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Call for Papers for Proposed Panel

Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference - March 6-10, 2013, Chicago, IL

Panel title:  Oblique Intersections:  Insanity and the Cinema

Perhaps no medium has exploited the pathologies of the human mind as thoroughly as the cinema.  Though the representation of mental phenomena through visual means offers a considerable challenge, it has not discouraged generations of filmmakers from exploring the causes, manifestations, and treatments of madness.  Such representation has prompted stylistic innovation:  the first time that a motion picture camera presented a character’s inner POV was in 1919 for the German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, when it captured the skewed perspective of the insane protagonist.  It has also resulted in dozens of films that exploit insane characters as spectacular “others” with a penchant for bizarre, violent behavior who must be eliminated in order for society to continue functioning (Shadow of a Doubt, 1943; Psycho, 1960; Halloween, 1978; Fatal Attraction, 1987; The Silence of the Lambs, 1991) or, on the other end of the spectrum, films that offer sympathetic portrayals of talented individuals who struggle with mental illness through no fault of their own and work toward reintegration with the “normal” world (Now, Voyager, 1942; The Snake Pit, 1948; Marnie, 1964; The Fisher King, 1991; A Beautiful Mind, 2001).

To date, most scholarship on insanity on the cinema has 1) criticized the film industry’s “criminalization” of mental illness, 2) praised its attempts to document the courage that patients must demonstrate to recover their sanity, or 3) deployed psychoanalytic theory to dissect the pathologies of screen characters and/or viewers.  Our interest in this subject is a cultural one.  We wish to investigate oblique intersections between cinema and insanity – films that do not center upon questions of “madness” yet include secondary characters or plotlines involving mental disorders – in order to identify public attitudes toward mental illness and those who suffer from it.

We currently have two panelists, one who is writing about Harvey (1950) and its portrayal of the culture of 1940s’ mental institutions, and a second who is updating an earlier article on “momophobia” (the marginalization of mothers through insanity that has become a disturbing hallmark of contemporary cinema).  We invite others to propose papers that address the intersection between cinema and madness from a cultural perspective.  Please submit a 250-300 word abstract with a five-item bibliography and a brief author bio to Elaine Roth ([log in to unmask]) or Heather Addison ([log in to unmask]) by July 22, 2012.

 

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