as they often do in videographic film studies. In addition to this, video essays on films may often be an especially 'superficial' form of criticism, frequently using slow motion or zoom-in effects to allow those experiencing them to close in on the grain or detail of the film image.
It was smart, and provocative, and it told me nothing practical about how I, too, could make video essays. [And I'm hopeless at the lowly powerpoint presentation, so.] It reminded me, too, of my tremendous frustration at not knowing enough about website coding to emulate the sites I read [early Salon, Word, Suck, Tomato Nation] while idling at various contract editing gigs in the late 1990s, knowing only that if I could code, it would remove the barriers of entry even zine-making encountered [access to a photocopier; postage]. Instead I had to wait until 2003, which saw the confluence of my friend Laura introducing me to smart lit blogs and my computer-savvy brother hooking me up with the beta membership to Typepad I still have.
That was -- gulp -- nearly nine years ago, as Girish mentioned in his SCMS wrap-up post. Since then I've come to realize that my skepticism about podcasts -- why would someone want to listen to Ed, no matter how mellifluous his voice? -- was short-sighted and, more recently, that I need to do more to master iMovie-type applications because I find myself increasingly bored and limited by just writing about film punctuated by the occasional screen shot.
Girish also touched on another aspect of attending this conference that always kinda gets me:
I can’t get away from the fact that I have a slightly peculiar relation to SCMS. I’m not a research professional within the cinema/media studies field. Instead, I approach the conference as a cinephile who is passionate about two broad strands of activity: (1)Individual films themselves, their concrete details, their analysis and interpretation, their evaluation, extending then to filmmakers, performers, genres, etc., and (2) Theory, by which I mean film theory but also, more broadly, philosophical thinking that is on some level politically motivated (structuralism, Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and so on, and the broad field one loosely labels post-structuralism). Thinking about cinephilia and film criticism is also, for me, part of this theoretical curiosity.
(1) and (2) are crucially related in that the former is primarily criticism and the latter is primarily a speculative, philosophical kind of activity we call theory: each feeds and responds to the other, and each activity sharpens and deepens the practice of the other. Doing either criticism or theory exclusively, without close and constant relation to the other, seems insufficient and unappealing to me.
It hits on something that I've often thought about when it comes to the academy's embrace of Girish and the film critical community's embrace of Farran, who recently wrote an essay for Criterion and is currently pinch-hitting as a critic at the New York Post. I can't think of two smarter, nicer people, and I think it is good and healthy for these fields to welcome folks who come in over the transom. Their accomplishments harken back to the Annette Michelson era -- maybe a Ph.D. in another discipline, maybe a journalism background, maybe just knowing certain people in a scene firsthand all being valued.
The cinetrix is not exactly a research professional, either, which may be why she finds writing a presentation so agonizing while nattering online about film is as easy as breathing. I actually have it pretty good: I teach. I write when and what I want. I have the flexibility to travel to conferences, festivals, and seminars. If only I didn't have to rack up the air miles to put myself in a film culture.
Or try to explain myself to Ph.D.s, as I found myself doing yet again when hanging out with folks from my NYU cohort. I get that we all started off in school together, but the questions! Why don't I get a Ph.D. myself? Well, there are no programs within five hours of my home. I have enough student debt/can't swing maintaining two households/not interested in a commuter relationship. My non-tenure-track existence is woefully undercompensated but, as I said above, pretty fancy free. I don't need a doctorate to write a book. I don't even need a doctorate to affirm your choice to get a doctorate. Hell, more people have visited this blog than will ever read most of the scholarship represented by the 450-something papers given at SCMS this year.
4.20.12: Hey, I was on a tear, wasn't I? Have no idea now where I meant to go from here, so I am posting it as-is in an effort to move on to Full Frame content. Incidentally, since you're already online, I encourage you to listen to Valerie Simpson on Chaka Khan (on the BBC). It is tremendous.