Controversies on Film

This course will address a range of issues to do with the theme of controversy in cinema: controversial films, filmmakers and film topics; controversial film theories; and controversies regarding film financing and production. As always, there’ll be 45 minutes for the presentation, followed by 45 minutes of open discussion.

When: Thursdays 16th of Feb – 29th of March, 6.30 – 8:30pm approx
Venue: Long Play 318 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy 3068
Co-ordinator: Tyson Namow, La Trobe University

week 1

16th of February 2012

The Moving Image and the Murmur of Existence: Cinema’s ‘Physical Reality’
(Tyson Namow, La Trobe University)
Screening: Werner Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder (2005) 80 mins
Synopsis: ‘Film is essentially an extension of photography and therefore shares with this medium a marked affinity for the visible world around us. Films come into their own when they record and reveal physical reality. Films are true to the medium to the extent that they penetrate the world before our eyes.’ Controversial statements such as these made by the German social philosopher and cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966) will be explained and supported. The case will be made that Kracauer’s realist theory should be redeemed and that Werner Herzog’s experimental, found-footage film The Wild Blue Yonder can be understood as a realist film in the Kracauerian sense of that term.

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week 2

23rd of February 2012

‘The Great Moldy Triumph’: Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures
(Con Verevis, Monash University)
Screening: Screening: Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963) 42 mins
Synopsis: Jack Smith was one of the most volatile, exhausting and creative of the original members of the New American Cinema group of the early 1960s. Smith first emerged as actor in the underground film work of Ken Jacobs, notably the remarkable Blonde Cobra (1959–63), but the film that established Smith’s underground following was the notorious Flaming Creatures (1963). Shot on the roof of the (now demolished) Windsor Theatre in New York (over consecutive weekends in the summer of 1962) in bright sunlight and on outdated black and white reversal film stock, Flaming Creatures has an ephemeral (timeless, placeless) beauty. Shown privately during the early months of 1963, Flaming Creatures received its theatrical premiere at midnight on April 29 at the Bleeker Street cinema on a bill with Blonde Cobra. Previewing Flaming Creatures in his “Movie Journal” column for The Village Voice, Jonas Mekas praised the film, writing: “Jack Smith has just finished a great movie … and it is so beautiful I feel ashamed to sit through the current Hollywood and European movies … This movie will be called pornographic, degenerate, homosexual, trite, disgusting, etc. It is all that and it is so much more than that.”

week 3

1st of March 2012

Plenty of Reasons to Stop Worrying and Love Pornography: Can Pornography Save Cinema?
(Tyson Namow in conversation with Richard Wolstencroft,
Australian Filmmaker and Festival Director)
Screening: Richard Wolstencroft’s The Last Days of Joe Blow (2012)
Synopsis: Controversial filmmaker, curator, festival director and cultural and political trouble maker Richard Wolstencroft will delve into the wonderful world of pornography. He will advocate for the social, artistic, cultural, aesthetic and political significance of what is arguably the most neglected product of latter day Western Capitalist culture. In addition, he will demonstrate how Australia has one of the worst Free Speech records when it comes to pornographic material. Wolstencroft will also show footage and a trailer from his up-coming feature on the pornography business The Last Days of Joe Blow and discuss the making of this new documentary and his personal experience witnessing the porn biz in LA’s The Valley.

week 4

8th of March 2012

Indonesia Calling and Australian Political Documentary
(John Hughes, Australian Filmmaker)
Screening: John Hughes’ Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia (2009) 90 mins
Synopsis: The feature documentary Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia (2009) will be screened and introduced by the Australian filmmaker John Hughes. The film recalls Australian responses to the birth of Indonesia in 1945 and the impact of a small film, made at a moment of crisis, on Australia’s relations with its northern neighbour and its legacy for Australian documentary film culture. In introducing the film Hughes will outline briefly how Ivens’ Indonesia Calling (1946) relates to a tradition of radical Australian documentary film practice.

week 5

15th of March 2012

Hollywood’s Narrative Distortions
(Rjurik Davidson, Author and Editor)
Screening: Clips from Blade Runner, The Dark City and other films
Synopsis: Rjurik Davidson examines the ways that narratives are constructed by the film industry. He will look at the industry’s dominant ideas about scriptwriting (including some of the ‘exercises’ suggested for scriptwriters) and the way that they, in conjunction with the process of getting a film made, tend to create a certain kind of film. Scenes from romantic comedies will be shown to examine the narrative template they adhere to. Director’s cuts will be compared to the initially released versions of Blade Runner and Dark City, to show some of the kinds of changes encouraged to narratives to make films commercially successful.

week 6

22nd of March 2012

Brain Eraser: Sex, ‘Perversion’ and Ecstatic Annihilation
(Jack Sargeant, Author and Film Festival Programmer)
Screening: A number of rare clips and extracts.
Synopsis: Jack Sargeant, author of Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground, Naked Lens: Beat Cinema, Cinema Contra Cinema and Suture, co-editor of Lost Highways: An Illustrated History of the Road Movie and No Focus: Punk On Film, will present a talk examining the role of the annihilating gaze in film. Due to the extreme and rare nature of the material discussed the accompanying screening will consist of clips and extracts from a number of works. Come prepared to re-think the nature of viewing film!

week 7

29th of March 2012

Cinema ’68: Counter-cultural aesthetics- the camera as weapon
(Louise Sheedy, University of Melbourne)
Screening: Haskel Wexler’s Medium Cool (1968) 111 mins
Synopsis: Louise Sheedy, program coordinator of the Melbourne Cinémathéque and PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at the University of Melbourne, will examine how the social, political and cultural upheavals of 1968 manifested in American cinema. Haskell Wexler’s groundbreaking Medium Cool (1969) weaves a highly reflexive fiction into and around documentary film footage of the now-notorious riots surrounding the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, critiquing not only the key political issues of the era (such as Vietnam) but their representation.