Tag Archives: Catherine Grant

In Conversation with Catherine Grant

Catherine Grant is one of the scholars working in the area of video essays and videographic criticism I most admire. Her work ranges from fan videos to explorations of form, the transnational, queering, interventions into theory, materialising criticism and artistic self-expression. I very much wanted to talk to her about her work and the result is this podcast below,  a wide-ranging reflection on these particular forms of criticism, her own practice and that of other scholars who have influenced the development of her own work. With typical generosity, every reflection on her own works incites heaps of praise for that of others.

 

Video Essays by Catherine Grant in order of discussion:

‘Need something to work with and against. Footage which is absolutely beautiful. Peggy Anne Garner. Discovering some writing. An elaborate video. Dedicated to her own family’.

‘A metacritical look at videos made using split-screen’.

Insight and expression through a photograph, movement and song

Influenced by  Gordon Hon, collecting dissolves from Vertigo and slowing them down. Also by Aaron Valdez´film, Dissolve, a study of dissolves that he found on the internet archive. Such a beautiful film, the transient comes through brilliantly in it. Afterwords Mandy Merck mentioned the  American Tragedies adaptations of Dreiser. Whilst making A Place in the Sun, someone had advised George Stevens to watch Brief Encounter. Abundant Dissolves. Very interesting and lots of them.

In her video essay, she changed the colour of the film. It´s bluer, a midnight blue filter. There was an inertness, maybe due to digital copy. So she added the filter just like Joseph Cornell in Rose Hobart.

The need to be cognisant of the tension between quoting something and making something yourself.

An important dimension of Grant´s work, loosely called queering. The gesture on the shoulder in Carol and Brief Encounter.

‘Video essays materialise what are otherwise virtual spectatorial encounters. Cluster of work around thinking and feeling around the films. Transforming a  queer experience we have in our head and making it material through videographic work’

‘Dialoguing with a written tradition of film studies and art criticism’

 

Videos by others in order of discussion:

‘Really good criticism, really insightful, intertextual, influential: The Substance of Style wowed by his use of split screens.´

´

‘The confidence to run things together, voice-over, speeded up, Pure Bazinian technique. Dismantling or defamiliarisng the look on a full frame. We rarely engage in peripheral spectatorship. It becomes a work of genius when he does speed up´.

On the insights of Ian Garwood on voice-over and on his generosity as a scholar

In praise of Adrian Martin´s use of his voice in this particular work by Martin and Cristina Álvarez López

Joseph Cornell´s Rose Hobart (1936):

 

The Patrick Keating video essays discussed can be found here

And Grace Lee´s youtube channel, What´s So Great About That can be found here:

We did not get a chance to talk about Grant´s other important contributions to film culture but it´s worth mentioning the invaluable  open access scholary website, Film Studies for Free, Mediático, a website on various aspects of Latin American and Iberian film cultures, and as an editor of  [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies 

José Arroyo

In Conversation with Dolores Tierney on the films of Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón

DSC05205.jpeg

Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón are two of the great directors of Mexican Cinema´s Golden Age. Dolores Tierney is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Film at Sussex University and an internationally renown film scholar who has written an important book on the work of Fernández, Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins, and who has also written extensively on Gaváldon.

If Fernández´films are already well known, Gavaldón´s work is having an incredible and long over-due revival this year, with retrospectives  in New York´s Lincoln Centre and the San Sebastian Film Festival, His work also featured heavily in the Salon Mexico: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema retrospective at the BFI earlier in the year and  the Cine Doré in Madrid, whose programme names him ´The King of Mexican Melodrama´, is currently showing a range of his films.

As Dolores writes in Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins (Manchester University Press, 2007):

For seven years, from 1943 until 1950, Emilio Fernández (1904-1986) was regarded as one of the foremost puveyors of Mexicanness,’ as one of the most important filmmakers of the Mexican film industry…, and as one of the most famous filmmakers in the Western world. His distinctive, ‘authentically Mexican´ visual style — developed over an extensive collaboration with photographer Gabriel Figueroa of thirteen years and twenty-two films — was praised for bringing international attention and prestige to the Mexican film industry…At the height of his career in the 1940s he was loved by audiences and critics alike, not only for bringing international attention and artistic glory to the Mexican motion-picture industry but also for defining a school of Mexican films. Indeed, he underscored and in some ways initiated this approach to his work by repeated claiming ´!El cine mexicano so yo¡/ I am Mexican cinema´

 

In his introduction to La fatalidad urbana: El cine de Roberto Gavaldón (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007), Fernando Mino Gracia writes:

What would Mexican cinema be without the the sure look — distant, reflexive — of Roberto Gavaldón. We would have lost no less that the most rounded, audacious and finished oeuvre, one that explains a fundamental period of Twentieth Century Mexican cinema, that which covers the period of the end of the Second World War to the start of the 70s. Because Gavaldón is the the filmmaker who best diagnosed, over the entirety of his work, the pulse of a society in the process of consolidation. Nothing was the same by the end of the 1950s and Gavaldón was a privileged witness and chronicler. A mirror which re-works with complex subtlety the inequality of that society and which today, for better and worse, gives us sustenance (p. 19, trans my own).

 

The podcast below is a wide-ranging discussion on the films and careers of Fernández and Gavaldón with the hope of drawing attention to these immense works of world cinema and also to Dolores Tierney´s invaluable writing on both of these directors.

In the podcast, Dolores and I discuss the work of each director, their collaborations with leading stars such as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores Del Rio, María Felix, Arturo de Cordova; Melodrama, Mexican Nationalism and its discourses, how the films, be they noirs or melodramas or even rural sagas, fit into a post-revolution political project whilst also being dialogue transnationally with classical Hollywood cinema.

My hope for the podcast is that Dolores´enthusiasm will lead you to the films and that my own will lead you to Dolores´invaluable work on them.

 

Those of you wishing to pursue further links might enjoy this video essay by Dolores Tierney and Catherine Grant on the ´cabaretera´films of the period.

 

I have also written on several Gavaldón films and you can pursue links here:

La Diosa arrodillada/ The Kneeling Goddess (1947)

La Noche avanza/ Night Falls (1952)

Camelia (1953)

La Escondida (1956)

Macario (1960)

…and on a couple of Fernández films:

Las Islas Marias (1951)

…and you can see the incredible clip from Fernández´Victimas del pecado (1951) here:

José Arroyo

 

José Arroyo in Conversation with Josh Schulze on ‘Alternate Takes’

Joshua Schulze is the new editor of Alternate Takes. James MacDowell one of the original founders of the digital site devoted to film and television criticism tells me that,

‘The aim of Alternate Takes is to provide analysis of cinema that is informed by academic debates, but also walks a line between the journalistic review and the critical essay. It publishes long-form essays that embody this ethos, but the most obvious way the site has achieved this compromise position between reviewing and scholarly criticism is by writing about new films twice. First there is a short, evaluative piece that ‘spoils’ as little as possible about a film, but still grants a sense of the sorts of experience it offers; the idea is that this is a review to read before you see a film. Then, after you’ve watched it, you can read our Alternate Take – a longer, more in-depth critical piece, which usually digs more deeply into a particular critical issue that the movie raises. While over the years this dual-review format has become less rigidly enforced, the overall approach it fostered has remained the same, and the site has continued to publish film criticism that is in-depth, critical, mindful of social and artistic contexts, but also accessible and enjoyable.’

 

The impetus for this conversation with Josh Schulze was merely to find out if there was a new direction he, along with co-editors Matt Denny, Patrick Pilkington and Leanne Weston, wanted for the now celebrated digital platform and what that might be.

In the podcast Josh and I discuss Pauline Kael, cinephilia, the pressures of writing quickly and its effects on film reviewing, the nuances of film criticism and how Alternate Takes is devoted at looking at films and television in depth. We also discuss our admiration for the video essays of Adrian Martin, Catherine Grant and Kogonada, and how contributing to Alternate Takes is a great way for early career people and students to explore their ideas and take new approaches to film.

You can find the website here: www.alternatetakes.co.uk/

James MacDowell’s thought provoking piece on the raison d’être and purpose of the platform can be found here: www.alternatetakes.co.uk/?2011,3,240

José Arroyo

IMG_3576.jpg

 

A Note on Brief Encounter (David Lean, UK, 1945)

Brief Encounter is woven through and through with loss, sadness, the stifling of desire, the structuration of forces of repression — the state, the police, the institution of marriage: all that is so beautifully expressed in the scene where we see Laura (Celia Johnson) going to have a smoke under the the War Memorial, the park bench still wet from the rain, after her failed attempt at the assignation with Alec (Trevor Howard) that had exercised her so — interpellated as personal lacks and individual moral failings.

It was only on my last viewing that it became clear how the film is actually structured around the moment of loss, a moment which bookends the film, and which we first see narrated objectively and then come back to subjectively at the film’s end (and Catherine Grant’s marvellous video essay, Dissolves of Passion, take on an even richer resonance when seen through the lens of loss, of Dolly Messiter robbing the couple of their last minutes but also the loss of a love that is desired but cannot be).

The film begins to tell us a story, one that doesn’t start of as but then becomes Laura’s story told in flashback, and the end returns us to to the beginning but now fleshed out as Laura subjectively experiences– and by this I mean something different than told through her point of view — those last moments with Alec, the loss, the despair, the world infringing on and robbing her of that which is so important to her but which she cannot speak of, except to us, the audience.

As we can see in the clip above, the film begins with a train, engine steaming streams of smoke, heading towards us and slicing through the frame. We then begin with a medium close-up of Mr. Godby (Stanley Holloway). The camera cuts to passing trains once again, before again picking up Mr. Godby, crossing the track on foot. Why begin here and with Mr. Godby? Clearly the passing trains, the platform where people linger only momentarily before heading elsewhere, the steam; all help create an emotional as well as physical setting for the drama that will be played out. But look also at the formal elegance, at the beauty of the compositions. This dangerous speed, the transient and furtive meetings, the steaming desire the film will dramatise, all will be contained by the same order, hierarchy, symmetry, the elegant manner that also characterise framing and composition (and in a different way, Mr. Godby’s uniform).

I was struck also by how in the shot in the station café, the focus is entirely on Mr. Godby and Mrs. Bagot (Joyce Carey), flirting away, in their own way negotiating and making possible the fulfilment of the desires denied the more middle class Lauras and Alecs. You might note that the camera pans from Mr. Godby and Mrs Bagot to Laura and Alec, that significantly they remain at a distance. We don’t yet know who they are and we don’t yet hear a word they say. Mr. Godby’s voice is still carrying, now off-screeen, now speaking of police, whilst the camera lingers at a distance is on this new couple we will later get to know so well. So from the very first images, we get speed, steam, the sense of transit and indeterminacy but also of order and containment, all whilst being brought to notice regarding forces of repression. And the film tells us this whilst making a homology between two couples characterised as belonging to two different classes, one the servants; the other those being served, even if only in a cafe.

I will write  about the two ways we’re shown Dolly Messiter’s intrusion into the last moments the couple have together –the one objective at the beginning, the other subjectively near the end —  in my next post.

José Arroyo

PS at the end of  Altman (d: Ron Mann, USA, 2014), a wonderful documentary on the filmmaker, his wife Kathryn recounts how how watching Brief Encounter inspired Altman’s filmmaking, ‘one day, years  and years ago, just after the war, Bob had nothing to do and he went to a theatre in the middle of the afternoon to see a movie. Not a Hollywood movie, a British movie.He said the main character wasn’t glamorous, not a babe. And at first he wondered why he was even watching it. But twenty minutes later he was in tears and had fallen in love with her. And it made him feel that it wasn’t just a movie.

PPS: In an article reflecting on Lost in Translation 15 years after, Sofia Coppola writes: ‘“I got married not long before and kind of felt isolated. I was in this stage where I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices or what I was doing in the post-college beginning of my adult life,” she says. “Brief Encounter was in my mind while writing but I was looking a lot of the idea of being connected because at that moment, I wasn’t.”

https://lwlies.com/articles/sofia-coppola-lost-in-translation-interview/