Lois Weber’s Shoes (1916)

Shelley Stamp

University of California, Santa Cruz

10 April 2018


Lois Weber’s 1916 film Shoes has been beautifully restored and recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Milestone.  I have waited for this moment for almost 20 years.  I first saw Shoes in 1999 at the Gender and Silent Cinema conference organized by Eva Warth and Annette Förster in Utrecht. The groundbreaking event included presentations by scholars including Kay Sloan, Heide Schlüpmann, Alison McMahan, Vicki Callahan, Jane Gaines and myself, along with screenings of archival film prints.

Seeing Shoes in Utrecht was a profound experience.  The print we saw, part of the Nederlands Filmmuseum collection, was heavily damaged and incomplete, with Dutch intertitles.  Noèmia Backer provided superb simultaneous English translation during that screening, struggling to translate an old form of Dutch into modern English.  I sat with two other American scholars, Kristen Whissel and Constance Balides, each of us at the beginning of our careers, all interested in feminist analysis of early cinema.  And we were all absolutely stunned by Shoes.  After the conference Balides and I stayed in Amsterdam to re-watch the film at the Filmmuseum, incredibly excited by what we had seen.  All three of us went on to write about Shoes in our subsequent work.  For Balides, the film represents an important example of Progressive-Era sociological filmmaking in the US.[i] Whissel highlighted Shoes in her extraordinary analysis of traffic and mobility in early American cinema.[ii]  When I first saw Shoes in 1999 I had not yet fully immersed myself in a study of Weber’s career.  In fact, at that point I’d likely only seen a few other Weber films, probably only Suspense (1913), Where Are My Children? (1916), and The Blot (1921).  Seeing Shoes undoubtedly crystallized my interest in tracing the fuller arc of Weber’s career, particularly her commitment to social causes and her interest in women’s lives. What remains so striking about Shoes is its capacity to render intimate details of the experience of poverty, consumer desire, and sexual shame through uniquely cinematic means, while also providing a wider lens on the social structures of wage labor, patriarchy, and prostitution.[iii]

 
That profoundly influential Gender and Silent Cinema conference in Utrecht where I first saw Shoes spawned a movement.  So energized was I by the event that Warth and Förster had organized that I talked my then-colleague Amelie Hastie into organizing a follow-up conference on Women and the Silent Screen in Santa Cruz, California, two years later.  On second thought, it was more likely the other way around.  I was probably speculating aloud about how great it would be to convene another event dedicated to tracing women’s engagement with early movie culture, when Hastie, ever enthusiastic, probably said, “let’s do it!”  Women and the Silent Screen has now become a (roughly) biennial conference where scholars gather in sites around the world, including Montréal, Guadalajara, Stockholm, Bologna, Melbourne, Pittsburgh, and Shanghai.  Next year we will meet in Amsterdam, coming almost full circle back to that originary event of 1999.  Many scholarly collections have emerged from these conferences and a considerable amount of scholarship, including my own work on Lois Weber, has been nurtured and developed in and around these gatherings.[iv]  The explosion of scholarship on women and the silent screen has also spawned a host of film restorations, retrospectives, festival screenings and DVD releases.  I can’t wait to see what comes next.


[i] Constance Balides, “Making Ends Meet: ‘Welfare Films’ and the Politics of Consumption during the Progressive Era,” in A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema, ed. Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 166-94; and Constance Balides, “Sociological Film, Reform Publicity, and the Secular Spectator: Social Problem Films in the Transitional Era,” Feminist Media Histories 3, no. 4 (2017): 10-45.

[ii] Kristen Whissel, Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology, and the Silent Cinema (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 161-214.

[iii] Shelley Stamp, “Lois Weber, Progressive Cinema, and the Fate of ‘The Work-a-Day Girl’ in Shoes,Camera Obscura 56 (2004): 140-69; and Shelley Stamp, Lois Weber in Early Hollywood (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 101-18.  My commentary track is included on the Milestone DVD and Blu-ray; and my short essay on the film is published on the National Film Registry website.

[iv] Collections featuring scholarship from conferences on Women and the Silent Screen include: Cinémas 16, no. 2 (2005), ed. Rosanna Maule; Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 46, no. 1 (2005), ed. Rosanna Maule and Catherine Russell; Camera Obscura 60 (2005), ed. Catherine Russell; Film History: An International Journal 18, no. 2 (2006), ed. Amelie Hastie and Shelley Stamp; Sofia Bull and Astrid Söderbergh-Widding, eds., Not So Silent: Women in Cinema Before Sound (Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2010); Monica Dall’Asta, Victoria Duckett, and Lucia Tralli, eds., Researching Women in Silent Cinema: New Findings and Perspectives (Bologna: Department of Arts, University of Bologna, 2013); and Screening the Past 40 (2015), ed. Victoria Duckett and Susan Potter.


Shelley Stamp is author of Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon and Lois Weber in Early Hollywood, winner of the Michael Nelson Prize from the International Association for Media and History and the Richard Wall Special Jury Prize from the Theatre Library Association.  She is currently curating the DVD box set Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers for Kino-Lorber and co-writing Women and the Silent Screen in America with Anne Morey. She is Professor of Film & Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she won the Excellence in Teaching Award.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Trans, Inter, Hybrid, or Entangled? – The multifold Concepts of Interlaced Media in History

Sigrun Lehnert, Hamburg

5 April 2018


Many concepts of media interconnections, particularly in structures of the digital world, have developed over decades in various disciplines (such as literary studies and art). In some cases, they differ only very little and have to be redefined and differentiated whenever they are used in research projects. The basis of all these approaches is the question of what changes regarding the content, structure, aesthetics or presentation forms may occur when different media and / or genres are involved. Globalization processes have an impact as well – media are reacting to each other internationally. The concepts of transnationality, intermediality and transmediality open up a vast field for researchers, e. g. in film studies.

Film has always included different code systems (with regards to the conception as well as the reception) – even silent films never worked without sound and music. Film is a complex medium which integrates sound, graphics, writing, photography. Thus, it can be called ‘multimedial’ itself. Additionally, genres, types of film (such as documentary, drama, series) [in German expression ‘Gattungen’] and aesthetic concepts are often mixed and in mixing these, film becomes ‘hybrid’. On the Internet, the multimediality and hybridity is even more diverse: The different ‘systems of characters’ do not appear solitarily on the internet. A media product (such as a video) is accompanied at least by writing and / or language – for the purposes of explanation and searchability. This means that there are different viewing angles and definitions of terms and they all deal with medial intermixes and interactions. This has led to a randomness and a confusing variety of approaches, which will subsequently be outlined.[i]

From 2013 to 2017, an international network dealt with the concept of “Entangled Media History” and used it as a ‘new concept’[ii] in various projects. The idea of “Entangled Media History” rejects the national and media-limited view, and instead looks at the connectedness and interlacing of media both transmedially and transnationally.

Entangled media histories refer not only to interrelations with respect to transborder/transnational, but also to transmedial/intermedial phenomena in media history – looking at the whole process of media communication, if possible.[iii]

In addition, since the concept deals with the vast variety of media content, phenomena such as medial continuity, convergence, intermedia references, and transmedia storytelling, could be inherent. Therefore, “Entangled Media History” (EMHIS) could be regarded as a ‘meta-concept’. But how and why do such concepts prove useful? It can be assumed, that through an extensive use of meta-concepts, the understanding of the single approaches, their genesis, and focused application will fade. Superordinate approaches could be less informative. The less specific the chosen approach is, the more specific and limited the application area obviously must be: The EMHIS research group has worked mainly on case studies. In the final analysis of the EMHIS-project, they again referred to the approach’s rich facets:

We have been identifying worthwhile topics for exploring entangled media histories in relation to the materiality of media, the hierarchies or asymmetries within media ensembles, the structures and interrelations of individual or collective media repertoires in everyday life, the ‘effect’ or ‘impact’ of media, the processes of migration, dissemination or movement, areas or agents of encounter, the ideas of identity and cohesion or exclusion versus inclusion, adoption and adaptation, counter culture and resistance as well as the convergence/divergence of media content or technology. This list may easily be continued. [iv]

Approaches used for dealing with media connections, developed in the 1980s, were widely discussed in the 1990s and spread internationally. The following list which attempts definitions is certainly not complete – additionally, depending on the nation and scientific discipline, the definitions will differ and have been differently accepted in the research communities.

Intermediality The totality of all phenomena that exceed the limits of individual media as well as their combination (for example, media changes, media combinations and intermediary references of various kinds).[v]

 

Transmediality Media-unspecific travelling phenomena, e.g. the occurrence of the same subject in different media, the implementation of a particular aesthetic or discourse type in different media.[vi]

 

Transmedia Storytelling Strategy to tell a specific content across multiple media. The narrative phenomena of media convergence (cf. Blog of Henry Jenkins).
Crossmedia A medial product, spread over different media for telling a story as a whole by using links for covering a topic.[vii]
Transnationality of Media

 

Characteristics of media that go beyond national boundaries.
Hybridity

 

Combinations of different media genres and / or types of media, mixing of presentation forms.

 

Intermedia Reference

 

Relationship between medial texts, reference could be represented, for example, as quotations, allusion, parody, pastiche, travesty, etc.

 

Convergence of Media

 

Fusion of different media in one medium.
Continuity in/of Media

 

Continuity and further development of one medium in another medium.

 

Multimedia Communication via several channels: content, design, and editorial channels (economic form of intermediality).

 

Entangled Media History Multiple (content) interweaving between single media or/and between media in different (European and non-European) regions and states.

When definitions are blurred, the uncertainty of using terms and concepts increases. Particularly young scholars may fear criticism in international communities as well as in their own scientific community. As a result, creativity is hampered in studies and interdisciplinary and international commitment might be avoided. But, since EMHIS is based on historical concepts (entangled history and histoire croisée), it could possibly be used as a bridging concept for an interdisciplinary communication with history studies. Through this conceptual diversity, international media comparisons can also be difficult, as the terms can’t be exactly translated. If, however, a meta-concept such as EMHIS is chosen, the risk of misunderstanding could be reduced – but with the consequence of low significance.

The diversity of the concepts of the different disciplines has a parallel in the ‘lack of methods’, which is often attributed to media studies. On closer inspection, however, a variety of methods are used, which are modified and combined depending on the subject matter and the research question.[viii] In order to make the selection of methods comprehensible, models can be used. Models should be clear, realistic, plausible, using graphic elements, and having a heuristic benefit. They are in a way universal, so that they can be applied broadly (for various media or research topics). Models could contribute to the further development of practice, if the relation to practical fields was already integrated in the model development.

Meta-concepts and models reduce the complexity, but they need of course to fit to the research question. Thus, a classification among different models and approaches is still necessary. The advantage of models and meta-approaches is that they might create a bridge of acceptance between disciplines – if they are accepted by the different scientific communities. The disadvantage is that they aren’t correct in general. They just highlight special things, which are (or should be) fundamental for the research. Thus, the application of meta-concepts and models needs to also be specific and the important elements still need to be highlighted to serve the reader. The discussion of concepts (meta or individual ones) and the usefulness of models is to be continued.


[i] Cf. Fraas, C. & Barczok, A. (2006). Intermedialität – Transmedialität. Weblogs im öffentlichen Diskurs. https://www.tu-chemnitz.de/phil/imf/mk/docs/fraas/weblogs.pdf [26.09.2017].

[ii] EMHIS is called a new concept on the website of Hans Bredow-Institute in Hamburg: https://www.hans-bredow-institut.de/de/projekte/entangled-media-histories [26.09.2017].

[iii] Cronqvist, M. & Hilgert, C. (2017): Entangled Media Histories, Media History, 23:1, pp. 130-141, DOI: 10.1080/13688804.2016.1270745, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13688804.2016.1270745 [26.09.2017].

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Cf. Fraas, C. et al. (2006): Intermedialität-Transmedialität. Weblogs im öffentlichen Diskurs. https://www.tu-chemnitz.de/phil/imf/mk/docs/fraas/weblogs.pdf [03.10.2017].

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Cf. Beuthner, M. et al. (Eds) (2017): Transmediales Erzählen, Münster, pp.7-9.

[viii] Cf. Lehnert, S. (2016): Results of a workshop on methods, in: Fernsehmomente, Blog of the workgroup Televisionstudies. https://fernsehmomente.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/die-methodenvielfalt-der-medienwissenschaft/ [26.09.2017].


Dr. Sigrun Lehnert majored in Media Management (Master of Arts) in Hannover, Germany. Since 2010 Sigrun Lehnert is scientific assistant in Hamburg. Her dissertation project at the University of Hamburg was on „Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren“ (German newsreel and early television news in the 1950s), supervised by Prof. Dr. Knut Hickethier. The following book has been published in 2013 by UVK, Konstanz. Her research fields are: film history, television history, documentary film, newsreels, archives and film heritage.

Website: www.wochenschau-forschung.de


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

CFP: Materiality, Aesthetics and the History of Technology The François Lemai Collection as Laboratory

Les Collections de la Bibliothèque de l’Université Laval Film Program of the Université Laval

TECHNES International Research Partnership Université de Lausanne and Université de Montréal

Call for Papers

Materiality, Aesthetics and the History of Technology The François Lemai Collection as Laboratory

FRENCH VERSION of the CFP: CFP_Colloque_FrançoisLemai

Liste des appareils/ Overview of the devices: Liste des appareils de la Collection François Lemai

International Conference, Université Laval, Québec, 29 October – 2 November 2018

Organising Committee:

André Habib (Université de Montréal)

Louis Pelletier (TECHNÈS/Université de Montréal) Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan (Université Laval)

Benoît Turquety (Université de Lausanne)

Part of the François Lemai Collection at the Université Laval. Ph. : Roger Côté (all rights reserved)

The aim of this conference is to discover what technical objects and their materiality can teach us about cinema, in connection with other kinds of archives. Its corpus is the massive collection of cinematic and pre-cinematic apparatus given to the Université Laval by collector François Lemai in 2016 (see the list of items). This project wishes to further the recent developments on the “archive as a research laboratory” (Fossati and van den Oever 2016). Researchers will be invited to spend a day working with devices from the collection, assisted by technicians, restorers and archivists, and then share the results within the framework of a three-day conference. Our expectation is that researchers will draw important conclusions from this material access to the objects

The crisis induced by the digital turn has made it necessary for film studies to turn to technological issues. Paradoxically, the so-called virtual, immaterial digital culture, has allowed for a rediscovery of the importance of materiality and its relations with aesthetic history—a rediscovery which was more often than not tinged with melancholy. We would like to take this analysis a step further, by examining the focal point of the cinematic dispositive, the machines, to see whether new resources for the understanding of the media emerge from this operation. While the study of film devices has tended to remain within the purview of technological history, as exemplified in the works of Barry Salt or Laurent Mannoni, it is also possible to study such devices from an aesthetic and epistemological perspective (Enticknap 2005; Turquety 2014). A given camera or projector presents different types of uses, which when exercised, exclude alternative uses. For instance, Vincent Bouchard (2012) has reconstructed the development of lightweight, synchronous recording equipment (“direct cinema”) by combining an analysis of National Film Board of Canada films with and a precise study of the apparatus used. Another example is the Bolex research project at the University of Lausanne, where the renowned maker’s high-end amateur apparatus are studied in connection with advertisements, patents, users’ manuals, and the films made with these cameras. We would like, with the help of the François Lemai collection, to broaden these kinds of archaeological approaches. The intention is to reveal a history of film forms that has thus far remained hidden from view.

 

A film apparatus is not only an object. As a complex machine, it mediates a relation with the world, as well as between the real and aesthetic realities. It incorporates and materialises a whole series of uses, gestures, processes and discourses, as a contact point between inventors, industrial bodies, and professional or amateur users. As Gilbert Simondon wrote, “what lies in machines, is human reality, gestures fixed and crystallized in functioning structures” (2012), leading Benoît Turquety to characterize machines as “archives of gestures” (2014). The technical and mechanical nature of a cinematic apparatus, and the gestures that manipulate it, can unwittingly reveal a context of implementation at the level of production or reception (studios, shooting crews, or movie theaters). Moreover, because cinema constitutes an institution, an industry, a specific division of labour, a dream factory, and an amateur activity, each of which produce unique sociological effects, an apparatus can also serve as an entrance point toward revealing a whole social context.

Rather than focusing technological analysis on the usual key transitional moments in film history, this conference adopts the view that – to a greater or lesser extent – cinema devices are continuously in states of transformation. In early cinema, for example, it is difficult to distinguish between magic lantern projectors capable of producing sophisticated motion effects and film projectors. But even in the classical era, the stability of machines is never realized: each modification to camera models, projectors, editing tables, etc. is accompanied by changes in uses and expectations, among technicians and spectators alike. The analysis of each variant in the history of apparatus may ultimately reveal important cultural, economic or institutional transformations. This is why we think that the vast François Lemai collection constitutes a potentially significant contribution to the understanding of previously unrecognized aspects of technological history, but also of the history of forms, theories, and film culture. However, these new sources for the writing of cinema history pose unique methodological and epistemological challenges, which thus require the elaboration of new research protocols.

In film museums, usually one is asked to look but not touch. The ill-founded belief that films bear no significant relation to material reality may in fact limit researchers to only working with paper or digital archives. Few researchers have had the opportunity to work with material archives. Still, the handling of objects can teach us a lot about techniques and uses. Each camera possesses a specific structure, and internal coherence, a particular weight, inertia, and balance; its crank has a certain resistance; its viewfinder, more or less clarity and precision. These facts entail a certain position of the user’s body and a specific array of possibilities as to the relation with filmed objects. Magic lanterns and projectors have various modalities: a type of lens or lighting equipment which favour specific types of uses, while preventing or limiting others. The design of the machine is also revealing of a commercial intention. It may signal a “high end” or luxurious positioning, or, conversely, a desire for functionality, and technical or economic accessibility.

Concretely, we would like this conference to function, foremost, as a laboratory. The process entails several steps. The first is carried out prior to the conference in the form of research on films and written sources (journals, patents, publicities). At the conference, a day will be dedicated for researchers to explore and manipulate devices in the François Lemai collection, which will provide a unique opportunity to test their premises and conclusions against the materiality of the film devices. After a day of reflection and revision based on this experience, which should bring to light new information pertinent to the participant’s research, contributors will then present their papers. Scientific experiments or artistic performances may even be attempted, so long as they respect archival norms.

The organising committee is interested in proposals concerning, but not limited to, the following subjects:

  • Comparative studies between the objects in the François Lemai collection and those from other archives
  • The various connections between technology and aesthetics
  • The discontinuities within cinema history and their relations with technical inventions
  • The relations between the body and its organs (hand, eye, etc.) and the body and organs of the machine (handle, crank, viewfinder, tripod, )
  • Rare formats (11 mm, 17.5 mm, 22 mm, 28 mm…)
  • The implicit conceptual structures of machines
  • Particular devices: drive systems, shutters, viewfinders, lenses, motors, slide holders,
  • The incremental evolution of a brand or of a type of apparatus (e.g. 5 mm cameras)
  • Apparatus design   and   advertising   discourse   (distinction,  aestheticism,  functionality, ergonomics)
  • Gender issues in the use of devices (in amateur cinema, for example)
  • The differences between the uses foreseen by inventors and producers (in patents and manuals) and the innovative uses of filmmakers
  • The missing links in the history of particular machines
  • The kind of motion and the image loops of various optical
  • The magic lanterns lighting systems and types of illuminants
  • The materials of various devices (wood, leather, metal, )
  • National technological histories
  • “Gun cameras” and other military devices
  • Various devices for sound-image coupling
  • The methodological issues connected with machine analysis

The persons interested in presenting workshops, demonstrations and projections within the framework of the conference are also invited to submit their proposals to the scientific committee. TECHNÈS will take the opportunity to present, among others, a workshop on the 3D digitization of apparatus from the François Lemai collection.

Proposals for twenty minute papers should include a title, a 300 word summary, a selective bibliography and a brief biographical note. They should be sent, either in English or in French, to colloque.francois.lemai@gmail.com before 15 April 2018.

For more information: colloque.francois.lemai@gmail.com

Selective bibliography

Michel Auer, Histoire de la caméra ciné amateur, Paris : Ed. de l’Amateur, 1979, 174 p.

Christopher Beach, A Hidden History of Film Style: Cinematographers, Directors, and the Collaborative Process, Oakland, University of California Press, 2015, 248 p.

Vincent Bouchard, Pour un cinéma léger et synchrone! Invention d’un dispositif à l’Office national du film à Montréal, préface de Michel Marie, Villeneuve-d’Ascq (Nord), Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2012, 284 p.

Leo Enticknap, Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital, New York, Wallflower Press, 2005, 208 p.

Giovanna Fossati et Annie van den Oever, Exposing the Film Apparatus: the Film Archive as a Research Laboratory, Amsterdam : Amsterdam University Press, 2016, 478 p.

Alan Kattelle, Home Movies: a History of the American industry, 1897-1979, Nashua, N.H.: Transition Publishing, 2000, 411 p.

Laurent Mannoni, Le Grand Art de la lumière et de l’ombre : archéologie du cinéma, Paris : Nathan, 1995, 512 p.

Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis, Londres : Starword, 2009 (3e édition), 453 p. Gilbert Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques, Paris : Aubier, 2012, 367 p.

Gilbert Simondon, Sur la technique : 1953-1983, Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 2014, 460 p.

Benoît Turquety, Inventer le cinéma : épistémologie : problèmes, machines, Lausanne : Éditions l’Âge d’Homme, 2014, 270 p.

Jean Vivié, Prélude au cinéma : de la préhistoire à l’invention, Paris : Harmattan, 2006, 277 p.

Jean Vivié, Traité général de technique du cinéma. T.1 : Historique et développement de la technique cinématographique, Paris : Bureau de Presses et d’Informations, 1946, 137 p.

John Wade, Lights, Camera, Action!: An Illustrated History of the Amateur Movie Camera, Atglen : Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2014, 160 p.

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