The Powers of Display: Cinemas of Investigation, Demonstration and Illusion

Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Student Conference
Friday, April 1, 2011 (All day) to Saturday, April 2, 2011 (All day)

The Department of Cinema and Media studies presents a two-day graduate conference on the subject of cinema's enduring struggle with truth and fakery, spectacle and deception. The Powers of Display: Cinemas of Investigation, Demonstration and Illusion will engage cinema’s enduring affinity for certain genres, subjects, and aesthetics that are dominated by the idea of display, particularly as this idea informs modes of spectatorship that pivot on curiosity, skepticism, detection, and a will to know how things work.

In light of the persistence of “display” as both a recurrent mode and subject in cinema and moving image media, this conference seeks to extend lines of thinking about cinema’s showing power by hosting presentations which explore the aesthetic surfaces of information, investigation and knowledge, and also deception, illusion and spectacle. The topics covered will range from (early) non-fiction and animation to special effects, perception and psychology in science films and techniques of investigation, and aesthetics of revelation; they will also raise questions about what kinds of knowledge and structures of belief the cinema can produce in its capacity as a technology of investigation, deception and demonstration. What kinds of cinema encourage curiosity or skepticism? What constitutes evidence on screen? What constitutes illusion? How have the visual conventions of cinematic “showing” evolved? What defines genres that have appealed to investigatory or incredulous spectators? How can cinema teach? How does it misinform? By organizing an array of historical and theoretical questions around cinema’s power to display, this conference aims to both distinguish cinema’s specificity, as well as account for the ways that cinematic aesthetics have been informed by and integrated into other forms of media and visual culture. Complete details available at the conference blog.

Keynote speaker Alison Griffiths (Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York) will give a talk on “Edison, Houdini, and the Electric Chair.” Griffiths is the author of Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) and Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn of the Century Visual Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002)

Day one of the conference will conclude with an April Fools Day screening of Orson Welles’ F for Fake (1973, 35mm, 89 min).

Co-sponsored by the Franke Institute, the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, the Film Studies Center, the Mass Culture Workshop, and the New Media Workshop.