French film director Agnès Varda will receive an honorary Oscar this November from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Which aspects of Varda’s career will the Academy celebrate? Her formidable directorial career spans from writing and directing her first film at age 25 to releasing her most recent film Faces, Places at age 89. Historically, critics have praised Varda as the innovative “mother” of the French New Wave film movement, with her first film, La Pointe Courte (1954), a precursor to the movement and Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) made at the height of the New Wave. This identity has long overshadowed other parts of her career.
More recently, scholars have recognized her as an essential feminist filmmaker. At the same time, Varda has continued to create new work, making films as well as multimedia art over the last two decades. And the Academy has the opportunity to celebrate Varda’s past and present work as even more innovative. Agnès Varda between Film, Photography, and Artshows that before Varda pursued cinema, she studied art history and practiced photography, and across her career, she has quietly yet subversively woven references to histories of art, photography, and film throughout her oeuvre. These references open out beyond the surface narrative of her work and engage contemporary cultural politics. This honorary Oscar recognizes Varda’s immense directorial accomplishments. But an interdisciplinary reading enables us to better appreciate the multidimensionality of Varda’s cinema and her career as both filmmaker and artist.
Art and cinema historian Rebecca J. DeRoo is an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and co-curated the 2016 retrospective Agnès Varda: (Self)-Portraits, Facts and Fiction, at the George Eastman Museum.
Kicking off this month throughout Southern California, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, PST: LA/LA is a joint effort from more than 60 cultural institutions across the region, and UC Press is thrilled to be publishing three books in conjunction with this unprecedented collaboration.
Learn more about each title and find out about related events below. #PSTLALA
The Tide Was Always High gathers together essays, interviews, and analysis from leading academics, artists, journalists, and iconic Latin American musicians to explore the vibrant connections between Los Angeles and Latin America. From Hollywood film sets to recording studios, from vaudeville theaters to Sunset Strip nightclubs, and from Carmen Miranda to Pérez Prado and Juan García Esquivel, Latin American musicians and music have helped shape Los Angeles culture since the birth of the city.
Ism, Ism, Ism / Ismo, Ismo, Ismo is the first comprehensive, United States–based film program and catalogue to treat the full breadth of Latin America’s vibrant experimental film production. The fully bilingual catalogue features major scholars and artists working across nationalities, mediums, and time periods. Lerner and Piazza assemble a mix of original content authored by key curators, scholars, and archivists from Latin America: eighteen essays and articles translated for the first time pertaining to the history of Latin American experimental film, historical image-documents that are fundamental to the history of experimental film in Latin America, and program notes from the exhibition’s programs.
California Mexicana focuses for the first time on the range and vitality of artistic traditions growing out of the unique amalgam of Mexican and American culture that evolved in Southern California from 1820 through 1930. A study of these early regional manifestations provides the essential matrix out of which emerge later art and cultural issues. Featuring painters, printmakers, photographers, and mapmakers from both sides of the border, this collection demonstrates how they made the Mexican presence visible in their art. This beautifully illustrated catalogue addresses two key areas of inquiry: how Mexico became California, and how the visual arts reflected the shifting identity that grew out of that transformation.
I learned about Charles Burnett’s honorary Oscar on September 7th, the day after the news was announced and the very day I was in LA to present a Scholar’s lecture on him for the Motion Picture Academy. He attended the event along with many of his actors and technicians, and the large crowd’s excitement over the news was palpable. This award brings overdue national attention to an artist who is arguably the most important African-American film director.
Virtually all Burnett’s work is devoted to the proposition that black lives matter. To discuss him entirely that way, however, is to potentially ghettoize his importance. He deals with conflicts and affectionate bonds not only within black communities but also between blacks and whites, and his pictures have generosity of spirit, defamiliarizing power, and general relevance. There’s nothing obscure about his films (several of them are straightforward history lessons aimed at teenagers), but he resists melodrama, doesn’t traffic in sex and violence, and assumes a caring, thoughtful audience. Hence, he doesn’t appeal to your average Hollywood producer and has remained as authentic an independent as one can be.
No career is more deserving of an Oscar. Killer of Sheep (1977), which concerns a black father in Watts who works in a slaughterhouse, has been listed as one of the 100 hundred essential pictures by the National Society of Film Critics and was among the first films to be designated a “National Treasure” by the Library of Congress. To Sleep with Anger (1990), is a masterful blending of humor and gothic moods within a black family. The Glass Shield (1994) is a powerful account of police corruption and murder, based on actual events. Nightjohn (1996), is a moving account of Southern slavery told from the point of view of a young black girl, and belongs in company with the finest TV films ever made; and the half-documentary, half-fictional Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003) is in my view the best treatment of the subject in either film or print. These are only a few of the remarkable movies I had the pleasure of discussing in my forthcoming book, Charles Burnett: A Cinema of Symbolic Knowledge.
James Naremore is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus at Indiana University and author of The Magic World of Orson Welles, Acting in the Cinema, More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, On Kubrick, and An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema.
In partnership with the Los Angeles Filmforum and as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA series, we are pleased to announce the launch of Ism Ism Ism: Experimental Film in Latin America (Ismo Ismo Ismo: Cine Experimental en América Latina), a multi-part screening series featuring key works of experimental, time-based media made in Latin America and by Latin American artists. The exhibition will take place as a series of sixteen curated screenings, hosted in a combination of screening venues, museums, galleries and community spaces located throughout Southern California. Screenings will take place from September 2017 until January 2018.
The opening weekend, hosted by REDCAT, will run from Friday, September 22 to Sunday, September 24th.
Revisiting classic titles and introducing new works by key figures and emerging artists, Ism, Ism, Ism takes viewers on a journey through a wealth of materials culled from forgotten corners of Latin American film archives. REDCAT’s opening weekend includes a panel with curators and scholars and six film programs: Latin American surrealist shorts, films made in Southern California by Latinas and Latin American women, a solo presentation by veteran Chicano filmmaker Willie Varela, “camera-less” films by artists from several countries, documents of diverse countercultural movements, and revelatory shorts regarding revolutionary icon Che Guevara.
Kicking off in September 2017 and running through January 2018 throughout Southern California, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a joint effort from more than 60 cultural institutions across the region, and UC Press is thrilled to be publishing three books in conjunction with this unprecedented collaboration.
Learn more about UC Press’ Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA titles here.
Releasing in May 2018, Schrader’s seminal text Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer will be reissued with a substantial new introduction representing Schrader’s experiences and ideas as a filmmaker that have evolved over time, giving the original work both new clarity and a contemporary lens.
Already widely cited and used in courses in film studies, film genre, and art and avant garde film, this updated edition situates “Transcendental Style”, forty-five years later, as part of a larger movement in post-war cinema, the Slow Cinema movement.
Hear one of our most searching directors and writers discuss some of the techniques and attitudes of slow films:
Paul Schrader is an American screenwriter and director whose writing credits include Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ and directing credits include American Gigolo, Mishima, Light Sleeper, Affliction and First Reformed. Transcendental Style in Film was first published in 1972 by University of California Press.
Women’s Equality Day (August 26, 2017) commemorates ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in America. It is a day to celebrate women’s history and histories of feminist activism. To mark the occasion select articles from past issues of Feminist Media Histories will be freely available all day.
Histories of women, particularly women of color and LGBTQ communities, continue to be untold and unrecognized. At FMH we honor the struggle to tell women’s histories—which is ultimately the struggle to change the larger historical narratives—by highlighting select articles from past issues.
Designed for students and writers who are looking to understand what studios want, as well as what kinds of opportunities exist beyond the outmoded three-act structure. There is no similar book that critically analyzes the diverse industrial, professional and craft practices of screenwriting today.
the authors are working scholars and screenwriters, who employ industry studies, production culture studies, textual analysis and interviews with working screenwriters
addresses specific genres and adjacent industries across a wide range of rapidly evolving media, such as online content creation and the development of the video games industry
couples the recent history of screenwriting with close analysis of scripts in the context of the screenwriting paraindustry—from “how to write a winning script” books to screenwriting software
provides an astute cultural-industrial analysis of the creative labor of screenwriters, whose contributions have been increasingly devalued in the post-1980s era of deregulation, conglomeration, and globalization
“A much-needed antidote to the plethora of ‘how-to’ books, workshops, and blogs currently flooding the marketplace.”—Denise Mann, University of California, Los Angeles
“An insightful must-read for writers across all emerging and converging media.”—David Howard, University of Southern California
“This book does a rare thing: it provides a compelling bird’s-eye view of how the industry’s recent technological and economic changes have disrupted conventional writing practices, even as it closely analyzes scripts and drills deeply into the thoughts and words of working screenwriters.”—John T. Caldwell, author of Production Culture
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Daniel Bernardi is Professor of Cinema in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. He is a documentary filmmaker, edits the War Culture book series at Rutgers University Press, and has published several books on film, television, and popular culture.
Julian Hoxter is Associate Professor of Cinema in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. He is a produced screenwriter and has published three books on the history and practice of screenwriting.
Check out our landing page featuring UC Press across various disciplines, including Art, Music, Visual Culture, and Cinema & Media Studies. Save 30% online with discount code 17W6815, or request an exam copy for consideration to use in your upcoming classes. The discount code expires September 30, 2017.
Director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, opening in theaters this weekend in the US, sounds better than any war movie ever made.
I saw Dunkirk in 70mm and digital surround sound at the earliest possible showing at my favorite suburban St. Louis multiplex. Having just published a book on war movies from Apocalypse Now to American Sniper,I was eager to see and hear this latest entry in the intermittent but persistent World War II film cycle kicked off almost two decades ago by Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
At just 1 hour and 47 minutes, Dunkirk is a lean and gorgeous piece of filmmaking and film scoring that deserves to be experienced without undue preparation—so no spoilers here!
Instead, I want to offer some hopefully helpful hints about how Nolan’s film fits into the sonic and musical traditions of the post-Apocalypse Now war film. I detail these traditions at length in my book in separate sections devoted to each of the three elements of the soundtrack—dialogue, sound effects, music. Below is a quick consideration of Dunkirk along the same lines.
There’s very little talking in Dunkirk. Nolan has made a “silent” war film where sound effects and music carry the soundtrack: the film’s dialogue could easily be replaced with title cards as in the pre-sync sound era.
Nolan’s historical subject lends itself to minimal dialogue: Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers await evacuation from France on the beaches of Dunkirk. The British navy and a flotilla of civilian craft—pleasure boats, mostly—set out across the English Channel to bring them safely home. German bombers and fighter planes attack the evacuation and British Spitfires fight back. It’s a land-sea-air battle with clear geometric lines that Nolan effectively tells with sound effects following long traditions of the war film (see Chapter 6 in my book).
And, indeed, the sound effects in Dunkirk are astonishing—some of the loudest, clearest, and most physical I have ever experienced. I saw the film in a just renovated cinema outfitted with “dream loungers” (padded, automatically reclining seats straight out of high-end home theatre set ups). The low sounds of bombs reverberated through my whole seat with tremendous tone and clarity. My head felt vibrations as if on a rollercoaster. As with so many war films—especially the early digital surround sound hit Saving Private Ryan—Dunkirk in the theatre uses sound to put the viewer’s body into motion, striving to elicit felt sonic identification with the soldiers in the story.
Dunkirk’s score is by composer Hans Zimmer, who also composed original music for The Thin Red Line and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. All three of these films feature what I call almost continuous scores. Indeed, I can’t recall a single moment of Dunkirk when the soundtrack mix didn’t contain something categorizable as music. Zimmer’s score provides crucial support to Nolan’s “silent” film approach to storytelling.
And the music does something else, too. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that, as in his earlier films Memento, Inception, and Interstellar, Nolan is again exploring issues of time and narrative shape. Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk plays a crucial role pacing the action and instantly shifting the film’s momentum with a huge array of beat-driven textures (such as the below teaser track released on Youtube).
Zimmer offers only one melody in Dunkirk and it’s borrowed. To prepare yourself for the film’s most self-consciously emotional moments—best experienced in a theatre full of British nationals (who’ll likely be crying to more than just the music itself)—listen to Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations below.
Among many YouTube’s of “Nimrod,” I chose a version featuring the Staatskapelle Berlin at the BBC Proms, a site of nationalistic celebration in the UK. A German orchestra playing this British orchestral staple feels to me like a needed, tiny correction to Nolan’s film, which begins (like countless war films) with an informative title that euphemistically and problematically reads, “The enemy have driven the British and French forces to the beach.”
I hope you enjoy Dunkirk as much as I did.
Todd Decker is Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. The author of four books on American commercial music and media, he has lectured at the Library of Congress, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and LabEx Arts-H2H in Paris.
As part of our “Tools of the Trade” blog series, we’re showcasing resources and reference materials for educators and scholars to help you in your research, writing, and prep work this summer. Here are a few titles that continue to shape key intellectual questions and ideas within various film- and media-related fields.
“Combining her personal experience working on film productions in both China and Hollywood with her strong academic credentials, Aynne Kokas has given us a pioneering study on a subject that will undoubtedly increase in importance as the Sino-Hollywood connection deepens. Future researchers on this topic would do well to begin here.”
—Stanley Rosen, Professor of Political Science, University of Southern California
“This remarkable collection of interviews with screen industry professionals—from costume designers to location managers—is essential reading for anyone interested in how Hollywood actually works. Voices of Labor is a unique account of the contemporary conditions, experiences, and organization of media workers and is an important contribution to media industry research.”
—Ramon Lobato, author of Shadow Economies of Cinema
“Bill Nichols is uniquely equipped to trace the genealogy of documentary studies—after all, he pioneered the field. Speaking Truths With Film is proof that he has yet to quit; filled as it is with his half-century chronicle of developments in both filmmaking and scholarship, it demands to not only be read, but also put to use.”
“A superbly original and informative work that takes as its project the creation of a cognitive map of a significant and geographically specific area within the larger field of independent documentary filmmaking. This book establishes a new path for documentary studies within a cultural landscape that widens to spatial media studies and beyond.”
—Janet Walker, author of Trauma Cinema: Documenting Incest and the Holocaust
“This book offers an exciting and productive way of thinking about cinema, allowing the reader to become acquainted with a large range of important declarations on film and on its mission from across its history. This is a volume that every film scholar will want to have.”
—Dana Polan, Professor of Cinema Studies, New York University