28th international SERCIA conference 2023 in Paris: « Questioning the margins of anglophone films and TV series »
- Joan Hawkins (Indiana University)
- Jeffrey Sconce (Northwestern University)
Nearly 25 years ago, French film scholar Jean-Loup Bourget argued in La Norme et la marge1 (The Norm and the Margin) that margins are defined in relation to norms that never cease to evolve in a dialectic and dynamic process. For Bourget, the margin was the sum of those who refused to abide by the rules or conventions, which he called the norm. The majority of his work focused on the norm, which at that time was relatively easy to identify given that it was inherited from classical Hollywood system.
It seems a lot more difficult to identify the norm and its margins in the contemporary mediascape. This conference focuses directly on the margins of English-speaking cinema and television. What we understand to be the norm and the margin has largely evolved since the birth of cinema at the end of the 19th century and various definitions of mainstream films & TV series circulate, starting with the economic idea that the norm is intimately connected to the world of big finance, targeting large audiences in order to generate substantial profits.
This conference invites the study of the margins that surround mainstream cinema, which, following Thomas Elsaesser, can be visualized as a series of concentric circles.2 A similar approach can apply to the relationship between mainstream TV series and the marginal series that gravitate on the periphery.3
These margins can be envisioned as spaces where films and series are created, produced and distributed according to other methods and following different rules. They partially coincide with minorities and socially marginalized groups whose film and TV productions and practices have often been excluded from mainstream circuits and recreated in other spaces and forms. Indigenous cinemas are a prime example of how marginalized groups may produce films and create new systems of distribution and consumption. The margins of English-speaking films and series also include those narratives in which the borders between English and other languages being spoken become both vaguer and broader or more visible. Attention can also be paid to the sui-generis margins of “alternative” filmmakers or series producers, who, from the start, define the margins from which they operate in filmic and aesthetic terms. They position themselves in reaction and maybe in opposition to the mainstream regarding both production and aesthetics. They include, among other marginal cinemas, underground, off-Hollywood, B, Z, exploitation, and even, to a certain extent, independent cinemas. Some artists and producers created film and TV margins to create alternative networks —nowadays using online resources, such as filmmakers Coop in the US4 and the UK, because they were not in a position to take advantage of advertising or distribution channels; a telling example would be the successful transformation of the art cinema Lux in London into the Lux Online platform of marginal cinema. We also invite discussion of alternative cinema websites such as Ubuweb film, and even coopted networks such as Karagarga.
The margins of hegemonic cinema can also be explored in relation to their aesthetics. To what degree do they rely on core components of mainstream films such as characters, fictional worlds or stories while refusing classical narration and the underlying demands of coherence and know-how that are made by the studios? Some works may turn the refusal and skirting of conventions into an aesthetic and political praxis of dissent and resistance, sometimes by the mere fact of their existence, but the extent to which they can be termed “radical” or “underground” remains to be demonstrated. For instance, New York punk/No Wave films and television programs sought to challenge and disturb the self-righteousness of US bourgeois society in the 1970s.5 Some series and television shows are part of the same trend, notably in the New York cable television of this period or in the English television of the sixties6 as in The Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan 1967-68).
And yet, many films and series produced on the aesthetic and commercial margins of the mainstream film and television industries (exploitation, B-movies and Z-movies7) are not necessarily informed by aesthetic and political ambitions. Perhaps, these works, freed from the constraints of good taste, take us back to the cinema of attractions while distancing it from normative filmic practices; as such, their mere existence may be deemed political, especially in the case of works which ultimately acquired a cult status and whose trashy aesthetics inspired both avant-garde and mainstream cinemas.
This conference invites the analysis of English-speaking films and series from the margins. Approaches may range from economics to aesthetics, including history and the study of distribution or production modes. Papers comparing English-language films with films in other languages are also welcome, as are those on films in which where English is not the only spoken language.
Please note that this conference does not address topics related to the representation of the margins and marginal groups unless it also covers one of the critical perspectives listed above.
- Definitions of what separates the mainstream from the margin;
- Historiographic approaches of the margins in terms of production, distribution and reception, in relation to the constitution of national filmographies;
- Historical accounts of the limits between margins and the mainstream;
- Studies of fanzines and other alternative film journals on marginal cinema and television;
- Marginalized groups’ film and television productions;
- Marginal streaming platforms;
- Communication between different groups producing marginal cinema and series;
- Practice and theory of third and fourth cinemas;
- Exilic, diasporic, indigenous use or partial use of English language;
- the Influence of technical changes on margins;
- Aesthetic similarities between different types of marginal films and series;
- Diary films and other forms of amateur film.
1 Jean-Loup Bourget, Hollywood, la norme et la marge (Paris: Nathan, 1998).
2 Thomas Elsaesser, “Hyper-, Retro- or Counter-: European Cinema as Third Cinema between Hollywood and Art Cinema ,” in European Cinema, Face to Face with Hollywood (Amsterdam University Press, 2005), 464–82, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n11c.37.Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, “Toward a Third Cinema,” Cinéaste 4, no. 3 (1970): 1–10.
3 Kate Coyer, Tony Dowmunt, and Alan Fountain, The Alternative Media Handbook, 1st edition (London & New York: Routledge, 2008).
4 Kristen Alfaro, “Access and the Experimental Film: New Technologies and Anthology Film Archives’ Institutionalization of the Avant-Garde,” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists 12, no. 1 (2012): 44–64, doi:10.5749/movingimage.12.1.0044.
5 Stacy Thompson, “Punk Cinema,” in New Punk Cinema (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 21–38.
6 Richard Dyer MacCann, “SIGHTINGS: Alternative Television: The British Model,” The American Scholar 43, no. 4 (1974): 650–56.
7 Joan Hawkins, “Midnight Sex-Horror Movies and The Downtown Avant-garde,” Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Tastes, (ed. Mark Jancovich et al, Manchester University Press, 2003), 223–34.
8 Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton (N.J.): Princeton University Press, 2001).
Organized by Céline Murillo (Université Sorbonne Paris Nord), Mehdi Achouche (Université Sorbonne Paris Nord), Anne-Marie Paquet Deyris (Université Paris Nanterre), Nicole Cloarec (Université de Rennes)