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  • The Impact of Technological Innovations on the Historiography and Theory of Cinema:Second Annual Conference of the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories Montreal, November 1-6, 2011
  • Daniel Fairfax (bio)

There are those conferences which one attends out of a sense of professional duty, those one attends because of personal obligation, and those one attends in hopes of private advancement. And then there are those conferences, rare enough in today's dispersed academic environment, which one attends because they give off the unmistakable air of mattering, because they promise to be landmarks in the history of the field, to be sites where theories are made and remade (and sometimes unmade), where the vital discussions of the day are to be had, where participants examine and offer their views on the big picture—the current state of the discipline, how it is shaped by its past, and its future prospects.

"The Impact of Technological Innovations on the Historiography and Theory of Cinema" was one such conference, and, indeed, it could arguably claim to be the defining event in Film Studies in 2011. The conference organizers, André Gaudreault and Martin Lefebvre, under the auspices of the "Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories," not only sought to repeat the group's successful conference on Eisenstein's "Notes for a General History of the Cinema," held in New York City in 2010, but also dramatically upped the ante. The conference was increased from three days to six days, its program promised a formidable lineup of high-profile participants, and the involvement of a range of institutional partners—including the Cinémathèque Québécoise, the Centre de Recherche sur l'Intermédialité, [End Page 127] and the Observatoire du Cinéma au Québec—ensured that the conference would resonate in the city, beyond the academic domain.

Indeed, as the location for such an encounter, Montreal could hardly be surpassed. The city is imbued with a vibrant, long-standing cinephilic culture, and this was reflected in the large numbers of young people attending the conference sessions. Moreover, Montreal's bilingual makeup and its position at the crossroads of Anglophone and Francophone cultures made it a particularly pertinent site for far-reaching discussions of a discipline which, more than anything else, has been marked by the intermingling of French and Anglo-American theoretical approaches—not least because the numerous local participants, equally at home in both traditions, were able to give such a unique point of view on this phenomenon. And so, over the course of six chilly November days, another chapter of this cross-fertilization of thinking on cinema was written.

The high point of this chapter came on its second evening, with a roundtable reuniting the "original combatants" of the apparatus-theory debates of the early 1970s— Jean-Louis Comolli of Cahiers du cinéma, Gérard Leblanc of Cinéthique, and Jean-Patrick Lebel, author of Cinéma et idéologie,1 along with feminist film theorist Geneviève Selliers. Comolli, who, sadly, could not be physically present at the event, nonetheless provided his thoughts via a video presentation, ably demonstrating the creative vitality of a line of thinking substantively launched forty years ago by his own article "Technique and Ideology."2

Comolli, continuing in the vein of his recent publications Voir et pouvoir and Cinéma contre spectacle, granted that the unprecedented domination of the audiovisual medium could be seen as the "perverse triumph of the cinema," but he insisted on making a firm distinction between "two types of representation of the visual, two types of spectacles of the visible," namely those which are unframed (e.g., fireworks, sporting events) and those which are framed—films.3 The contemporary world, he argued, is marked by an "ideological and industrial movement to abolish the specificity of the cinema" and to "erase the boundary between the real and the represented." Although the unprecedented ease of access to filmmaking equipment is indisputably a positive political step forward—and Comolli himself is an active documentary filmmaker—the flip side of this development is that "it just piles images on top of images." To resolve this problem of excess, then, and to...


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