Edited by Luke Brown
In a year where we finally managed to return to in-person teaching, and celebrated the opening of the FAB-ulous new building, the whole department has seen a lot of change. While this has been daunting for many and included a few moments we’d all like to forget (we’ve all got lost in the FAB a few times, don’t worry), Reel Talk are here to collect some of the highlights of the year from across the department and hopefully remind everyone of the amazing things we’ve studied throughout the year.
To kick us off, here are a few highlights from some of the staff of the Film and TV department:
- After a gruelling Autumn term with online and in person teaching, we went into the Spring term in the midst of so many changes. We were fully back in person and in a brand new building. While it was exciting, it was also a daunting prospect. On the first module I taught, Film and Television Stardom, the first screening was a digital print of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and it was more glorious than I could have imagined in the FAB cinema. Those two girls from Little Rock were the perfect way to start the term! Dr. Julie Lobalzo Wright
- My highlight was introducing a week on Biopics to the first year Film History module. We studied The Young Mr Lincoln (1939) and Game Change (2012 – the subject is Sarah Palin) but students were invited to post up on Padlet examples of interesting biopics. The response was enormous so I started to think that maybe we needed a whole module on Biopics. This has now been approved and it will run for the first time next year for year 3 and MA students. Stephen Gundle
- I especially enjoyed teaching on the first part of FTV Criticism this year and really engaging with so many enthusiastic and talented students. It was a joy being back in person and working in the new building. I felt we were all on fire. Alastair Phillips
- My highlight was inviting two of our graduates, Kambole Campbell and Steph Watts, back to interview them about their experiences in film journalism for the Film and Television Studies 101 module. Kambole and Steph were brilliant; generous with their insight and advice while recounting plenty of fun anecdotes. Our students were really engaged and asked great questions. It was a fantastic session for all involved! James Taylor
And now, a few thoughts from students:
Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga which we studied as a part of the Film Theory module, was my cinematic discovery of the year. The film presents the summer of an Argentine bourgeois family, but under the household conflicts and tension there is a carefully concealed socio-political background. La Cienaga is frightfully relevant to the current feeling of the hidden threat and constant waiting on news that we faced during the covid period, and due to the current war in Ukraine. The fact that violence and injustice happen close enough to sense it, but too far to practically experience it, creates an ambience of unsolvable anxiety. The normal routine cannot be the same when one’s life is destroyed by your own nation. The current atmosphere of guilt, brutality and constant stress, which becomes part of the norm is perfectly illustrated in the film, which originally had a completely different geographical and political context. This is a clear example of cinematic versatility, created through visual language and semiotics rather than a direct narrative.
In translation from Spanish ‘la ciénaga’ means ‘the swamp’. Like a swamp, the film slowly drags you down into this heavy atmosphere and as long as you reach the end, you will not be able to escape the aftertaste of the film for a long time. The mud of the swamp will be on you as it is on the characters of the film. They are living in this swamp, for them this feeling is inescapable, it is constant. It is constant for me as well.
This year has included so many fantastic modules for me: World Cinema provided a brilliant introduction to Latin Cinema, thanks to Post-Classical Hollywood I got to watch Boyz n the Hood for the first time, and Italian Neorealism brought me yet another mesmerising Anna Magnani performance. So picking what I like most of all is a difficult task to say the least.
However, Queer Screens got me into the wonderfully infuriating show Transparent, and it has been a truly enriching experience watching all four seasons and its musical finale.
Transparent tells the story of Maura Pfefferman, who comes out as a transgender woman to her family in her elder years. We learn pretty quickly that this family is far from perfect, their moral compasses have long been distorted by the emotionally and mentally warping traumas that they faced as children, and they must battle with their past in order to come to terms with the people they are now. Joey Soloway, the ingenious creator of the show, traces the Pfefferman timeline back to Weimar Germany as the Nazi occupation was closing in on the trans community, up to Maura’s hectic life as she navigates her way both through her own transition and her children’s journey of self-discovery.
There is such a poetic and impactful way of discussing the themes of gender, sexuality, age and religion; these are not just talked about, but every aspect of the show is permeated with the suspension of norms. Everything is different, antagonising, and yet mesmerising. At its heart, it is a love letter to those who were brave enough to face themselves despite all the stigma they’d face, and a message of hope to those who are trying.
Picking a single highlight of my academic year was very difficult. From Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood to Casablanca and Singin’ in the Rain (both of which I had never seen before!) I had a great time with almost all the films I got to study. My highlight, however, comes from an English Literature module! The module itself, ‘Introduction to Alternative Lifeworlds Fiction (Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Weird)’ is one in which we studied a huge range of novels and films from throughout the history of Science Fiction media, which really opened my eyes to just how broad the genre really is. Of all the texts we studied in this module, my favourite had to be Annihilation, both reading Jeff VanderMeer’s hauntingly brilliant novel and watching the Alex Garland film adaptation.
While I could write for days about the book, I’ll focus specifically on the film, which has performances from Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gina Rodriguez. The narrative follows a group of scientists as they lead an expedition into an area in North America that has suddenly been taken over by a strange force, which has mutated all the wildlife within to an almost unrecognizable degree. There are plenty of moments of quite disturbing horror throughout the film, however the real horror the film asks the audience to face is the realization that we may not be the most powerful force in the universe, and that we understand very little about the forces that may be out there.
While it’s not quite as blatant in the film as it is in the book, one of the main themes of Annihilation is the concept of climate change, and the idea that the human race has set in motion an impending cataclysmic event that we may be far too late to stop.
My favourite topic of this year has to be children’s television. As a first-year student who did A-Level film studies, I had already covered a good amount of the filmic ideas and content we studied this year, but television was almost entirely new to me. I found children’s television especially interesting because it is a ‘genre’ which seems to get overlooked by many serious film and television critics and analysists, despite its prevalence in society. Most people who had a television growing up will remember their favourite children’s television shows, yet there is so little analysis of individual television texts.
What made this topic so interesting to me is how it was covered in term 2, with television criticism. We watched clips from several different television shows, going over the interwoven nature of children’s television and stop-motion animation, which was exciting to learn about as a fan of this type of animation. Then, in seminars, we discussed the connection between children’s television and diversity, especially in relation to disability, another subject of interest for me. It certainly was not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it was incredibly fascinating, and the lack of critical analysis within the subject made it feel like an unturned stone full of potential and surprises. The seminar concluded with myself and my course-mates talking about our favourite childhood television programmes, leaving the topic on a nostalgic and cheerful note. Overall, it came out on top as the highlight of the year, and I am excited to explore it further where I can.
It’s pretty clear that everyone’s found something to enjoy this year, whether it be creating an entirely new module, learning about a new media, or delving into content from a different department. We hope these highlights have brought back some good memories for you, or interested you in a new topic or module, and maybe given you a few things to watch over the summer. If you want to have your say about the highlights we’ve picked, maybe your own best moment of the last year, or just really have to talk about that film you saw last night, get in contact with a member of the Reel Talk editorial team and ask how you can contribute to the blog!