Surrealism, Spectatorship, and Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart
Penn Cinema Studies Colloquium
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
330 Fisher-Bennett Hall
University of Pennsylvania
The explosion of scholarship in recent years devoted to Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) has elevated this once marginal artist and avant-garde filmmaker to the center of modern art history. But something curious has happened along the way. Cornell’s ties to surrealism, the very movement that provided him with crucial inspiration and the first meaningful critical context for his art, have been minimized or erased. I will argue that Cornell’s most famous film, Rose Hobart (1936), presents vital opportunities for rethinking how spectatorship functions in surrealist cinema. Where Un Chien andalou (1929) never relinquishes the aura of violence around its relation to the spectator, Rose Hobart is equally but oppositely committed to nurturing the spectator’s vision, to engineering a gradual integration of the spectator’s gaze with that of the star and the filmmaker that relies on slow repetition rather than shocking suddenness. This makes Cornell central, not peripheral, to the ambitions and accomplishments of surrealist cinema’s experiments in spectatorship.
Adam Lowenstein is Associate Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also directs the Film Studies Program. He is the author of Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film (Columbia University Press, 2005) as well as essays that have appeared in Cinema Journal, Representations, Critical Quarterly, boundary 2, Post Script, and numerous anthologies. He is currently completing a book concerning cinematic spectatorship, surrealism, and the age of digital media.