[in]Transition: Editors' Introduction

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (remix remixed 2013) by Laura Mulvey

"Some years ago, I digitally re-edited a 30-second sequence of ‘Two Little Girls from Little Rock’, the opening number of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953), in order to analyze the precision of Marilyn Monroe’s dance movements and as a tribute to the perfection of her performance. In addition to the artificial, stylized persona, evocative of the beautiful automaton [in Martin Arnold’s Pièce Touchée (1989)], her gestures are orchestrated around moments of pose. In this particular fragment, played to camera, she pulls up her shoulder strap in a performance of an almost sluttish disorder of dress that is completely at odds with the mechanical precision of this and each gesture. Even though the gesture was so self-consciously produced, it has, for me, something of Barthes’ punctum, and I found myself returning over and over again to these few seconds of film. In the re-edit, I repeated the fragment three times, freezing the image at the moments when Marilyn paused between movements. In addition to her own precise and controlled performance, dance itself demands a control of the body that pushes its natural humanity to the limits, also alternating between stillness and movement. The developed gesture unfolds until it finds a point of pose, just as the delayed cinema finds such moments through repetition and return. The 30-second sequence ends as Marilyn moved forward into close-up, throwing her head back and assuming the pose and expression of the essential Marilyn pin-up photograph. This paused image seems to be exactly the same as the Marilyns that Andy Warhol made after her death, in his silk-screened homage to the death-mask. The imaginary superimposition of the Warhol image onto the trace of the living Marilyn has a sense of deferred meaning, as though her death was already prefigured in this pose. An acute consciousness of her ‘then’, before her death, condenses with the image as death mask and the poignant presence of the index as ‘this was now’." [Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second (London: Reaktion Books, 2006, 172-3)]

Creator's Statement

We are delighted to be able to introduce to you the first issue of the new journal [in]Transition. A collaboration between MediaCommons and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ official publication, Cinema Journal, [in]Transition is the first peer-reviewed academic periodical specifically given over to videographic film and moving image studies.

Practitioners of these forms (which include, inter alia, the ‘video essay’, ‘audiovisual essay’, and ‘visual essay’ formats) explore the ways in which digital technologies afford a new mode of carrying out and presenting their research. The full range of digital technologies now enables film and media scholars to write using the very materials that constitute their objects of study: moving images and sounds.

Though a number of outstanding websites already present videographic work on occasion (indeed, we list some of them at our Resources page), none has yet received the disciplinary validation that is accorded to written scholarship. In large part, the strictures of written academic discourse pose a challenge for this nascent form of multi-media composition. [in]Transition aims to address this issue. This journal is designed not only as a means to present selected videographic work, but to create a context for understanding it – and validating it – as a new mode of scholarly writing for the discipline of cinema and media studies and related fields. This goal will be achieved through editorial curating of exemplary videographic works, through critical analysis and appreciation, pre-publication peer review and Open Peer Commentary.

For the first four issues of [in]Transition, the co-editors and invited members of the editorial board will select existing videographic works to present as exemplary of the form. These issues will organize the chosen works thematically, around the various formal features that have already begun to take shape in videographic practice. Each video selection will normally be accompanied by a short critical essay that explains and justifies the work in two ways: for its creative use of multi-media tools; and for the way it creates a ‘knowledge effect’ – that is, for its impact as scholarship. The goal of these inaugural issues is to set the terms of evaluation for the future of the journal: to present selected work, and contextualize it for acceptance and validation by our discipline.

In this, the first issue, each [in]Transition co-editor has curated his or her individual choice of a video or video series in order to reflect, across the issue as a whole, a range of different approaches to this evolving format. In part to illustrate the breadth of work beyond obviously discursive or meta-critical essay formats, and to show that such forms may not only be promising as communicative tools but also as ones central to fundamentally changed procedures of audiovisual research by digital practice, we are also delighted to be able to present, for the first time in an integral version online (a remix remixed in 2013), Laura Mulvey’s visual analysis of a fragment of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks 1953), in particular of the song and dance duet, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock”, performed by Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe.

In her 2006 book Death Twenty-four Times a Second, a foundational text for digital film studies in so many ways, Mulvey mentions this remix briefly as an experiment in the kind of 'delayed cinema' that she was writing about. In her video, Mulvey re-edited a 30-second movement sequence, stretching it into three minutes, pausing on Monroe’s gestures and repeating the sequence, twice slowed down and silent, but beginning and ending with normal speed. In a forthcoming essay about her experiment, she writes

Before I had ever thought of re-editing the sequence, I had watched it many times, fascinated by Marilyn’s ability to hover between movement and stillness and the way that the pauses, slow motion and repetitions of delayed cinema simply, in this case, materialised something that was already there. I realised that my attention had been literally caught as the figure moved into a fleeting moment of stasis; and that I paused the film to catch the high point within this unfolding of a gesture. It seemed that digitally derived ‘delayed cinema’ had a special, privileged relationship to cinematic gesture. In the end, I decided to turn these moments of casual analysis (always partly trying to possess and hold on to the body, partly reflecting on and analysing its cinematic nature) into a re-mix. [Mulvey 2014]

By showcasing Laura Mulvey’s work in our very first entry at [in]Transition, we are thrilled to be able to pay tribute to her pioneering role in the emergent digital and videographic field of film and moving image studies, as well as in other earlier areas of our discipline, which she also enriched with her filmmaking practice. We are deeply honored that she has joined our editorial board, along with a number of other scholars whose own foundational contributions to film studies in the last decades also extend to videographic forms (Janet Bergstrom, Pam Cook, Thomas Elsaesser, Kristin Thompson and Yuri Tsivian), as well as some of the other first academic critics, theorists and historians to experiment successfully with these and related digital film studies forms on, as well as off, line (Eric Faden, Tag Gallagher and Adrian Martin), innovative and esteemed online film critics, filmmakers and digital essayists (Cristina Álvarez López, Nelson Carvajal, Mark Cousins, Kevin B. Lee, Richard Misek, and Matt Zoller Seitz), and groundbreaking established and emergent film and moving image studies scholars teaching with, writing about, and making these and other digital media studies forms (Jaimie Baron, Vicki Callahan, Richard L. Edwards, Ian Garwood, Chiara Grizzaffi, Doug Julien, Virginia Kuhn, Erlend Lavik, Kelli Marshall, Volker Pantenburg, Benjamin Sampson, Matthias Stork, and Michael Witt).

We thank them for joining us in this project, managed for MediaCommons by Jason Mittell, and for Cinema Journal by Christine Becker, and we warmly welcome in advance their, and your, future contributions to it.

Catherine Grant, Christian Keathley and Drew Morton
Co-editors of [in]Transition
March 2014

Works Cited

  • Mulvey, Laura. 2006. Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image, London, Reaktion Books.
  • Mulvey, Laura. 2014. ‘Cinematic gesture: the ghost in the machine’, Journal for Cultural Research, forthcoming.

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