The Mediascape Q&A: Allyson Field, Assistant Professor, Cinema and Media Studies

The Mediascape Q&A is a series of interviews designed to explore the work of UCLA faculty and graduate students beyond the classroom.

Dr. Allyson Field (center) with CMS Ph.D. candidate Samantha Sheppard (l) and Dr. Jacqueline Stewart of Northwestern University (r) at an L.A. Rebellion event, December 2011.

Dr. Allyson Field (center) with CMS Ph.D. candidate Samantha Sheppard (l) and Dr. Jacqueline Stewart of Northwestern University (r) at an L.A. Rebellion event, December 2011.

Matthias Stork: All right, here we go. The first question: what first drew you to studying film?

Allyson Field: [Laughs] Oh, wow, OK. I have to think way back. Well, I began studying film as an undergraduate. I was an art history major at Stanford. And Stanford’s one of the very few art history programs that doesn’t have a critical animosity towards film as a medium, and so it seemed very natural for me. I was interested in 20th-century art, mostly painting and theory. And I was interested in limits of representation, and then I started taking film classes with some professors when I was an undergrad, most notably Scott Bukatman when he came to Stanford when I was a junior, and then Pamela Lee and then some classes in the French department with Jean-Marie Apostolidès on political filmmaking in France. And then I ended up writing my senior thesis on Jean-Luc Godard and Guy Debord as political filmmakers. I was really interested in theoretical questions about representation of politics and questions of modernity answered through film, and so I started in art history but I was really gravitating towards film studies. When I graduated, I ended up applying to the University of Amsterdam to work with Thomas Elsaesser, and there I started working more on film. So I guess that’s the trajectory to film through art history. And then it wasn’t really until much later that I realized that looking at or studying film within the context of art history was really uncommon, that it had been a discipline that really emerged out of literary criticism or language departments. I was very privileged to be able to study film with a background in formal analysis but also theory, and that bode well for future studies, I guess. It’s a very different trajectory than I think a lot of people who either come to film from literature or come to film from industrial studies ever encounter. I was studying film as art, focusing on the avant-garde and then that post-’60s experimental filmmaking, but it was really not until much later that I kind of understood film as an industry, or as an object of industrial concern as well. Continue reading “The Mediascape Q&A: Allyson Field, Assistant Professor, Cinema and Media Studies” »

On Video Essays: Analysis of “The Spielberg Face”

The video essay constitutes an aesthetic form that radically transforms the fields of film criticism and scholarship. A product of the digital age, it allows those concerned with the study of film and media to directly engage with their objects of study through the explicit use of both moving and movable images. A video essay is essentially a mini-movie, a series of manipulated images and sounds specifically arranged to convey an idea. In this respect, video essayists differ from traditional critics and scholars in that they are primarily beholden not to the written word but to the characteristics of the medium they examine. It is apt to see them as critically-minded filmmakers, and their work, by consequence, opens itself to analysis.

Kevin B. Lee is undoubtedly the most prominent representative of the ever-burgeoning group of video essayists. He has made a career out of furthering the form as a practitioner and curator. At Shooting Down Pictures, he popularized the video essay as an innovative critical instrument through a variety of stylistic experiments and collaborations. He chronicled his experiences in video essay criticism at Kunst der Vermittlung in an essay titled “The Viewer as Creator,” a text which has since come to be seen as a quasi-manifesto for the form. Today, he continues his video essay work as an essayist at Fandor Keyframe and in his capacity as editor-in-chief of Press Play, the leading platform for online video essay culture.

“The Spielberg Face” (2011), a critical study of the close-up as an aesthetic motif in the films of Steven Spielberg, is one of Lee’s greatest achievements. Continue reading “On Video Essays: Analysis of “The Spielberg Face”” »

Representations of Femininity in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘Le Corbeau’

Image 1: Le Corbeau (1943)

The palpable sense of hysteria and panic that accompanied the establishment of the Vichy regime in Southern France is brilliantly captured in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1943 film Le Corbeau. One of the most controversial films of the era, Le Corbeau is a dark parable about the detrimental impact of paranoia on the human psyche. While nearly all of the characters of this film warrant individual study, it is Clouzot’s depiction of women that continues to be a source of debate among scholars today. Alan Williams feels that Le Corbeau shows female characters as “figures of both knowledge and redemption…[representing] an almost visceral grasping for light in the darkness and hope at a time of deepest despair.”1 In contrast, Evelyn Ehrlich feels that the film rejects this idealized view of women, arguing, “No other film made during the occupation was so fundamentally opposed to all values and principles of the Vichy regime.”2 To Ehrlich, Le Corbeau rejects the idea of the woman as a beacon of hope and a source of moral purity and instead shows the fraudulence and degeneracy behind this ideal. The film shows the duplicity of all human beings, and women are no exception. One of the best examples of Clouzot revealing the corrupt nature of seemingly virtuous people is seen in the character of Dr. Vorzet’s wife, Laura. Continue reading “Representations of Femininity in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘Le Corbeau’” »