‘World Cinema and the Essay Film’ Conference: Keynote by Prof Timothy Corrigan

Organised by the University of Reading’s Centre for Film Aesthetics and Cultures (CFAC), the ‘World Cinema and the Essay Film’ conference (30 April – 2 May 2015) featured Prof Timothy Corrigan’s (University of Pennsylvania) keynote address on ‘Essayism and Contemporary Film Narrative’, in which he describes how the mode of essayist becomes more and more frequently a disruptive force in narrative films such as Tree of Life (Malick 2011) or The Mill and the Cross (Majewski 2011).

Timothy Corrigan is a Professor of English and Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and completed graduate work at the University of Leeds, Emory University, and the University of Paris III. Books include The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History (Routledge), A Cinema without Walls: Movies and Culture after Vietnam (Routledge), New German Film: The Displaced Image (Indiana UP), Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader (Routledge), The Film Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Critical Visions: Readings in Classic and Contemporary Film Theory (Bedford/St. Martin’s, both co-authored with Patricia White), American Cinema of the 2000s (Rutgers UP), and The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker (Oxford UP), winner of the 2012 Katherine Singer Kovács Award for the outstanding book in film and media studies.

Prof Corrigan’s keynote speech abstract ‘Essayism in Contemporary Film Narrative

The essay, the essayistic, and essayism represent three related modes that, at their core, test and explore subjectivity as it encounters a public life and subsequently generates and monitors the possibilities of thought and thinking. The first is a semi-generic product, the second an intervention, and the third a kind of knowledge. The relation of each to other practices, such as narrative, is largely a question of ratios: as assimilative, as inflective, or as disruptive. My title obviously draws on the third mode, and aims to describe and argue a way in which the heritage and distinctions of the essay take a different form than those described more essentially by the essay film. Here, essayism becomes more and more frequently a disruptive force and presence within the presiding shape of a film narrative, a disruption that questions, at its heart, the limits and possibilities of film narrative itself. Specifically and too schematically, essayism questions the interiority of film narrative 1) through the disintegration of narrative agency as a singular and coherent figure, 2) through the exploration of the margins of temporality and history (as a realism) in a movement into unsheltered and “improbable” places, and 3) through the questioning of the knowledges that have conventionally sustained narrative. My two examples will be Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life and Lech Majewski’s The Mill and the Cross, both released in 2011, both engaged with and questioning–not coincidently I think–a dominant Judeo-Christian narrative as the foundation of knowledge, and both operating on the edges of conventional narrative form.

Timothy Corrigan University of Pennsylvania

Date: 30 April – 2 May 2015
Venue: Minghella Building, Whiteknights Campus, University of Reading
Conference convenor: Dr Igor Krstic


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