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Chuck Kleinhans
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Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Sunday, March 10, 2013


"Porn Comes Home: Sex Media and the Creation of Home Entertainment” was a great panel in which original historical research illuminated the emergence of video porn in the past 40 years. The temporally overlapping papers gave a sense of rich density to the subject at hand. Joshua Kitching discussed the legacy of the "video underground” in the 1969-76 period where the existence of the Sony Portapak allowed the counterculture vanguard to document and exploit sexual themes and representations in the new technology. Combining carnal images with McLuhanesque notions about the medium, the work ranged from obsessive autobiographical diaristic work (put your life on tape as with Carel & Ferd), to artist video manipulation of naked bodies (Sex Machine by Wood and Steina Vasulka).

Next, Peter Alilunas discussed the "prehistory” of home video using the underground economy of about 30 Los Angeles motels which suddenly started offering room rentals with hard core porn (delivered via internal cable from the main office using Sony U-matic format, before Beta and VHS cassettes) that you could see privately, as opposed to the usual theatrical exhibition. This immediately raised issues of the law in terms of porn, and also copyright, and (just discovered) possibilities of a rental market for films. But it also lays out an alternative to the usual history of home video in which the "illicit” history has been repressed or overlooked in the "official” or above-ground telling of the story. [Full disclosure: I’m an outside member of his dissertation committee, and just gave him comments on three terrific chapters of the project.]

Then Andrew Owen discussed "Gay, Straight, and Everything In-Between: Fluid Porn Desire in Playgirl,” looking at the nude presence of men as centerfolds in the ostensibly female-readership magazine. As was widely known and discussed from its own time on, the magazine also attracted a gay male readership. Owen was able to place this in several useful institutional contexts: the opening up of sexual discussion and imagery in a variety of women-oriented publications of the time, the careful star/celebrity management of closeted and coming our narratives, and the production of gay-for-pay stardom later in video porn history. (FD: I’m also on Andy’s dissertation committee.)

Eric Schaefer was the respondent, and provided a welcome and longer frame for the issues by discussing his own view of the problem of doing historiographical research in an area of "distasteful history.” He discussed the difficulty of doing primary research (or even secondary research) in this area and how assembling a critical mass of scholarship out of the erratic and available documents lets us then see connections or traces which allows for a more thorough analysis.

This panel was another case of something I was seeing repeatedly at the conference. The remarkable assemblage of new archival materials over the past two or three decades has allowed young scholars to do vital new research. But their approach, by necessity, begins with texts and fragments that don’t always or yet reveal other networks, backgrounds, connections (sometimes personal, sometimes institutional), and so forth. For example, Josh showed an ad for "Carel and Ferd,” an early 70s shot-on-portapak diary video of the personal life (including sex life) of a man and a woman who had been involved in the San Francisco porn business at the time. What he didn’t (yet) know [I’m revealing it now] is that Carel Rowe went on (shortly) to grad school and her dissertation (at Northwestern, 1977) was published as a key book on early New American Cinema, The Baudelairean cinema : a trend within the American avant-garde (1982), covering Kenneth Anger and others. (She also produced, wrote, and directed videos including: Paradise denied: a covert report on Turkish North Cyprus (2003). Again FD: I discuss her career in a different direction here:

But often in the whole SCMS conference, I witnessed direct encounters, across and within generations, of productive and fluid connections. Witness the P6 panel with Dorit Naaman commenting on Sarah Barkin’s essay on Israeli and Palestinian First Person Documentaries. As some of the conference tweets attested: people were meeting their footnotes, encountering the actual bodies of their comp and qual exams, and managing "celebrity sightings.” Yes indeed: academic celebrities: "They’re just like US!”

Tags:  Andrew Owen  Carel Rowe  celerity sightings  Dorit Naaman  eric Schaefer  Josh kitching  Peter Alilunas  Sarah Barkin  they're just like us!  video porn panel 

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Thursday: Chicago on the March

Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Saturday, March 9, 2013



OK, the spendy (Oregon localism for costly, pricey) breakfast buffet at the Drake: $25 is definitely overpriced for someone who thinks a value breakfast is a coupon that gets you two of the new Breakfast Steak and Egg Burritos at McDonald’s for $1.79. [details on my friends and family blog: Chuck & Chow,

] But sometimes you need a big breakfast to power through the day.

I’m torn between several panels at t he same time. Really would have liked to have attended one on Avant Garde and Advertising: Experimental Film culture in the Interwar Years, but decide on Where the Minor was Mainstream: The Sponsored, Amateur, Educational, and Experimental Cinemas of Chicago. The presentations are based out of new archival research, and that’s a Big Story at this conference. So much great work is being done with the work of the past few decades in assembling new archival collections. These are from the Chicago Film Archives (more accurately Midwest). Andy Uhrich discusses "Shakespeare as Home Movies, Chicago as the Globe: David Bradley’s Macbeth (1947) and Julius Caesar (1950),” detailing an attempt to make prestige art films by an economically privileged North Shore ambitious amateur. The Julius Caesar starred a very young Charleton Heston and used Neoclasssical Chicago architecture as scenes for a 16mm film with aspirations to enter the big time market (ending up in the education market). Bradley even screened films regularly in his spacious home, advertising in the daily press. This was an example of a beautifully detailed history.

Charles Tepperman followed with "Behind the Scenes at Central Cinematographers: A brief History of Amateur Movie Clubs in Chicago,” which spelled out the long standing furry of cinephile movie showing and making in the Windy City. The prestige Chicago Movie Club was a place for very rich people to amuse themselves but opened up a space for another kind of cinema. The Metro Movie Club supplied a more democratic alternative, and Central Cinematographers was a more specialized grop that made 4-10 minute movies rotating positions for the group projects. All of these institutions established networks and gave people skills, experiences, and club fun (and especially opened up some space for women to be active.)

Michelle Peutz discussed the 1970s-80s experimental and feminist work of JoAnn Elam who had one foot in political activism and one in the avant garde film community and who screened both in her home as as one of the founders of Chicago Filmmakers (which still continues today). Michelle has been the key archivist at Chicago Film Archives for the Elam collection and in talking about it combines an exploratory openness to this under recognized work with a rigorous historical view. [Full disclosure: Michelle and I have worked together on getting the late filmmaker’s materials organized for the CFA.}

Judy Hoffman [full disclosure: old friend and comrade in arms in left media work] provided a terrific response: filling in lots of other examples and reminding everyone present of all the other networks and organizations that need to be accounted for. Work around other neighborhoods, the power of the craft unions IATSE’s cinematographer and projectionist unions (nepotism and racist/sexist practices), the corruption of the Daley political system (repeat) as well as the Mafia, the connection of art house and art film and softcore porn locally, the grassroots alternatives such as Facets Multimedia and Chicago Filmmakers, production projects such as Kartemquin. Judy reminded everyone that while the mainstream presented itself as "professional,” it was the amateurs and alternatives that lived and enacted a "utopian moment”: progressives and lefties were part of a network that created its own audiences, distribution and exhibition spaces, training and experience. Clearly, the oral history and memory of participants in these past moments are slipping by, but help us all understand the basis of what happened.

All of this was part of a fluidity of categories that participants remember and took for granted. It was the water they swam in: today’s younger historians in going back are looking at the water (sometimes murky) and reconstructing a complex past. I came away from this very charged up for my own paper the next day, but also respecting these critics and investigators who are giving us such a better sense of the past, including folks like Amy Beste whose recent dissertation discussed the influence of the Bauhaus-in-Chicago School of Design, Encyclopedia Britannica Films, and local industrial/advertising houses in the post-war era, and Jackie Stewart’s South Side Home Movie project. My take away: this is great foundational work and matches a whole new wave of looking at institutions (think Scott Macdonald’s work on experimental film exhibitors, distributors, and so forth and David James’ work on non-Hollywood Los Angeles cinema), and alternatives to the Hollywood feature model of understanding cinema.

Tags:  Chicago  downtown prices  Elam  Hoffman  Peutz  SCMS  Tepperman  Urich 

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Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Thursday, March 7, 2013


I’ve been having lots of thoughts about generations at the conference. Maybe this comes with being an old geezer. Easier to think of the distant past and with nostalgia than remember the film title or name of someone I recognize (or fail to recognize)…call it the Emeritus Effect.

Old friend Patricia Erens told me that she thought that Maureen Turim and Scott Nygren’s child might be presenting, and when I saw Maureen, she said yes, her daughter Mika, who is now a grad student, was giving a paper Sunday morning on Yiddish cinema. Wow, I thought, remembering that I first met Maureen when she was an undergrad back in the 70s.

At breakfast with and Julia Lesage and Jyotika Virdi, we talked about how two young scholars of South Asian cinema told Jyotika after her presentation that her book The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History, was foundational to their work. "They called me Professor!” she said, and I said, "well those are your intellectual children, and Julia’s grandchildren.” (Since Julia directed Jyotika’s dissertation.)

Last night Julia and I had drinks with our niece and nephew, Leigh Duck, who is now at Ole Miss, and giving a paper the same time as mine on Friday….darn! Her husband, Michael Lesage filled us in on his side of the far flung family. We hadn’t seen them for a decade. (Sudden illness kept us from attending a key wedding.) So it was great to catch up, fill in, and appreciate.

Had lunch time with Barry Grant, who’s busy as ever editing books and collections, and in the middle of republishing the late Robin Wood’s work, which brought on more nostalgia for Robin’s feisty and smart and (sometimes pure ornery) temper.

I remember trying to attend my first SCMS meeting in the mid-70s. It was at Northwestern, and I was living in Chicago, driving a school bus for a living and starting up JUMP CUT. I showed up, and was told I couldn’t attend because you had to pay a faculty membership and faculty conference fee, and since I had my PhD, I couldn’t have the student rate. I pointed out that I wasn’t faculty. I knew a few of the people attending and finally they said I could stay for the day since I was there, but I couldn’t attend the next day. I complained, and later Calvin Prylock tjold me privately that the progressives were trying to change the situation. A few years earlier they had changed from the Society of Cinematologists, and being a group you could not join: you had to be considered worthy by a member, and then nominated for membership! Old Boys Club indeed!

That meeting had two concurrent sessions: the Film Historians on one floor and everything else below. Cinema Journal at that point only accepted article on Film History in an attempt to seem worthy of being in the academy. Well, times have changed.

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Wednesday adventures

Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Thursday, March 7, 2013


Session B16, Violent Girls and Tough Women. This interesting panel pushed some new topics to the front of the Warrior Woman discussion that’s been going on for some time.

Cristina Stasia discussed "girls in action” specifically looking at young females in HIT GIRL, HANNA, and HUNGER GAMES. In contrast to the hyper sexualization of Hollywood’s action females, they exhibit skill and accomplishment without the conventional undressing, skimpy costumes, and sexual seduction of the adult actors. The paper raised good questions about the difference, and validated the active and skilled child, providing some clues for the popularity of these characters and themes.

Ilene Goldman surveyed the Snow White story from its folklore history and the Grimm Brothers versions (they revised it several times) to the variety of screen versions. She acknowledged the now classic interpretation of the story (studied by Jack Zipes) as being about the mirror and the stepmother, but pointed out that Snow is the figure in the story who sees the whole world, sees beyond vanity, and thus acts within the world and with sympathy and understanding. Elaborating on Snow White and the Huntsman, she pointed out how the star system has evolved the many variants of the story.

Ian Murphy offered an intriguing discussion of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance in Last Exit to Brooklyn in terms of using an excessive femininity to cover very masculine actions, including the "Method Acting slouch” often seen in images of Brando and Dean. The analysis discussed a kind of sliding or crossover from masculinity to femininity. The study further complicated the "tough girl” image oscillating between victimizer and victim.

Robin Means Coleman extended her recently published book, Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present, to contrast the (usually white) Final Girl in horror with the "enduring black woman,” pointing out that centering on black women often revealed them using sex as a weapon, and taking on structures of oppression, not just the Monster. Considering the difference opens up new ways of understanding films and also racial images, including racist depictions of Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.

The panel showed the power of comparison and contrast for elaborating our analysis, and I immediately wanted to read the papers to follow them in depth. I didn’t get to stay for the next panel, Rebooting the Fairy Tale, (C16) which looked to continue the discussion with papers on Snow White, Hanna, and Grimm. [Full disclosure: Ilene is a friend and colleague, and I’d worked with Ian as an editor of an article in JUMP CUT, but this was our first in person meeting.]

A workshop on the American Smart Film began with Thomas Dorey briefly recapping Jeffrey Sconce’s influential 2002 essay on the Smart Film and discussing how the term has been variously intetpreted and misused. Covering a group of films that go beyond being just a genre or cycle, the works are marked by irony and produce a kind of dark comedy in a blank style often centering on white middle class families/people and their disfunctions. They critique taste and consumerism and the limits of identity. Crippled people inhabit a world of neurotic self-interest.

Murray Pomerance furthered the discussion by arguing that Purple Rose of Cairo might be a landmark here, a film in which Characters and actors mingle. He then pursued this with the example of Jesse Eisenberg who continuously practices a star image of hiding what he thinks or who he is by talking too much, too rapidly, but saying nothing, thus protecting his self identity. Murray used the Canadian slang "deeking” meaning in ice hockey fooling your opponent by looking one way and then moving the other, to capture the device. "Smart” in this context meant being totally aware of the voracious nature of contemporary media and wanting to evade it.

Claire Perkins, who has published a book on American Smart Film discussed the masculinist and smart ass style of the Smart Film which seems to exclude females. But she saw potential in the characteristic "running in place” depiction as possibly holding out a narrative of a character in a state of flux. And the reduced frame let the films function as fables, implying an ethical project. The excessive narcissism functions as a scathing critique. She posited Tamara Jenkins and Miranda July as directors whose films project a desire for transformation out of the "Smart” world and show care for others.

Jeff Sconce then spoke about how his initial essay came from anger at a critical crowd that was trashing films he saw as actually speaking to while critiquing his own identity (white, middle class, male). Rather than pure cynicism and irony, he thought the films often spoke to the human situation within a constricted framework. Using Happiness as a center point, he argued that it was being misread if the critic didn’t see the failing vulnerability, the compromised idealism in the characters. He added that perhaps Mumblecore films are a continuation. In some very provocative remarks, he pointed out that "tone’ is a particularly understudied and under examined mater in the film-audience relationship, but key to the problem that Smart Film poses. Smart Film tends to divide its audience, making some viewers angry and other viewers loyal. How one interprets tone is crucial here (and I’d add, this might help us rethink Sirk, for example).

I had to leave as the discussion was beginning in earnest, but clearly the room was filled with people who were thinking about these issues. Is there a balance or return to sincerity in the narratives to balance the cruel cynicism? Sconce pointed to the Lena Dunham situation, with some people vociferously denouncing the characters in Girls as entitled narcissists. But Jeff pointed out that as much as the characters embody attitudes and ideology we might critique, the work itself criticizes a society that puts this situation in place. I thought of Enlightened as another (distinctly LA or West Coast) example, and wondered how to fit in the Netflix House of Cards serial. [Full disclosure: I’ve known Murray for years, particularly as an editor of some of my writing, and Jeff was my Northwestern colleague for years. If you don’t know it, check out his great blog: (quick start on this topic: Belated Thoughts on Themed Dining in Todd Solondz's "Life During Wartime" and Baffled by Bellflower]

Tags:  cynical irony  fighting females  girls  Smart Film  snark  warrior women 

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Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Someting weird here.  Tonight (Wed.) there's supposed to be a panel presentation on Chicago social documentary and the next stage.  the SCMS program lists it as 8-9 pm   But the Museum of Contemporary Art (which is where it is taking place) says it is 6-7 pm.  And there are two different panels, and a q and a to follow.  


Great panel (full disclosure: friends from back in the day, and even today) Michelle Citron, Ruby Rich, Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin.  Plus Alan Siegel and Steve James.  


I think Brendan Kredell is organizing this, but I can't find his email address....if you can, can you ask him to clarify it.

Tags:  documentary  help  kredell  schedule 

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safe, if late, arrival

Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Missed my connecting flight in San Francisco but United put me on the next flight to Chicago, which was also delayed a bit, but smooth flight and only three hours late.  1500 flights have been cancelled at O'Hare, so I felt lucky to get here in reasonable time.   

Checking in late at The Drake, the guy said there had already been lots of cancellations.  For just showing up, got a room upgrade.  Sweet.  Late supper in the Drake's bar: excellent lamb sandwich, house sald on the side also ample and excellent.  Downtown prices for a beer.


time to sleep.

Tags:  cancellations  snow  tues night 

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Chicago 2013: Homecoming

Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Sunday, March 3, 2013

SCMS Chicago 2013: a homecoming

I love Chicago, and I’m glad to be back! I was born and raised in the city, and I returned in 1973 and stayed for 35 years before riding off into the sunset and Eugene, Oregon.

Some quick essentials for those who don’t know the city:

• if you don’t like the weather, wait for half an hour.

• wear layers; Chicagoans are notoriously comfortable not fashionable

• but people do appreciate seeing others who are fashionable: enjoy the stares (and the looks of pity when your feet get wet because you didn’t wear sensible boots)

• walk or run by the Lake, feel the space open up

• Parking is outrageous: expensive on and off the street. Unless you are a local, you are probably better off using public transportation. If it snows (yes, it may) or rains (almost certain), good luck finding a taxi cab.

• it’s a city of neighborhoods, and all the really good restaurants (food and value) are hidden there, and no, we won’t tell you our favorites

• "locavore” in Chicago means "encased meats”: hot dogs, Polish sausage, Italian sausage, and also Italian beef (get the combo, meaning they add a sausage, with sweet peppers, dipped) and gyros on pita bread. Vegans can do falafel on pita. It is against the law to put catsup on any of these items.

You shouldn’t conference all the time: set your restart button and get out for half a day. My faves:

The Art Institute of Chicago:

A great new exhibition: Chicago and Migration, 1910-1950 covering the Great Migration from the Deep South, and Europe, Latin America and Asia.

And, AIC’s classic collections: French Impressionists, Japanese Screens and Woodblock prints, photography, etc. And, for a great change of pace and offbeat experience (great for kids): the Thorne Miniatures, the Rubloff Paperweights.

The Chicago Underground Film Festival

In its 20th year, an astonishingly rich program running through the weekend at the Logan Theatre, Logan Square (an old commercial theatre plexed with two screening rooms). Chicago premiere of Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder's projection performance UNTITLED (with sound artist Olivia Block), opens the festival on Wednesday, 3/6, at 8:00 pm. Easy to get to with an "el” stop right there.

The Seminary Co-op Bookstore

(University of Chicago area: 5751 S. Woodlawn).

Simply the best academic bookstore between the two coasts. 150,000 humanities and social science titles in stock. And now in new quarters after 50 years in a basement.

Chicago Architecture Foundation tours

Great tours, both DIY and guided of different lengths and interests.

Especially for kids: the Field Museum (Natural History) and next door campuses with a Planetarium and Aquarium. Further adventures: Lincoln Park Zoo, Museum of Science and Industry.

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