The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick, 2011

Visions of Scale: Magnification, Duration, Perspective, Projection

Ninth Annual Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Student Conference
Friday, April 5, 2013 - 10:00am to Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 6:00pm

Current dichotomies in the size of moving image exhibition call to mind the myriad ways in which the cinema has been the medium of scale par excellence.  Far from being a specifically contemporary phenomenon, this “schizophrenia of scale,” as film scholar Mary Ann Doane recently called it, took many forms throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At least since the mid-nineteenth century, for instance, moving images have been available in formats ranging from the massive, such as the moving panorama, to the handheld, such as the phenakistoscope. Whereas the former supplied overwhelming views of far-flung and exotic locales, offering audiences a more accessible and affordable tourist experience, handheld moving image devices inhabited the world of the parlor and were conceived of as playthings. To take scale as the subject of a cinema conference is, therefore, to think about the cinema not only in terms of how it represents the world through the expressive juxtaposition of images of varying proximity to their objects (close-ups, long shots, etc.).  It also means accounting for the cinema’s place within the circulation of images and the aesthetic experience of the viewer as it oscillates between public and private, the mass and the intimate, art and toys.

Not limited to a consideration of the physical size of the moving image, the question of scale has been conducive to our consideration of and critical engagement with our increasingly mediated existence by introducing new possibilities measuring the magnitude of our experiences. The cinema itself, as Walter Benjamin most insightfully observed, calls for a re-thinking of the exhibition and reception of art on a massive scale, reflecting the desire of the masses to “’get closer’ to get hold of an object at close range in an image.” To conceive of the cinema as a medium of scale is not only to think in terms of aesthetics, exhibition, or distribution, but also in terms of rendering the complexity of the global system on a human scale, bringing the outside world to bear on the sphere of personal experience and interaction.

Visions of Scale will showcase the work of current graduate students in the field of cinema and media studies, and, this year, features a reunion of past graduates of the University of Chicago’s Cinema and Media Studies Program and (since 2010) Department of Cinema and Media Studies, who will deliver papers on the topic on Friday, April 5. (Complete schedule available for download above.)

Mary Ann Doane will deliver the keynote address, "The Legibility of Cinematic Space: Perspective and Scale." Class of 1937 Professor of Film & Media at the University of California, Berkeley, Doane is the author of The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s (Indiana University Press, 1987), Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 1991), and The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Harvard University Press, 2002). In addition, she has published a wide range of articles on film and media theory, feminist film theory, sound in the cinema, psychoanalysis, and semiotics. She has also written on photography, television, and digital media. Her publications on the topic of scale in the cinema are major inspirations for this conference, and include “The Close-Up: Scale and Detail in the Cinema,” “Scale and the Negotiation of ‘Real’ and ‘Unreal’ Space in the Cinema,” and “The Location of the Image: Cinematic Projection and Scale in Modernity.”

Sponsors include the Franke Institute, Department of Cinema & Media Studies, Tom Gunning Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award, Film Studies Center, The Alumni Association, Mass Culture Workshop, The Humanities Division Graduate Student Council.