Tracking Specificity: the Fluctuations of Cinema

A Permanent Seminar Symposium Thursday, Feb. 6 through Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, 53 Wall Street, New Haven


Sponsored by Film Studies Program and Whitney Humanities Center, with the Department of Comparative Literature, and in collaboration with The Permanent Seminar of Histories of Film Theories


Death is one of those rare events that justify the term, dear to Claude Mauriac, of ‘cinematic specificity.’

                                                                                                                                                        André Bazin


Medium specificity was not a major concern for André Bazin, but in this citation he was glad the notion had been established so he could point to the conundrum of representing death.  What about the death—or, more important, the existence– of the medium itself?  Since he held that cinema, being in continuous gestation, “has not yet been invented,” what putative existent allowed him even to ask “Qu’est ce que le cinéma?”

The scandal of specificity at the heart of “The Myth of Total Cinema” begs us to interrogate views that most people–like Claude Mauriac, above–assumed had been established by the time of WWII.  Our symposium, “Tracking Specificity,” will examine cinema as an idea (better, a constellation of ideas) fluctuating over the decades but retaining sufficient definition to be identifiable in the night sky of culture.  Many scan this sky with particular attention today, anticipating the falling star of cinema in our century.  By contrast, our symposium charts the constellation of earlier ideas so as to grasp how the cinema appeared ‘as such’ to those living in the 20th century.

Where might we look for cinema’s putative or debatable identity?  Surely it could only lie in discourse.   But whose discourse?  That of inventors, producers, marketers, consumers, critics, and, finally, academics.  Our inquest requires not astronomy but archeology. We expect to unearth cinema and its avatars within discourses that have proceeded along four axes that form the structure of a multidimensional, if fluctuating, field.  The four axes engage, respectively, the film experience, the apparatus, the social configurations determining and determined by movies, and the very idea of the nature of film.  They constitute the focus of the four sessions of the symposium.

(Dudley Andrew and Francesco Casetti)


Thursday February 6, 2014


4:30  Keynote, Michael Fried (Johns Hopkins): “Presentness Now”


6:00  reception – room 108


7:00 Screening:  The quest for specificity in France, 1920s

Jeux et reflets de la vitesse (Henri Chomette, 5 min., 1925)

Le Lion des Mogols (Jean Epstein, 93 min., 1924)


Friday, February 7, 2014


9:00  Introductory remarks, Francesco Casetti (Yale)


9:30-12 Session I, Experience

Introduction and Chair:  Brigitte Peucker (Yale)


David Trotter (Cambridge): “Specifying Experience: Naturalism in 1920s Hollywood”

Paula Amad (Iowa): “Cin-aereality: Exploring the Aerial Affinities of Cinema”

Christophe Wall-Romana (Minnesota): “Jean Epstein’s Cinema: Affect and the New Hylemorphism”


12:00  lunch, room 108


1:00-3:30  Session II, Apparatus

Introduction and Chair: Charles Musser (Yale)


Tom Gunning (Chicago): “A Machine for Killing Time”

Antonio Somaini (Paris III): “Benjamin: Cinema between Medium and Apparat

Mary Ann Doane (Berkeley): “The Cinematic Signifier and the Imaginary”

3:30 Tea break, room 108


4:00-6:30  Session III, Social Configuration

Introduction and Chair: Aaron Gerow (Yale)


Emmanuelle André (Paris VII): “Visible man and modern subject : the visual civilization of Béla Balász”

Vinzenz Hediger (Frankfurt): How Cinema Unhinges the World: Carlo Mierendorff’s Manifesto „If I had the cinema!“ (1920)

Angela Dalle Vacche (Georgia Tech): “Bazin’s idea of Cinema’s Unique Ontology”


6:30 Summary and Response:  Malcolm Turvey (Sarah Lawrence)


8:30 Screening: The Quest of Specificity. Italian Avant-garde Cinema from Corrado D’Errico to Paolo Gioli

Introduction by Emiliano Morreale, curator, Cineteca Nazionale

Stramilano presentato da Za Bum by Corrado D’Errico (1929, 17′)

Velocità by Tina Cordero, Guido Martina, Pippo Oriani (1930, 13′)

Impressioni di vita n.1. Ritmi di stazione by Corrado D’Errico (1933, 9’)

Radiogiornale n. 5 by Giorgio Simonelli (1933, 10′)*

Immagini reali immagini virtuali by Paolo Gioli (1972, 10′)

L’uomo senza la macchina da presa. Filmstenopeico by Paolo Gioli (1973-81-89, 13′)

Operatore perforato by Paolo Gioli (1979, 10′)

Quando l’occhio trema by Paolo Gioli (1989, 12’)

A special event in collaboration with the Cineteca Nazionale, Roma, Luce Cinecittà, Roma, and Archivio del Cinema d’Impresa, Ivrea

*(courtesy of Ripley’s Film)

Saturday, February 8, 2014


9:30-12  Session IV, Ontologies

Introduction and Chair:  John MacKay (Yale)


Karen Beckman (Univ of Pennsylvania): “Dadanimation: Moving Images in the Time of War”

Thomas Elsaesser (Amsterdam): “Kracauer’s Affinities”

Philip Rosen (Brown): “On Metz and Specificity”


12:00 Closing remarks: Dudley Andrew (Yale)