This paper examines how the use of sound modulations in the viral would-be dating video Can’t Hug Every Cat (Digital Video, YouTube, 2011) exemplifies a mutation characteristic of digital media ecologies. I show how these modulations display a growing emphasis on the non-anthropomorphous and non-subjective within digital media ecologies. In Can’t Hug Every Cat, which landed over twelve million hits on YouTube from July to December 2011, eHarmony online dater Debbie confesses her love for cats and bursts into tears. As the video spread virally, investigation showed that this emotional confession to interspecies love was the performance of the actress Cara Hartmann and did not involve ‘real’ tears. Within this performance the use of the plug-in auto-tune underscored the shifting lines between natural and artificial expression. The use of auto-tune allows the video to point to the mutations of media-specific norms. Whereas twentieth-century media cultures strongly opposed the natural and the artificial and aspired for the inconspicuousness of the artificiality of the reproduction of sounds, twenty-first-century digital media ecologies exhibit and emphasize the artificiality of expression.
BECKY BartlettUniversity of Glasgow
Gorilla filmmaking: acting the ape in Hollywood
Human representations of gorillas – men in suits – have featured on screen from the early days of cinema, with the first known example of a ‘Hollywood gorilla man’ appearing in the 1914 serial The Perils of Pauline. Since then, particularly during the 1940s and 1950s, gorillas have featured in horror, science fiction, comedy and drama films ranging from big-budget, professional productions, to low-budget bad movies. Inside the suits, a small group of men carved out careers playing gorillas: men like Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan, George Barrows, Bob Burns, and others. These men, who often created and owned their own suits and were frequently hired on this basis, have created distinctive alter egos, each one revealing unique and identifiable visual and performative characteristics. The relationship between human and gorilla will be examined in this paper, particularly regarding the function of the gorilla in fiction film in terms of both narrative and spectacle. Through their portrayal of creatures that combine qualities of the human and inhuman, these gorilla men represent such duality through performances that exploit otherness yet remain distinctly anthropomorphic. In an area ripe for further study, this paper offers one of the first academic studies of gorilla men.
Contemporary screen culture has featured a host of resurrected creatures, and artistic creators of the ‘undead’ continue to push the boundaries of the concept. While most films or television series about the undead tend to revolve around monstrous adult characters, two recent examples of telefantasy have incorporated children or youth to highlight the incongruity that the construct of a resurrected child injects into a narrative. A French series, Les Revenants, (2012; 2015– ) engages with the concept of the displaced, undead child by presenting a young boy and a teenaged girl who have returned from the dead. The American series Resurrection (2014– ) depicts the alienation experienced by an eight-year-old boy who returns to the world of the living after thirty-two years and is reunited with his considerably older parents. In each case, the resurrected child highlights a desire to suspend time and to preserve a particular bond that a traumatic incident has severed. Both series allow viewers to reflect on the concept of the resurrected child as the intersection of the familiar and the unknown, but Les Revenants also imbues the resurrected child with an ‘older soul’, while Resurrection presents the child as a symbol of elusive youth.
Stan BeelerUniversity of Northern British Columbia
The werewolf as a symbol in young adult television
As the popularity of fantastic fiction in television increases, the trope of the werewolf has become more common in all of the subgenres that make up the fantastic. Consequently the werewolf has become a staple in young adult/teen television where it serves a more complex symbolic function than the simple bogeyman of horror fiction. In order to more clearly analyze these symbolic functions, I would like to consider the figure of the werewolf in the BBC production Wolfblood and MTV’s Teen Wolf. Both shows incorporate the connection between the werewolf and the physically maturing bodies of the young adults who are the protagonists of these serials. They represent the hormonal vagaries of puberty as the shift from rational human being to raging wolf. A new development is the wolf as representative of an animal living in the strict hierarchy of a pack. Young adults are quite comfortable with the idea of alpha, beta and omega character-types in the context of education and life within the boundaries of adult expectations. The third aspect of the symbolic representation of the young werewolves in both serials is their ecologically sensitive connection to the natural world.
Frances BonnerUniversity of Queensland
Live animals: the role and place of BBC2’s Springwatch and related programming
Natural history television is primarily categorized as blue-chip, action-adventure or docusoap – all of which may or may not be presenter-led. All however are pre-recorded. What then to make of live natural history shows? Early natural history television (as some children’s shows today) involved live studio presentations with animals brought in from local zoos. This paper’s focus, however, will be on what liveness contributes to the BBC’s Springwatch and its spin-offs. These shows have provided a significant contribution to BBC2’s schedule since 2005. While the spectacle of the ‘live’ animal is at their heart, in many ways they draw as much on the conventions of sports broadcasting as wildlife television. Unlike most of the programmes that share the BBC Earth brand, the centrality of liveness to their address makes them unsuitable for overseas sales, or much in the way of repeat screenings to recoup costs. Their justification would appear to lie in their public service components, education and regionalism. However they should also be seen as a strong example of the tactics employed to maintain the importance of broadcast television and the perception of it as distinctive yet attuned to modern realities through dedicated online and other social media sites.
WILLIAM BROWN University of Roehampton
The digital female body: ScarJo as inhuman
From the novel The Future Eve (1886) to Spike Jonze’s film Her (2013), myths have circulated about how technology will help to create the ‘perfect woman’. This paper will analyze various films featuring Scarlett Johansson and the ways in which her star image seems to perpetuate this myth, especially via an association with technology. A highly mediated star, ‘ScarJo’, as she sometimes is known, is associated both with notions of ‘female perfection’ and with the digital – as evidenced by her presence in Her, Don Jon (Joseph Gordon Levitt, 2013, Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014) and Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014). Although her star persona is one of an empowered woman, as reflected in the action movies in which she stars, ‘ScarJo’ is nonetheless a problematic spectacle to-be-looked-at. Considering these films, the paper will suggest that her posthuman agency is digitally enabled, but that there is enormous tension surrounding the persistence of all-too-human gender definitions in these characterizations of ‘ScarJo’ as transcending humanity, and extending into the in- or posthuman.
Andrew BurkeUniversity of Winnipeg
Blood and beauty in Jack Chambers’s The Hart of London
Jack Chambers’s The Hart of London (1970) begins with found footage of a 1954 incident in which a deer wandered into the centre of London, Ontario. Chambers reveals the beauty of the animal as it bounds through fields at the edge of the city and leaps over suburban fences, but also documents the deer’s tragic demise when it is trapped and shot by a group of hunters and police. Chambers’s film has long been critically celebrated, most notably by Stan Brakhage, for its formal innovation and experimental vision, but in this paper I want to focus on the hart at the heart of The Hart of London. The doomed deer plays a crucial role in Chambers’s film, which is at once a civic history, a meditation on memory, and the story of Chambers’s own artistic formation and development. The deer is a symbol of modernity’s brutal subordination of the natural, yet simultaneously represents the wildness that persists at the heart of modernity despite all efforts to eradicate it. This paper examines the cinematic force of the blood that spills from Chambers’s eponymous Hart and considers its importance in a longer history of animals and experimental cinema.
ELENA CAODUROQueen’s University Belfast
Animal motherhood: Rossellini’s Mammas and the maternal instinct
The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relationship between the idea of motherhood in the animal kingdom and postfeminist sensibilities in the Sundance TV series Mammas (2013), written, directed by and starring Isabella Rossellini. The quirky short videos explore the maternal instinct of different animals, from the dunnock’s practice of polyandry to the hamster’s tendency towards cannibalism. Mammas features Rossellini performing animal behaviours in absurd costumes and follows the humorous projects Green Porno (2008) and Seduce Me (2010), both authored by Rossellini herself, which consider animal mating strategies. Going against naturalistic documentaries, Rossellini plays with her body masquerading as an animal and directly addressing the viewer with tongue-in-cheek lines. These educational and experimental videos enhance our knowledge of the animal world, but also challenge and confound our idea of maternity by voicing some human maternal issues. In this paper I argue that in line with present-day postfeminist reconfigurations of motherhood, Mammas goes beyond the fascination with baby animals, viral animal videos and stereotypical ideas of sweet and self-sacrificing motherhood. Drawing on works by Alphonso Lingis and posthuman studies, I read Rossellini’s project as an attempt to confront ethnography and zoology, underlining the connections between human, animal and the nonhuman.
Eu Jin chuaBirkbeck, University of London
Inhuman rustling: film theory’s fear of nonhuman nature
What is the most monstrous image that could be depicted on film? An unlikely answer to this question can be found in classical film theory. According to some of the earliest theorists, the most monstrous filmic image was that of chaotic physical phenomena such as rushing water or rustling leaves – any image of random, ungoverned nonhuman nature. Today, we are more likely to think of an image of ‘the wind in the trees’ as one that enchanted the earliest audiences. Yet the forgotten flipside to this trope is the fact that certain thinkers on film and photography – Kracauer, Baudelaire, Pirandello, Lindsay – felt that such images were improper and deeply threatening, for the reason that human consciousness is not meant to revel in such images, but rather to pull itself out of the soulless, empty-eyed morass of raw Nature. This idea goes very deep into the history of western thought – its sources are in nineteenth-century German idealism, in the Romantic motif of Nature’s inhuman ‘rustling’ (rauschen). By excavating these sources, I show how certain strands of film theory might actually be said to be anti-Nature – begging the question of what stance we should take towards film theory’s deep-seated fear of nature.
Though less-well known on the anglophone film scene, Naomi Kawase is a world-renowned filmmaker, thanks to her decades of association with the Cannes Film Festival. She also has a respectable career as a documentarian, and career retrospectives of her work have been held by several global art institutions. Viewed under the biopolitical lens, her work usually depicts an anthropocentric/non-anthropocentric tension. On the one hand, her films put the human animal at the centre of a narrative, prioritizing the human experience with topics spanning personal trauma, imperfect families and carnal senses. On the other hand, her cinematic style always demonstrates the umwelt where human is part of larger interconnected networks in which nonhuman entities prevail. However, because film studies tends to be an anthropocentric field, that side of her work is usually discussed while the other is ignored. To reverse the reading, with the emerging field of critical plant studies, this paper attempts to look at the cinematic plants presented in Kawase’s work. From a botanic garden to the forest, from a pea to a banyan tree in the wind, what are the roles of the vegetal life in Kawase’s world?
tiago de lucaUniversity of Liverpool
‘Cows! Dogs! Donkeys!’: animals, children and the inhuman in Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux
This paper aims to use the experimental film Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012) as a privileged springboard upon which to reflect on the relationship between humans, animals and the inhuman in the cinema. Set in a remote rural area of Mexico, the film deploys a number of features and techniques that arguably strive to frame the natural world and humanity through a non-anthropocentric perspective. This includes the visual motif of a half-human half-animal figure and the use of lenses that distort the edges of the frame, which intimates a strangely inhuman gaze. The film is further punctuated by a number of scenes involving the spontaneous interaction of children (the director’s own) and animals, thereby calling to mind the evolutionist notion that the former are the latter in the process of becoming humans. A case in point is its celebrated opening, in which the toddler Rut is seen in the midst of a waterlogged meadow surrounded by a number of animals, all of which she vocally designates ‘Cows! Dogs! Donkeys!’ By drawing on the conceptual framework of realism and theories of the gaze, this paper thus aims to examine the ways in which Post Tenebras Lux consistently blurs and questions traditionally separated notions of humanity and animality, depicting the human and the nonhuman world as simultaneously communion and estrangement.
Rosemary dellerUniversity of Manchester
‘Everything is made out of meat’: visceral vitality and carnal equivalence in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Despite commenting on regional precarity and environmental disaster, Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012) has nonetheless been praised for its exuberantly visceral depiction of the Southern US swamplands. While the film’s attentiveness to the vitality of bayou life has been viewed as an ecologically minded vision, what has not hitherto been discussed is the relationship between the film’s meat economy and its posthumanist impulses. If the notion that scarcity can turn humans into meat has provoked horror in contemporaneous post-disaster films such as The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009), in Beasts the claim that ‘everything is made out of meat’ suggests that the recognition of carnal equivalence between human and nonhuman life can encourage closer communion with the natural world. Yet, as the need for meat becomes integral to the central melodrama of the child narrator’s desire for maternal reunion, Beasts struggles to sustain its initial commitment to ecological harmony and interspecies communality. By tracing the shifting significance of meat throughout the film, this paper argues that Beasts of the Southern Wild does not so much affirm an unequivocal posthumanist perspective as evocatively show the lingering attachments that can render it difficult to push beyond ‘the human’ in the contemporary moment.
Rayna DenisonUniversity of East Anglia
From cute to ugly-cute: Japanese cinema and the cute animal industry
Cute animals have become a significant industrial force within Japan, from celebrity cats and dogs to animal television and film stars, a growing industry of kawaisa, or cuteness, has become connected to a wider boom in Japan’s pet industry. This paper focuses on two distinctive film production cycles featuring animals as main characters: a cycle of ‘professional’ cute dog films that includes Quill (2004) and Dog x Police (2011); and a subgenre of iyashikei, or ‘healing-style’, films that feature cats and dogs solving the emotional problems of their human families, including, Neko-ban: Cats in your Life (2011) to Wasao (2011). Moving from film genres to multimedia animal stardom, this paper demonstrates the reach of the increasingly profitable ‘cute’ animal film genre within Japanese media culture. In so doing, it shows that the industries of ‘cute culture’ in Japan have begun to commingle with those involving pets and their representations in Japanese media, creating a series of industrially significant subgenres of Japanese cinema. Through this examination of a booming cute pet industry that includes film, I explore both the cute and the ugly sides of the relationship between Japanese pets and the industries that represent them.
Jonathan DriskellMonash University Malaysia
Stardom and the inhuman in Malay cinema: P. Ramlee’s portrayal of the ‘oily man’ in Sumpuh Orang Minyak
In Malay folklore the Orang Minyak, which literally means ‘oily man’, on account of the black oil that covers its skin, is a paranormal being that roams the countryside and kampungs (villages), preying on and attacking young women. The Orang Minyak frequently appears in Malaysian culture: in literature, songs, news stories concerning apparent sightings and, especially, in the nation’s cinema. This paper will examine the first film to portray the Orang Minyak, Sumpuh Orang Minyak (P. Ramlee, 1958), which starred P. Ramlee, Malaysia’s biggest ever movie star. The film explores how an outcast hunchback becomes transformed from his human self into the powerful but inhuman Orang Minyak. Drawing upon archival materials and analysis of the film, the paper will explore such questions as: how did Sumpuh Orang Minyakshape ideas about the Orang Minyak?; to what extent does P. Ramlee’s stardom influence his portrayal of the Orang Minyak and blur the human-inhuman divide?; and how does P. Ramlee use his celebrated acting skills to embody the Orang Minyak? Above all, what does this particular example from Malay cinema reveal more generally about cinematic representations of the inhuman?
Pansy DuncanMassey University
Shrubs and the city: the plant life of cinematic New York
This paper explores the language of vegetal life in an unlikely cluster of film texts: The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1955), Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) and New York, I Love You (Various, 2008). Their setting, Manhattan, is a highly developed urban environment notable for its estrangement from the plant kingdom, while their genre, the romantic comedy, is remarkable for its solipsistic anthropocentrism. In this sense, this coterie of New York-based ‘rom-coms’ would seem to tell us less about how we imagine plants than about our failure to do so – except as set-dressing, symbol or object of exchange. Yet in tracking the itinerary of plants and plant matter across these familiar, even canonical texts, this paper will argue that the urban romance fables around which they ostensibly revolve at once displace and point to another story altogether: the story of the de-individuated, organic substrata on which city-dwellers in advanced western nations build their lives. This story, I contend, can help us think differently about the conceptualizations of sexuality and sociality that these romantic narratives are widely assumed to sustain.
Matthew EllisBrown University
I was walking with a ghost: Reddit’s nosleep, Marble Hornets and performed inhumanism in web-based horror
The arrival of Web 2.0 around the turn of the millennium empowered media creators with a myriad of new and participatory digital tools for storytelling, many of which have flourished within a trans-media genre form that has come to be known as ‘creepypasta’. These media objects often blur the line between reality and fiction through new modes of digital address, engaging viewers and users directly into their diegeses and providing agency to nonhuman modes of digital presence and embodiment. In this paper I look at two popular objects from this genre – Reddit’s /r/nosleep digital literature community and the Marble Hornets YouTube webseries – to ask questions about both the stakes and consequences of depicting inhuman embodiment within what is always already social, as well as the possibility of emancipatory political and social potentialities emerging in new media climates outside the control of corporate capital. To these earlier questions, I look to Friedrich Kittler and Jeffrey Sconce in the reading of a haunted media presence elaborated in both objects. To the latter, I use Julie Levin Russo’s notion of ‘seeing from below’ as a step towards Tiziana Terranova’s digital political affect.
GEORGINA EVANSUniversity of Cambridge
Framing aquatic life
There is an enduring parallel between the aquarium and the screen, both operating in the realms of public exhibition and domestic space as frames offering voyeuristic access to moving images of another world. Nineteenth-century aquarium practices, favouring illuminated flat panes puncturing darkened rooms, flourished in dialogue with proto-cinematic technologies. The formalizing film frame is mirrored in the conventional rectangular tank, containing what Phillip Warnell has termed ‘the sea with corners’. Screens and aquaria find new sympathies in the digital age, with screens used as simulacra of tanks to display moving images of marine creatures without the burden of sustaining their life. This paper uses this genealogy to prompt an analysis of the on-screen aquarium, the frame within a frame yielding a window into a world which is intangible, inaccessible and resistant to facilitating identification with its non-mammalian inhabitants. I will consider the presentation of the Williamson brothers’ underwater ‘photosphere’ footage embedded within Stuart Paton’s 1916 adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, before moving on to draw connections with the enlarged, matted-in film images used to animate the public aquarium scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947)and the imprisoned octopus of Warnell’s Outlandish (2009).
CLIFTON EVERSUniversity of Nottingham, Ningbo, China