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Martin Lefebvre Presents “A New Look at Christian Metz: Semiology and Aesthetics” & Tess McCler

Before beginning his presentation this morning, Concordia’s Martin Lefebvre drolly thanked all in attendance for making it to the 9 AM panel on the 22nd day of SCMS. Indeed, it has been somewhat of a marathon of scholarly rigour by day and snazzy events by night. It speaks to the attractiveness of this morning’s “Revisiting Film Theory II” panel that so many of us postponed our brunching in order to catch it. A reconsideration of cinephilia united the four presentations, each of which offered interesting readings of key figures in film theory such as Kuleshov, Metz, Benjamin, and a bit of Adorno. Boasting Concordia’s Martin Lefebvre and Tess McClernon, the panel began with Juho Ahava from the University of Iowa presenting on “Lev Kuleshov’s Early Cinephilia and Anti-cinephilia.” Ahava explained how Kuleshov was originally motivated by a certain cinephilia (most notably for D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin) communicated in emotional terms that was subsequently sacrificed or repressed in his later work.

Next up was Concordia PhD student Tess McClernon on “Discarded, Outworn, and Passé: Theorizing Obsolescence and Its Aesthetic in Outer and Inner Space (1966),” which offered an intriguing reading of the theoretical implications of Andy Warhol’s collaboration with Edie Sedgwick. Drawing from Benjamin’s characterization of our misunderstanding of Progress as nearly constant change, McClernon’s investigation of Outer and Inner Space provides a compelling case with which to think through ideas of film and obsolescence, given that the technology needed to view Outer and Inner Space has fallen out of use itself. McClernon demonstrated well how the lifespan of recording technology is juxtaposed with the fleetingness of human experience in Warhol’s film, approaching an aesthetic of obsolescence. A fruitful and enthusiastic Q&A following the panel gestured towards the role of discarded objects in the digital age and suggested Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation as a possible counterpoint to McClernon’s reading of the film.

Concordia’s Professor Martin Lefebvre took to the podium next to discuss his exciting research on previously unavailable work by giant of semiology, Christian Metz. A current of excitement rippled through the room when Lefebvre introduced his recent research into the private archives of the Christian Metz estate. In his presentation on “A New Look at Christian Metz: Semiology and Aesthetics,” Lefebvre investigates the often shifting and complex role of phenomenology in Metz’s writing. Lefebvre worked through Metz’s characterization of cinema as novelistic versus cinema as theatrical in order to make some of the larger claims of the presentation such as that semiology’s break with aesthetics is perhaps not as absolute as we thought. Through an understanding of cinema as hetero-semiotic and theatre as homo-semiotic, Lefebvre’s presentation gave rise to questions of the enunciative agency of filmic texts. Finally, University of Toronto’s Spencer Mackoff concluded the morning panel with a retitled presentation “Let It Burn: In Defence of Cinematic Wounding & Spectatorial Failure.” Mackoff invited us to consider what it means when spectatorial identification and integration fail and the spectator is kept at a distance through an analysis of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Other questions included why failure, as a component of reality, may be aesthetically reproduced or rendered? How may we understand the frustrated failure to integrate with an identificatory object as a productive tension? The lively Q&A session after the panel helped to clarify concepts and methodologies and even revealed a charming anecdote from Lefebvre’s work in the archives. Ultimately this well-attended, theory-heavy panel laid the groundwork for a rethinking of how we as film scholars, cinephiles or otherwise, engage with the filmic text and process today.

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