didactische opdracht: Kuhn (2002)


Kuhn, Annette, Dreaming of Fred and Ginger: Cinema and Cultural Memory, New York: New York UP, 2002.
(British edition: An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory, London: Tauris, 2002).
 
Lees de drie boekbesprekingen van Kuhn (2002) en beantwoord de volgende drie vragen:
 
1. Maak van de drie boekbesprekingen een samenvatting, waarbij je ze onderling vergelijkt: welk perspectief wordt gehanteerd? Welke conclusie wordt getrokken?
2. McKim (2003) doet expliciet aan zelfreflectie. Welke uitspraken doet hij over boekbespreken in het algemeen. Ben je het met hem eens?
3. Op welke manier zou het besproken onderzoeksperspectief toegepast kunnen worden op vergelijkbaar publieksonderzoek, gesitueerd in de jaren negentig? Zie www.peterbosma.info/?p=cultuurmanagement&cultuurmanagement=14

Boekbespreking 1
Kristi McKim, 'Remembrance of Cinema Past: Reading Nostalgia and Writing Possibility in Annette Kuhn's Dreaming of Fred and Ginger', in: Film-Philosophy, vol. 7 no. 42, November 2003. URL: http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n42mckim.
 
“ In the Reagan administration's playing of 'Edelweiss' to honor the Austrian Ambassador's arrival at the White House, we witness cinematic memory's extreme overtaking of cultural memory. Intended as a fitting tribute and touching homage to Austrian folk culture, the rousing musical rendition was hardly received as such. Written for and popularized by _The Sound of Music_ (Robert Wise, 1965), 'Edelweiss' offered more nostalgic warmth for musical fans than for Austrians, who held no cultural referent for the song beyond its Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein origins. Clearly the Reagan administration confused the intensity of the diegetic nostalgia surrounding the song, for a memory that resonated beyond the film's parameters. This incident embodies the confusion between cinematic memory and cultural memory, in its positing cinematic historicity as the actual. We cannot overestimate the degree to which cinema has affected our negotiation of time. While this claim might seem broad reaching, within the context of Annette Kuhn's project, its truth finds generous illustration.
_Dreaming of Fred and Ginger: Cinema and Cultural Memory_, [1] Annette Kuhn's new cinematic ethnohistory, resides within this intersection of cinema memory and cultural memory. Informed by numerous surveys, questionnaires, and letters, Kuhn's project assembles a portrait of 1930s British cinema culture that ultimately resonates, she claims, beyond both British cinema culture and past film audiences to 'ways of thinking about films, cinemas, and cinema cultures of all kinds, past and present' (3). Respondents whose memories comprise this book's material were all born prior to 1925; they were sought within specific areas (Glasgow, Greater Manchester, East Anglia, and Harrow) and contacted through media appeal, day centres, residential homes, and local organizations. Given the parameters of and venue for this review, I am less inclined to evaluate the method of Kuhn's inquiry than I am to contemplate its conceptual tenets. How does Kuhn mobilize memory as a term? How does the book conceive of memory relative to cinematic aesthetics and ontology?
 
In her work prior to this, _Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination_, Kuhn asks how film theory can,  'address itself to the emotions films evoke, to the ways in which these emotions enter into people's fictions of the past . . . Any feeling response to a film -- and indeed recollections of such a response even more so -- threatens our attempts to explain or intellectualise . . . because each category (memory/feeling as against explanation/analysis) seems to inhabit an altogether distinct register'. [2]
 She explains that, in cultural and film theory, experience often becomes 'the trump card of authenticity, the last word of personal truth, forestalling all further discussion, let alone analysis'. [3] _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ takes up materially this problem that she poses abstractly at the outset of _Family Secrets_. While _Family Secrets_ looks inward at her personal history as a kind of memory work, _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ casts such temporal reflection outward upon a historical, spatial, and cultural moment. Instead of attempting to account impossibly for the dialectic between art and its community, Kuhn pares her inquiry to a manageable time period, locale, and subject that allows her to appreciate the intricacies of that dynamic more fully.
 
_Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ remains unique for its focus on cinema as an object and site of memory work. Discussions of cultural memory have previously included consideration of ritual and art objects. Most notably, Walter Benjamin's 'Artwork' essay famously explores the potential of such artefacts and practices to behold authentic or sacred value. The mechanically reproduced status of cinema, in addition to its early locales, at first undermined its worth as a legitimate focus of cultural inquiry. While social histories of film have since been written, Kuhn's project is the first to explicitly undertake a discussion of memory work within the cinema. In doing so, she elevates the cinema to a realm shared with other arts that have more endurably been regarded with a historical and cultural legitimacy (e.g. paintings, monuments, sites, etc.). _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ posits the cinematic space and experience as equivalent to other, more unquestionably valid, historical sites, events, and rituals.
 
Within film studies, _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ fits into the tradition of reception studies most notably begun with Janet Staiger's 1992 _Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema_. While Kuhn underscores her focus on the social audience as differentiating her work from other texts in this tradition, I would additionally highlight the term 'memory' as the most distinguishing attribute of _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_. Other important texts -- such as Jackie Stacey's _Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship_ and Barbara Klinger's _Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk_ -- consider elements of social audience within their respective projects of female spectatorship/stardom and Sirk's melodramas; but they do not isolate memory as a primary term of their study.
 
_Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ acknowledges the temporal dimension of reception studies, as it introduces the term memory to underscore how any study of audience (whether of 1930s or contemporary cinema) will be one of memory, since perception and reflection are never simultaneous. Any recollection of reception necessarily privileges memory as its most apparent, if latent, term. Kuhn's attention to memory, what ostensibly figures as the vital gap between the moment of perception and of articulating that perception, enriches the questions that can be asked and conclusions that can be reached in researching film's social audiences. What this study misses, however, is a consideration of how her findings reciprocally enrich and complicate memory. For all her carefully documented original research, she earns the authority to contribute more conceptually to ideas about cultural memory in general. She more apparently and rather insightfully situates her text within frameworks of reception studies; her casting such a contextual eye toward memory work would have been helpful. Though her study straddles the fields of cultural memory and film reception, her leanings seem more toward the cinematic than the cultural, especially in her overt discussion of the film traditions within which she writes. Thus this project exists more as a presentation of original research than it does as a theoretical exploration of the intersection of memory and cinema.
 
The particularities of my criticism follow, though I want first to establish that I champion this study for its impeccable fulfilment of its objectives. Kuhn's lucidity and persistence of research and its presentation are rather stellar. The audience's seemingly uninhibited evocation of passion for the medium bespeaks a vibrant cinephilia that even seduces the reader to reflect upon and appreciate the innumerable ways cinema has enriched and continues to enrich our world. The energy and spirit is contagious; to Kuhn's credit, she allows that love to propel the reader through the book without weighing the prose unmercilessly with heavy theory. The book reads quickly and with great fun. Yet to approach this book with the desire for a substantial consideration of film and culture's reciprocity, the satisfaction level might be somewhat decreased. My criticism should be contextualized, in that I was most optimistically seeking a rigorous and provocative synthesis of what I wish I could read, if not write. Implicit in my review (and in any review) is a delineation of what I value in current academic scholarship.
 
At exactly the point that her reading or framing of responses begins to take on a theoretical bent, she seems to divert and undermine her own project by turning to a respondent's quote in the expense of saying something worthwhile of her own. Instead of concluding her chapter on memory and place with Walter Benjamin's 'A Berlin Chronicle', for instance, she might have taken some of his suppositions as starting points rather than briefly mentioned ends. Granted, her method allows the respondents to speak for themselves instead of situating their comments within a pre-existing framework; she admirably looks for the surprises and trends among responses instead of squeezing them into an overarching argument she hoped to make. Her words neither dominate nor override the respondents' words. On the other hand, it still would have done no injustice to infer, from these surprises and trends of the responses, a conclusion of her own. The book feels all too governed by the spectators' memories, and it would have done well either to acknowledge such predominance or to balance it with context and readings of readings.
 
The final page of _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ consists almost entirely of an assemblage of respondent quotations instead of a conclusion by Kuhn. Here and elsewhere, she favors the spectators' words to a fault, such that her own argument seems merely supplementary and diluted relative to the respondents' ideas. While we could read this as an ultimate scholarly benevolence, resisting the commonplace tendency to exert erudite authority over the subjects of her study, I think Kuhn would do them more justice were she to develop the ideas they introduce. It should be possible to draw from their memories without hierarchically downplaying their significance; such extrapolation wouldn't be speaking for or summarizing, rather it would be the performance of a scholarly respect for their contributions.
 
While the words of the audience members seem to constitute their own individual conclusions to their cinematic experiences, Kuhn's reluctance to privilege her own insights detracts from the project's ostensible merits. As she indicates through name-dropping or brief footnotes, she knows where and how particular theories would have strengthened her analysis, but she seems instead to presume the connection and to devote her textual time toward the quantitative inclusion of more voices, more comments, and less of her own analysis. She positions herself more as a collector and organizer of these responses than a scholar who cites them within her own analysis.
 
Nowhere does her aspiration to offer salient conclusions yet inability to articulate such arguments seem more apparent than in the text's 'Epilogue', a glossary-like attempt to summarize her project's contributions to broader fields. In these three epilogue pages, Kuhn acknowledges that her book 'has covered a great deal of ground on its journey around and through cinema and cultural memory, and in the course of the journey some new directions have been explored and some lessons about the conduct of inquiries into popular culture learned' (237). Kuhn lists nine headings (film studies, spectatorship in cinema, the cinema audience, canonicity, cultural memory, memory work, childhood, ageing, and elders' stories), each of which are followed by a short paragraph that explains the relative contributions of her project. Unfortunately, what could be a succinct and persuasive reiterance of her argument instead exists as an empty, self-evident, deferral of a conclusion.
 
Far too many sentences hint at a 'deeper understanding' of these categories, the 'interesting', 'informative', 'revealing', 'instructive', 'entertaining', 'surprising', and 'thought-provoking' memory-stories of her book (239). Such a string of adjectives importantly does nothing to indicate why these stories and her project actually merit such esteem. She addresses the 'value of memory work in itself' (238), yet resists articulating this value in this space where it would be convenient and compelling to do so. She claims that 'examining the detail and the discursive registers of memory stories of the 1930s cinemagoers throws into relief the distinctive qualities of cinema memory' (238), yet refrains from overtly committing to just what these 'distinctive qualities' are within the cultural studies context she conjures. Kuhn too frequently refers to the way her study 'enhances, deepens, and modifies understandings', 'offers a productive way', 'permits a deeper understanding', and can 'throw light on the cultural as well as the psychical processes involved in ageing' (238-9), all without clarifying just what these deeper understandings and insights are.
 
Throughout the preceding text, she similarly hints at such evasion; in the chapter 'All My Life, and Beyond', she writes the following sentence that seems either to entrust us with more wholly understanding her argument or to avoid delineating her argument altogether. She writes: 'These observations are telling not only because they shed light on the workings of cinema memory but also because they flesh out discussions in previous chapters' (206). The phrases 'shed light' and 'flesh out' are neither 'telling' nor enlightening in the furthered ideas they sufficiently cloak.
 
To its credit, _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ shines as a successful and clear presentation of original research into 1930s cinema-going, as remembered decades later. Kuhn illustriously organizes her findings and perceptively notes trends, surprises, and exceptions; this book would be one well-suited for the philosopher or theorist (or Kuhn, in a later work; as I've indicated in this review, she seems well poised to offer such extension of her findings, but just turns from it) to take up in a more advanced situation of spectatorship, memory, time, and aesthetics.
 
Such development might consider the following: what connections might be made between the duration and time she addresses and the temporal discrepancy implicit in the respondents' memories, the disparate times of watching and recalling that become narratively elided in the telling? How does cinematic time relate to memories of cinema? How do Pierre Nora's famous lieux du memoire relate to the movie theater or the films themselves? What do Benedict Anderson's imagined communities mean for the cinema audience, or Maurice Halbwach's collective memory? How does Alasdair MacIntyre's concept of narrative selfhood relate to these particular cinematic recollections? The cinema, and the research Kuhn impressively presents, becomes a terrifically suited site for this unique elision of time, place, and subjectivity; moreover, the cinema becomes an aesthetic form catalyzed by modern technological developments. How does this art form and its reception work within and create our modern notions of fantasy, memory, hope, and community? More concretely, how does cinema affect our experience of time, both the reconciliation and opposition of the moment and its duration? Granted, Kuhn is by no means responsible for these questions; most definitely, she is not responsible for their answers. But in reading her text, I couldn't help but acknowledge my own scholarly fantasy that she undertake the pressing questions that lurk behind and within her own readings of spectators' cinematic memories.
 
An example of how she nearly arrives at such considerations occurs at the end of the 'All My Life, and Beyond' chapter, wherein she explores the case of _Maytime_ (Robert Z. Leonard, 1937) and concludes that its reception maps the 'death of the star . . . onto the deaths of the film's central characters' and produces 'love . . . as triumphing over death' (212). She nicely compares the 'enduring fan's devotion to a reluctance to grow old and a nostalgia to remain young. Implicit in these sentences is an attachment to the materiality of the film for its recurrent, repetitive (and many would claim, hysterical and traumatic) cycling of its narrative; the characters and story remain unchanged and unaged, while the film stock bears the time that otherwise would be made visible through the body. Kuhn might have written several more paragraphs (or chapters) extending the idea upon which she momentarily touches here. The cinephilia that pervades her respondents' memories seems inextricably caught up in a cinematic consolation of temporal and romantic anxieties beyond the diegesis, and the degree to which such reflections complicate and lend clarity to such intersection would be worth considering.
 
Another example of her proximity yet resistance to contextualizing theoretically her original research involves the consideration of time and magic in the cinema. In her final chapter, 'Oh! Dreamland!', Kuhn writes that:
'In the magical ambience of the cinema auditorium, time as well as space take on new dimensions, and time spent in the pictures is remembered as qualitatively different from ordinary time. It is more elastic, more flexible, more giving. While time-memories are rarely explicitly articulated in these terms, repeated allusions in informants' accounts to a particular way of organizing cinema time are revealing in this respect' (224).
 
Kuhn's distinction between 'ordinary time' and 'cinema time' introduces the simultaneous temporal dimensions at stake in her project, to which I would further add the specificity of the moment of watching, the duration between the watching and the recollection, and the moment of recollection (which necessarily involves an ordering of the multiple times that have preceded that moment of remembrance).
 
Kuhn addresses the continuous programming that lent itself 'to begin watching a feature film part way through the story' (226). Such programming resulted in a modification of 'narrative time, narrative trajectory, and narrative closure' and a misalignment of 'narrative time and viewing time' (226). However, the stakes of this modification and asynchronicity are never elaborated; moreover, Kuhn neglects to acknowledge that story and film duration are hardly ever aligned (Classical Hollywood cinema particularly strove to collapse time within its narratives, with 'real time' characterizing the art cinema). Kuhn considers that the continuous programming 'lends remembered cinema time a quality of expansiveness and circularity' (226), though immediately upon introducing this fine direction her study might take, she turns to the words of her respondents and hereby dodges yet another chance to explore worthwhile and expansive dimensions of the complicated temporality implicit in her study.
 
A respondent exclaims that the cinema 'was all new and wonderful, just as the internet and computing are today' (221). Kuhn frames this comment with the following: 'Letter-writer Sheila Black explains what it was that made cinema so exciting for her, offering a telling comparison with present-day attractions' (221). At a point when she might draw important conclusions between the cinema and modern technology (or at least be invited -- by the respondent's own words -- to consider the contemporary implications and value of her study), she turns from explicit mention of such technological developments and dilutes them in the phrase 'present-day attractions'. In moments such as this, she misses her chance to develop her project into a contemplation of the new and magical relative to emerging technology; she neglects the opportunity to explore the ways this study resonates beyond 1930s cinema. Of course, it is not for me to declare the directions she ought to have taken her study, and then to critique her work on the basis of such exclusion. I want to reiterate that this book works extraordinarily well on its own terms; it successfully fulfils the objectives it sets for itself. But given my own objective of assessing the book's value to film and philosophy, I need remark upon the theoretical gaps that remain open and unfilled in its pages.
 
Her framing of audience response seems to beg theoretical development without, as I have indicated, following through upon such concepts. Another example includes her claim that 'imitation memories are centrally about explorations of masculinity, femininity, or sexuality' (181). Here might be another place for her to substantiate if not sophisticate her argument by incorporating Judith Butler's notion of gender as performance, which undeniably beholds vital implications for the idea of imitation. Even Homi Bhaba's mimicry would be helpful to include. One page later, it is clear that she's essentially describing the myth of entertainment so eloquently elaborated by Jane Feuer; she could have saved numerous paragraphs if only she could have cited Feuer and moved forward from her ideas. The spontaneity, integration, and audience Kuhn describes in 'An Invitation to Dance' reflect almost identically the myths Feuer made apparent years ago. Vital research on the musical (Richard Dyer, Jane Feuer), memory, cinema, and community would have together enriched Kuhn's reading of these respondents' comments. The absence of her own close readings becomes most apparent when she quotes at length Rick Altman's analysis of _Top Hat_ (Mark Sandrich, 1935); as this example demonstrates, her most substantial analysis consists of quotes from other theorists. I wish that that she had applied her critical and reflective voice from _Family Secrets_ more substantially in this book; even addressing the stakes of privileging nostalgia as a focus of cultural inquiry could have strengthened this project.
 
'Oh! Dreamland!' constitutes the chapter that best approximates such reflection; though it includes weak places as noted above, this chapter also gets closest to approximating the level of analysis I would have liked to read throughout the text. In her consideration of American sociologist E. Wight Bakke's 1930s study of London unemployed men's relation to cinema, Kuhn explains that his responses 'are uncoloured by hindsight or popular memory as replies to questions about cinemagoing in the 1930s might be today' (216). Clearly, this 'hindsight' and 'popular memory' of 'today' constitutes the subject of _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_, and she values the nearly seventy-year temporal disparity between moments of viewing and recollecting for what it offers cultural memory. It is in this chapter that Kuhn most explicitly speaks the importance of her study:
'the power and value of these memories as evidence lies less in what they reveal about the individuals articulating them -- it is neither helpful nor proper in an inquiry of this kind to attempt to psychoanalyze informants -- than in the insights they yield about the collective imagination of a generation' (219).
 
It is also in this chapter that she more astutely and critically reads her respondents' words:
 'At one extreme, some accounts deal with matters which may seem relatively superficial and which informants rarely seem to have difficulty putting into words. At the other extreme, some testimonies betray an intensity of engagement which touches on the transcendent; and where words fail here, the feeling may find expression in circumlocutions as well as in hesitations, silences and other nonverbal modes of expression' (220).
 
Within additional passages that, for sake of space, I will refrain from quoting, this chapter concludes the book with the very substance I wish had been present from the outset. As my criticisms have indicated, the book succeeds at what it aspires to do; but I simply would have preferred those aspirations to bespeak a greater awareness of their existence within critical and cultural theory.
 
Epilogue
Since my greatest appreciation of Kuhn's project lies beyond realms philosophical, I include this epilogue so as more fairly to indicate the parameters of my esteem. In evaluating Kuhn's book critically, what I cannot account for is the sheer pleasure of reading the respondents' stories. Gaining momentum in the fifth chapter, the book celebrates cinema's contributions to these people's lives more than it perhaps wants to wax philosophical or even poetic in analyzing them. When you finish the book, you might feel as if you've just enjoyed a reunion of your most articulate and enthusiastic elderly relatives (if you should be so lucky; and, if not, then imagine a group of eager eighty year olds clamoring for interviewer attention and smilingly swooning over the cinema), most of whom have stories you want to hear. I'm left with some kind of reverence for the cinema that these stories behold. At once a respect for the respondents' memories, this reverence also feels like a renewed belief in cinema magic, for what happens in the theater as much as what the films themselves constitute. The respondents' fervor for their memories almost makes it seem that human happiness was veritably unshareable before the cinema. The fact that these stories would, for even a moment, convey such an idea bespeaks the heightened suspension of criticism necessary to appreciating this book in its fullest.
 
_Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ validates and celebrates cinephilia by emphasizing how we remember through an art (and how art constructs those memories both through reflection and through intensifying our temporal experience). Kuhn's project nobly illustrates how the cinema imbricates its mechanical self inextricably in the most personal and effusive of human sentiment. The innumerable and superlative idealizations of cinema, stars, and movie houses can be met with both exhaustion and appreciation: exhaustion, or a kind of depleted suspension of disbelief (if everything inspires awe, then the threshold to read it is proportionally altered); and amused appreciation, a fondness that the reflector might be any loved one, that we are enamoured -- not patronizingly, but admiringly -- to read the optimism with which cinema is beheld.
 
More than that, we might even feel our own kind of gratification, the heightened faith in what cinema can mean and the ways in which it explicitly contributes to people's, to our, lives. Depending on what we need and want this work to be, we can either feel a charmed affection or a critical disappointment. In truth, my first time reading, I felt short-changed; but upon my second reading, once I knew what the project did and didn't include, I was much more readily seduced by the heartfelt nostalgia intrinsic to the respondents' memories. Once I established for myself that this text simply didn't aspire toward theorizing cinema and time and sentiment, I felt in a better position to appreciate the bemused affections these people felt not only toward their (often shared) pasts but also for the cinema's place in that past.
 
In writing this review, I realize my own optimism in wanting this book to chronicle hope and faith as rendered cinematically, mediated mechanically, and expressed nostalgically. More specifically, I'd like to read any book about which I could make such claims for its temporal and aesthetic consideration of faith and hope. To claim that _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger _falls short for its neglecting such aspiration would hardly be a fair criticism. What this book implicitly emphasizes through privileging memory, however, is the mutual consideration of nostalgia and temporality relative to the moment of sensation and of recalling the sensation.
 
Kuhn's project presents the construction of a prior notion of hope and possibility in proportion to a present loss or dissatisfaction; largely, these respondents bespeak a desire to believe in some kind of former happiness. Regardless of present satisfaction, they relish the opportunity to wax nostalgic for what their lives once seemed to promise; the memory of this promise relates inextricably to the present need to remember this promise. Whatever motivates such rosy coloration of the past varies for each person; and even at the level of the personal, we could not imagine that we might know, individually, such motivation. What this project valuably affirms is the tenuous and contingent negotiation of selfhood and relationships, within time, relative to the cinema.
 
By writing their pasts as they do, these respondents retrospectively build possibility as they correlate their temporally bound lives with the repetitious, cyclical nature of cinematic art. This project writes the cinema, a temporally contingent aesthetic, within the span of an individual life (and, ostensibly, within collective memory). That cinema becomes inscribed within the time of a life (and that the time of a life can be written relative to cinema) bespeaks a particular contingency that stands as an exemplar for how our lived experience might be expressed, heightened, and knowable within modernity. _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ postulates cinephilia in time, a delineation of audience memory as nostalgically existing in time and for the sake of sentimental intensity.
 
I suppose that we should not be surprised that her project ultimately becomes so very seductive. In reading Kuhn's organization of such impassioned testimony, we can be moved firstly for the appreciation of their appreciation; and secondly for the reflection that it ultimately catalyzes in our own relationship to cinema and time. Doesn't it make us want to tell our memories that coalesce in the cinema? Even here, how tempted I could be to share my own earliest memory, which happens to include my family and cinema. That Kuhn makes such a telling appealing perhaps highlights the achievement of her study. In _Family Secrets_, Kuhn explains that memory work engages both the psychic and the social, and 'bridges the divide between inner and outer world'; she hopes that the case studies therein can be read,
'for the stories they tell about a particular life, stories which will perhaps speak with a peculiar urgency to readers in whom they elicit recognition of a shared history; as a contribution towards understanding how memory works culturally; for what they offer more generally to theories of culture and methods of cultural analysis; and perhaps most important of all, as a recipe, a toolkit, even an inspiration, for the reader's own memory work' (10).
 
While I wish that, in _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_, she had explored at greater length the ways in which her research contributed to a cultural understanding of memory, the very fact of her project's catalyzing memory work -- of the respondents, and potentially my, our, own -- speaks to the legitimacy (or indulgence) she offers such endeavors.
The fairest assessment I can make of _Dreaming of Fred and Ginger_ is that I was invested and intrigued enough to want to experience her learned and wise synthesis of what she, in fact, concludes about cinema memory, cultural memory, and social audiences. This scholarly desire exists as testament to Kuhn's enriching material and its lucid organization. Perhaps my greatest compliment and criticism is to wish that I could have read more.”
 
Notes
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA - Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003
1. Originally published in the United Kingdom as An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory.
2. Kuhn, Family Secrets, p. 33.
3. Ibid.
 
Bibliography
 
Boekbespreking 2 
Barker, Martin, ‘review’, URL: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/film/journal/bookrev/books-february-04.htm.
 
A Review by Martin Barker, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK.
 
“Here are three books, each in its own very different way valuable, addressing from quite different angles the very under-explored area of the ways in which film has penetrated and permeated everyday life. Between them, they point up directions that film studies should be taking.
 
Ina Rae Hark's volume in the Routledge series of Film Readers brings together a valuable series of essays and extracts dealing with issues around film exhibition. In effect, the book shows some of the best of what has been attempted up to this point. And some of it is very good indeed. The essays -- limited to the American experience, but of relevance far beyond that -- range across the gamut from the political economy of exhibition sites, the design and operation of particular kinds of cinema, to the meanings and pleasures associated with particular venues or kinds of moviegoing.
In this volume you will find one or two pieces which have already been anthologised elsewhere -- in particular, many are likely to know William Paul's "The K-Mart Audience at the Mall Movies". But even some already known pieces are usefully contextualised by Hark's introductory essays, and, in the case of the extract from Douglas Gomery's Shared Pleasures, by an interesting postscript by the author. What the latter reveals, is worth pausing on. There has long been a strand in American film studies which is content effectively to celebrate the wonders of the achievements of the industry. Whilst undoubtedly doing some excellent empirical, archival research, Gomery's account of the cinema-building operations of Barney Balaban and Sam Katz in Chicago does indeed press us to reconsider the balance of importance of the exhibition side as against the production side of the film industry. But I couldn't escape a sense that what Gomery wanted us to do was simply to add them to a pantheon of heroes. What, no connections at all to the corrupt world of Chicago politics? No issues about their part in the racial politics of the city? And so on.
I found Hark's collection particularly interesting and useful for the way it recovers older pieces of work, although it would have been interesting to know a little more about the contexts of their production. For example, she reprints a 1953 essay by Anthony Downs from the Journal of Property Management. The essay clearly belongs to another world, and is advising its original readers on the likely investment opportunities. It would have been very interesting to know whether this essay was a lone consideration of the cinema field in such a magazine, and what wider discourses about the place of cinema in American business culture are associated with it.
The essays in this book generally give us a valuable skeleton of a history of how exhibition has been an issue for film academics and others. Hark's own essay (originally in Film History) on the gendered discourses of theatre managers is a good example. It explores with great care the handling of the problematic relations between emphasising the masculinity of cinema-operations, and the emphasis on cleanliness, tidiness and good presentation -- a tension resolved through the figure of the "Girl in the Box Office", who had to be attractive without being sexualised, a personification of the virtues and attractions of the cinema itself. What is so good about this essay is the way that Hark not only explores the general presence of this discourse, but investigates the one major exception: E V Richards, who ran a string of theatres across the mid-South of America in the post-war period, and who had a declared policy of promoting women to managerial positions. There is a richness and specificity about this kind of research which should inspire us. The one disappointment to me is the Dudley Andrew essay which may pose large questions (cinema as a site of "public rituals"), but rarely gets beyond anecdotes and speculation.
 
Tom Stempel's volume is an odd and unusual one, and won't be to everyone's taste. I should have found it irritating, given his tendency to have a go at "left wing" film critics (among whom I willingly count myself). But to tell the truth, this didn't bother me, because of the book's strange virtues. Stempel tells a story of how films have been responded to and taken up into people's everyday lives, across fifty years. This draws on a combination of 158 questionnaires, which asked very simple questions about such things as people's recollections of seeing a range of significant films (from The Ten Commandments, to Shaft, Star Wars, The Rocky Horror Show, and the gamut of Clint Eastwood films whom Stempel uses for a case-study); his own research into box office successes and failures; and a rather quirky, anecdotal film history. In one important respect, the book is interesting for just giving voice and pattern to a lot of ordinary views about films. But what is it we can learn from this book, beyond the (obviously not to be forgotten) truth that for every person who has loved a film, it's not difficult to find another who was bored by, or loathed it -- and that is true for all the "Greats" as well as all the pot-boilers? What do we get more than the (still useful) demonstration that there just aren't (m)any "cultural dupes" out there?
In some ways this is a (slightly unconventional) film history, touching on films that have failed, or found their feet later, or look better (or worse) in retrospect. In another, more ambitious way, it is an attempt at a history of cinemagoing manners. Stempel is at his best when he pays attention to the impact of different ways of watching films. For instance with Star Wars, he is good on the way this "bedded in" to our culture, as it were, through people choosing to rewatch it -- they learned to repeat lines, and absorbed an expression such as "may the Force be with you" into their lives. And of course that is a gateway to the fact that the film has been a site of debate about the politics of defence, of the future of myths, and so on. Stempel becomes most interesting when, in a way, he outruns his quotes, and starts offering some generalisations -- which he can do because in a way he has listened closely to the tone of people's answers to his questions. So he writes: "One reason audiences continue to be drawn towards [the Godfather trilogy] is their seriousness, typical of the early seventies. If the films of the late sixties, such as Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider, struck nerves in the audience -- especially the younger audiences -- the films of the early seventies went deeper and became more complex and found an audience. As we have seen, it was a smaller audience than in the preceding decades, but it was also a more intense audience" (88). This seems to me an interesting direction -- though its very plural perception of audiences sits very uneasily with his tendencies in other places to talk (in the singular) of "the American audience".
What I found most puzzling but indicative, simultaneously, about Stempel's book, was his way of talking about film education. He has a chapter devoted to how "old" films are responded to in classes he has taught. The recurrent use of assertions that particular films "hold up well", or "still work", or "don't play well" with contemporary students associates film education with a kind of cultural instruction -- that by putting students in touch with a good range of past films (and there is no pretentiousness about his lists) we can help to induct them into a sense of their own past. They can expand their capacity to respond. There is no sense in here of analysing or evaluating the cultural repertoires of present-day students. When he writes (131) that a film "will make some connections with them", it doesn't seem to matter what those connections are, as long as they are made. Teaching film becomes a form of cultural civics. And that seems a disappointingly thin ground for our subject field.
 
Annette Kuhn's book is an account of her very substantial research project into the memories of cinema-going in Britain in the 1930s. Based on questionnaires and interviews with now-elderly people, she gives a truly fascinating account of the role of cinema in their lives. Methodologically astute (there are good discussions of the issues raised by memory-work, for instance), in one sense no enormous surprises emerge from her work. We hear in people's own words about the ordinary importance of cinema-going, their engagement with particular stars, the excitements of the Picture Palace. But the delight is in the detail. Kuhn, for instance, has one chapter that just mainly explores how her respondents placed the cinemas of their youth within mental geographies. And she portrays through carefully-assembled quotations the ways in which cinema as a whole was a presence in people's lives: guiding them through streets, mapping their areas for them. Cinema was powerfully local even as it was a portal to a magical world.
In the same manner, Kuhn takes us through people's relations with stars. She nicely captures the interweaving of the marvellous attraction of stars' lives, their looks, their fashions, and people's awareness of the material constraints of their own lives -- the "make-do" attitude, for instance, that states that the nearest a woman will get to that fabulous costume will be a home-made copy of it, using cheap fabrics and a pattern cribbed from a fan magazine.
Just occasionally in this book it is possible to glimpse (that word may come back to haunt me…) a collision between the warm ethnographies of this study and Kuhn's wider feminist theoretical concerns. In a chapter on cinema's romantic and sexual opportunities, she quotes at length one man who took, and has retained, real pleasure in the way films showed parts of women's bodies which were hidden from him in his daily life. "Mr Houlston" has a substantial collection of the kinds of glamour shots that emphasised "the point at which exposed flesh meets clothing" (158). Kuhn's commentary on this man becomes an excursion into another domain. This is the "play of concealment and revelation around the object of desire." This is "fetishism". This is, finally, "wanting to look to see if she has a penis." Hmm… unlike most of the book, this is interviewing in the service of a pre-established belief.
At several points, her discussion of her interviews bursts through into analysis of a favourite film, most notably (186-192) around Top Hat (1935). In this case, it seems to me that her conclusions are more respectful of the capacities of her interviewees. Following one man's long recalled description of the film, Kuhn comments just how accurately he has remembered it, and moves through a shot-by-shot analysis of it, in particular looking at its shifts of diegetic space. She closes with this comment:
In this elegant and apparently seamless combination of kinesis and heterotopia lies the ultimate dance fantasy: the everyday, the local, the rooted, the communal -- for the adolescent of the 1930s, the crowds in the dance hall -- all fade from consciousness as, along with the dancers on the screen, you are carried into the space of the imagination, that other space where you are utterly graceful and where the dance of courtship proceeds, with never a false step, towards its climax. The sensation imbues your body, and carries you out of your local picture house onto the familiar streets of your neighbourhood, and you are moved to dance along the pavement all the way home (193).
This more embedded view of fantasy seems to me more persuasive and useable than the residual Freudianism.
Just occasionally, and particularly right at the end, Kuhn seems to me to indulge herself in the very "nostalgia" that she is otherwise generally superseding. She closes with a quotation from a woman who repeats, over and again, that it was all "wonderful". There is nothing wrong in such enthusiasm, or in observing it -- but then audience or ethnographic research is not about finding people right or wrong. But there is a sense, every now and then, of a rather "cleaned-up" mode of recall. Some of the films, surely, were awful. Sometimes the smokiness of the cinemas must have been unpleasant. Etc. Etc. This is to leave aside the way such discourses of the "wonderfulness" of past cinema becomes a rejection of contemporary cinema.
These gibes aside, this is a very valuable book. It complements, but maybe will also shift our perception of, existing valuable work on 1930s cinema, such as Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan's work.
The issue of exhibition is becoming more important to film studies, and rightly so. These three books are all valuable contributions to an underdeveloped field. If I enter one note of caution about the three of them together, it is that in different ways, each of them seems to me to share one assumption: that the present-day multiplex is an inferior mode of exhibition. Gary Edgerton's contribution in Hark's volume talks of multiplex designers, owners and managers "soothing compliant customers" -- with the apparent aim only of selling them popcorn -- and when wasn't that the case? Stempel talks of the multiplex as "an instrument of brute commerce" (209) -- as opposed to? Kuhn does not speak directly on this, because her research is focused on the 1930s. But almost without exception, her respondents give voice to a story of decline and loss from the "loveliness" of their films and cinema. The danger should be evident. We are at risk of putting film studies on the side of one kind of experience, and not exploring the genuine pleasures that people do get from the multiplex experience.”
 
 
Boekbespreking 3
Grainge, Paul, ‘review’, URL: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/film/journal/bookrev/bookreviews_aug04.htm.
A Review by Paul Grainge, University of Nottingham: Dreaming of Fred and Ginger: Cinema and Cultural Memory. By Annette Kuhn. New York: New York University Press, 2002.
 
Memory has become a powerful cross-disciplinary field of enquiry in recent years. It has been taken up in the social sciences, as well as in varying strains of film, media and cultural studies, as a means of analysing the stakes and investments of the past as they are experienced in and constituted by the present. Cultural memory has become an especially influential category in the literature of “memory studies,” moving away from psychoanalytic explorations of fantasy and repression and towards socially situated forms of collective remembering that lay bare the dialogic and highly negotiated nature of the past-present relation. Within film studies, cultural memory has been explored through frameworks that tend either to discuss issues of memory in film or that concentrate on film (and cinema culture more generally) as memory. Dreaming of Fred and Ginger contributes to the latter, using extensive interviews with British cinemagoers of the 1930s to construct a portrait of generational memory, while at the same time enriching a sense of the lived experience of cinema in the period.
Based on oral accounts and interviews taken across Britain over the last ten years, Kuhn describes her approach as “ethnohistorical,” a particular triangulation of historical, ethnographic and textual investigation that attempts to “enter imaginatively into the world of 1930s cinema culture by attending to the stories of those most closely involved” (7).   Dreaming of Fred and Ginger is a significant work for the sheer scope of its methodological design. In rescuing a sample of the largely unrecorded memories of audience members from cinema’s heyday, Kuhn presents a colourful and fascinating range of voices. The book is sensitive to the interpretive protocols of oral history and is as careful to draw meaning from laughter, stumbling and silence, as it is from the verbalisation of memory in the example transcripts that run through each chapter.   Providing insight into the affective pleasures of cinema, Kuhn’s key point is that memory of specific films is markedly less important than the activity of going to the cinema. Using generational reminiscence to explore the location and landscape of cinemagoing in the 1930s, cinema’s relation to childhood culture and leisure practice, the place of cinema in daily/weekly routines, and cinema’s bearing on feelings such as aspiration, love and consumer desire, Dreaming of Fred and Ginger helps rectify some of the blind-spots and theoretical abstractions that typically derive from giving film texts critical primacy.
There is a relentless categorising impulse in the book. Analytically, the work is driven by the attempt to draw patterns of memory from its body of evidentiary material, and to arrive at a specific typology that can situate and differentiate particular kinds of reminiscence. Kuhn seeks to identify the characteristic tropes of cinema memory, identifying four discursive registers that she calls “repetitive,” “anecdotal,” “impersonal” and “past/present.” These reflect “the degree or manner in which the informant implicates herself or himself in the story and/or its narration” (10). This typology is suggestive on certain terms, but can also lend itself to a descriptive mode of analysis rather than one that necessarily “enhances, deepens and modifies understandings of the nature and operations of cultural memory” (238). While Kuhn is sensitive to the specific nature of memory as a form of discourse -- concerned with how people talk as much as what they say -- there is still a tendency to accentuate and draw out memory as a conduit to the past, rather than engage fully with the complex conditions that shape and make memory just as significantly about the present. In describing the collective imagination of a generation, Kuhn writes that: “taken as a whole, informants’ accounts of their investments in cinema yield a surprisingly consistent pattern of response” (219). This may appear less surprising if more consideration were given, for example, to the encoding of memory in local press narratives and their contemporary “bygone” supplements, frequently targeting generational memory (of cinema) to foster and secure particular kinds of local readership. In other words, personal memory of cinema may already be significantly patterned in discursive terms, socially constructed according to generic formations of localized memory. This does not detract from the book’s undoubted achievements in uncovering individual testimony, but does ask questions about whether Kuhn is perhaps more concerned with the operations of reminiscence than the complex, and present-based, dynamics of cultural memory.
The most successful chapters are those which live up to Kuhn’s model of methodological triangulation. “An Invitation to Dance” is especially good in this respect. Examining the enduring memory of films starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Kuhn skillfully blends a number of perspectives that probe the affective, and kinetic, memory of Fred and Ginger’s dance routines and their bearing on leisure and cinematic pleasures of the time. While published as Dreaming of Fred and Ginger in the United States, the book was published as An Everyday Magic in Britain. Whatever the marketing rationale in each case, the book is a valuable contribution to the study of generational reminiscence and the texture of cinemagoing in the 1930s.
 
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