Thursday, 17 June 2010

SCSMI-conference report

So I'm back in Scotland after the conference and the additional visits to Washington and New York. It was most refreshing to get away and exchange ideas with a wide selection of film scholars, and I've now got an idea for a book about cinema. But more on that later.

For those of you who don't know what SCSMI stands for, it's the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image, which aims to be a interdisciplinary society for the studies of films and TV, bringing together film history, psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, with perhaps a special interest in audience reception. The many papers presented at the conference covered most aspects of cinema and as is often the case, some of the papers were rather bad, but more often than not, good and interesting ideas and discoveries were presented.

It's always been my opinion that the more varied background you have, and the more angles you use when discussing cinema, the better and more enlightening the research and the interpretations will be. However, the vital thing is that you have a good command of film history. One of the most common fallacies in film criticism and film theory is the "novelty fallacy", i.e. the mistaken belief that what you have discovered is something new that hasn't been there before. I don't mean new in the sense that nobody has written about it before, because that might very well be the case, but new in the sense that this is something that filmmakers haven't done before. Because in 9 cases out of 10, it has been done before. Now, I've written about this before, but since this lack of historical perspective and knowledge is so agonizingly common I'm constantly reminded of it, and feel the urge to mention it yet again.

The other thing that struck me at the conference was how common it was, as, again, is so often the case, to state the obvious.

But this criticism of mine sometimes seems to be mostly due to my demand of perhaps unreasonably high standards. And I mustn't dwell on it too much.

What I did really like was, as alluded to in the beginning, the wide scale of topics being covered, and that for example sound was discussed in a very good and penetrating way, as was music. Sound and music are two fields that I feel is still not getting enough attention. Another thing I liked was that both film and TV were discussed, and I made me decide that from now on I will no longer hold back on writing about TV, which I've previously done, for reasons that are obscure even to myself. TV and cinema go hand in hand, and to understand the one you need to understand the other.

Among other things I really liked was a paper by Lars-Martin Sorensen about Yasujiro Ozu and the meanings of Ozu's repetitive patterns. It gave me some useful ideas for my own thoughts about authorship, and hence for my thesis. But the highlight of the conference was, I believe, a paper on embarrassment by Robert Blanchet. It was more about psychology and emotions than about films, but very interesting and informative, and for some perhaps thought-provoking.

So, to sum up, by bringing together people from various disciplines, the combined effect was one of constant stimulation and interest, and by beginning with looking at the films and then draw conclusions from them, rather than taking some theory and trying to apply it to a film, it brought a lot more food for thought and came to more relevant conclusions than is the case with so many other presentations, essays and books I've endured over the years.

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