Monday, January 31, 2011

Feb 2011: Franklin Cason

The rescheduled inaugural talk of the semester takes place this Friday:
"The Pleasures of Black Cinema"
Franklin Cason
(Temple University)

Respondent: Caitlin McGrath (Univ. of Chicago)

Temple University Center City campus (TUCC)
Room 420
(bring ID to show front desk)
Friday, February 4, 6:00 pm

Haile Gerima’s Bush Mama (1976) exemplifies early, post-’68 African American art films, and as such is an excellent place to begin thinking about writing practices that re-address cinema aesthetics and politics. Where do we begin analyzing such an intentionally politically charged film?

The root of the indexical dilemma of photogĂ©nie found in Bush Mama can be seen in silent, pre-classical examples of black presence on screen. For example, can “blackness” as an aesthetic quality be expressed when presented on film? What criteria do we have for recognizing it? What does black presence evoke on-screen? What are the aesthetic and political effects of this expression? At first, these ideas seem too simplistic for consideration, uncritically aesthetic. Scholarship about black film often privileges social and political interpretations and criticism, while marginalizing aesthetic discussions. Yet, what is rarely addressed in black film analysis is the degree that photogĂ©nie, cinematic qualities of excess or aporia, might also mark the interplay between the signification of what is understood as “the black tradition” and the figural possibilities of artistic production. Cinematic aporias as research tools, like Roland Barthes’s “third meanings,” amount to interruptions, sites analogous to Michel Foucault’s third principle of heterotopias, “capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” They “conduct” their observer along multiple routes, only some of them anticipated by the filmmaker. I suggest, paying attention to cinematic excess complements the priority of critique, enriching our understanding of pleasures found in films like Bush Mama by emphasizing a different approach to writing about films.

Franklin Cason Jr. is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Temple University’s Film and Media Arts department, teaching media production, film theory, and film history courses. He received a PhD in English, with a specialization in film theory, from the University of Florida, and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His research interests have been primarily concerned with Film, Modern Visual Culture, and Media Studies. As such, his research, writing, and artistic practice reaches across the disciplines of art history, film studies, digital multimedia, graphic novels, philosophy, sociology, literature, musicology, aesthetic theory, visual studies, and historical poetics. Drawing on his experience as an artist, writer, and filmmaker, his current research explores aesthetics, cinematic excess, and an improvisational approach to film analysis, in order to reconsider the role of aesthetics in African-American cinema, encouraging a different set of discussions.

Caitlin McGrath completed her dissertation "Captivating Motion: Late-Silent-Era Sequences of Modern Urban Perception" in 2010 from the University of Chicago. Her two current projects are a history of film screenings in department stores, centered on the Wanamaker screenings begun in 1907 and a history of amateur films from the 1939 New York World's Fair.

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