This summer, as I was wrapping up my dissertation and packing my boxes in upstate New York, I started watching Satyajit Ray’s Jai Baba Felunath (The Elephant God, 1979) after what felt like a lifetime. The film is based on a novel from Ray’s own children’s detective series featuring the celebrated Bengali private investigator Prodosh C. Mitter, aka Felu-da (“da” being an affectionate honorific for elder brother).
Director Rebecca Hall’s recent adaptation of Nella Larsen’s exquisite second novel, Passing (1929), is visually stunning. I had the pleasure of seeing the film on the big screen, during its limited theatrical run and before its Netflix release. It was the ideal atmosphere for absorbing this cinematic rendering of Larsen’s eerie, anxiety-ridden plot: ensconced with a sparse audience (my companion and I comprising two of the four patrons for the 5:10pm showing) in a small independent theater in Manhattan, just a few miles from where the story is set, and with Halloween everywhere looming on this late-October evening.
In Germany in 1923 everyone was talking about their hormones. This was, in large part, thanks to the popular release of a medical education film called Der Steinach-Film. Der Steinach-Film was sponsored by the Universum Film-Akiten Gescellschaft (Ufa), a German motion-picture production company known for producing artistically outstanding and technically competent films during the silent era, and which from 1918 onwards included a cultural division that produced and distributed medical education films in the name of public hygiene and social reform.
How many feminist scholars and archivists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? There is no punch line to this set-up. Instead, we have spent the past two years curating a four-disc DVD/Blu-ray set on “Cinema’s First Nasty Women,” a project that features 99 films from over a dozen international archives spotlighting the unrealized histories of feminist revolt and hellraising rebellion.
At the culmination of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times, the Factory Worker (commonly called “the Tramp”) breaks his long silence and sings. The moment is justly famous, as if audiences had been waiting decades to hear the voice of the downtrodden Worker. The Worker, however, does not quite attain to the voice, or the song, that he and his companion, the Gamin, had planned. The Worker has just lost his lyrics, which the Gamin has written on his shirt cuffs. These cuffs fly off his wrists at the start of his dance before the café crowd. “Sing! Nevermind the words,” urges the Gamin in an intertitle.
He wanted to leave nothing out. Given the film image’s powers of simultaneous arrest and dispersal, he may have believed it the surest means of preserving while imparting some measure of the densities and speeds generated across the spectrum of happenings, impasses, and transfigurations that marked what he and a few allies were engineering at San Francisco State that spring of 1967. The lambent play of sound and image might diffuse some of the private intensities driving their rupture of the knowledge-reproduction operations of the University—and might therefore document some slight tremor in the market systems of which it was part.
When Günther Anders arrived in New York in 1936, following three years of exile in Paris, he tried to achieve “‘a typically American’ breakthrough” (Interviews, 37). One of the first ventures this involved was writing a script for a Charlie Chaplin movie, a script, as Anders adds, that “probably went straight into the bin of some Hollywood agent” (37). For those familiar with Anders’s prolific postwar writings, especially the media theory advanced in the two uncannily prescient volumes of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Obsolescence of Human Beings), these Hollywood aspirations might come as a surprise.
Vita brevis? No, nobody will make me believe that life is short. It’s long—not because of long boredom, but because of its genuinely long duration. At least moving backwards, life is endless. “My” childhood in Breslau stretches into the depths of paleontological prehistory. My mind can only persuade me for a few seconds that my erstwhile namesake and I are one and the same —he must have been a distant ancestor.
Whether we accelerate the growth of a plant through time-lapse photography or show its form in forty-fold enlargement, in either case a geyser of new image-worlds hisses up at points in our existence where we would least have thought them possible.
—Walter Benjamin, “News About Flowers”