Skip to main content

Discussing film and music at my fourth Obermann seminar

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, academia

About a week ago, I attended my fourth bi-weekly seminar at the Obermann Center. The seminars provide an opportunity to share and receive feedback on our work in progress. While it’s useful to get feedback on my work, especially from people in other disciplines, I particularly appreciate the opportunity to spend time reading and reflecting on different scholarly areas.

Although this most recent seminar provided my second opportunity for [1], I was especially excited to participate in the other discussion. One of the other fellows does work at the intersection of film and music, exploring the interplay between soundtrack and content. Since some of my favorite experiences with close reading, as it were, came from my film classes with Gerald Mast [2], it was nice to be able to return to those experiences. And, while we were not asked to view whole films for our Obermann seminar, the clips we did view [3] brought me back to the times when I would watch and rewatch films to explore themes and approaches.

Of course, I was also reminded of how different the film study experience is these days than when I was in college. Videotapes were new in the early 1980’s, and few films were available. I remember how privileged I felt to have access to the University of Chicago’s film collection and the private screening room [4]. There’s something very different about handling celluloid [5]. On the other hand, it’s also nice to be able to easily find and explore connections on the Interweb. One of the films we discussed was readily available on YouTube, and it’s much easier to skim through a YouTube video than a reel of film.

For this particular project, the Interweb afforded more natural opportunities to look beyond the film. We could, for example, explore the soundtracks for the films, including both the music and the cover art. Since each movie had multiple soundtrack albums, including both a more traditional soundtrack and an inspired by soundtrack, I found it useful to compare the differences more directly, rather than just reading about them in the draft paper [6]. I also found it useful to identify other related materials, such as the trailers for the films. In at least one case, they used different footage and different background music in a critical scene in the trailer, and I appreciated the chance to compare the two.

Of course, my forays onto the Interweb included both inaccurate information, such as a false claim about the instrumentation that appeared on a page on Wikipedia, and surprising discoveries, such as a reissue of one of the soundtracks under a separate name in which it is not immediately identified as a soundtrack. I shared the latter with my colleague, and they had not known of it.

I do my best to attend talks by Grinnell colleagues when they present their scholarship. But there’s something very different about having the time to read through a draft paper and to explore related issues before discussing the paper. The experience feels more intellectually luxurious. Or at least it feels luxurious to have the time to spend time on something for just the intellectual pleasure. Knowing that I can, on occasion, contribute to a colleague’s scholarship, has also been a source of joy.

While I’m particularly enthusiastic about this week’s topic, it’s not just the opportunity to discuss film that feels special. When we were reading a more sociological paper in a previous seminar, I sought out the data in the paper [7]. The few digital humanities papers we’ve read have given me a few hours of pleasure exploring related archives.

At times, the musings provide a similar luxury. That is, I allow myself a few hours to explore a topic that I might not otherwise have considered. For example, I had a pleasant afternoon during late summer in which I drafted some notes on the works of by Tery Fugate-Wilcox [8]. More recently, I’ve been looking forward to responding to an old piece on education by Grinnell’s own Glenn Leggett. But these kinds of experiences provide less fulfillment than preparing for participating in a real scholarly conversation.

There are probably ways to replicate the experience of discussing a work in progress with people from a variety of disciplines. Maybe it already happens at Grinnell, and I don’t hear about it because I’m too busy, too old, too curmudgeonly, or too much of an outsider [9]. Maybe I do hear, and I don’t pay close enough attention. I’m not sure.

In any case, for the time being, I will continue to luxuriate in the opportunity the bi-weekly seminars provide.

[1] More on that in a separate musing.

[2] I like to name drop once in a while.

[3] And the additional clips I sought out.

[4] Being involved in DOC films helped a lot.

[5] Or whatever physical medium is used for film.

[6] I am doing my best not to provide too many details about the films because I do not want to tread on my colleague’s work.

[7] I didn’t find anything in the data that my colleague had not identified. Still, I enjoyed the opportunity.

[8] That musing still requires significantly more work, so it will likely not appear for some time.

[9] If I were doing work on film and music, I would not consider inviting one of the CS faculty to participate in discussions of my work.

Version 1.0 of 2018-11-07.