James Leggott on the time for television

Browsing through the TV listings guide for the Easter weekend, I noticed with interest the announcement of the new Doctor Who series.  Although I must admit to being only a casual viewer of the show of late, this struck me as a little odd.  Since its reboot in 2005, hasn’t Doctor Who usually begun its run around September time? Isn’t it one of those family or popular shows, like Downton Abbey, The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, traditionally broadcast in the run-up to Christmas?   Haven’t I always watched Doctor Who with the curtains long drawn? I certainly associate it with that achingly long stretch of term-time between the August bank holiday and the festive season, a time when weekend TV treats do their bit to ward off the gloom of shortening nights and back-to-school melancholy. 

            But I’m wrong.  At least in its recent incarnation, Doctor Who has actually been mostly been shown roughly between Easter and summer (although there have been some recent deviations to that pattern), rather than September to Christmas.  I think, though, that this reveals more than just my increasingly addled memory.  I’d argue that my (false) association of the show with that ‘back to school’ moment of early September stems from the historical tendency of British broadcasters to launch their flagship programmes around that time. In other words, the fact that Doctor Who feels to me like a September show (even if it isn’t) just goes to prove how a rhythm of seasonality affects my experience and memory of certain TV shows.    In a similar way, every December I find myself flicking excitedly through the Christmas issue of the Radio Times, as I did when I was young, when the broadcasters would run their big film premieres and other exciting goodies:  seasons of classic movies, special editions of sitcoms, a higher dose of high cultural programming etc. 

Obviously, the age of streaming and on-demand has largely consigned family squabbles over the remote control to history, and scheduling – whether at Christmas or not –  is far less potent that it was. But seasonality still plays an important role in how many of us consume and appreciate television.  Not only can certain programmes or genres can feel inherently right or wrong in their scheduling, depending on when they are broadcast, but the calendar year itself is measured by many through particular TV rituals:  from summer sport and music festivals, to season-specific nature shows like Springwatch and its ilk or awards ceremonies and charity fundraisers pegged to a particular time of year; and from the Ghost Stories for Christmas  strand of supernatural frighteners, and hoaxes on 1 April, to the Eurovision Song Contest every May (a date I’m sure is ring-fenced in many a social calendar). 

And there’s movies too:   do the terrestrial broadcasters still consider The Sound of Music and The Great Escape to be obligatory Bank Holiday fare?  Writing in the Radio Times in the run-up to Easter, their columnist Alison Graham [link: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2017-04-13/why-dont-broadcasters-make-easter-a-special-occasion] bemoaned the lack of distinctiveness of Easter TV:   for example, ITV’s flagship show on Easter Monday is the long-awaiting finale of the crime drama Broadchurch – gripping stuff, but hardly uplifting.  And then there are seasonal rituals in broadcasting that are never seen by viewers. I have been long been intrigued by the curious tradition – stretching back to the 1970s and earlier – of TV technicians making their own in-house compilations of bloopers and self-devised sketch material around the festive period:  many of these so-called ‘Christmas VT’ tapes can be found on YouTube.

The phenomenon of television’s relation to the changing seasons, and the embedding of certain TV rituals within the national consciousness, have of course been recognised in academic scholarship. But there has been surprisingly little sustained attention of this.  I’m therefore pleased – and hope readers won’t mind a promotional plug here! – that a recent issue of the Journal of Popular Television (for which I am principal editor) is devoted to the topic. [Link:  https://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-issue,id=3269/]    Guest edited by Derek Johnston, author of a recent book on the complex tradition of seasonal supernatural television, its articles on a range of international case-studies will hopefully inspire more work on the inter-relationships between broadcasting cultures and seasonality.    Examples include the ‘River Cottage’ cookery shows of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the role of ‘festive’ broadcasting in socialist countries, the significance of Christmas in Mad Men, the figuration of Halloween in crime dramas, and the strategic summer scheduling of ‘female-orientated’ comedy drama. 

A future issue of the Journal of Popular Television will also include a ‘dossier’ of articles pertaining directly to Christmas and the New Year – covering such topics as what happens when the ‘Christmas’ specials of Downton Abbey are shown out of season beyond the UK, and the festive ‘craft’ shows fronted by Kirstie Allsopp.  I’m hoping that this particular issue will be published in the winter months, as a kind of scholarly equivalent to the infamous ‘double issue’ of the Radio Times – and is thus, perhaps for the first and last time, an academic publication trying to get its readers into the festive spirit.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Agnieszka Piotrowska on psychoanalysis, film noir and the ‘Nasty Woman’

 

This has been a very busy time for me, as I know has been the case for many academics. Not only did we have the end of semester 1 for our MA/MSc courses in Digital Film which I convene, with the exam boards and markings and dissertation supervisions, but I have also been organising a symposium in Poland for our Psychoanalysis in Our Time research group that I have been co-running with Ben Tyrer for 3 years now.  The initiative is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and our symposium in Sopot, with Professor Elizabeth Cowie being the keynote, will focus on the notion of the “Symptom” – in its broadest sense. The meeting will take place between 6-9th April just in time to get ready for our BAFTSS conference.  My own presentation will be a new piece of work – an African film noir which I have completed recently with my Zimbabwean collaborators.  The connection between this event and BAFTSS is that some members of our Psychoanalysis in Our Time network have formed a new BAFTSS SIG Psychoanalysis and Cinema, which will have its first outing during this year’s BAFTSS conference.  Our panel’s subject will indeed be film noir and we will present different takes on it.

Personally, I am most interested in the figure of femme fatale in film noir. ‘Oh not that again’ I hear you sigh but I want to explore traces of the femme fatale in other ‘nasty women’ (borrowing the famous Trump phrase about Hillary Clinton) in cinema and culture.  The femme fatale, both as a male fantasy and as a representation of female power, derives her endless appeal, I would argue, not only from her sexuality and beauty, but because she offers an exhilaratingly perverse way out of the rigid patriarchal systems of power and authority. She offers hope – of doing things differently, even if in a slightly (or very) ‘nasty’ way. Once upon a time, in the heyday of femme fatales in the 40’s, she might have been the sole figure fracturing male dominance in narratives presented by Hollywood. And now? Should we not consider Amy, of the Gone Girl, a descendant of the femme fatale in some way? With her beauty, her deviousness and the real crime that is committed by her, and not by the guy she so expertly frames for an imaginary crime? What about Sarah Polley’s mother of the Stories We Tell fame? And the filmmaker herself, too, in a way? Are their deceptions, their indiscretions, their beauty, as well as their ultimate creativity not part of the heritage of the femme fatale tradition? And then I ask myself how does a ‘nasty woman’ doubling as ‘femme fatale’ function in other cultures?  In Zimbabwe’s oral traditions there is figure of a woman who is mysteriously powerful, who can be good or bad, depending on what she feels about you… So there you have it– my new research project, in a nutshell.

Psychoanalysis in our time

Escape the movie

Sue Harris on On La La Land and the magic of the musical……

I have always loved musicals.  When I was a kid, and an aspiring ballroom dancer, I watched all the classics on our black and white television set on Sunday afternoons, thrilled by the songs and the dances, by the romantic storylines, and by the sheer soaring energy of stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.  The breath-taking joys of colour and cinemascope, and an appreciation of how lightly the ‘simplicity’ of musicals was worn would come later, but from the earliest age, I was hooked. When Grease was released in 1978, I was one of those teenagers who saw it again and again at the cinema, and who would rush home from my dance class on Thursday evenings to see which number was dominating Top of the Pops that week.  It was my generation’s own newly-minted classic, and I am word perfect on every song to this day.

 

La La Land (Damian Chazelle) is clearly set to be this generation’s musical juggernaut. With the awards season barely underway, it has already taken all seven of the Golden Globes for which it was nominated, and has a record number of Academy Award (14) and BAFTA (11) nominations.  Two of the Academy Award nominations are for Best Original Song for (City of Stars and Audition: The Fools who Dream), putting the film in competition with itself in this category. Critics and popular journalists fresh from the 2016 festival circuit were initially unanimous in their praise for the film; but hype never escapes a backlash.  Social media this last month has been full of articles deploring the ‘whitespaining’ of jazz by Ryan Gosling’s musician character, the marginalising of black musician John Legend, the lack of ethnic diversity in on-location Los Angeles, and the less-than-Broadway level musical talents of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Whether or not the film will endure as a classic remains to be seen: time will tell whether the appetite for La La Land speaks more to its originality and ambition to renew the musical genre than to its timely provision of a magical escape route from our increasingly apocalyptic post-Brexit, post-Trump era newsfeeds. In the meantime, the most eloquent commentary I have seen about the polarised attitudes to the film comes from Jose Arroyo, at Warwick University, and I’d encourage BAFTSS colleagues to seek out his always thoughtful ‘First Impressions’ film blog if they don’t already know it:

 

https://notesonfilm1.com/2017/01/26/la-la-land-damien-chazelle-usa-2016/

 

A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to write a BFI Classics book on one of my all-time favourite films, Vincente Minnelli’s sublime An American in Paris (1951). For me, this was a chance to bring together long-standing scholarly interests in star studies, in the craft of set design, and in the cultural imaginary of Paris in a serious study of a film I had always loved as a viewer rather than an academic. Like La La Land, An American in Paris was acclaimed on release as an outstanding musical, and it won an unprecedented six Academy Awards including Best Picture over such serious fare as A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun.  Was it the best picture that year?  No.  Was it even the best example of a musical ever made? Probably not all things considered.  But its success confirmed that musicals could be ambitious, capture the public imagination, and succeed on their own terms. I am firmly in the camp that loves Chazelle’s contemporary homage to the pleasures of the big screen musical, and I can’t wait to see La La Land again.

Rajinder Dudrah on The Creative Multilingualism Project

The Creative Multilingualism Project

BAFTSS Executive Committee member Professor Rajinder Dudrah is a Co-Investigator on a major AHRC Open World Research Initiative consortia project led by the University of Oxford, entitled ‘Creative Multilingualism’.  This is a 4 year project that was awarded £3.9m and started in July 2016. The following is an outline of the project’s broader aims with links to the website and 2 forthcoming networking events in Oxford later this month. Both are free and open to all interested in the research, though booking in advance is required via Eventbrite.

Creative Multilingualism as Language-led research for the 21st century

Languages are currently valued mainly as practical tools for basic transactions in monoglot contexts. Yet language use is a creative act, and linguistic diversity forms part of the human condition. It shapes our cultural identities and facilitates cultural exchange. Languages evolve with the needs of individuals who acquire, use and transform linguistic resources in interaction with multiple intersecting communities. Languages change and mingle as cultural constellations shift, and linguistic diversity can turn new technical possibilities into communicative innovations. The purpose of the Creative Multilingualism research programme is to involve researchers from different disciplines, expertise in a wide range of languages, and partners from beyond academia in order to gain an enhanced understanding of the interdependence and interaction between linguistic diversity and creativity.

Creative Multilingualism as a response to the crisis in Modern Languages

The crisis of Modern Foreign Languages in UK schools has serious consequences for higher education, business, and diplomacy. Its roots lie in globalisation, the rise of English as global lingua franca, and expansion of electronic media dominated by English. It also marks the failure of UK policy-makers and the educational sectors to address these challenges with the necessary understanding, imagination, and unity of purpose.

This research programme exploits the crisis as an opportunity to engage stakeholders in a collaborative process of rethinking the identity of Modern Languages from the ground up. It seeks to dismantle assumed oppositions between ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ purposes, and develop a concept of languages that responds to the varied needs of individuals and communities in the contemporary world.

Researchers from the universities of Oxford, Birmingham City, Cambridge, Reading, SOAS (London) and Pittsburgh will pool their expertise in over 40 languages to unlock the subject’s creative and connective potential by investigating how languages and creativity interact in processes involving more than one language.

As such the following two main research questions are at the centre of the programme’s investigation:

1) How does multilingualism stimulate creativity, what types of creativity are involved in

multilingualism, and how do they manifest themselves in multilingual processes?

2) How can the theory and practice of multilingual creativity strengthen take-up and learning of languages in schools and wider society, and enhance their perceived value?

Strand 4 Languages in the Creative Economy

As a Co-Investigator, Rajinder is leading one of the 7 strands entitled ‘Languages in the Creative Economy’ and is working closely with Professors Julie Curtis and Philip Bullock at Oxford, together with their strand cultural partners: Oxford Lieder, Punch Records and Sputnik Theatre Company.  Collectively they are working across the languages of Black British Patois and Creole languages, English, Hindi, Punjabi Russian Urdu. One of the key research questions of the strand is how can we capture the creative stimulus generated by multilingual processes in performance of music and drama?

Useful links

Project Website: http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/

Strand 4 – Languages in the Creative Economy: http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/research/creative-economy

Details of the free project event LinguaMania at the Ashmolean on Friday 27 January 2017: http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/languages-creativity/exploring-multilingualism/introducing-linguamania-evening-multilingual

And free project launch conference ‘Languages and Creativity’ on Saturday 28 January 2017: http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/about/events/conference-languages-creativity

 

 

 

 

Calling all Postgraduate Students

The postgraduate years can be likened to the moment when the river is just about to flow into the ocean. It can be overwhelming, it can be lonely, and it can definitely be hard work to try and keep your head just above the water.

To help ease the process and to make it more tolerable, the BAFTSS Postgraduate Student Network is set up with the aim to encourage further postgraduate involvement with the activities of BAFTSS. At least one postgraduate student is co-opted into the Executive Committee to represent the interests of both postgraduate research and taught students. Currently, there are two postgraduate representatives: MaoHui Deng (University of Manchester) and Marta F. Suarez (Liverpool John Moore University).

We have started a Twitter account – @baftsspg – and we hope that the account will become the main platform for everyone to engage in general conversations about being a postgraduate student, and also as a platform for everyone to share their research process/pains/findings if they so wish. It will also be a good place to disseminate information on any conferences, research seminars, or one-off events that you think might be off interest to anyone. To facilitate discussions across the Twittersphere, send your tweets using the hashtag #baftsspg and we can get the conversation going. Alternatively, you can drop us an email and we can post a tweet on your behalf.

Currently, BAFTSS runs a Postgraduate Events Funding Competition which is designed to help facilitate postgraduate-led events (conferences, symposia, and training workshops, to name just a few). The next deadline is the 1st of April 2017. You can find more information about the competition via here.

In addition to the competition, we are very keen to let the postgraduate community have a more substantial presence in BAFTSS and we would really like to hear from you to see what we can do to get more postgraduate students involved. You can contact us via the @baftsspg Twitter account. Likewise, you can also contact Mao via maohui.deng@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk or on Twitter @dengmaohui. You can contact Marta via m.suarez@ljmu.ac.uk or on Twitter @MartaFSuarez. We look forward to hearing from everyone soon.

For a Slow Academia, by Elena Caoduro

 

Recommended to me over the summer, but put aside in favour of the more escapist saga by Elena Ferrante, I eventually finished reading the much debated The Slow Professor. Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. This fresh and inspiring short book has been food for thought while completing appraisal forms, workload planning and documents for my probation meeting. Early career academics and more senior scholars, but most importantly those in leadership roles within our universities, should familiarize with the analysis of the current state of academia offered by Berg and Seeber.

 

Taking inspiration from the principles of the slow movement (in particular the Slow Food one), and applying them to the higher education sector, the two ‘slow professors’ take a stance against the frantic speed and endemic problems of isolation, time poverty and anxiety in the academy. As a sort of manifesto and self-help book, but supported by evidence of a variety of studies on the job-related stress and burnout of academics, Berg and Seeber propose strategies to maximise the pleasure in teaching, research and administrative duties and resist the ‘supermarket’ model in North American universities. Slow down is the mantra: take extra time to read and to listen to students, to go to libraries and learn to say ‘no’.

 

The Slow Professor certainly offers useful advice to make work less stressful and pinpoints some systemic fragilities in universities, which are equally present in the UK. However, I am left with a doubt that the suggested strategies come at a price. Berg and Seeber are honest as they acknowledge their position of protection as tenured professors and feel that they have an obligation to improve the working climate for all the spectrum of academic position (ix). I wonder whether what they predicate is in reality a perpetuation of reaching a position of privilege. If the (tenured) professors slow down, who is covering for the faculty meetings, the various committees and the extra seminars? How can we resist the speed and find strategies that won’t impact the assistant professors/lecturers or the hourly paid/fixed term lecturers and in the end the experience of our students?

 

So, I would like to open up the debate and invite BAFTSS members to discuss strategies of deceleration that can really improve the life of all of us. Join me for a chat on Twitter on Monday 7th of November at 6pm @baftss @elena_caoduro #slowacademia.

 

 

Anna Claydon on the BAFTSS Teaching & Learning Network

BAFTSS takes teaching and learning seriously and, to this end, we have launched the BAFTSS Teaching and Learning Network during the summer of 2016. It is still early days but plans afoot include: creating a screen studies specific bank of reflections and ideas about teaching; an annual standing session at the April BAFTSS conference where network members can report on their innovative work; an annual September workshop meeting to think about ideas more creatively; supporting colleagues developing HEA fellowship applications and mentoring those who seek it; a network specific newsletter for email and potentially a blog on the BAFTSS website; and as of now, the new @BAFTSSTandLNet on twitter. Go, find us and follow. If you’d like to be on the network email list and haven’t already contacted us, email the co-ordinator Anna at eac14@le.ac.uk. The first network email will go out on Monday 10th.

So, what are we about? We held our first forum meeting at the beginning of September and agreed our mission statement as being:

The BAFTSS Teaching and Learning Network believes that the highest quality teaching comes not only from innovation but also sharing and learning from each other’s good practice. It is open to all people teaching in HE, including PhD students and part-time staff as well as full-time academics, regardless of their career stage. As such we aim to:

  • Create a bank of best practice in the teaching of film, television and screen studies;
  • Provide a collaborative context for discussing colleagues’ ideas and challenges;
  • Ensure that the sharing of experience helps encourage colleagues’ continuing professional development; and
  • Disseminate best practice in our fields through networking and development opportunities.

Therefore, in the spirit of collecting best practice stories together, of if there is something you’d like to report on as part of the BAFTSS Teaching and Learning Network Panel at the Conference in April, pop us an email about conference ideas or post on the twitter feed (you can include links to website  and photos of your teaching exploits). We’ll also be having a monthly theme on the twitter feed: this month’s is about encourage students’ interest in older films. Do share!

 

Anna Claydon, BAFTSS Teaching and Learning Network Co-ordinator

Joe Andrew on Ken Loach’s Days of Hope

As a bit of light relief over the summer I spent several pleasant evenings watching again the Ken Loach / Jim Allen miniseries from 1975, Days of Hope. It’s a set of four feature-length films which cover the trials and tribulations of the English working class over a 10 year period, from the Great War to the General Strike of 1926.

I was struck by several intriguing aspects of the films. Most generally, as the first fully fledged overtly political films from Loach, Days of Hope set the agenda that will run through much of his work over the last 40 years. The victories (the ‘hopes’) of ‘ordinary working people’ are short-lived, and defeat is the more common denouement of the Loachian plot. There is also a, in my view, rather naive apparent espousal of Leninism.

Watching them during the latest bout of internecine strife within the Labour Party, the films seemed remarkably topical. Especially in the third film, set in 1924 during the troubled days of the first ever Labour government, Allen and Loach capture very well the sense of near paranoia that existed (and exists?) between the different factions of the Labour movement, with the sympathetic ‘centrist’, newly elected Labour MP accused of class treachery and betrayal by his own brother-in-law, a member of the then quite strong Communist Party. Corbynistas and their opponents could both learn much from the films’ lessons in history.

Perhaps the most significant, and perhaps slightly surprising aspect of the films for me, though, was the enduring interest that war has held for Ken Loach. We can see this thread first emerge here in the opening film, ‘1916: Joining Up’, to be picked up repeatedly in later films like Land and Freedom (1995), Carla’s Song (1996), The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), and his Iraq War film, Route Irish (2010). Even more specifically, and looking back to the miniseries as a whole, it is civil war, in a broad reading of that phrase, that seems of especial concern to the director. An interesting PhD topic for someone perhaps?!

Joe Andrew