Debashree Mukherjee (Université de Columbia)
Can we think of the foundational concerns of film studies – subjects, meaning, image, ideology – from the site of film production? In this talk I discuss some of the methodological and conceptual choices I made while writing a book about cinema as material practice. Specifically, I discuss the turn from the analytic of dispositif towards ecology through a set of archival case studies. In Bombay Hustle: Making Movies in a Colonial City, I present a practitioner’s eye view of cinema in 1930s India. I explore what it means to do film work, and how a history of production practices is central to understanding cinema’s imbrications with modernity. Material practices of filmmaking – from screenwriting to lighting to holding a boom microphone steady – mediated the meanings of modernity, even freedom, as individual cine-workers reimagined the self through categories of technology, specialization, art, and labor. Inspired by the work of environmental humanities on one hand, and process philosophy on the other, I approach the landscape of film production in the 1930s as a cine-ecology, a continual flux of multiactant relations of becoming. Cine-ecologies emerge out of the energetic entanglement of practices, symbols, infrastructures, ideologies, actors, and climates that swirl around the film image in locations where filmmaking and film consumption are prominent aspects of everyday life. Cinema, which has always been a transnational force, therefore comes to mean very different things as it settles into a specific cine-ecology in Istanbul or Sydney. A tropical place under colonial rule, a modernizing city that becomes the site of a talkie industry, Bombay with all its peculiarities of infrastructure, weather, and social politics – these are the contours of the talkie cine-ecology that I am interested in.
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