Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Critical Institutions 2017
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The Department of English presents the 2017 Critical Institutions Symposium, including a film screening, lecture and roundtable discussions on the topics of Globalization, World Cinemas and the Global South, and Globalization and Modernization. Join us in welcoming guest speakers James Tweedie from the University of Washington and Suzanne Gauch from Temple University for this event. 

Friday, Feb. 24, 7:30pm, B122 Wells Hall: Film screening of Death for Sale, dir. Faouzi Bensaïdi (Morocco, 2011); accompanying the Department of English Critical Institutions Symposium on Globalization and Cinema.

Saturday, Feb. 25, 9:00am-6:00pm, Red Cedar Room A and B, Kellogg Center:  

9-9:15 Coffee and Donuts

9:30-10:30 Suzanne Gauch: “Dark Days Ahead: Global Cinema and Recent Moroccan Film Noir”

 Since the late twentieth century, Morocco has seen a swell of box-office record making and festival audience-pleasing crime dramas, thrillers, and portraits of life in urban underworlds. Deliberately Noir in style, tone, and form, these films have taken a globally popular genre with multiple origins, and wide-ranging and varied identifying features, and transformed it into a genre at once Moroccan and uniquely global. My talk analyzes how twenty-first century Moroccan Noir employs the codes of noir to resituate Moroccan cinema as global on its own terms, all while employing the codes of Moroccan social realism to refocus Noir in the era of global neoliberalism. 

 10:30-11:00 Respondent Panel

 11:00-11:15 break

11:15-12:30 Panel: Film and the Global South

12:30-1:30 Lunch

1:30-2:30 James Tweedie: "Design Thinking and World Cinema"

Studies of art direction and production design often lament the absence of a sustained research tradition in the field, as the foundational texts date back at least four decades and the few publications in the interim remain welcome exceptions to a general condition of neglect. Design has fallen through the cracks in film studies despite its importance to an industry where the design process was the second-highest cost after star salaries and one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the physical space of the studios and its labor force. Design was also one of the most stunning and appealing dimensions of classical Hollywood films: the sets that recreated the ancient wonders of the world, the seemingly authentic reproductions of major cities on the studio lot, the rural villages and landscapes simulated in southern California, and the equally compelling fantasy worlds with no counterpart in reality. In the beginning of this talk, I sketch a history and theory of cinema centered on design rather than more familiar reference points like narrative, stars, or technology, and I argue that one of the key aesthetic and economic inventions at the large studios was a precursor to what is now called “design thinking.”

I then turn to my central concern and examine the role of design within the familiar dichotomy between classical cinema and its conceptual opposites, including neorealism, the post-war new waves, and, most importantly, “third” and “imperfect” cinema. If Hollywood (and it analogues in first and second cinemas) specialized in the creation of an almost completely artificial, often idealized world on its studio lots or in its sealed off sound stages, the domain of new waves and “world” cinema has usually been defined by its fundamental connection to existing environments rather than studio recreations or fantasies invented just for the sound stage. The distinction between the dominant modes of commercial cinema and their alternatives has always hinged on the category of design, even when theory and criticism deployed other terms (e.g., Bazin’s “architecture” vs. “reality” and “Nature.”) This binary remains influential in the digital age, with CGI now the driving force behind a design-driven cinema and the persistent category of “world cinema” often characterized through its relationship to a local environment or community whose existence predates and extends beyond the making of the film. While this binary has always been problematic, I argue that it has become especially inapt in the current era of globalization because totalizing categories like the world will always remain inaccessible to the modes of cinematic realism that have developed over the past several decades. The category of “world cinema” has been defined in a way that makes the depiction of the world itself virtually impossible. The globe has to be imagined and then designed in order to be displayed on a screen, and I argue that one trend in recent cinema has been the democratization of design in film production, with filmmakers deploying animated sequences within otherwise conventionally realist contexts in order to gesture toward ideas and environments that resist direct recording by the camera.

I then turn to two extreme examples that develop very different strategies in their use of design and animation software to depict a world beyond the immediate reality available to the camera. First, I examine a class of design that simulates cinematography in order to depict unbuilt, speculative spaces. As Keller Easterling argues in her recent book Extrastatecraft, the construction of free trade zones and other extraterritorial spaces often begins with the creation of a video depicting the relationship between those historically new cities and the world. These videos have also developed a characteristic mode of cinematography that usually involves a distant view of the globe, a map showing transportation lanes linking the city to major markets, and, most remarkably, swooping and incessant camera movements that transform these videos intended as a form of advertising into a new mode of speculative cinema whose subject is, often inadvertently, the global system itself. In contrast, I also examine the films of Jia Zhangke, who from The World on has been concerned with China’s position within emerging global economic and political structures. Focusing on the sequences of fantasy in his work, I argue that Jia has developed a type of cinema that I call “animated” or “speculative” realism that challenges the standard binary between design and realism or commercial and world cinemas and revises the concept of “design thinking” by combining the futuristic orientation of design with a realist attention to history and preservation. 

2:30-3:30 Respondent Panel

3:30-3:45 Break

3:45-5:00 Panel: Globalization, Modernization and Media