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Mind the Screen

Mind the Screen: Media Concepts According to Thomas Elsaesser

Jaap Kooijman
Patricia Pisters
Wanda Strauven
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Mind the Screen
    Book Description:

    Mind the Screen pays tribute to Thomas Elsaesser, a pioneering and leading scholar in the field of film and media studies. The contributions present a close-up of media concepts developed by Elsaesser, providing a mirror for all types of audiovisual screens, from archaeological pre-cinematic screens to the silver screen, from the TV set to the video installation and the digital e-screen, and from the city screen to the mobile phone display. The book is divided into three 'Acts': Melodrama, Memory, Mind Game; Europe-Hollywood-Europe; and Archaeology, Avant-Garde, Archive. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0646-0
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. A Looking Glass for Old and New Screens
    (pp. 9-16)
    Jaap Kooijman, Patricia Pisters and Wanda Strauven

    Perhaps one of the longest videos on YouTube, In a Year with 13 Moons, is dedicated to a very classic topic of film studies: auteur cinema. The video documents a 92-minute round table discussion of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s homonymous film at the New York Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination on 13 January 2007.¹ One of the panelists is Thomas Elsaesser, whose knowledge of German cinema in general and of Fassbinder in particular is widely respected. Although Elsaesser’s performance on this new medium is a contribution to traditional film studies, that does not necessarily mean that Elsaesser...

  4. ACT I Melodrama, Memory, Mind Game

    • Cinephilia in Transition
      (pp. 19-31)
      Malte Hagener and Marijke de Valck

      When discussing the concept of cinephilia, the first and perennial question that inevitably comes to mind is what do we actually mean by cinephilia, this rare and elusive feeling of nostalgic attachment to images, stories, and sounds, this strangely elitist relationship to an art form that is still often derided as blatantly commercial. As popular as the term has proven to be, at least since theCahiers du cinémacritics launched it as a battle cry in the 1960s, it seems hard to nail it down to any foolproof definition. The problem of theoretically understanding one’s libidinal, emotional, and affective...

    • Theorizing Melodrama: A Rational Reconstruction of “Tales of Sound and Fury”
      (pp. 32-42)
      Warren Buckland

      On one of my many visits to Thomas Elsaesser’s home in the center of Amsterdam, I took down from his library shelves the complete run of the two journals he edited between 1968 and 1975 – theBrighton Film ReviewandMonogram. As I leafed through the journals I witnessed, issue by issue, the progressive development of an increasingly sophisticated critical discourse on the cinema, as well as the emergence of the journal editor’s influence and reputation. Volume 1 no. 1 of theBrighton Film Review(4 December 1968) is modestly subtitled “A Fortnightly Guide to the Cinema in Brighton.”...

    • Of Surfaces and Depths: The Afterlives of “Tales of Sound and Fury”
      (pp. 43-59)
      Sudeep Dasgupta and Wim Staat

      In the previous chapter, Warren Buckland pointed out that Elsaesser’s “Tales of Sound and Fury” has become a key text for film scholars who resist the idea that Hollywood melodramas are superficial and not worthy of any in-depth analysis of style and meaning. “Tales of Sound and Fury” has become, in Buckland’s words “a classic reference point.” The present chapter attempts to prove Buckland right in two ways: in the context of contemporary cultural studies and in Elsaesser’s own recent work.

      In the first part of this chapter, Wim Staat traces two of Elsaesser’s more recent conceptual contributions to the...

    • Failed Tragedy and Traumatic Love in Ingmar Bergman’s Shame
      (pp. 60-70)
      Tarja Laine

      Shame is painful. Shame is mortifying. Shame is essential. As I have shown elsewhere, shame is more than an emotion.¹ Shame is a concept that can be placed in a theoretical framework of interlinked concepts, and, by so doing, shame can reveal the inner consistency, social dynamics, and affective bonds within the work of art and between the work of art and its spectator. However, I seem to keep on returning to shame, or perhaps it is shame that keeps on returning to me. As a devotee of shame, I think that it is important to examine the value and...

    • Mediated Memories: A Snapshot of Remembered Experience
      (pp. 71-81)
      José van Dijck

      “Media and memory” was the title of a graduate course that Thomas Elsaesser, myself, and two other colleagues initiated at the University of Amsterdam’s department of Media Studies in 2004. After deliberating whether the term “mediationofmemory” might better cover the proposed contents of this course, we decided upon the juxtaposition of the two central concepts in the course’s title: mediaandmemory. Nevertheless, the course’s underlying tenet was that media and memory are not separate entities – the first enhancing, corrupting, extending, or replacing the second – but that media invariably and inherently shape our memories, warranting the...

    • Running on Failure: Post-Fordism, Post-Politics, Parapraxis, and Cinema
      (pp. 82-95)
      Drehli Robnik

      In the Foucauldian section of his reading of The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Elsaesser interprets the Buffalo Bill character as a kind of over-achiever who:

      literalizes the invitation to self-improvement and “self-storage” which contemporary society addresses to its subjects as consumers. … Bill becomes a subversive, because wholly dedicated, worker at the site of body- and self-commodification. By taking the system more seriously than it takes itself, he is in the vanguard of a particular form of consumption, that of self-expression turned “self-fashioning,” engaged in the permanent bricolage art of identity formation.¹

      The Foucauldian move here is the shift...

    • Into the Mind and Out to the World: Memory Anxiety in the Mind-Game Film
      (pp. 96-111)
      Pepita Hesselberth and Laura Schuster

      What would you do if you knew the future? Would you erase me? When you don’t have a memory how can you remember who to trust? Change one thing, change everything. Reality is a thing of the past. Remember the future. Some memories are best forgotten. Can you miss someone you don’t remember? You are not who you think you are. If you thought it was just a trick of the mind, prepare yourself for the truth. Get ready for the ride of your life. Into your body, under your skin, beyond your senses.

      These are just a few of...

    • A Critical Mind: The Game of Permanent Crisis Management
      (pp. 112-124)
      Jan Simons

      If one were to run Thomas Elsaesser’s almost uncountable number of publications through a tag cloud generating program, chances are that one of the items to emerge most prominently and dominantly would be the noun “crisis.” At first glance, this might be the logical and unavoidable consequence of the increasingly faster pace of changes in the very subject of his writings. Over the last few decades, cinema first became inextricably intertwined with television and electronic media and was soon engulfed by the so-called digital revolution. This is well documented by theCain, Abel or Cabel?book, which Elsaesser co-edited with...

    • Intermezzo ʺScholars, Dreams, and Memory Tapesʺ
      (pp. 125-138)
      Catherine M. Lord
  5. ACT II Europe-Hollywood-Europe

    • The Cheetah of Cinema
      (pp. 141-152)
      Floris Paalman

      Bochum, 10 December 2004. Evening. We took the same train back to Amsterdam after we had attended a workshop on industrial films. This is how Iwenthome, while Thomas Elsaesserwasalready at home. When we got on the train he apologized for taking a separate seat, as he had to prepare something. However, after a while he approached me, to discuss something of “strategic importance.” He asked me if I was still interested in swarms, emergence, and systems, as I had indicated when I applied for the position of PhD candidate. When I joined the Cinema Europe research...

    • Bear Life: Autoscopic Recognition in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man
      (pp. 153-165)
      Dominic Pettman

      The year 2006 was a big year for snuff movies. Not only did Australia’s self-appointed “crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin find himself on the wrong end of a stingray barb, but Werner Herzog’s remarkable Grizzly Man debuted on the Discovery Channel.² In the first case, the footage of the fatal moment has been safeguarded by Irwin’s widow and daughter, who together continue his dubious legacy in plucky showbiz style. In the second case, the footage of the deathly instant is missing for two reasons: the lens cap over the camera was not removed during the attack, and Herzog decided not to...

    • Constitutive Contingencies: Fritz Lang, Double Vision, and the Place of Rupture
      (pp. 166-176)
      Michael Wedel

      With the notion of the “historical imaginary,” Thomas Elsaesser has suggested a forceful figure of thought to re-conceive of cinema’s place in and contribution to the formation of history and cultural memory. More specifically, the notion has helped to overcome a number of conceptual deadlocks in rethinking the history of German cinema, beset as this national cinema is by questions of continuity and discontinuity, ideological over-determination and political representation, historical trauma, and new beginnings. Thomas Elsaesser takes Weimar cinema, the most celebrated period of German film history in view of its peak artistic achievements but also its most controversial period...

    • Lili and Rachel: Hollywood, History, and Women in Fassbinder and Verhoeven
      (pp. 177-187)
      Patricia Pisters

      In the introduction to his seminal book on New German Cinema, Thomas Elsaesser confesses that the subject of this book is of more than scholarly interest to him and that the images from this important film movement are not just an event in film history but also relate in complex ways to German history itself, and therefore to the personal life of (German) spectators and film scholars alike. A few years later, Elsaesser would return to New German Cinema and questions of history and identity, this time more specifically through the lens of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s oeuvre. InFassbinder’s Germany,...

    • Amsterdamned Global Village: A Cinematic Site of Karaoke Americanism
      (pp. 188-197)
      Jaap Kooijman

      Like Thomas Elsaesser in his introduction toHollywood op straat, I often walk through the Reguliersbreestraat – located between my home and the university – which is the street in Amsterdam where Hollywood’s presence is most visible. On one side, there is the Tuschinski Theater, the grand cinema of the Netherlands where all the star-studded premieres take place. On the other side is the Cineac, a former cinema built in 1934 in the style of theNeue Sachlichkeit. Thanks to its status as monument, the outside of the building has not been altered, although its function has changed drastically over...

    • Soundtracks of Double Occupancy: Sampling Sounds and Cultures in Fatih Akin’s Head On
      (pp. 198-208)
      Senta Siewert

      InEuropean Cinema, Thomas Elsaesser discusses Fatih Akin amongst other young contemporary filmmakers who challenge the predominant understanding of national cinema within film studies.² Elsaesser’s wide-ranging scholarship crosses boundaries and coins terms that have established new discourses in film studies and humanities. One such concept is “double occupancy,” which refers to “a filmmaking and film-viewing community that crosses cultural and hyphenates ethnic borders.”³ According to this concept some of the most successful contemporary European filmmakers (Fatih Akin, Gurinder Chadha, Abdel Kechiche), all from different ethnic backgrounds, are doubly occupied, hyphenated Europeans (German-Turkish, British-Indian, French-Magreb). These directors seem best suited to...

    • Hollywood Face to Face with the World: The Globalization of Hollywood and its Human Capital
      (pp. 209-217)
      Melis Behlil

      Non-American filmmakers, ranging from Charlie Chaplin and Billy Wilder to Milos Forman and John Woo, have directed some of the most admired classics of Hollywood cinema. During the writing of my dissertation about some of these directors, two articles by Thomas Elsaesser inspired me the most. Spanning a great period of time, the first article “Ethnicity, Authenticity, and Exile: A Counterfeit Trade?” reinvestigates why so many talented European filmmakers from the very earliest days of cinema have ended up in Hollywood.¹ The second article was about contemporary directors, “German Cinema Face to Face with Hollywood: Looking into a Two-Way Mirror,”...

    • To Be or Not to Be Post-Classical
      (pp. 218-228)
      Eleftheria Thanouli

      Thomas Elsaesser’s fascination with word plays and double meanings was what perturbed me the most when I started attending his theory and history classes in the Master’s program at the University of Amsterdam. Having no background in film studies at the time and being as pragmatic as I am, I had very little use for terms like “mise en abyme,” “deep structure” or “sliding signifiers.” Gradually, however, as I began to understand the value of metaphors and rhetorical strategies in the theoretical discourse, I found it intriguing to analyze and dissect Elsaesser’s own writings with the very same tools he...

    • Bumper Stories: The Framing of Commercial Blocks on Dutch Public Television
      (pp. 229-242)
      Charles Forceville

      In “Reclame: markt en betekenis” (“Advertising: Market and Meaning”), Thomas Elsaesser sketches the pervasiveness and impact of advertising on daily life.² He argues that audiences willingly and knowingly surrender to its promise of identity-building novelty and exoticness, suggesting that advertising is ultimately a flattering mirror. Elsaesser also refers to the “Wag-the-Dog” principle, reminding us that, particularly on commercial television, advertising is the tail that wags the dog called “programs” by paying the bills. Although television programs are made to entertain or inform, they are also effective tools to reach a broad audience and to assure that viewers will watch the...

    • Intermezzo ʺWhere Were You When …?ʺ or ʺI Phone, Therefore I Amʺ
      (pp. 243-264)
      Thomas Elsassaer
  6. ACT III Archaeology, Avant-Garde, Archive

    • Reflections in a Laserdisc: Toward a Cosmology of Cinema
      (pp. 267-275)
      Michael Punt

      I first met Thomas Elsaesser in 1989 at the University of East Anglia where, among many other things, he was trying to work out what Laserdisc technology could mean for Film Studies. Very soon after, I was helping him and working on a Bellourian analysis of Rear Window as I was also coming to grips with some ideas about cinema and its very early years. Our association continued along these twin tracks in Amsterdam over the next decade and engulfed those rather confused years around 1995 when the cinema had its “soft focus” centenary. Discussions arose about when the cinema...

    • S/M
      (pp. 276-287)
      Wanda Strauven

      ASchicksalsschlachtfor the Germans, a “miracle” for the French, the Battle of the Marne turned French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre into one of the most popular figures of the First World War, endowing him with the nickname Papa Joffre. The mythical battle, which took place from 5 to 12 September 1914, forced the Germans to retreat in front of the “apparently almost defeated” French and British armies that Joffre had regrouped. As true counterfactual historians, “many German contemporaries believed that, without that retreat, without the lost Battle of the Marne, the ‘Schlieffen Plan’ would have worked, and Germany would have...

    • Consumer Technology after Surveillance Theory
      (pp. 288-296)
      Richard Rogers

      Picture a prison in a Hollywood film, with long lanes of adjacent cells full of prisoners. The prisoners are shouting and smashing their dinner trays against the bars. But then, the Nokia ring tone pierces the corridor. The guard checks his pockets, but his phone is not ringing. All of the prisoners simultaneously reach into their overalls, and one pulls out a ringing phone. The idea of prisoners being called by their friends on the outside or even fellow prisoners is shocking, suggesting that they are completely beyond control.

      Aside from the consumer-prisoner scenario described above, affix the word consumer...

    • Migratory Terrorism
      (pp. 297-309)
      Mieke Bal

      A fabulous painting by Marlene Dumas titledNeighbor(2004) depicts the figure of a migrant.¹ In many subtle ways his migratory status is evoked within the image. The depicted man is not just, say, Middle Eastern. It is not just thejelabbahe is wearing underneath his western jacket. There is something in his face – a shadow of a dark beard, and it is especially his eyes that suggest “foreignness” or more specifically, “Arabness.” Not a beard but the shadow of one; ajelabbaas well as a jacket. There are more details that indicate the figure of the...

    • The Echo Chamber of History
      (pp. 310-321)
      Frank van Vree

      Early in 2001, Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was almost outrun by history. While acting as a witness in a trial against a former member of theRote Armee Fraktion(RAF), Hans-Joachim Klein, he was severely attacked by Bettina Röhl, a journalist and daughter of RAF-leader Ulrike Meinhof. Working on a critical biography of the leader of theGrünenparty, Röhl claimed to have discovered some pictures showing Fischer and his radical friends, among them Hans-Joachim Klein, fighting with the police during a demonstration. Although these photographs had been published before by theFrankfurter Allgemeinein 1973, she...

    • Displacing the Colonial Archive: How Fiona Tan Shows Us “Things We Don’t Know We Know”
      (pp. 322-332)
      Julia Noordegraaf

      In recent years, the archive has become a major trope in the humanities. Archives are no longer simply neutral bodies aimed at collecting, ordering, and storing our documentary heritage, they are now viewed more as cultural artifacts that actively shape the nature of that heritage and its use. From sites of knowledge retrieval, archives have come to be seen as sites of knowledge production.² The documents that archives hold – as those that have been lost or neglected – form the basis for the way we remember the past and thus play a crucial role in the formation of individual...

    • Found Footage, Performance, Reenactment: A Case for Repetition
      (pp. 333-344)
      Jennifer Steetskamp

      Almost everyone with even a slight interest in soccer will remember the moment in the final of the FIFA World Cup in 2006 when France’s star player Zinedine Zidane gave the Italian player Marco Materazzi his famous headbutt. As such, the event would have gone relatively unnoticed – bending the rules is somehow part of the game, and body contact of this kind is fairly common. However, in this particular situation, the incident turned into what could be called an unpredicted event, with its reruns in the media becoming unavoidable. Not only did the images become news, but other television...

    • Digital Convergence Ten Years Later: Broadcast Your Selves and Web Karaoke
      (pp. 345-360)
      Jeroen de Kloet and Jan Teurlings

      Almost a decade ago, Thomas Elsaesser co-editedCinema Futures: Cain, Abel, or Cable?, a volume devoted to digital convergence and its consequences for cinema and television.¹ Although techno-optimism was at its highpoint in 1998 – the Internet bubble had not burst yet, and Al Gore was the prophet of the information highway rather than of global warming – the volume is characterized by its rather sober perspective on the “digital revolution” that was then taking place. Media archaeologists are indeed weary of the language of breaks, ruptures, and revolutions, because they know the “new” is always a product of the...

  7. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 361-368)
  8. Key Publications by Thomas Elsaesser
    (pp. 369-374)