Drawing from archival research and contemporaneous film criticism and theory, philosophy, and anti-colonial critique, this talk traces how filmmakers in metropolitan France began to address these questions through the re-emergence of a cinema of exploration in the late 1940s and 1950s. These films were produced at the very moment when the question of the world as conceived by the traditions of French humanism its universalist aspirations were called into question by crises of wartime collaboration, the persistence of colonialism, and coca-colonization (the ascendant American economic and cultural hegemony). Such films participate in these discourses at a sensuous level, while also offering historians unexpected documents for writing a very different history of cinema. Focusing in particular on the production and reception of Jacques Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s Le Monde du Silence (1956), the most popular and aesthetically ambitious production of this cycle of exploration films, Cahill reads these films for the plurality of worlds they simultaneously archived and imagined through the cinematography, and call for a protocol of research and reading that sounds such material for a tendentiously anti-imperialist, anti-anthropocentric concept for the writing of a natural history of the cinema.
James Leo Cahill is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies and French at the University of Toronto, General Editor of Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies of Media and Culture, and co-chair of the Toronto Film and Media Seminar. In 2017-2018 he will be a fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, as well as a Visiting Professor at the Franke Institute for the Humanities/Mellon Center for Disciplinary Innovation at the University of Chicago. He is author of Cinema’s Copernican Vocation: Zoological Surrealism and the Early Films of Jean Painleve (forthcoming, University of Minnesota Press, 2018). He is presently working on a monograph on cinema and literature of exploration in France from The Little Prince (1943) to The Planet of the Apes (1963) and co-editing an anthology on Cinema and Exploration with Luca Caminati for Routledge’s American Film Institute series.
This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Documentary Research and Practice, the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, and the College Arts and Humanities Institute.