Film Just over ten years ago, while I starting research on my MA dissertation, I attended a Philosophy of Film conference at Liverpool University. Inevitably this was mentioned on the blog and here's what I wrote:
"This last couple of days have been spent at a Philosophy of Film conference at Liverpool University. I'm feeling hot and drained so I can't really put into too many words how enjoyable it's been. I might not be intelligent enough to have grasped all of the intricacies of everything which was said over the two days and I think I might have over compensated by talking to people a lot and loudly (as usual).My intention was clearly to return to the topic but as has so often been the case over the years, my over expanded interest in everything and attention span of a small rodent has meant that there have been plenty of occasions when this didn't happen. There never was a follow-up post about what actually happened during the one flashmob I attended back in 2004.
I did have a moment of zen during one of the breaks at the refreshment table on the first day when I began to second guess myself and my own greed.
Should that be a small muffin, or a large muffin?
I chose a small muffin.
I think it was a (tiny) personal victory."
Philosophy of Film is a rather new discipline within the wider film studies sphere and in simplest, most obvious terms is to apply various elements of philosophy and and philosophical discussion to the study of cinema. The primary mainstream exponent is Slavoj Žižek, whose Pervert's Guide documentaries are a prime example of the approach although it's also arguably that Mark Cousins's The Story of Film also has elements in the way it juxtaposes extracts from across the world and different film industries to make a case for this or that point about the social order of things.
The conference, titled The Philosophy of Film: Towards an Understanding of Film as Art gathered together academics from across the world with a diverse and rich selection of papers some of which sound especially left field reflecting back a decade. Grand Theory and/or Grand Film? Towards an Intrinsic Philosophy of Film utilised Michel Gondry's little known or seen Human Nature as a jumping off point, investigating just how philosophical the two mice hitchhiking to New York are. This was the first illustration of just how wide a focus, the Philosophy of Film actually has.
My memories of the weekend are blurry at this remove, mainly because as I flat out admitted in the earlier post, most of the papers flew skyward over my head even after at that point spending eight months studying film at a fundamental level. Partly this was because a certain working knowledge of philosophy was also expected, this was being held in the philosophy department and so the bias was naturally in that direction. One of the organisers has been kind enough to send me synopsis recently and there are sections in here, glancing through, which I have difficulty grasping even now.
It's the talks which focused on specific films which are most vivid, at least in terms of having a memory of seeing the slides. There's Last Year at Marienbad: Film as Philosophy which considered whether the film itself was conducting a philosophical discussion about itself. The Philosophical Ambience in Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo Story which was I think the way I discovered Ozu, one of the directors I've shamefully neglected in this favourite film list. The Lord of the Rings as Descartes’s Malign Demon: Jackson’s Trilogy as Philosophy was considered the light relief at the end.
Clearest in my memory are the gaps between, the breaks for tea and lunch and talking to the attending academics at a time when I still felt like a peer even though I really wasn't. There's a confidence in youth, which at the age of thirty-one I still retained. As I discovered, academics don't tend to talk about the subject at hand, conversations always tend to be about the last conference they attended or business in their own university department, there's a clear demarcation between office hours and business and leisure because of course there is. There has to be.
On the morning of the second day, to settle us in gently for the day ahead, the organisers screened some Buster Keaton films including my favourite film of 1924, Sherlock Jr. which would have been my first viewing. Nothing prepared me for the innovative camera work or just how funny it was, a room full of academics tittering along during a piece of cinema they must surely have seen a few times. However serious the film can be both in its execution and how it's considered, it's often important to be reminded that it's primarily a form of entertainment.