This special dossier contains research originating from the “Sea Change: Transforming Industries, Screens, Texts” conference, which was staged at Victoria University of Wellington in November 2016. This highly successful event was the inaugural conference of the Screen Studies Association of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand (SSAAANZ). As the conference title suggests, this gathering of some eighty experienced and emerging scholars in Wellington marked a transition. The SSAAANZ conference replaced the Film and History Association of Australia and New Zealand (FHAANZ) conference after the latter had been in existence for over twenty years. Consequently, it provided a forum for scholars working in Film, Media and Television Studies to analyse and discuss new developments in the fields of screen aesthetics, criticism, industries, histories and technologies. The conference participants delivered innovative research on topics such as the representation of gender, race, and cultural identity, film and television genres, and screen industries and production. Understandably, many speakers explored these issues in relation to Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, but several presentations dealt with them in various European, American and Asia-Pacific contexts. The rich diversity of the scholarship at the conference is reflected in the range of articles published here, as well as in the conference related material that will appear in Studies in Australasian Cinema and MEDIANZ: Media Studies of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Adrian Danks’ article reconsiders Fred Zinnemann’s 1960 film The Sundowners. He examines the film’s production and reception, as well as its representation of Australian culture and landscape, in order to argue that it is both a key film within Zinnemann’s period of international filmmaking and in the history of Australian cinema. Danks’ piece shows that investigating and recontextualising Australian film history continues to yield valuable insights. Allison Craven’s essay also examines transnational filmmaking through her discussion of ‘marine adventure’ productions based in Queensland. Using The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Sera, 2016) as a case study, she analyses the connections between the digital transformations of tropical environements through CGI (a process she calls “terraforming”) and government financial assistance for runaway productions. For Craven, the underacknowledged or unspeakable feminine spatial tropes of The Shallows becomes a figure for the uncertainty surrounding the status of ‘local’ landscapes and screen industries in an era of global filmmaking. Phoebe Macrossan’s contribution also deals with hybridity through her evaluation of Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical Across the Universe (2007). Macrossan contends that the decision not to feature the members of The Beatles or their original recordings enables Taymor to construct a creative nostalgia that reinvents the 1960s while linking it to the decade to contemporary concerns such as the war in Iraq. Challenging Fredric Jameson’s criticisms of the nostalgia film, Macrossan points to the ways in which Across the Universe invites audience participation and promotes a sense of communal belonging.
The remaining three articles combine close textual analysis with theoretical approaches drawn from philosophy and cultural studies. Kevin Fisher’s essay on Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008) was one of several excellent presentations on the horror film at the conference. He employs the concept of denegation via Zizek and Baudrillard to assert that the film radically destabilises our understanding of the narrative events (a teenage girl haunts her family and friends after her death) and how these are represented (photographs and home video, some of which has been faked by the characters). His rigorous interpretation demonstrates that the found-footage horror film’s relation to the ‘real’ is a complex matter. Michel Rubin’s piece also explores the blurring of boundaries through his analysis of the scream in the cinema of Phillipe Grandrieux. Rubin uses Antonin Artaud, Francis Bacon and Gilles Deleuze to indicate the manner in which the scream can exceed the individual subject. He deploys this conceptual framework adroitly in his reading of Grandrieux, showing how the scream disrupts conventional narrative and psychological structures in films such as Sombre (1998) and La Vie Nouvelle (2002); instead screams in these films “emerge as abject incarnations embodied in the audiovisual material of cinema”. My own contribution also examines the effects of aural and visual style through a study of the influence of the opening title sequence of Se7en (David Fincher, 1995) on several other serial killer texts. I argue that the textured imitations of Se7en found in films such as The Bone Collector (Phillip Noyce, 1999) and Taking Lives (D.J. Caruso, 2004) belong to the discourse of serial killing in popular culture that according to Mark Seltzer involves an endless cycle of mimetic appropriation.
I would like to express my considerable gratitude to Anna Dzenis and Adrian Martin for their generous support in publishing this dossier. Thanks also to Hannah Parry for her assistance with proofreading.