On Wednesday, December 21, 2011 (6pm, room 609 in the Conti-Hochhaus), the Film & TV Reading Group will meet to discuss Steven Shaviro’s “Contagious Allegories: George Romero,” a chapter from his now classic book The Cinematic Body. In the spirit of the holiday season, though, and in light of the fitting subject matter, we’ve decided to make it into a somewhat more festive event than usual: we’ll start off by screening the first of Romero’s zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Glühwein and zombies: it just doesn’t get much more Christmas-y than that!
On Thursday, December 8, 2011, we will be screening the third film in our Bollywood Nation series: Pardes [Foreign Land]. The screening will begin at 6:00 PM (room 615 in the Conti-Hochhaus). The 1997 film, directed by Subhash Ghai, was a commercial success, both in India and abroad. More information about the film can be found on imdb.com.
On Thursday, November 24, 2011, we will be screening the second film in our Bollywood Nation series: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride]. Please note that this and subsequent screenings in the series are now scheduled to begin at 6:00 PM (room 615 in the Conti-Hochhaus).
The film, directed by Aditya Chopra and released in 1995, was the first successful new global NRI film, considered a classic of its kind. The short description at imdb.com indicates the global scope of the conflicts, concerns, and identities that inform the film:
“A young man and woman – both of Indian-descent, but born and raised in England – fall in love during a trip to Switzerland. However, the girl’s traditional father takes her back to India to fulfill a betrothal promise.”
On the occasion of the first screening in our Bollywood Nation film series, which is set to begin in just under an hour from now (with Swades - more info below, and here), Jatin Wagle has put together the following very useful background information on Bollywood and tonight’s film.
27.10.2011 – Swades: We, the People [Homeland] (Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004, 187 mins.)
Bollywood: A widely accepted but not unproblematic term for Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani language commercial cinema in India. The expression is problematic because it suggests a close relationship with or dependence on Hollywood. Even as American popular cinema remains an important frame of reference and influence for Hindi cinema, straightforward comparisons are not necessarily useful. Although the films are actually shot all over the world, the undisputed site of production of commercial Hindi cinema is the megacity of Mumbai (or Bombay as it was called before 1995). In this sense, Bollywood is both about India and Mumbai, or to be more precise, about the Indian nation as it is constantly imagined and staged in the crowded, multilingual diversity of the metropolis.
There are no clearly defined genres in Hindi commercial cinema. Instead, a typical Hindi film contains varying elements of romance, melodrama, action and comedy interspersed with song-and-dance sequences. The principal reason for this has been the complex mode of production – called “disaggregated” by M. Madhava Prasad – and the precarious mode of distribution of films in India. Although Hindi cinema has been perhaps the most significant site for the social/cultural negotiation of the Indian nation, until 2001 it was not accorded the status of an industry by the Indian Government. This has meant that over the years Hindi films have been financed through more-or- less informal networks, and this financial precariousness lies at the root of Hindi cinema’s reluctance to fragment its potential audiences. This used to be evident until a few years ago, i.e. before the advent of the multiplexes, in the typical experience of watching a Hindi film in an Indian city, when one invariably watched it with the family in a “cinema theatre” with a seating capacity of around a thousand. Thus, instead of genres, Hindi commercial cinema has historically developed a range of masala [Gewürzmischung] or formula films, i.e. mixes of or compromises between plot compositions, narrative structures and genre elements. For instance, the popular masala films of the 1970s were slight variations on either the lost-and-found/family reunion plot (e.g. Yaadon Ki Baaraat 1973) or the angry young man action hero format (e.g. Deewaar 1975, Amar Akbar Anthony 1977). From the mid-nineties, a new sort of masala film has become popular, with a diaspora setting (or at least a strong diaspora component) and an NRI (non-resident Indian) protagonist who portrays a guiltless blend of so-called Indian tradition with Western modernity.
Swades: We are beginning our film series titled, needless to say with obvious irony, “Bollywood Nation” with a film aptly called Homeland. Even with its NRI protagonist, played by Shahrukh Khan, and its partial diaspora setting, this film is untypical for a variety of reasons. Its expatriate protagonist is different from the typical hero of the recent NRI masala film. Although successful in the West, he is plagued by the guilt of having left behind the land of his past, a developing, third-world country with its complicated challenges, for a relatively uncomplicated life in the U.S. In terms of its aesthetic, the film is not obviously “camp” [filmy] and has been described as more “realistic” than a typical Bollywood film. Although it was not really a box office success within India, Swades sold well in what have been called the diaspora markets, and its music composed by A. R. Rahman became popular even within India. Ashutosh Gowariker, who wrote the script, and produced and directed the film, is known for at least one more film, Lagaan [Land Tax] (2001), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
This is a reminder that our Bollywood Nation film series will begin on Thursday, October 27, 2011, at 5:00 pm in room 615 (in the “Conti-Hochhaus” at Königsworther Platz 1).
The first film will be Swades: We, the People [Homeland] (Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004, 187 mins.), a late renegotiation of the “brain drain” paradigm that could serve as a contrast to the new global NRI films.
The film, which stars Shah Rukh Khan, is summarized at imdb.com thus:
Set in modern day India, Swades is a film that tackles the issues that development throws up on a grass root level. It is to this India, which is colorful, heterogeneous and complex that Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan), a bright young scientist working as a project manager in NASA, returns to on a quest to find his childhood nanny. The film uses the contrast between the highly developed world of NASA, which has been at the forefront of advances in space research, and this world back home in India, which is at the crossroads of development. Mohan’s simple quest becomes the journey that every one of us goes through in search of that metaphysical and elusive place called “home”.
The Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research and Jatin Wagle (in conjunction with his seminar “Long-Distance Hindu Nationalism and the Changing Figure of the Expatriate Indian in Contemporary Bollywood Cinema”) are proud to present a series of screenings this winter semester:
From the first silent feature made in 1913, one of the many appeals of commercial Hindi cinema has been its persistent and multifarious staging of the Indian nationalism. It has been argued that the Bombay film constitutes a significant site for the popular negotiation of the Indian nation and that its history could even be told as an eccentric allegory of the checkered, postcolonial career of the Indian nation-state. In the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, when the “brain drain” paradigm ruled the official and dominant view of emigration in India, in the Hindi films the emigrant was portrayed as a sort of deficient Indian. His Indianness corrupted by Western decadence, he was someone who needed to be reformed, if not reviled. But, all this changed after the processes of economic liberalization were set in motion in 1991 and the Indian state started wooing the non-resident Indian (NRI). The new Bollywood NRI is not just an exemplary Indian, but even excessively so. In other words, he is more Indian than Indian, because he is both ultramodern and hypertraditional; he has a hugely successful career in the West, but his home is still an improbable oasis of Indian values and religiosity. Thus, the new Bollywood NRI embodies a deterritorialized cultural nationalism which utilizes the rhetoric of India’s alleged emergence as a global superpower. But, with the unprecedented global recognition and popularity of Bollywood, the rise of the new NRI has also been accompanied by an upsurge of Hindu nationalism within India and in the Indian diaspora. Does the changed socio-economic context and cinematic form account for Bollywood’s growing global appeal?
We plan to engage with these and other related issues in our series “Bollywood Nation” with five films to be screened between 27.10.2011 and 26.01.2012 at 18:00 in room no. 615.
27.10.2011 – Swades: We, the People [Homeland] (Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2004, 187 mins.): A late renegotiation of the “brain drain” paradigm and could serve as a contrast to the new global NRI films. (more here)
24.11.2011 – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride] (Dir. Aditya Chopra, 1995, 192 mins.): First successful new global NRI film, considered a classic of its kind. (more here)
08.12.2011 – Pardes [Foreign Land] (Dir. Subhash Ghai, 1997, 195 mins.): Another commercial success, both in India and abroad.
05.01.2012 – Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (Dir. Aparna Sen, 2002, 120 mins.): An English language, Indian film and not a Bollywood production; offers a contrasting aesthetic and another kind of negotiation with the composite idea of the Indian nation.
26.01.2012 – Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… [Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness] (Dir. Karan Johar 2001, 210 mins.): One of the biggest commercial hits outside of India and the first Bollywood film to be released simultaneously in Germany, under the title In guten wie in schweren Tagen.
[UPDATE: I have posted the complete first chapter at my academia.edu page: here.]
A while back, I posted a summary, in German, of my dissertation Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface, which I submitted last year and am currently revising for publication. The dissertation was advised by Ruth Mayer (American Studies, Leibniz University Hannover) and Mark B. N. Hansen (Program in Literature, Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Program in the Arts of the Moving Image, Program in Information Science+Information Studies, and Visual Studies Initiative, Duke University). Anyway, the dissertation itself is in English, and since I’ve had a few requests from non-German-speakers, I thought I would repost the summary, but this time in English:
Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface
In this dissertation, I argue that the filmic progenies of Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein cast a special light on the historicity of human-technological interfaces—supposing, at least, that we approach the films in a vigorously historicizing manner. Seen in the context of the historical connections that obtain amongst their narrative contents, their social settings, and contemporaneous cultural conflicts; set in relation to media-technical infrastructures, innovations, and transitions; and located squarely in the material and experiential parameters of historically situated spectatorship, Frankenstein films reveal specific, changing configurations of human-technological interaction: patterns, tendencies, and deviations that mark moments in a richly variable history that is at once a history of cinema, of media, of technology, and of the affective channels of our own embodiment.
The body of this work is divided into three main parts, the task of Part One being to locate the experiential challenges posed by Frankenstein films. Towards this end, Chapter 2 develops a historically indexed “techno-phenomenology” of the dominant film-viewer relations under the paradigms of early and classical film; I then apply this perspective to the analysis of two Frankenstein films from the respective film-historical periods, each of which is shown to instantiate a vacillating destabilization of spectatorial relations, pointing to a volatile intermediate realm between the phenomenological regimes of early and classical cinema. In Chapter 3, I follow this cue to the transitional era of the 1910s, and specifically to the first known Frankenstein film proper: the Edison Studios’ 1910 production Frankenstein. As I argue in that chapter, the dualities of address exemplified in this film point to a broader experience of transitionality which, on the move between more determinately stabilized situations, presents itself negatively to phenomenological subjectivity—as an indeterminate gap.
It is in these gaps of transitionality that I locate Frankenstein films’ characteristic challenge, and in Part Two I take up that challenge by formulating a theoretical framework, that of postnaturalism, that would be able to answer the films’ provocations. Chapter 4 first circles around the gaps that feminist readers have located in the text of Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel before diving into them to discover a theory of a pre-personal and therefore non-discursive contact between human embodiment and technological materiality. On the basis of this contact, as I argue, technological revolutions (such as the industrial revolution in the wake of which Shelley composed her novel) are capable of radically destabilizing human agency, causing us to draw experiential blanks and to produce textual gaps—which, however, are quickly filled in and forgotten in the process of novel technologies’ habituation and naturalization. In the techno-scientific interlude of Chapter 5, I trace these processes in the context of the industrial steam engine’s recuperation by thermodynamic science in order to uncover the postnatural historicity of natural science’s nature itself—i.e. the fact, not reducible to an epistemic phenomenon of discursive construction and projection on the part of human subjects, that material nature itself is constantly in motion, in transition, and that—due to the role of technologies in this history—nature has thus never been “natural.” Chapter 6 translates these findings into a specifically postnatural media theory, which pertains not only to empirically determinate apparatuses but to the very historicity of the phenomenological realm as it is co-articulated between human and nonhuman agencies; as a film-theoretical correlate of this theory, I put forward what I call a “cinematic double vision,” which alternates between a Merleau-Ponty inspired phenomenological perspective and a Bergsonian metaphysics to reveal film experience as animated by the interchange between human situations and technological displacements.
Part Three then returns to Frankenstein films to demonstrate the films’ special relations to the postnatural historicity of the anthropotechnical interface and, in effect, to execute a rapprochement between the conflicting human and nonhuman agencies inhabiting these films. In order to do so, Chapter 7 turns to the paradigmatic filmic progenies, James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and, on the theoretical basis of postnaturalism, alternately illuminates the human and nonhuman perspectives that come together to animate the films’ central creature. In this confrontation—the staging of which is inextricable from the films’ historical moment and specifically from their relations to the then-recent transition to sound cinema—I seek a non-reductive means of apprehending the alterior agency that occupies the gaps in subjective experience provoked by Frankenstein films. Chapter 8, by way of conclusion, briefly pursues this line beyond the paradigm case, taking a more synoptic view of the continuing proliferation of the Frankenstein film; here I seek to illuminate the active role played by cinematic technologies in eliciting a fleeting experience of transitionality, which lies submerged beneath the weight of our habituated or “natural” relations to those technologies. The rapprochement of which I spoke consists, then, of a recognition of the mutual articulation of experience by human and nonhuman technical agencies, whereby the affective and embodied experience of anthropotechnical transitionality is not arrested and subjugated to human dominance, but approached experimentally as a joint production of our postnatural future. This is the ultimate challenge posed for us by Frankenstein films.
Back in June, I posted a screencast video of “Frame, Sequence, Medium: Comics in Plurimedial and Transnational Perspective,” a presentation I gave at the German Association for American Studies 2011 annual conference in Regensburg. This got me thinking about making screencast versions of other talks I’ve given. Here is one for a talk entitled “Media Crisis, Serial Chains, and the Mediation of Change: Frankenstein on Film,” which I gave at the American Studies Association annual conference in San Antonio, Texas on November 19, 2010.
Following the great round of presentations and lively discussions, Steven Shaviro has now offered his concluding response, wrapping up the theme week on his book Post-Cinematic Affect at In Media Res. In related news, over at his blog The Pinocchio Theory, he’s also posted a text on “post-continuity,” framed by a response to Mattias Stork’s video essay “Chaos Cinema.” There’s still lots to think about here, and I’m sure the discussion is not over yet…
Following Elena del Rio’s post on “Cinema’s Exhaustion and the Vitality of Affect” (to which I responded here), the theme week at in media res on Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect has continued with two great presentations: Paul Bowman’s “Post-Cinematic Effects” and now Adrian Ivakhiv’s “A Hair of the Dog that Bit Us.” Bowman’s presentation is framed by a clip from Old Boy, while Ivakhiv uses Grace Jones’s video “Corporate Cannibal.” Both of these, like del Rio’s presentation on Monday, raise some crucial questions for understanding our contemporary media moment. If you haven’t been following the presentations and discussions, check it out now. Following Patricia MacCormack’s presentation tomorrow, Steven Shaviro is scheduled to respond to all of these takes (and tangents) on his work on Friday.