Re: who's entangled?

From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Jan 26 2008 - 13:20:46 PST

On Jan 26, 2008, at 1:48 AM, Chris Kennedy wrote:
> It seems to me that books written outside of the US about
> experimental cinema have a tendency to think of their histories in
> relation
> to US cinema (even the ones that wear their national brand on their
> sleeve),
> however US based books only rarely think outside the borders of their
> country, and usually only when someone visits for a while (Wieland,
> Nelson,
> Kubelka). Often when these things types of things are brought,
> whether in
> the experimental film canon or other transnational discussion, US
> based
> interests plead ignorance (the old, "It's not at Canyon Cinema"
> trick) or
> point to the couple of tokens that mean it can't possibly be true.
> Or, blame
> the publisher.

It's not a matter of "blaming" the publisher. It is a matter of
understanding how market forces shape the nature and possibilities of
cultural production, including experimental films and writing about
them in contemporary advanced capitalist countries with neoliberal
policies. In the US university presses routinely ask reviewers of
book proposals not only about the scholarly value and integrity of
the proposed book, but also about its marketability: as a trade book
and classroom adoption. There are many fine proposals that meet the
first criterion, but have such a poor prospect for widespread use
that they do not get a contract since the press is under an
obligation to make a profit or break even in most cases. [Other
factors operate here including historical developments and changes in
tax laws that changed older patterns of maintaining inventory for
many years--thus many books have short run and go out of print fairly
soon; I couldn't use A. L. Rees' excellent history of experimental
film and video last fall because my bookstore couldn't find enough
copies, even used ones.]

Because of this, any university press book on any area of film has to
pass a test on how many libraries are likely to buy it (college;
university; research university; school with a film program v. school
without a film program; large urban public library; most public
libraries) as well as its likelihood of classroom use (as a required
text, as a suggested reading, as a supplemental text, as a book at
the library for reference, term paper research, etc.) And, of
course, individuals who might be interested in the subject and having
their own copy.

The key questions for a book on experimental film that might be used
in courses would be how many classes are taught on the subject every
year, and what's the projected enrollment? Thus it's pretty easy to
see that there is a certain market in the US for the Blaetz
anthology. But of course this depends on balancing likely adoption
with contents. So, this favors filmmakers who are already known to
the teacher, and whose work is relatively available to be screened in
class. So the (relative) norm perpetuates itself, even when this
book pushes the boundary in terms of women's work. A book discussing
a lot of work that wasn't available for classroom screening would not
be likely to be assigned as a textbook.

[Thus, for example, a monograph on the films of Nicky Hamlyn would
not be a likely course book in North America since most of his work
is not easily available. Only two of his works are available in the
NY Filmmakers Coop, and another from Canadian FIlmmakers
Distribution. The situation for the UK is probably different.]

I happen to know most of the contributors to the Blaetz volume, some
personally, some professionally. Most of them teach courses on
experimental film or include some in other courses they offer; they
have a lively and sustained interest in women's filmmaking and want
to promote awareness of it. That was up front and obvious when a
group of them presented papers a few years ago at the Society for
Cinema and Media Studies annual meeting that was the start of the
project. So, the authors are people who will actually assign the
book. The volume was published after my fall class on experimental
film began, so I couldn't use it as a regular text, but I had it as
one of several choices for additional required reading, and some
students chose it when it appeared a few weeks after the class began.

These contributors to the book don't seem, at least to me and with my
knowledge of their work, to be willfully ignorant of or arrogant
about international women's filmmaking either in person or in their
own research work.

On Jan 25, 2008, at 8:48 AM, Bryan McKay wrote:
> The problem should lie within the systematic exclusion and
> marginalization of all non-Western expression from the cinematic
> canon. Let me stress that systematic bit. I'm not claiming that
> this book is the problem, just a symptom of a huge disparity in
> representation.

Well, let's consider Nicky Hamlyn's writing: according to his info on
his school's website, he has written on Stan Brakhage, Peter Kubelka,
and John Smith. Hmm....Doesn't seem like a pioneer in considering
women's film work. He also has a book out which "considers the work
of Stan Brakhage, Malcolm Le Grice and Michael Snow, as well as
younger artists such as Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, Jennifer
Nightingale, and Colin Crockatt, among many others. " Somehow this
doesn't impress me as a track record that gives him street cred for
berating feminists for not recognizing "non-Western" cinema.


For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.