Two project seminars

Two project seminars are taking place in the next couple of weeks, both at Leeds.

The first takes place at 4pm on Wednesday 4 March (Emmanuel Centre room 7):

‘Italian Cinemas/Italian Histories: Project-in-Progress Report’

The presentation will summarize the work done to date on the project: the mechanics of its development, the research questions, project partners, methodologies and funding applications.

Project diagram

Visualization of the project, November 2014

The second takes place at 4pm on Monday 16 March (Parkinson B11):

‘Liberty Leading the People: Carnival Temporalities in Political Cinema’

This seminar reports material from the ongoing work on the film The Battle of Algiers (1966) summarized here.


Bakhtin famously dubbed ‘carnivalesque’ an anarchic aesthetic that employs and celebrates the body-based and chaotic elements of popular culture (by which Bakhtin means the ‘culture of the people’) and that refuses all authority. The notion is usually employed to discuss comic forms but can be used to characterize aspects of cinema as such; as Graham Turner (1979) writes: ‘simpler societies have ritual or sacred corroborees as their main metasocial performances; proto-feudal and feudal societies have carnival or festival; early modern societies have carnival and theatre; and electronically advanced societies, film.’

By ‘metasocial performance’ Turner has in mind those ‘liminal’ periods when a society or culture articulates or tests in ritualized form its understanding of itself. Such periods are characterized by a ‘subjunctive’ mood heavy with potential: an anything-may-happen time in opposition to the ‘indicative’ time of workaday existence. Political cinema offers a choice example of film as metasocial performance. Firstly, the consumption of political cinema will often take place in ritualized contexts like film clubs or as part of festival seasons, and it will tend to be accompanied by discourse that marks out the viewing of such films as exceptional events. Secondly, political cinema is concerned to assert the relative nature of existing conditions so as to allow a different order of things to emerge.

This paper will focus on The Battle of Algiers (1966 Italy/Algeria) as a remarkable example of transnational political filmmaking. In this case, the prefix ‘trans-’ signals too the way the film occupies a liminal place in film studies and its unusually multiple address (to the Algerians, to the old colonial power, to anti-colonial sentiment). This multiple address means it functions like a film for ‘all the family’ and must have something for everybody; it must be involving for its diverse ‘community’ of viewers. This accounts for the film’s picturing of revolution as a ritual performance in the ‘subjunctive’ mood during which unruly behaviour, cross-dressing and so on, is indulged. Such behaviour is characteristic of liminal periods, e.g. initiation rituals or carnival, but the aspect of potential may exceed the parenthetic time – what Victor Turner refers to as the ‘ultraliminal’, i.e. the non-normative behaviour that spills into quotidian life and ‘indicative’ time. This is what the film encourages its audience to feel: the famous supplementary coda to the main story, when the ‘battle’ plot is ceded to choral protests by the Algerians against the French occupation, is experienced as invigorating by many viewers. This euphoria is what this paper tries to explain: it points to a new understanding of political cinema that goes beyond content or form to the question of address.