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Session 18: Integrating Traditions: Paratextual Analysis and New Cinema History

Paper 1 - Constance J Balides, Tulane University, The Children's Meeting, New Orleans, 1914: Film Programming As Paratextual Performance.

At the Homer conference in the Bahamas last year, I discussed various spaces—civic, cultural, and commercial—in the city of New Orleans associated with the National Child Labor Committee’s annual conference in 1914, which included a screening of the organization’s sponsored film, Children Who Labor (1912). In this paper, I focus on “The Children’s Meeting,” which was one of the scheduled events in the official conference program, as a specific paratextual and performative framework of reception for the film. This “meeting” was attended by 2000 school children and included group singing of a “Hymn to Child Labor” to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” recitations of stories about child laborers by school children including “My Cotton Dress” about child labor in cotton mills, projected documentary photographic lantern slides by Lewis Hine, a soliloquy between a newsboy and his grandfather acted out by school children, and the final item on the agenda, Children Who Labor.

This example of programming emphasized the performance of social reform in the present moment. It not only situates the film within the history of social problem lantern slides (Vogl-Bienek), it raises an historiographical question about how to write the history of this kind of event as a formation or assemblage or network across disparate archival documents (Foucault, Cassetti). By situating a formal analysis of the film in relation to this wider field of texts and practices (songs, documentary photographs, scripts of performances), I link paratextual analysis (Gray, Staiger) with formal elements in the film such as melodramatic coincidence and tableau serial structure (Singer, Gaudreault). More broadly, I intervene in a debate about how to write the history of film reception by focusing on the imbrication of formal elements in the film and a wider field of discourses and practices (Waller, Foucault’s archaeology).

Martin, D-C. (1999) Coon Carnival: New Year in Cape Town, Past and Present. Cape Town, South Africa: David Philip.

Constance Balides is a Weiss Presidential Fellow, Associate Professor of Communication, and Director of Film Studies, Tulane University. Her article, “Sociological Film, Reform Publicity, and the Secular Spectator: Social Problems in the Transitional Era,” appeared in Feminist Media Histories in Fall 2017. In 2013, she won the Pedagogy Award, SCMS.

Paper 2 - Cormac Deane, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dublin, Fidelity’s Rainbow: The Artwork of Blank VHS Cassettes.

The cover artwork of blank VHS cassette tapes constitute a graphic design cinematic paratext that helps us understand a transitional period in screen history that starts with the novelty of colour images at home and ends with the early digital era.

The often exuberant imaginary data-scape of VHS foregrounded colour and depth by means of abstract geometric designs that drew on various sources, such as science fiction graphic design, contemporary computer graphics, and evolving norms of consumer product design (for colour television, music cassettes and camera film, for example). Many image technologies of the 20th century (e.g. Kodachrome camera film, Sony Trinitron television, Technicolor cinema) laid heavy emphasis on the capture and reproduction of colour as part of their broader achievement of capturing and reproducing reality. The result was in many cases an exceedingly vibrant and saturated colour palette. This record of over-achievement, indeed the whole concept of total fidelity, brought nothing but problems for VHS, because the image and sound quality were often so poor (Mowitt, Dawson). But colour had become such an over-determined fetish media experience by the time VHS was developed, that it dominates cover design.

VHS cover design demonstrates the role that fantasy plays in the process of externalizing memory (Hayles, Stiegler). The promise of signal processing to convert anything and everything into a re-convertible data point indulges the fantasy that memory can be rendered as lossless and resistant to time and degradation. The anxiety that accompanies acts of outsourcing memory – anxiety about colour reproduction, about ghost images, about decay – leaves its imprint on the medium. In the case of VHS, the things that were felt during the medium’s heyday to be most at risk of disappearance are emblazoned across the apparently ephemeral covers of blank cassettes.

Cormac Deane is a lecturer and researcher in media, political theory and media archaeology. His translation of Christian Metz’s last book was published by Columbia University Press. His research has appeared in Culture Machine, New Review of Film and Television, Nature and other journals. He produces the Field Day Podcast.

Paper 3 - Anushrut Ramakrishnan Agrwaal, University of St Andrews, Maps for Lost Officials: Understanding the Spatial Discourse of Colonial Cinema as a Cartography of the British Empire.

This paper argues that the magazine Colonial Cinema, is a document of cartography that maps Britain and its colonies as a single unit forming the British Empire. The magazine was published by the British Colonial Film Unit (CFU), which was setup during WWII, to make propaganda films for colonial audiences, primarily in Africa. Colonial Cinema was sent to the colonies to instruct colonial officers on how to make and exhibit the CFU films to these audiences.

Analysing Colonial Cinema’s text, I first elucidate how the colonised space of Africa is comprehended in terms of the infrastructure set up by the coloniser that facilitated the movement of film through the colonies, such as with mobile cinema units and their travel itineraries, and roadways and bridges. In doing so, the magazine maps the colony’s landscape as part of the imperial networks which connect the Empire. I then argue that Colonial Cinema constructs the space of the African village as the unit of address for this infrastructural map. The construction helps support a pedagogy that keeps the African within the village space, making it easier for Britain to maintain its control over space by staving off any claims of sovereignty from the colonies, especially at a time when it was seeking their support to fight the Nazi occupation in other parts of the world. I then show that the cartography of Colonial Cinema is consistent with how Western rationality generally upheld the primacy of vision over other senses to support colonial occupation and Empires. Here, I study the magazine’s discourse around African music as an accompaniment to the CFU films, to foreground how the music was side-lined to ward off any form of resistance that challenged this visual regime and the Empire based upon it.

Taking an inter-disciplinary approach by referring to texts on cinema, cartography and geography inter alia, the analysis highlights how Colonial Cinema acts as an important filmic paratext, that helps us grasp how a cinema culture sought to maintain colonial hegemony by defining a space within the language of imperialist discourse.

Edney, M. (2009). ‘The Irony of Imperial Mapping’ in The Imperial Map edited by James R. Akerman. London. University of Chicago Press. p. 11-46

Harley, B. (1989). ‘Deconstructing the Map’ in Cartographica: The International Journal of Geographic Information and Geovisualisation, 26:2. p. 1-20 DOI: 10.3138/E635-7827-1757-9T53

Jaikumar, P. (2011). ‘An ‘accurate imagination’’: Place, Map and Archive as Spatial Objects of Film History’ in Empire and film edited by Lee Grieveson and Colin MacCabe. London. BFI. p. 167-188

Rice, T. (2019). Films for the Colonies: Cinema and the Preservation of the British Empire. California. California University Press.

Anushrut is first year doctoral student in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews who is interested in Film History and Film and Philosophy. He PhD is on Early Cinema’s use in educational contexts in Britain. His MLitt thesis written at the University of St Andrews was on the cartographic implications of the work of the British Colonial Film Unit.

Paper 4 - Veronica Johnson, National University of Ireland, Galway, Adapting a Best Seller in the 1910s: Strategies of The Film Company of Ireland.

From the beginning, one of the most tried and trusted methods of encouraging an audience to come to a film was to adapt a best-selling book or play. This was a dominant strategy of film producers in the 1910s, when they wanted to attract a more respectable, middle-class audience to the cinema. Films which are adapted from a well-known source have an advantage over other films in that they have an in-built audience who are prepared to go to the film before it is ever released, based on their knowledge of the original material.

In this paper, Knocknagow (Fred O’Donovan, 1918) will be used as a case study to show how the adaptation of a best-selling novel can be used to appeal to audiences to come and see the film. This first feature length film from the Film Company of Ireland (1916-1920) was based on the novel Knocknagow, or The Homes of Tipperary (1879) by Charles Kickham. This novel had been a best-seller since its release, most homes in Ireland had a copy of it and most people were familiar with the novel or at least with particular scenes from the novel which had entered popular knowledge. This novel had transcended the written page into popular culture, before it was adapted into a film.

This paper will use advertisements and articles from contemporary newspapers, film magazines, including Irish Limelight, and trade journals to explore the methods used to build on the potential film audiences’ familiarity with the source novel in order to encourage that audience to attend the film in great numbers.

Abel, Richard. Menus for Movieland: Newspapers and the Emergence of American Film Culture 1913-1916. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015

Condon, Denis. Early Irish Cinema: 1895-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2008

Johnson, Veronica. ‘Dublin Cinemas in 1916: The Easter Rising, World War One Films and The Growth of the Middle-Class Audience’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. Online, May 2019

Screening the Past Issue 33: Special Issue: Knocknagow (1918) 2012. http://www.screeningthepast.com/issue-33/

Dr Veronica Johnson teaches film studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her work explores the relationship between film text and context in early and silent cinema. Her most recent article was published in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.