Leonie Naughton: ‘touched by what she has left behind’

Screen Hub
Friday 21 September, 2007

Screen Hub wishes to remember Leonie Naughton, who taught many members of the screen community, and made an important contribution to the intellectual environment for cinema in Australia. Bill Routt remembers her.

Leonie Naughton died in Melbourne on Sunday, September 9. She was 52. Leonie was a member of the first “generation” of film academics to have received their qualifications in cinema studies wholly in Australia. She taught at La Trobe University (her cinema studies alma mater) and at Monash.
Leonie was the only film academic in Australia whose primary research interest was contemporary German cinema. Her work tended to be in advance of international trends. In the mid-eighties she was writing about the relation of the “Heimat” genre to films about the Nazi period, and not long after that about constructions of masculinity in German film.

However, the clearest example of her prescience was the book, That Was The Wild East, hailed as a groundbreaking text in 2002, but initially completed six years before, as her PhD dissertation. The book was a reaction to what she had witnessed personally in 1989, when Germany was (re)unified.

Researching and writing That Was The Wild East meant monitoring what was going on in two kinds of German film and television pretty much as events happened and at almost the same moment transcribing what was learned into straightforward, and often witty, prose. (She rather enjoyed the idea that she, an Aussi, was writing about what was happening to Ossi, East German, media). The book condensed a great deal of original research into post-unification media history and policy into an analytic narrative which was followed by detailed somewhat bemused interpretations of a few films from the critically vilified “unification genre” of the nineties. And it was not a bad read.

But Leonie’s intellectual interests were not confined to German media. Recently she turned a fascination with cyberculture into a couple of research papers and a book project. When I last spoke with her she was anxious to get back to working on an analysis of television dramas that deal with police corruption.
And she had been a hardworking, dedicated tertiary teacher who inspired her best students with something of her own passionate belief in studying and understanding screen images and their institutions.

I think that ultimately it is Leonie’s passion for the screen that warrants your attention. Her working life was devoted to images that appear on screens, to what they may mean and how they may have got there. About such matters she was stubborn, opinionated, vociferous, illuminating, tolerant, ambivalent, dismissive and altogether moonstruck – as the best of us are or try to be.

She was one end of the process that begins when someone imagines a moving image: not an audience but a conservator, an intermediary, a facilitator, a guide. She imagined all those images anew, dreamed them again in speech and print for whoever would share her dreams. And now we who are left must dream along without her, our dreaming irretrievably touched by what she has left behind.

William D. Routt taught film and popular culture for over twenty years at La Trobe University, where he supervised Leonie Naughton’s doctoral dissertation. He has written about film history, theory and criticism, popular art and culture and Australian film (most recently with Ina Bertrand in ‘The Picture that will Live Forever’: The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)).

This tribute originally appeared in the online film journal Screen Hub. We are grateful for their permission to reprint this article.

Created on: Thursday, 19 December 2007

About the Author

Bill Routt

About the Author

Bill Routt

After more than 35 years teaching film, media and cultural studies, William D. Routt retired from academia in 1998. Since then he has published work on Australian film (including The Picture That Will Live Forever with Ina Bertrand), early cinema (including “Innuendo 1.5” in LOLA) and anime (including “De Anime” in The Illusion of Life 2).View all posts by Bill Routt →