In a rare interview given to promote a screen adaption of his novel The Road (dir. John Hillcoat, 2009) Cormac McCarthy argues that “Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” Perhaps due to my love of McCarthy’s work, or perhaps because I first read the interview days after defending my dissertation, this (hopefully hyperbolic) quote deeply resonates with me.
Among maddening research difficulties that take years to resolve—only if you’re lucky—is a practical one: locating sources. Made undoubtedly easier by the Internet, tracking down some texts can make you question whether or not it’s even worth it (the project, of course, not life itself). The relatively recent drive toward digitization and online access has provided legal, albeit sometimes walled, access to some of these materials; however, many more of, let’s say, less clearly defined provenance are available through peer-to-peer networks, media sites, and various websites.
Practical difficulties, however, often reverberate into theoretical inquiry. Realizing that my initial work in early Argentine sound film was inextricably enmeshed with a more complex mediascape extending beyond national borders, I set upon systematically watching early sound films from around the world, but especially those from Mexico and the United States. Of the vexingly difficult to find films was Luponini (el terror de Chicago), directed by José Bohr in 1935. Caught initially by the transnationality of its title, it would take me five years to finally see it.
This spring, I finally had the opportunity to watch Luponini at Stanford. A few weeks later, I stumbled into more luck: a generous colleague provided me with a copy from Cine Nostalgia. Recalling issues of materiality, differences between the copies—one a film transfer onto VHS and the other a digital video recording from satellite television carrying the title El manos sangrientas—emphasized an important and understudied question: the role of television in shaping Latin American film studies. As both our physical and digital copies frequently come from television, we should speculate more on its role in framing what we study. While old technologies resound within new ones, however faintly, new technologies such as television and the Internet influence how we practice film studies, especially for those of us who are distanced (spatially and temporally) from what we study.