The Magnifying Class #6



Another “Magnifying Class” is taking place the day after tomorrow at the University of Oxford. Our group will be analysing and discussing Jacques Tati’s Trafic (1971).

The film is another chapter in the comedian’s portrait of modern life as strange, perplexing, and alienating. Yet it is different from Play Time (1967), Mr. Hulot’s previous adventure. It is not just the focus that is different — the modernist architecture in Play Time, the traffic and automobiles in Trafic — but also the perspective. In this movie there is no dichotomy between the natural and the produced; the kind of contrast that was apparent in the previous work. Artificial human productions here seem almost human — when a car is, visually and aurally, likened to an animal pursuing a prey (that is, in fact, a tire). Objects have a life of their own, a life marked by functional activity and reflexive reactions — the car that rests after it has reached its destination.

Characters are not entirely defined. The film interested in their definition. That is why it is so difficult to grasp the development of characters. And that is why the formation of the couple in the end seems so surprising. In essence, characters are not psychologically characterised. The focus of the film is on their actions.

A purely formalist approach to the film would ignore how contemplation is encouraged instead of the simple recognition of formal patterns. The world is constantly rearranged, with Tati creating, and calling attention to, rhymes and parallels that seem almost casual — the yellow stripes of the road and Altra’s yellow truck.


“The Magnifying Class”: #3 · #4 · #5

A Top 100 Film Studies Blog


I received a warm e-mail from Amber Johnson today informing me that the web site Online Degrees Hub (a valuable resource that I did not know) published an article with a list of the top 100 film studies blogs. The Motions of Images has been included in the list (no. 25). I feel honoured and grateful. I can only hope that this brings more readers to my writings.

There is a lot to discover in the list. You will read the best current writing on film on the Internet if you take the time to look at these sites and blogs — most of them are included in the links above (and in the listings at Writings of a Spectator). The list that Online Degrees Hub has put together also includes some of my friends’ blogs: Catherine Grant’s Anagnorisis (no. 63), Directing Cinema (no. 94), and Film Studies for Free (no. 100), and Jason Sperb’s Jamais Vu (no. 66).

A Brazilian Journal of Communication


I have discovered this interesting journal recently: Revista de Estudos da Comunicação. The latest issue (no. 20) includes essays on post-television and hybridisation theories and on Michel Gondry’s music videos, and other topics. It is in Portuguese (with abstracts also in English) and some past issues are available online.

Screen Studies Conference 2009


Desperate Housewives, “Pilot” (1.01).

The “Screen” Studies Conference 2009 begins today and ends on Sunday, 5 July, at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. The event will explore the different facets of contemporary screen theorising. It is the 19th international meeting organised by Screen, an esteemed journal that commemorates its 50th anniversary this year.

I am presenting a paper called “Televisual Works” in the only panel on television, “Serial Fictions”. My aim is to analyse the ontological differences that are usually pointed out between the aesthetics of cinema and television. They are not very persuasive. I shall present another way of distinguishing between them that does not depend on identifying essential features, but rather the specific history of development of each medium. I take Twin Peaks (1990-91) as an instance of what we may contingently call a televisual work (of art) and use the opening sequence of the pilot episode of Desperate Housewives (2004-) to illustrate the importance of visual elements in some television fictions.

The programme is too big for me to include it in this post — but it can be downloaded (via the University of Glasgow web site).

The Magnifying Class #5



Another “Magnifying Class” is taking place tomorrow at the University of Oxford. Our group will be analysing and discussing Elephant (2003), directed by Gus Van Sant, for three hours.


“The Magnifying Class”: #3 · #4

Comprehensions of Cinema


Tomorrow and the next day I am presenting a research seminar in Portugal on Daniel Frampton’s Filmosophy and its criticism of Bordwell’s critical and analytical language — call it an academic tour. The paper is titled “Compreensões do Cinema: Funções da Linguagem Analítica e Crítica” (“Comprehensions of Cinema: Functions of Analytical and Critical Language”, in English).

The first date will be in Lisbon at the New University of Lisbon following an invitation from Dr. João Mário Grilo. He is the director of the research project “Film and Philosophy: Mapping an Encounter” that includes my PhD supervisor at the University of Kent, Prof. Murray Smith, as consultant — as well as Dr. Jinhee Choi, also from Kent, and Prof. Noël Carroll (The City University of New York) and Prof. D.N. Rodowick (Harvard University).

Dr. Vítor Moura, director of the Department of Philosophy and Culture of Minho University, has invited me for the second presentation, in Braga.

Here is the structure of my talk:

1. Filmosophy
2. Frampton Against Bordwell
3. Languages of Cinema
4. Analysis and Criticism
5. Limitations and Complements

I shall show two clips to illustrate my points, from The Constant Gardener (2005) for the first section and Juventude em Marcha (Colossal Youth, 2006) for the last.

Reflecting Faces


Shirin (2008).

David Bordwell writes on Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film here. It appears to be a fascinating and absorbing experience.

Television and Film Network Narratives


The Wire.

David Simon, insisted that The Wire [2002-8] “was never a cop show. We were always planning to move further out, to build a whole city”. (Thanks to Dominic Topp for the reference.)

Acting Out


Last Friday, I was in Reading to attend Acting Out: A Symposium on Film Performance, Inference and Interpretation. Overall, it was an excellent event with evocative and pondered contributions to the study of film performance. It was also an opportunity to catch up with a few friends.

Session 1: A Question of Style:

V. F. Perkins (University of Warwick), “The Eloquence of Bad Acting”

Ronan Paterson (University of Teeside), “A Little Touch of Harry in the Night: An Exploration of the Contrasting Acting Styles of Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh in Their Respective Films of Shakespeare’s Henry V

Sarah Thomas (University of Aberystwyth), “Contrasting Modes of performance in Classical Hollywood Cinema and The Best Years of Our Lives

Session 2: Keynote Speaker:

Andrew Klevan (University of Oxford), “Living Meaning: The Fluency of Film Performance”

Session 3: Interpreting Performance and Performing Interpretation:

Martin Barker (University of Aberystwyth), “How Do Audiences Evaluate Acting on Screen?: A Case Study Using The Usual Suspects

Alex Clayton (University of Bristol), “Acting to Save the World (Fuck Yeah): Team America, Comedy and Performance”

John Adams (University of Bristol), “Interpreting Oneself: Performance, Feedback, and the Digital”

Adam Ganz (Royal Holloway, University of London), “Interpreting Oneself: Performance, Feedback, and the Digital”

Session 4: Acting In?:

Kathrina Glitre (University of West of England), “Still Acting: Doing Nothing as an Acting Choice”

David Morrison (King’s College London), “Performing Loneliness”

Steven Peacock (University of Hertfordshire), “David Lynch, Laura Dern and Crying on Film”

The Magnifying Class #4


The Little Foxes.

Yesterday I was at the University of Oxford for a meeting of the film research group “The Magnifying Class”, of which I am an invited member. These seminars happen once a term and focus on a single film that we discuss and analyse in the course of three hours — this time, the seminar focused on The Little Foxes (1941), directed by William Wyler. According to the group chair Andrew Klevan, the group and these sessions aim at: investigating film style, looking closely at how film sequences work, and expanding our appreciation of films and the people who make them.


“The Magnifying Class”: #3

Serial Forms


The conference Serial Forms will be held at the University of Zurich between June 4 and 6. It is organised by the Institute of Cinema Studies of the university, which demonstrates the increasing interest of film academics in television series (and other serial forms):

Bringing together scholars from various countries and disciplines, the conference takes the recent trend of quality television series as a starting point to explore the phenomenon of serial forms on a broad canvas. While the main focus will be on serial forms in cinema and television from the past and present, we would also like to discuss the role of serial forms in other media and art forms.

Speakers include Jennifer M. Bean (University of Washington), Glen Creeber (Aberystwyth University), Nicola Dusi (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia), Jens Eder (University of Hamburg), Lorenz Engell (Bauhaus-University Weimar), Ursula Ganz-Blaettler (University of Lugano), Wolfgang Hagen (University of St. Gallen), Jason Mittell (Middlebury College), Greg M. Smith (Georgia State University), Jörg Schweinitz (University of Zurich), Jörg Türschmann (University of Vienna), and Rainer Winter (University of Klagenfurt). Trailer here. Further information here.

A personal thanks to Peter Stanfield for letting me know about this event.

A Comment on the Mosaic-Screen


The Tracey Fragments (2007).

Seth Keen, a lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, has recently commented on my essay on the mosaic-screen. According to him, this new term “provides another way to define the use of spatial montage in the creation of moving-image narratives, in addition to the term split-screen”.



I am surprised and thankful to David Tidmarsh and the Yale Daily News for having chosen my presentation to illustrate “Study of the Superhero”, a short article on the conference at Yale University in which I recently participated. The picture caption misstates the title of my paper, but they got it right in the text.



Thirteen years later, David Bordwell and Noël Carroll’s book still packs quite a punch. I am re-reading it right now.

The Wanderer


I do not know why, but the song that closes U2’s Zooropa resurfaced in my mind a few days ago. Bono’s words evoke powerful images and are unforgettable in Johnny Cash’s grieved voice:

I went out walking
Through streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones
Saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out walking
Under an atomic sky
Where the ground won’t turn
And the rain it burns
Like the tears when I said goodbye
Yeah I went with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering

I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it

I went out riding
Down that old eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you

I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents

I went out searching
Looking for one good man
A spirit who would not bend or break
Who would sit at his father's right hand
I went out walking
With a bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one
Now Jesus, don't you wait up
Jesus, I’ll be home soon
Yeah I went out for the papers
Told her I’d be back by noon

Yeah I left with nothing
But the thought you’d be there too
Looking for you

Yeah I left with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you



Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover.


The Politics of Superheroes


Heroes, “The Butterfly Effect” (3.02).

The conference The Politics of Superheroes: Renegotiating the Superhero in Post 9/11 Hollywood Cinema began today at Yale University. It is taking place in a room close to Harold Bloom’s office at the Whitney Humanities Center. I am presenting a paper on the style of Heroes (2006-) tomorrow afternoon. Here is the conference programme:

Keynote Speaker:

Scott Bukatman (Stanford University), “Look! Up on the Screen!: The Poetics of Superheroes”

Panel 1A: Batman Reloaded

Tara Ghai (University of Exeter), “Clown or Terrorist: Depictions of the Joker in Batman Films Pre- and Post-9/11”

Gerry Canavan (Duke University), “Person of the Year: Barack Obama, the Joker, Capitalism, and Schizophrenia”

Panel 1B: “Low” Culture and High Tech

Cary Jones Elza (Northwestern University), “Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?: Technology and Perception in Batman Begins

Jon Hogan (Syracuse University), “Understanding Iron Man: An Examination of the Relationship between Technology and Humanity in a Popular Comic Book Series”

Panel 2: Incredibles +

Ramzi Fawaz (George Washington University), “Eternal Homecoming: Cold War Nostalgia and the Crisis of the Family Body in The Incredibles

Chris Jaynes (New York University), “It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Bob Parr: Narrative Discourse and the Post 9/11 Super-hero in The Incredibles

Michael High (Stony Brook University), “The Superhero Film: 9/11, Melodrama, Justice”

Panel 3: Post-Classical Hollywood Action Films

Dan Hassler-Forest (University of Amsterdam), “From Flying Man to Falling Man: Post-9/11 Superhero Narratives”

Ryan Vu (Duke University), “Cinematic Superman and the Ideology of Participation”

Paul Johnson (University of Exeter), “Of Gods (or) Monsters: Superman Returns

Jean-Guy Ducreux (Nancy-Université), “Mirror Effects and Bad Conscience in Superhero Movies Since 9/11”

Panel 4: Alternative, International and Near-Superheroes

Jacob Brogan (Cornell University), “Fantasies of Forgetting”

Emily Perez (University of Southern California), “Twilight: America, Vampires, and the Perils of Self-Hating Superheroes”

Sandra Kang (New York University), “Post Hero or Post-9/11: Chinese Face Superhero with Western Values”

Panel 5: Superheroic Aesthetics and Genres

Sérgio Dias Branco (University of Kent), “Super Style: Heroes and Television Aesthetics”

Marianna Martin (University of Chicago), “In a World Where More is More: Superheroes and Genre Play”

Yoshi Nakazawa (Seattle University), “Inculcating Aesthetics and Slaying Monsters: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Aesthetics in Education”

Communication, Cognition and Media


The lively and august Catholic University of Portugal will hold an international three-day conference on communication, cognition and media in September 2009 at the Faculty of Philosophy.

Scholars and researchers are invited to send proposals on any topic related to media studies, particularly within these research areas: journalism, television studies, advertising, multimedia, interactive media, political communication, organisational communication, sociology of communication, theories of communication, cognition and languages, semiotics, art and rhetoric, and communication ethics.

An excerpt from the conference description:

Over the last decades, cognitive sciences have developed theoretical models that allow us the understanding of essential aspects of cognition, of language and of communication itself. For example, we know from cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics that people find most categories meaningful in terms of prototypes, not in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. Hence follows the development of typically polysemous radial networks that are grounded upon human experience. From neurosciences we know that the brain does not process visual information in a disembodied way, but instead maintains the perceptual topology and rebuilds image schemas. These offer coherence to radial categories and motivate metaphorical projections of more concrete domains into more abstract ones. It is known that we may conceptualise certain situation in alternative ways and that we do it by means of construal operations such as perspective, focal attention, prominence, abstraction and the figure/ground distinction, well known from studies in gestalt psychology. We also know that communication is not confined to an exchange of information about the world. It is rather a means of cognitively coordinating different perspectives from the subjects of conceptualisation (speaker and addressee), therefore taking into account other minds, ruling and influencing them. It has been recently argued that human cognition is to be understood as situated, synergic or social, being equally determined by social interaction and culture and therefore can not be reduced to neural individual operations.

The aim of this congress is to promote interdisciplinary research on the biological, cognitive, emotional and sociocultural basis of traditional and new media, regarding their impact on cultures, societies and individuals. The congress includes both the perspective of interpretation or critical analysis of the media discourses and representations and perspectives about their production, perception and assessment. We are particularly interested on the following topics: cognitive and cultural models of socio/cultural identities and in social, political, economic and scientific debates, cognitive and cultural models as covert ideologies; structures, cognitive systems and rhetoric in single and multimodal discourses; prototypes and stereotypes in categorization; conceptual metaphor, in its verbal, non-verbal and multimodal appearances; cognitive power of metaphor and metonymy; mental spaces and conceptual integration; gestalt perception; image perception, understanding, structure and meaning; interaction patterns established between verbal text and image; interpretation of multimodal text; preconceptual image schemas and mental imagery; attention attribution; perspective and intersubjectivity; methodologies and techniques of interpretation and production of the media discourses; interaction between embodied and sociocultural aspects of cognition and of communication.

Further information here.

Online Lusophone Comunication Studies


Portcom, the information network in communication studies of the Portuguese-speaking countries (based in Brazil), allows open access to these four noteworthy journals:

Comunicação e Sociedade (Communication and Society), University of Minho, Portugal

Observatorio (OBS*), OberCom: Observatory for the Media, Portugal

Contemporanea: Revista de Comunicação e Cultura (Journal of Communication and Culture), Federal University of Bahia, Brazil

Intercom: Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação (Brazilian Journal of Communication Sciences), Brazilian Society of Interdisciplinary Communication Studies

Moffat’s Stories and Words


Dr. Who, “Blink” (3.10).

Steven Peacock’s excellent short piece, “Steven Moffat: Time Lord” for Critical Studies in Television is the right companion to David Lavery’s recent post on Steven Moffat.

I have been following the spin-off of Doctor Who (2005-), Torchwood (2006-), but not the original series. Comments like these lead me to think that I should find some time to take a look at it — especially at the episodes written by Moffat.

Relembrar Paul Newman


A Golpada.

Está a decorrer um ciclo na Universidade de Coimbra que relembra a carreira de Paul Newman através de seis sessões — uma delas de A Golpada (The Sting, 1973). Este evento é organizado pelo Teatro Académico Gil Vicente e é mais um exemplo da vitalidade das iniciativas culturais enquadradas pelo Curso de Estudos Artísticos da universidade. Mais informações aqui.

Conference on Media and Sports


An international conference on media and sports will be held in Lisbon, 22-23 January. It is promoted by the outstanding Research Center for Communication and Culture (CECC) of the Catholic University of Portugal and it

aims both at a polyphonic discussion of sports representations in the media and at a reflection upon sports language worldwide. Drawing on recent analyses of sports language from semiotic, linguistic and sociological angles, the event wishes to provide insights into the core issues of Sports Media and Power, Sports Media and Fiction and Sports and Globalisation.

The Mosaic-Screen


24, “3:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.” (1.16).

Refractory, a refereed journal of the University of Melbourne, has published my essay “The Mosaic-Screen: Exploration and Definition” just before the end of 2008. I argue that what may be termed mosaic-screen is a technique used in works like 24 (2001-). Thank you very much to Tessa Dwyer, one of the editors of this special issue, and to Professor Angela Ndalianis, editor of Refractory, for their support and patience.

A mention in english. Uma menção em português.



Sad, devastating news. Our colleague Jason Simpkins, 25, passed away at his home in Lakewood, CO, last Friday. Jason was pursuing a PhD in Film Studies at the University of Kent, following a MA in the same subject at the University of Warwick. He was a vibrant, intense person, always interested in the administrative issues of the university and student representation. My sincere condolences to his parents, Larry and Michelle.