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August 2000, Week 2


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Daniel I Humphrey <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 10 Aug 2000 13:53:29 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (131 lines)
Hey Everyone;

  Although I do love a good debate, which may explain why I
  love politics so much, I'm sending only this final e-mail
  before unilaterally disarming on this subject...  (Which I'm
  sure is good news to every one.)  So fire away folks, I'll
  let others have the last words.

  First, Ed is right about one thing.  One of my most
  important lines *was* wrongly put in parentheses.  But it's
  not the one Ed points out.  The comment I *should* have
  offered without brackets went something like this: "But
  that's the nice thing about this list-serve.  It's good for
  people wanting answers to... [technical] questions, too."
  In other words, I explicitly wrote that I think it's okay
  for people to use this list-serve to ask questions about
  aspect ratios, film stocks, anamorphic processes and the
  like...  I just hoped I'd be excused me for expressing my
  personal opinion that I *do*, however, value long debates
  about these kind of technical issues *less* than I
  value discussions that do move beyond technocratic realms.

  (Oh, and Ed... saying I'm "closed minded" for valuing the
  work of Baudry and Benjamin more than say, Roger Ebert's
  "in praise of letterboxing" articles is a bit punitive,
  isn't it?)

  Next, to again quote myself:
  > I'm thinking now about the typical laser disc fetishist,
  > hanging out at the video store all day, working him or
  > herself up into a frenzy because IT'S ALWAYS FAIR
  > WEATHER--composed for 2.55:1--was letterboxed at 2.35:1.

  This is the closest I came to making a statement that I
  regret.  I almost sound as snotty as William Bennett there,
  at least to people who hang out in video stores!  But I was
  thinking of a real conversation I had in a real laser disc
  store, one that cemented my convictions about my priorities
  in this micro-realm.  The person I mentioned, who I vaguely
  knew from other visits to that store, began talking
  to me (in *heated* anger, I hasten to add) about the
  letterboxing of FAIR WEATHER.  I said something like:
  "It's too bad they didn't do it right...  You know IT'S
  ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER is really an unjustly ignored film, I
  think... one that says a lot about masculine
  disillusionment after World War II."  My acquaintance then
  scowled at me silently for a moment--as if I had just said
  the stupidest thing in the world--and went right back
  to talking about all these shots in the film where part of
  someone's arm was cut off on the right or someone's
  shoulder was cut off on the left...

  I guess I don't regret that paragraph *too* much, though,
  considering Ed seems to have no problem at all accepting
  the label of "fetishist" in his reply.  Call me an old
  fashioned academic who's read too much Marx, but I always
  thought commodity fetishism was a bad thing, especially
  when seen in the cinema, which, as Lenin once said, should
  be the art form of the masses.  Sadly, it seems now that
  the vibrant movies in our cinematic heritage are reduced,
  for many, to a bunch of DVDs (properly letterboxed of
  course), kept on a shelf for yuppies to show off to their
  friends, right there with the coffee-table books and
  expensive vases.

  Later, Ed, wrote:  "[P]eople who refuse to acknowledge the
  possible value of discussing the Technicolor reds in
  VERTIGO seem to me to have failed to learn to play well
  with others."  I, of course, never said there was "*no*
  value" in that kind of discussion (and I certainly have
  never thought of this list-serve as some sort of
  playground).   My most important lines in my earlier
  posting remain: "[i]t seems that far too often discussions
  of this sort *become ends in and of themselves* rather than
  part of a lager [sic.  I meant "larger"] discussion of
  what... is really exciting about the cinema."  This is the
  core of my argument, and I will stand by it steadfastly.

  Finally, on to Leo's remarks, which tend to betray a
  curiously strong animus against film academics.  (He refers
  to Stephen Heath's rigorous work as "laughable" and to the
  great Robin Wood's writings as "pontifications".)

  You know, Leo, just because those of us who consider
  ourselves academics don't begin every article we write by
  mentioning a film's color process and its screen shape,
  that doesn't mean we're technically illiterate.  I can't
  speak for every film professor, but I know that the major
  scholars I have had the privilege of working with read the
  latest issues of AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER right along with
  the writings of Foucault and Deleuze.  I myself, before
  coming back to get a Ph.D. and teach film, financed my own
  former career as an experimental filmmaker by working
  (quite successfully) as a projectionist.  As a film*maker*,
  I carefully chose my film stocks, often lit and shot my own
  scenes, cut and glue-spliced my own negatives and filled
  out my own lab reports.  Obviously those decisions (and the
  complex craft of film projection) are important; the
  knowledge I learned in these endeavors very much informs my
  work in academia.

  On the other hand, Robin Wood's--and let's not forget Tania
  Modleski's--brilliant analyses of VERTIGO are not in the
  least outdated by the recent restoration of the film, nor
  are they compromised by any lack of technical understanding
  of the negative of the film.  Nothing those two scholars
  said could be improved upon with a bunch of references to
  the newly rich color tones made possible by VistaVision
  and/or Technicolor, or any number of behind-the-scenes
  stories about the film's production...

  Oh, and that reminds me, a propos the Stephen Heath comment
  I should add (as has already been pointed out) that ever
  since Donald Spoto's disastrous analysis of MARNIE (which
  Spoto later apologized for), I don't think anyone I know in
  film theory or analysis would be naive enough to speculate
  on the conscious "intentions" of a director at the time a
  film was shot.  Most film theorists, having read Roland
  Barthes, prefer to talk about texts as they exist in
  interaction with a spectator, independent of unknowable
  notions of intentionality on the part of a now-"dead"


  Dan Humphrey

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