Edinburgh Film Seminar 2015-16 (Semester 1)

The Edinburgh Film Seminar hosts talks by academics throughout the teaching year. The seminars are open to all staff and students at the University of Edinburgh and to members of the public. There is no charge and no need to book to attend.

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Past Seminars

Thursday 24 September 2015: 5:30pm
50 George Square – Lecture Theatre G.03

Professor Richard I. Suchenski (Bard College, New York)
“Also like Life: the Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien”

Hou Hsiao-hsien is the most important Taiwanese filmmaker and his sensuous, richly nuanced work is at the heart of everything that is vigorous and genuine in contemporary film culture. An heir to the great modernist legacy – with its use of elegantly staged long takes, the performance of many non-actors, and a radically, even vertiginously, elliptical mode of storytelling – Hou’s cinema does place unusual demands on the viewer, but its sophistication is understated and its formal innovations are irreducibly bound up with the sympathetic observation of everyday experience. This presentation will explore Hou’s stylistic development, his treatment of point-of-view, and his unique approach to space and time.


Richard I. Suchenski is the Founder and Director of the Center for Moving Image Arts and Assistant Professor of Film and Electronic Arts at Bard College. His work focuses on the development of cinematic modernism internationally and on the relationship between film and the other arts. He is the author of Projections of Memory: Romanticism, Modernism, and the Aesthetics of Film (Oxford University Press, 2016), the editor of Hou Hsiao-hsien (Austrian Filmmuseum/Columbia University Press, 2014), and the organizer of the internationally touring retrospective “Also like Life: the Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien.”

8 October 2015: 5:30pm 12028662_713614185437800_850183916310504920_o
Appleton Tower – Lecture Theatre 1

Professor Lisa Downing (University of Birmingham)
“Selfish Cinema: Questions of Gender and Control in Adaptations of Ayn Rand for the Screen”

This lecture examines onscreen representations of the work and legacy of influential, pro-capitalist writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, infamous for her theory of selfishness as a virtue. It explores two films: King Vidor’s The Fountainhead (1949), based on Rand’s 1943 novel, for which she was screen writer, and Chris Menaul’s The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), an adaptation of Barbara Branden’s biography of Rand, starring Helen Mirren. The Fountainhead tells the story of Rand’s ideal heroic man, Howard Roark (played by Gary Cooper), an individualistic architect whose single-minded desire is to design and execute his vision of what a building should be: formally, functionally, and aesthetically. In her collaboration with Vidor, Rand demanded – and obtained – a degree of control over the film that was almost unprecedented for a writer in Hollywood at the time, made all the more extraordinary by the fact that she was a woman in a very male-dominated industry. In the film, Roark functions as Rand’s onscreen representative and his literal, architectural edifices convey in physical form the audacity of Rand’s philosophical one. The Passion of Ayn Rand, by contrast, paints an intimate portrait of Rand’s personal life and details the emotional control and manipulation she exerted over her husband, lover, friends and followers. In Menaul’s film, stripped of a heroic (male) onscreen representative or alter ego, the Randian character as a female selfish subject is rendered both vulnerable and monstrous in ways that I argue are specifically gendered. More broadly, then, the two filmic examples enable me to explore the gender politics of film adaptation and biographical representation, as well as of the philosophy of selfishness.


Lisa Downing is Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, UK. She is the author of numerous books, articles, and chapters on sexuality and gender studies, film, and critical theory. Recent authored books include: The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault (Cambridge University Press, 2008), Film and Ethics: Foreclosed Encounters (co-authored with Libby Saxton, Routledge, 2010), The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts (co-authored with Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan, University of Chicago Press, 2015). She is currently editing a volume entitled After Foucault for Cambridge University Press, and writing a monograph on female selfishness, of which the seminar paper at Edinburgh is a part.


23 October 2015: 2pm-5pm12039243_716026481863237_4150734712150686880_n
LG.11, David Hume Tower

Professor Emma Wilson (University of Cambridge)
“Agnès Varda’s paintings: The Madonna del parto”

[Part of the Department of European Languages “Film and the other Arts” research strand]

In speaking about her inspiration for her film _Cléo de 5 à 7_ (1962) Varda offers insight into a broader issue in her filmmaking: her interest in and return to the visual arts, and painting above all. She says: ‘The force of painting is to provide works which can offer perpetual inspiration and rêverie’. Painting is, for her, a resource for holding and proposing affect, unspoken feelings. Varda’s visual archive, still images, paintings from museums, offer a repository of feeling, sensation and memory. They intimate and make visible something beyond what we see in the films themselves. I close in here on one masterwork, a painting in her private collection. This painting is Piero della Francesca’s _Madonna del Parto_ (painted sometime after 1475) and on display in Monterchi. This painting, I argue, is an important point of reference in Varda’s first feature film, _La Pointe Courte_ (1954).


Emma Wilson is Professor of French Literature and the Visual Arts at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College. Her books include _Cinema’s Missing Children_(2003), _Alain Resnais_ (2006), _Atom Egoyan_ (2009) and _Love, Mortality and the Moving Image_ (2012). She is currently working on a project about women filmmakers and photographers working in Paris.


5 November 2015: 5:30pm11143169_713615615437657_7176403219773172638_o
50 George Square – Lecture Theatre G.03

Dr. Richard Baxstrom (University of Edinburgh)
“Realizing the Witch: Science, Cinema, and the Mastery of the Invisible”

In Realizing the Witch, Baxstrom and Meyers show how Häxan opens a window onto wider debates in the 1920s regarding the relationship of film to scientific evidence, the evolving study of religion from historical and anthropological perspectives, and the complex relations between popular culture, artistic expression, and concepts in medicine and psychology. Häxan is a film that travels along the winding path of art and science rather than between the narrow division of “documentary” and “fiction.” Baxstrom and Meyers reveal how Christensen’s attempt to tame the irrationality of “the witch” risked validating the very “nonsense” that such an effort sought to master and dispel. Häxan is a notorious, genre-bending, excessive cinematic account of the witch in early modern Europe. Realizing the Witch not only illustrates the underrated importance of the film within the canons of classic cinema, it lays bare the relation of the invisible to that which we cannot prove but nevertheless “know” to be there.’- http://fordhampress.com/index.php/series-imprints/series/forms-of-living/reaizing-the-witch-paperback.html

Richard Baxstrom is Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh, and co-editor of the journal Visual Culture in Britain.