Theses - Centre for Film and Screen
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- ItemEmbargoCamera Mortis: Ethics and Aesthetics in Emmanuel Levinas and Richard MosseJakobson, ChristineThis thesis examines the purpose of art — specifically, fine art photography — in depicting contemporary conflicts that have resulted in suffering, violence, human rights abuses, and death. The thesis argues that the purpose of such art is not aesthetic. Instead, such art functions as a means to channel artistic expression towards increased political awareness and to facilitate an ethical encounter between the viewer and the other through a questioning of the other’s death and the viewer’s self. The depiction of the other’s death gives rise to a contemplation of moral responsibility and a movement from the viewer’s self towards the other, breaking the viewer’s solitude and expanding her moral horizon to encompass an other removed in time and space. The thesis takes Emmanuel Levinas’s articulation of ethics and aesthetics to propose a theory of a camera mortis that reflects the proximity of life and death as a defining condition of the twenty-first century and art. To develop this approach to art, the thesis primarily refers to Levinas’s three concepts of death, temporality, and responsibility to offer a revision of Levinas’s aesthetics. It proceeds with an analysis of how Levinas opens up debates about Richard Mosse’s major projects, addressing the question of what art is for. Chapter One outlines Levinas’s ethics as first philosophy and critically examines his notion of art before considering his writing on the political. In so doing, it revises the common conception that art and ethics are incompatible in Levinas’s philosophy. Chapter Two examines Mosse’s first major project, comprising Infra (2010–11) and The Enclave (2013), to propose a reading of Mosse’s aesthetics in terms of the potential to change a viewer’s perception and to increase self-awareness via an encounter with the conflict in Congo rendered through variations of the colour pink. The chapter also complicates the artworks’ ethics by demonstrating that the other remains unseen and confined to alterity in temporal delay and in the making invisible of death and suffering. The third chapter examines Mosse’s second major project, comprising Heat Maps (2014–16) and Incoming (2017), to argue that the artworks throw the viewer’s self-perception into radical crisis via an encounter with the corporeality of the refugee. They do so by highlighting the absence of a coherent present and a confrontation of the moral responsibility towards an other who is not treated as an equal in her worthiness to be alive.
- ItemRestrictedRefashioning Difference: Costume and the Materiality of African and Afro-diasporan CinemasGrieve, AlexandraFeminist film scholarship has rehabilitated costume by correcting the view that it is a frivolous, feminized element of filmmaking, arguing instead that dress establishes historical and geographic context. Despite these interventions, little research has explored costume from non- Western cinemas, nor have scholars addressed how both the intersections of gender and race have influenced the ‘fashioning’ of onscreen subjectivities. These are not irrelevant considerations, given the historical link between the expansion of Western textile production and the extraction of resources from formerly colonised territories, particularly the African continent, which remains an attractive destination for cheap, often female manufacturing labour. My doctoral thesis brings these geopolitical and feminist concerns into interdisciplinary conversation with film studies, by taking up the complex imbrications of clothing, race and gender, and considering the unexamined possibilities that material culture presents for African postcolonial cinematic authorship. Comprised of analyses of the work of female filmmakers Claire Denis, Julie Dash, Wanuri Kahiu and Zina Saro-Wiwa, I argue that their richly haptic, textillic works highlight the filmic image as a materially ‘fashioned’ medium, through which African/Afro-diasporan peoples’ entanglements with globalized (neo)coloniality have been sensually remediated for the screen. Combatting the marginalization of African women in cinema studies, as well as the broader devaluation of women’s aesthetic practices, I demonstrate that the neglected cultural contributions of African/Afro-diasporic female filmmakers should be reconsidered, with an eye turned towards the highly politically expressive field of dress and its material cultures.
- ItemEmbargo'Face Value' in the Moving Image Practices of Harun Farocki, William Kentridge, and Hito SteyerlAlexander, LawrenceThis thesis examines the face as a central topos in contemporary moving image art. Specifically, it investigates how the face simultaneously figures as a locus of capture and resistance in the essay films and installations of Harun Farocki, the performance and video art of Hito Steyerl, and William Kentridge’s intermedial productions for gallery and stage. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s articulation of the face as a site of political struggle in A Thousand Plateaus (1987) provides a guiding theoretical framework for this analysis. I place this post-structuralist model in dialogue with contemporary discourses of media archaeology and critical race theory in order to interrogate these artists’ confrontations with the crimes of European and, in particular, German colonialism. In this vein, I also consider their opposition to the enduring racial and environmental violence reproduced by contemporary systems of capital and control. Central to this analysis is the correlation of the face to both the surroundings of landscape and the managing function of the hands in the production of moving images mediated across various networks of circulation and exchange. Considering aesthetic production as a kind of metonymic hand(i)work, meanwhile, establishes a chain of connections between these practitioners and their works using a range of image-making technologies. The tripartite structure of the thesis accordingly explores three main thematic foci: the manual treatment of the face in cosmetics, the organizational management of the interface, and the work of the hands in archaeological practice. I contend that faciality provides a model for thinking about or against systems of representation, figuration, and inscription that also encode the domination of bodies and territories by intertwining systems of corporate and state control both historically and in the contemporary moment. This analysis thus demonstrates the central importance of the face to scholarship that engages with the related aesthetic and political strategies active in staging resistance and solidarity in contemporary moving image practices.
- ItemOpen AccessRelationality and Opacity: Approaching Trans in CinemaPickett-Palmer, LiliThis thesis seeks to attend to modes of trans relationality in cinema. Recent scholarship, most notably by Eliza Steinbock and Cáel M. Keegan, has pictured cinema as a privileged medium for diversifying the range of trans-related effects and affects available to film audiences, exploring how trans embodiments and cinema might share a liberatory capacity to transform modes of perceiving and experiencing. My study offers an alternative angle of approach, asking how trans has become associated with the capacity to transform. I turn to trans studies genealogies of how trans embodiments have been instrumentalized as metaphors for mutability, mouldability, or interchangeability. In particular, I follow Jules Gill-Peterson’s and C. Riley Snorton’s tracings of this tendency through histories of racialization. One strand of this thesis approaches cinema as a medium that abstracts and instrumentalizes trans experiences, shaped by these histories. A complementing strand argues that such abstractions cleave imperfectly to the lived complexity of trans experience, leaving room for manoeuvre and offering measures of opacity. Reading for opacity, I propose, offers ways to read for forms of trans relationality that persist in excess of the abstractions that have put trans towards other purposes. In chapter one, I trace and interrogate themes of isolation, irreversibility, and impossibility through Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons. I put 13 Moons in conversation with a series of Christer Strömholm’s photographs and Sébastien Lifshitz’s film Bambi. The transfeminine desires and intimacies documented in these artworks offer a fresh perspective on the forms of negativity and relationality associated with 13 Moons. Chapter two focuses on sites of convergence between Black and trans in British cinema, surveying films by Derek Jarman, Sankofa, and Neil Jordan, and artworks by Travis Alabanza and Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley. Through this archive, I follow fugitive practices of Black and trans kinship transecting conditions of fungibility. In chapter three, I connect histories of trans children to readings of three films: Tomboy (Céline Sciamma), Little Girl (Lifshitz) and She Male Snails (Ester Martin Bergsmark), asking how trans children are alienated from their agency and instrumentalized as figures for development, plasticity, innocence, and futurity. I consider, however, how these films also make it possible to partially glimpse the force of trans children’s expressivity through the distorting abstractions they are asked to bear.
- ItemOpen AccessSounds without Borders: Industry, Society and the Voice in Giallo CinemaPollard, DamienThe Italian giallo film was a type of thriller that was produced in huge numbers between the early 1960s and the late 1980s. This thesis contributes to recent scholarly attempts to situate the giallo within its socio-cultural historical context but resists the critical tendency to read these films as passive and transparent reflections of social attitudes in post-war Italy. Rather, I attend concretely to the form of these films and, specifically, to their critically neglected sound designs. I argue that the giallo’s voice tracks were conditioned by the commercial imperatives of Italy’s post-war popular film industry and that these commercial imperatives were in turn shaped by wider social, economic and political phenomena. By theorising the voice as a mediator between the giallo text and its industrial and social contexts, I show that these films both registered and reified social change. Chapter 1 demonstrates that the anonymous narrator of Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) adopts a range of sonorous modes throughout the film. Each of these sonorous modes invokes a specific set of intertexts which are vital to tracing both the giallo’s cultural origins and the increasingly globalised socio- cultural landscape from which it emerged. This chapter then shows that Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) uses the model of the cinematic voice-over to explore the subjective experience of urban space in post-war Italy. The film suggests that by 1970 the ability to vocally ‘narrate’ and thus control space had become a fundamental assumption of the modern, cosmopolitan subject. Chapter 2 analyses Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973). Both films draw on longstanding Italian cultural stereotypes to pitch the silence of the rural against the vocality of the urban. The films use silence and the voice as ‘cartographic’ tools to delineate the profound socio-economic divisions between Italy’s rural South and its more urban North, but they also illustrate the giallo’s underlying affinities with its silent cinema ancestors and so challenge the assumed temporal borders between cinematic eras. Chapter 3 argues that Argento’s Tenebrae (1982) and Fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982) variously mimic the vocal aesthetics of television. These films lay bare both the increasing dominance of the Italian cultural landscape by imported commercial television in the 1980s and the neoliberal economic project that underpinned that trend. Ultimately, they question the stability of the nation itself, precisely because the voice — now fractured across a global mediascape — is unable to signal national specificity.
- ItemEmbargoFraming Sex and Spatiality in French Queer Cinema: Nolot, Dieutre, Guiraudie(2021-04-01) O'Dwyer, Jules; O'Dwyer, Jules [0000-0002-3081-9709]This thesis explores interrelated questions of sexuality and spatiality through the lens of contemporary French queer cinema. While film and media studies has recently seen the critical ascendance of spatial, embodied and proprioceptive theory on the one hand, and a burgeoning interest in queer sexualities, counterpublics and relational practices on the other, the conceptual convergences between both areas remain largely unmapped. This thesis offers a corrective to this oversight by taking as its focus the work of three critically under-discussed directors—Jacques Nolot, Vincent Dieutre, and Alain Guiraudie—who each appeal to the spatial practice of gay cruising to explore the formal, textual and geographic construction of cinematic space. The first chapter establishes the cultural and theoretical backdrop of the study, arguing that while French thinkers from the post-1968 period sought to analyse the factors that ‘produce’ and differentiate experiences of lived space (or what Lefebvre terms ‘l’espace vécu’) the question of sexuality rarely figured as a substantive concern. Drawing queer theory, cultural geography and film studies into closer dialogue, I argue that cinema is well-positioned to think through, and expand upon, these concerns. Chapter two stages an encounter between the cinema of Jacques Nolot and the film theory of Roland Barthes to explore how the homoerotic space of the movie theatre might serve as a site to reorient key debates in film theory. Chapter three explores how cruising figures as a metaphor for archival and geographic exploration in the documentary practice of Vincent Dieutre. Seeking to complicate Paris’ privileged position as the locus of queer life and cultural production, Chapter four explores the rural and post-industrial spaces of the French South-west via Alain Guiraudie. The guiding thread that runs throughout this analysis is a sustained interest in how the production and articulation of cinematic space is informed by questions of non-normative desire, embodiment, and sexual politics. Indeed, while the trope of flânerie has long constituted a symbolic touchstone in French literary and artistic culture—serving to articulate entwined ideas of modernism, spatial exploration, and urban sociality—the thesis suggests that cruising might offer a queer cognate to these culturally sanctioned discourses. Forging itinerant pathways through the spaces of French cinema, Nolot, Dieutre, and Guiraudie invite spectators to consider questions of intimacy, relationality and cinematic space anew.
- ItemEmbargo'A Place Called Slaughter Race': Spectres of conflict in contemporary Disney animationChew, KevinThis thesis traces the themes of war, racism, ecological anxiety and postindustrial subjugation as forms of conflict informing the Walt Disney Animation Studios features Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, 2014), Zootopia (Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016), Moana (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2016) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, 2018). By interrogating these films on the levels of narrative, aesthetics and production, I chart a series of tensions and contradictions between the fantastical diegeses of the films and their historical dimensions in order to produce an account of their critical potential. The history of violence haunting the United States through to the present day provides the extradiegetic touchstone for my analysis, which reflects on the entwinements between Disney animation and cultural history to reformulate the significance of my corpus as a form of critical memory. This reformulation goes against the grain of more traditional Disney scholarship that seeks to identify and interrogate an ideological and political programme pursued by the Walt Disney Company at large. Instead, my work complements historical materialist approaches that situate film and animation in a dialectical engagement with historical knowledge, suggesting that the repression of conflict frequently critiqued in Disney animation conversely serves as a mode of transmission in popular memory. I thus propose that a critical reading of these films involves unpacking the historical contents that persist in the family-friendly spectacle widely associated with Disney animation, while also accounting for the melancholic gap between the utopian imagination expressed in these films and the historical violence that they inevitably commemorate.
- ItemOpen AccessGesture and the cinéaste: Akerman/Agamben, Varda/Warburg(Department of French, University of Cambridge, 2016-03-01) Mowat, Hannah BarbaraThis thesis offers an adjunct to recent theories of the haptic contingent upon proximity by considering how embodied engagement might take place at a distance. Developing a broad definition of gesture as a motion away from the (carnal or camera) body that is nonetheless always attached to it, the thesis seeks a state of in-betweenness unmediated by touch. Two chapters explore this gesture-as-bodily-extension as an analytical approach to art. Each focuses on an insistently individual artist, according each a different theoretical approach in order both to do justice to that individuality and to test fully the potential and limits of the gestural approach in question. The first chapter focuses on the writings and films of the écrivain-cinéaste, Chantal Akerman, whose gesturality, equal parts literary and cinematic, is explored through Giorgio Agamben’s similarly language-based thoughts on gesture, the moving image and repetition. Charting a three-stage gesture of (displaced) demonstration (proximal, medial and distal) that finds its linguistic correlate in a triad of slippery shifters (là, làbas and ça), it examines how, and why, the artist, in a relentless process of ressassement informed by atrocities always one step away from first-hand experience, translates these to page and screen as the story of ‘la petite chose à côté’. The second chapter centres on the photographs, films and installation work of the artiste-cinéaste, Agnès Varda, using an approach developed from selected writings by the German art historian, Aby Warburg, the majority translated into English for the first time. As with Akerman, Varda’s work insists upon a spectatorship premised on distance, but it also demands complicity. Defining the viewing experience not as the still contemplation of moving images but as the active contemplation of still ones, the chapter explores the relation between onlooker and image by harnessing Warburg’s vision of a gesture encoded in the artwork that may be triggered anew through mobile, engaged and bodily spectatorship from afar; a vision underpinned by his concepts of the animated accessory (bewegtes Beiwerk), the memory-image (Erinnerungsbild) and the inbetween space of artistic encounter (Zwischenraum). Ultimately, this thesis asks, and answers, two questions. What can theories of gesture contribute to a close analysis of artists whose work demands distance? And do these highly individual artists exceed the scope of theory – and in so doing, expand it?