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Posts Tagged ‘Film Criticism’

New Perspectives on World Cinema Series — Anthem Press

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and I have a new series of books from Anthem Press, London.

The New Perspectives on World Cinema series publishes engagingly written, highly accessible, and extremely useful books for the educated reader and the student as well as the scholar.

Volumes in this series will fall under one of the following categories: monographs on neglected films and filmmakers; classic as well as contemporary film scripts; collections of the best previously published criticism (including substantial reviews and interviews) on single films or filmmakers; translations into English of the best classic and contemporary film theory; reference works on relatively neglected areas in film studies, such as production design (including sets, costumes, and make-up), music, editing, and cinematography; and reference works on the relationship between film and the other performing arts (including theater, dance, opera, etc.).

Many of our titles will be suitable for use as primary or supplementary course texts at undergraduate and graduate levels. The goal of the series is thus not only to address subject areas in which adequate classroom texts are lacking, but also to open up additional avenues for film research, theoretical speculation, and practical criticism. There are already several books in the series — you can see them by clicking on the image above — and we are now actively looking for new volumes for publication.

Series Editors

Wheeler Winston Dixon – University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster – University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA

Editorial Board

David Sterritt – Columbia University, USA

Valérie K. Orlando – University of Maryland, USA

Thomas Cripps – Morgan State University, USA

Robert Shail – University of Wales Lampeter, UK

Catherine Fowler – University of Otago, New Zealand

Andrew Horton – University of Oklahoma, USA

Frank P. Tomasulo – City College of New York, USA

Proposals: We welcome submissions of proposals for challenging and original works that meet the criteria of this series.

Please contact us at: proposal@wpcpress.com

Frame by Frame Video: Film Journals

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Here’s a new video I just finished, directed by Curt Bright, on film journals and magazines.

As I note in this brief video, there are really three types of film journals: fanzines, which are designed for the general public; trade journals, which keep abreast of developments within the industry; and more scholarly journals, which seriously examine film as an art form. This brief list of cinema journals isn’t by any means exhaustive; for example, Film International has recently emerged as one of the most important scholarly film journals available on the web, and also publishes a print edition; and Hollywood Wiretap has recently changed its name to Studio System News, offering inside industry information on a daily basis, also free; all you have to do is sign up for a subscription.

There’s also Cinema Journal, one of the most important of all scholarly film journals, published by The Society for Cinema and Media Studies, and numerous other journals that could also have been mentioned in this video.There are many, many other journals to choose from. What I really wanted to do here was not to be a completist — otherwise the video would be thirty minutes long – but rather to give the viewer some idea of the general outlines of what’s available in film journalism beyond the “daily reviews” and blogs that proliferate on the web and in print, which offer more detailed analysis that daily reviewers can possibly offer.

In any event, check out the video for yourself, and also the journals it mentions, as well as other publications in the field, available either online, or at your local library; they’ll give you a much better picture of film as a business, and an art form.

Click on the image above to see the video.

“Lost in a Roman Wilderness of Pain”: Film and Television After 9/11

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Here’s an article I published on film and television after 9/11 in Film International; above, Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears, which is discussed in the article (see link below).

As I argue in the essay, “In the years following 9/11, the arts have been transformed into a mirror of the fear, death, paranoia and uncertainty that now pervades American existence. The disaster of the Twin Towers has transformed the cultural landscape profoundly, inescapably, and forever; it’s one of those defining moments in which a culture is shaped anew by the social events that impact it. Fear, death, and paranoia are the new social currency. What is celebrated now is not art; it’s artifice. Our culture now reifies itself with unrelenting images of destruction, from such television series as Life After People (2008-2010), which predicted what might happen in a post-apocalyptic future; to films like Andrew Niccol’s In Time (2011), in which life expectancy is a commodity to be bought and sold, and the rich have all the cards, including potential immortality.

New York, arguably the artistic hub of the United States, has become a museum of itself, seeking to recreate the past by selling off the totemic paintings, sculptures and other art works of the pre 9/11 era for outrageous prices to the stratospherically rich. The emptiness of every aspect of post 9/11 art, except where it deals with themes of pain, destruction and violence, is everywhere apparent; pop music – once a potent force for social change – has largely been transformed into mindless escapism, even as the digitization of culture wipes out record stores, bookstores, and video stores, as text, music, and images become streamed liked utilities – available for a price, stored in a cloud, accessed only by a continual outlay of cash by the consumer.

The more original and authentic arts are being attacked vigorously everywhere by the ruling classes throughout the world, because they are dangerous; they offer a voice to the individual, in a society that now seeks to rule by forced consensus. This is part of the conglomerization of art; it’s become a corporate commodity, a trophy, rather than something that an individual creates. More than ever, it seems true that the best artist is a dead artist, because there’s a limited supply of his or her work, which can be sold as a commodity, and the best celebrity spokesperson is also a corpse, because the iconic images of Kerouac, Bogart, Hepburn and Taylor can be used to sell anything, without the slightest risk of possible future scandal, or an unflattering headline. All their future is in the past, and thus it can be recycled, packaged, and used to sell new goods to those too young to remember the world the way it was. Spectacle, as in films such as Zack Snyder’s call to war, 300 (2007), has replaced content, and action has replaced thought. Music cues tell you how to feel; when to feel sad, when to rejoice. Everything is laid out in a clear, schematic design. The films of the 21st century are designed, because of their ever-increasing cost, for mass audiences, leaving no one behind.”

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The Auteur Theory in Film

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I have a new video today in the Frame by Frame series on auteur theory in film, which is one of the basic building blocks in beginning to understand any serious work of cinema.

You can click here, or on the image above, to see the video.

Here’s a transcript:

Hi. I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and this is Frame By Frame. I want to speak for a few moments about the “auteur theory, “ the basic building block of all contemporary film theorists. Amazingly, in America, which is kind of the capitol of film production in the world, or one of the major film capitols, films were not considered as being made by directors,  producers, or even studios.

They were a “Clark Gable film,” or a “Bette Davis film,” or a “Boris Karloff film,” or a “Marx Brothers film,” or a genre film… a western, a science fiction, a horror film, and on and on. It was only in the 1940s that a film theorist named André Bazin founded a journal called Cahiers du Cinéma, literally “the notebooks of cinema,” and a group of young critics — people like Jean Luc Godard, writing as Hans Lucas, Eric Rohmer, Francois Truffaut — began writing about films from the point of view that the director is the primary creator of the film, and that each director’s individual signature is distinct, but also that each director has certain key thematic preoccupations that one can find throughout their work.

So just briefly, in John Ford’s films “professionalism” is something which is foregrounded; in Howard Hawks’ films, you have the “Hawksian woman,” a pre-feminist construct, a woman who can hold her own with the men in the picture. Alfred Hitchcock’s films offer an incredibly bleak worldview. Frank Capra’s films have a theme of small town populism and optimism running through all of them. This kind of distinction of the director as the primary creator of a film was something that only crossed to the United States in 1963, when Andrew Sarris, an American film critic in New York, wrote a book called The American Cinema, which listed for the first time the major film makers and their major preoccupations.

Auteurism is now almost taken for granted. People consider films as an “Alfred Hitchcock film,” a “Howard Hawks film,” an “Ingmar Bergman film,” a “Bernardo Bertolucci film,” a “Quentin Tarantino film.” And in most cases, the director is the primary force behind the making of a film. Movies are a team effort. But without one vision to guide them, films collapse into committee projects, which may be commercially successful, but aren’t personal statements. And so the director’s input into a film is absolutely essential, and auteurism has become the dominant way of looking at films in theory and criticism.

Film Reviewing and Film Criticism

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for some key film criticism and theory books as selected by a group of panelists for the British film journal Sight and Sound.

They’re not the same thing. Film reviews are served up by daily critics, who no matter how knowledgeable they are, are writing for a day-by-day audience, who want a plot outline, a brief overview, and then some opinion on the film at hand, advising readers whether to see the film or not.

Film criticism and theory, in contrast, “unpacks” a film to see what makes it tick, and uses various theoretical approaches, such as feminist film theory, or auteurism, or structural film theory, or numerous other approaches — far too many to list here — to take the film apart in detail, and see how it works.

Film reviews are mainly an opinion pieces, but film criticism proceeds from a large base of historical, critical and theoretical information, and offers a detailed understanding of the director’s history, past projects, the history and practice of the genre in question (if it’s a genre film), of others working in the field, possible precedents for the film, shot structure, editing, choreography, lighting, acting styles, camera movement, framing, deep focus, costumes, and whatever else might apply; it deconstructs the film in detail.

So there’s a world of difference here, and it seems to me that sometimes people get the distinction blurred; anyone can have an opinion, and give you a thumbnail review of a film, or a book, or anything else; but it’s just their point of view.

In order to really understand a work of art (or even a commercial film, or perhaps I should say, especially a commercial film – they really need careful discussion), you need to really examine it, in an absolutely detailed fashion, and have the background in history, theory and criticism to really understand what’s going on. That’s the beginning of film criticism, and the beginning of a real understanding of the film (digital or otherwise) medium.

Senses of Cinema

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

While there is a lot of writing on film available on the web today, much of it is fan-based, or of highly variable quality. And the really intelligent, thoughtful work on the web is often locked behind a pay wall, on a “download by article” basis. That’s why it’s so important that Senses of Cinema, one of the first, and certainly one of the most prestigious, online journals continues to flourish. Senses of Cinema brings together some of the most accessible and informed writing on film that’s available today, in a format that is accessible to all. As the journal says in its mission statement,

Senses of Cinema is an online journal devoted to the serious and eclectic discussion of cinema. We believe cinema is an art that can take many forms, from the industrially-produced blockbuster to the hand-crafted experimental work; we also aim to encourage awareness of the histories of such diverse forms. As an Australian-based journal, we have a special commitment to the regular, wide-ranging analysis and critique of Australian cinema, past and present.

Senses of Cinema is primarily concerned with ideas about particular films or bodies of work, but also with the regimes (ideological, economic and so forth) under which films are produced and viewed, and with the more abstract theoretical and philosophical issues raised by film study. As well, we believe that a cinephilic understanding of the moving image provides the necessary basis for a radical critique of other media and of the global “image culture”.

We are open to a range of critical approaches (auteurist, formalist, psychoanalytic, humanist…) and encourage contributors to experiment with different forms of writing (personal memoir, academic essay, journalistic report, poetic evocation…). We commission and accept articles from academics and journalists, internationally-known authorities and previously unpublished cinephiles alike; our only criteria are that they should shed new light on their subjects, and be informed by a broad knowledge and love of cinema. Likewise, our readership is a genuinely diverse group, bringing together people from a wide range of backgrounds, professions and interests but bound by a single common element: an informed, passionate and serious attitude toward cinema as an art.

We recognise that an art as ephemeral and ethereal as cinema continues to fascinate, provoke, inspire, turn on, and evolve. Above all, we seek to facilitate approaches to cinema that present new possibilities for exploring, experiencing and imagining the world we live in.”

The journal also has an excellent series of essays on the “great directors” which is continually expanding; if you’re doing research for a project, or just want to read some truly informed and intelligent film theory and criticism, Senses of Cinema is one of the few web-based film theory journals that can consistently be relied upon for accuracy, quality, and depth.

Frame by Frame Videos

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Here’s a link to a collection of short, 2-3 minute videos I do for the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, directed and edited by Curt Bright; this page is regularly updated, and lists all of them, in reverse chronological order. There are about 47 right now, with more added nearly every week.

Just click on the box above, or here, and happy viewing!

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

RSS Frame By Frame Videos

  • War Movies
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  • Frame By Frame - Hollywood Composers
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon highlights the most prolific Hollywood film composers. […]

In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/