‘I’m going to be met by a phalanx of safari-suited men.’: An Interview with Lesley Stern

Lesley Stern interviewed by Deane Williams


Professor Lesley Stern is the author of The Scorsese Connection (1995) and The Smoking Book (1999), and co-editor of Falling For You: Essays on Cinema and Performance (1999). Her work moves between a number of disciplinary locations, and spans both theory and production. Although her reputation was established in the fields of film theory and history, she is also known for her fiction writing.

Stern was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and spent many years in Australia before moving to University of California San Diego in 2000. She has an Honours degree from London University (in English Language and Literature) and a Ph.D. from Sydney University (in film). She has taught in a number of countries, including Zimbabwe (at the University of Zimbabwe), the United Kingdom (Glasgow University), Australia (La Trobe and Murdoch Universities and The University of New South Wales) and the United States (University of California Irvine).

She has published extensively in the areas of film, performance, photography, cultural history and feminism, and her essays have appeared in journals such as ScreenM/FCamera ObscuraFilm ReaderImage Forum (in Japanese),Trafic (in French), Emergences, and Critical Inquiry.
A recipient of many awards and grants, Stern has been a Getty Scholar for the year of the Passions in 1998, and a Visiting Fellow at the Getty Research Institute for a seminar on Gesture in 1999. Also in 1999 she was elected to the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
In 2002 she was a Research Fellow at the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

Stern’s current projects include a work of creative non-fiction on gardening, culture and politics, and a book on cinema, performance and affect. Her recent publications include essays on the Taiwanese film, Good Men, Good Women (1995), and on Township Theater in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where traditional arts (music, dance, story telling) are combined with more contemporary dramatic modes and with kung fu.

DW: Is it possible for you to recall Zimbabwe, particularly your undergraduate years there and to also talk about what you became interested in?

LS: I grew up in what was then Rhodesia, which was a colonial country. There wasn’t any formal apartheid but in effect there were white schools and black schools. Yet the university was multi-racial because it was a college of London University and so it was about half black and half white students. It was actually a real hot bed of intellectual ideas and activity, a really exciting place to be studying. I studied English language and literature, and part of it was linguistics.

DW: When was this exactly?

LS: I went to university in 1969. The department was very Leavisite but the training was very good. It was a small department and you did honours from the beginning, so it was just a very small class and the training was really intensive in terms of close reading. Even though it was Leavisite, there was room for manoeuvre and because it was an external college of London University they could set some of their own courses and the students actually had some input. It meant we were able to move outside literature and into areas of popular culture.

I guess I always really loved film and always been kind of fanatical about film, so I started writing film reviews when I was an undergraduate. I started reading Raymond Williams and found out about the Birmingham Centre in cultural studies and figured that was what I really wanted to do, that I didn’t want to do a PhD in literature but wanted to do something much more in terms of popular culture.

I was doing some teaching at night schools for African kids who couldn’t go to school during the day, and I also taught at the Polytechnic to earn some money to get myself through university. It was then that I was in this situation of really having to leave Zimbabwe, but also being fortunate enough to apply for Commonwealth scholarships because it was still a colonial country. I applied to Birmingham and didn’t get in. I was married at the time so the place where we were both accepted was Glasgow University. I applied to a drama department because I was also interested in theatre and drama, and luckily somebody who was really interested in film said he would take me on.

DW: Who was that?

LS: His name was Nick Hearn, who actually never wrote in film. He worked with Methuen after working at Glasgow University and then eventually set up his own theatre-publishing house. He was great at encouraging me, and for the first couple of years I just went to movies the whole time because I’d seen hardly anything. I’d once seen one Ingmar Bergman film at the art gallery in Harare, or Salisbury as it then was, and I knew nothing about the classics of cinema. All I’d seen was what was available or what came through to Zimbabwe.

DW: And were these mainly Hollywood films?

LS: Yes. I grew up on a farm and as a kid I’d watch films that my father used to rent and show on a 8mm projector. We’d have screenings every Saturday and Sunday night, which consisted of Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin films and those sorts of movies.

DW: And so at Glasgow you were in the theatre department, which is the department that has now developed into the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies?

LS: Yes. I started teaching film and was one of the first film people there. I was also very isolated. Apart from Nick Hearn there was hardly anyone, and then John Caughie, who’d been away [from the UK] for about a year, came back and got a job in the department, maybe two years after I’d been there, and that was great because I had another film person to talk to.

I started offering courses, first of all extramurally – a course in Alfred Hitchcock or film and theatre, that kind of thing – and then eventually I taught some film courses in the department.

DW: So you were initially teaching these courses outside of the university structure?

LS: It was in the university structure, but the extramural or adult education and so not a degree initially. But the department courses were in the degree structure; this was in the early 1970s while I was still working on my PhD.

DW: What was your PhD on?

LS: Well, I never finished that PhD. It was on Joseph Losey. It started out being on the collaboration between Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter. Because I was in this drama department, I had to find some drama connection, or connection to literature. I really was ignorant about films so had to use what I had. Then it just became more on Joseph Losey, and I wish I had finished because Losey was a really interesting topic and was just starting to be of greater interest to the British Left. The structures weren’t there because there wasn’t a film department, but film was an emerging discipline.

It was a really exciting time to be in Britain because of the British Film Institute [BFI]. The education department was really lively and they would have all these seminars and there was the Edinburgh Film Festival and summer schools at Stirling organised by the BFI. It was a really exciting time and I spent all my time reading and going to movies. I wrote some things, but it wasn’t in a culture that was pressing you to publish or write. Then when Nick Hearn left I really didn’t have anyone to work with, so I just kind of bashed on.

DW: Did you start to get involved with Screen Education and Screen?

LS: Yes, while I was in Glasgow I used to go to London a lot, which is where Screen was located. I encountered but didn’t know the actual Screen editors at that time. Of course I knew Sam Rohdie’s name, but never met him.

DW: Who was editing Screen from there?

LS: The editor was, I guess, Stephen Heath. The Screen people included Heath, Ben Brewster, Paul Willemen, Claire Johnston, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen. Then there was also Screen Education that was doing this kind of outreach. It was just really so exciting to do those seminars and schools and talks. Not a lot of those people were teaching film; they were all in other areas. It was before there was an established film culture in the academy.

DW: Can you remember how you first made contact with the people in London?
I think it was at a summer school. I used to go to London quite a lot and basically look at films, and I went to the London Filmmakers Co-op because I’d never seen an avant-garde film in my life. I remember going to a marathon weekend of avant-garde films where they showed Hollis Frampton for like two days on end. But I sat there transfixed like a good little colonial. Everyone else walked in and out or left, but I behaved myself very well. Then I started going to some seminars in London and started doing research at the BFI. I guess that was part of it – I was looking at films then and using the BFI library.

DW: Was that as part of your Losey project?

LS: Yes, and I’d find out about these seminars that I started going to and would sit very quietly in the background. Then they started having these summer schools that were held at Stirling University in Scotland and I started going to those. I went to one on narrative and cinema, narrative realism, that sort of thing, and a fabulous one on film noir. And there’d be day schools that I’d go down to London for and so I started meeting people.

DW: Who was running the seminars at Stirling?

LS: Well, it was more the people in the education department who where running the Stirling school, people like Jim Hillier, Ed Buscombe, Jim Cook, Christine Gledhill, Paddy Whannell, Allan Lovell. I met lots of interesting people there, and Jane Gaines came over from the US the first few years.

DW: Did you start writing apart from your PhD?

LS: I started writing, but I hardly published anything. I did reviews for the television at Glasgow University and I wrote occasional reviews for the university newspaper perhaps. I was just writing screeds and screeds, which never got published, or saw the light of day, on all sorts of things. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to ever try to publish anything.

DW: Because, as you said earlier, there weren’t imperatives?

LS: Partly because the imperatives weren’t there, and in terms of Screen I suppose I didn’t feel I had that inner access. I also felt like I was just learning.

DW: And when the PhD petered out at Glasgow, where did you go from there?

LS: Well, it didn’t really peter out; I kept doing it for years. When my scholarship ran out and also my marriage broke up, I went to work at the BFI. I got a job there as a kind of assistant to the assistant publicity manager of regional film theatres. It was a very lowly job but it was fantastic because I got to go to movies for free at the National Film Theatre. I could go to movies almost every night. I was working with film and I was writing blurbs on films for the regional film theatres, initially. Colin McArthur was running my department and then after a while Paul Willemen came to work there, and that’s where I met Paul. I worked there for not so long, less than a year, and then I got a teaching job in Australia. They shouldn’t have given it to me, but they did and it changed my life.

DW: When was this and how did the job come about?

LS: This was in 1976, in Media Studies at La Trobe University [Melbourne]. I was writing off applications for every job advertised, including the BFI one. My professor, James Arnott at Glasgow, was very upset when I got the BFI job. He said, ‘You’ll never claw your way back into the academy’.

Anyway, I applied for this job at La Trobe in Australia and didn’t think anything more about it. I put in a one-page application and filled out the form and nothing happened for ever so long. Then suddenly I was offered the job while working very happily at the BFI and I thought this was really weird. But the pay was double what I was earning and it was in the film department. Things were going well and I thought when things are going well you should take whatever opportunity comes up. So off I went and Mick Counihan met me at the airport.

But by the time I got off the plane I thought this was really a total disaster. I had had quite a lot of gin on the plane and I thought, ‘What on earth am I doing? I’ve got on this plane, I’ve left a good life behind me in London and I’m going to be met by a phalanx of safari-suited men.’ It was the 3rd of February 1976 and when I got off it was one of those Melbourne days of blinding sunlight, that kind of absolute flat white light you get in Melbourne in summer time and it was like I’d entered hell. But there was no phalanx of safari-suited men; there was no one to meet me. I was standing there with my luggage trying to make a phone call and eventually this scruffy guy with embroidered jeans comes up and starts reading all my luggage labels. He said, ‘You’re not Lesley Stern, are you?’ and I said ‘I think so, who are you?’ And he said ‘I’m Mick Counihan and I’m sorry, the car broke down on the way.’

Anyway, that was a fortuitous meeting because Mick and I became fast friends and then Mick told me the story of what had actually happened, that his department, which was Media Studies and situated in Education, wanted to start a Cinema Studies program. So this was the first appointment in Cinema Studies. The department wanted to appoint Sylvia Harvey who had done more than I. She had completed her PhD, which then became her book,[1] and she had published something and I hadn’t. Media Studies were all happy with this and then the Dean thumped the table and vetoed it, and said, ‘We will have no more Marxists or feminists in this school!’ I was the fall back position. I had given away nothing about who I was or what I was in my application. James Arnott, my professor, owed me one for some reason and so obviously he’d really talked me up. So I got this job, and Mick was expecting someone in twin set and pearls. Then when this Dean finally met me and discovered he hadn’t escaped the Marxist-feminist net, he just refused to speak to me after that. So it was a mistake but it was a happy one because it brought me to Australia. I thought I’d be there for six months but then I got really involved in trying to set up Cinema Studies in the Humanities, which was a bloody and horrible drawn out battle, but still it was also kind of interesting.

DW: So you were originally located in Media Studies.

LS: Yes. Mick, Patricia Edgar, Ina Bertrand, Ian Mills were the main people. Peter White came, but maybe a year or so later, and then subsequently Bill Routt and Rick Thompson.

DW: At what stage were you involved in setting up the new department?

LS: Pretty soon. Sam Rohdie came a year after me, which meant there were two of us with Cinema Studies positions. Then Bill Routt, who actually was a Media person, but taught some things with us. I guess it was after Sam Rohdie came – maybe, maybe not – but it was a long battle to try and set that up. It went over several years.

DW: What was the battle over? Was it a disciplinary thing, that Cinema Studies wasn’t the real deal?

LS: I think it was on several fronts. It was less from the Humanities, although it was a battle to have it accepted as a legitimate area. I guess it was more an empire battle: there were people who didn’t want to have Cinema Studies become an autonomous degree separate from Media. That was really the grounds of the battle.

DW: Did you know Sam Rohdie from before then?

LS: No. He had already left London by the time I was there.

DW: How did you and Sam Rohdie go about setting up a program? And did Sam have experience in teaching?

LS: Yes, Sam had some experience in teaching. He was quite a bit older than me and he’d already done Screen. But Sam, as you might know, is a real legend – a very prickly character and so he was not a great person to have on committees. He’s not the most politic of people but he is extremely smart and had a very good vision about what a program would look like. And people like Bill Routt and Mick Counihan were involved as well, and Ian Mills. It was quite intense and interesting trying, bit by bit, to build a program, to make inroads into the Humanities while being stymied at every turn by the Media Centre, or by some people in the Media Centre.

It was a matter initially of just charting out our courses. Not actually starting with the idea of setting up a degree structure but working on a foundation course and then upper level courses and then an Honours stream and then we started getting PhD students. I guess it just happened bit by bit, and then there was the whole process of getting these courses legitimated as Humanities courses, not Media Studies courses, and working out was things like how students would be accredited for the courses they did. It was a really good learning experience, and Patricia Edgar was one of the toughest protagonists I ever had. She was a very good political animal, so it was kind of tough but it was a very useful way of learning about how the academy functions.

DW: I was just thinking that there were three Americans and a Zimbabwean, all of whom had come to Australia to teach, and that there were things going on internationally in terms of the way screen studies was developing. How did you decide what should be taught?

LS: I suppose Sam and Mick and I were pretty much on the same page. Perhaps Mick was slightly at an angle but basically in accord, even though Mick also taught quite a lot in the Media Centre. He is a real polymath: he reads everything and is extremely knowledgeable about all sorts of things. Of course Sam and I were fanatical about theory and thought that it was absolutely imperative for anybody going out into the world in any capacity to know all about Russian Formalism and the whole range of narrative theory and be able to talk about the avant-garde in great detail and so on. We were intense and probably extremely objectionable, and I can now see why more experienced academics must have really loathed me. But we were very zealous and so I think Sam and I burnt the trail in some sense. Bill was gentler, more divided between media and cinema, but contributed a great deal to the formation of the program. Ian was very much with us and he had a philosopher’s training. And that was it; that was the core of the program.

DW: Did you still correspond with the friends you’d made in London, like Paul Willemen?

LS: Yes, intermittently. I was still pretty much in touch.

DW: My guess is that Rohdie and Routt would’ve done the same and immediately you get these international connections operating.

LS: Yes, and of course I read a lot and when I came to Australia I was really amazed at how much people did read. People here more extensively read Screen, for instance, than they actually did in Britain.

DW: Can you remember what you were reading? You were reading Screen, and what else?

LS: Camera Obscura, once it got off the ground, and I would read things like Velvet Light TrapFramework, and the Edinburgh Film Festival publications. I had connections with the Edinburgh Film Festival; I’d worked there as a student. I used to go through to Edinburgh and work on the festival and that was another really exciting venue. I kept up all of those kinds of contacts, and I suppose as well as the film theory I was just reading everything – auteur studies, genre studies and everything that was published by the British Film Institute. But also other things: I was reading a lot of psychoanalysis, a lot of narrative theory, literary theory, a lot of Marxism because I was also involved in the magazine Intervention – I was a devout Althusserian at that time.

DW: And was that a result of reading publications like Screen? That you would go to primary sources after seeing references?

LS: Primarily, yes, although some of the Marxism came from my background anyway. But all of the French theory inflection came via Screen.

DW: Were there reading groups at La Trobe at that stage?

LS: There were various groups. There was a little reading group that comprised Mick Counihan, Charles Merewether and James Roy MacBean, another American, and myself. There were the four of us but I think other people came in and out. But we had another reading group, more generally on media, and we were very influenced by Tel Quel and Roland Barthes, as well as the Birmingham Centre, and studies that came out of that on looking at images. That’s what set us going, and then we started doing work on the Australian media and that’s where I published some of my first articles, through Intervention and feminist groups I was working in. Then I think Mick and Jim and Charles and myself wrote a piece about a picture of Bob Hawke that had been published on the front page of the Herald. Hawke was a trade union leader then, before he became Prime Minister, and one day, during a major strike, the Herald ran a picture of Hawke playing tennis. Together we did a thing on that story and it was published in Intervention first and subsequently got published in an ATOM [Australian Teachers of Media] publication, a media magazine, which I think became Metro. It wasn’t called Metro then; it was something else. Then the article got taken up by the Education unit doing Media Studies and was actually used for teaching purposes, which was very odd after having been in this kind of abhorrent left wing journal initially.

DW: And when you say you were involved with feminist groups, were these activist groups within the academy?

LS: Not initially. There was some cross over but one of the things I liked about Melbourne was that there was this life outside the academy. For example there was the life with Intervention but that spilled over into all kinds of people who weren’t academics, and likewise for feminist work.
I was also in some feminist reading groups and later there was a feminist film reading group that initially had Barbara Creed, Freda Freiberg, Annette Blonski and a few other people.

DW: How did you meet this group?

LS: I think I met them through the Tertiary Screen Education Association [TSEA], which was a sort of little group in Melbourne and I guess they were part of it. I think David Hanan might also have been part of it. It was prior to the Australian Screen Studies Association and it was really made up of teachers who were involved in screen education. Then I guess Barbara Creed came to La Trobe and started doing a PhD with me as her supervisor, but TSEA was prior to that.

DW: How did you end up getting your own PhD?

LS: I just eventually abandoned my PhD and I did fine in Australia without one. Once I started publishing and got experience teaching and being actively involved in screen education I didn’t really need a PhD because I had the equivalent, which you could do in Australia and Britain. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it to in America if I ever wanted to go there, and that also became increasingly so in the UK and so I eventually did a PhD through Sydney University, which was a version of my book, The Scorsese Connection.[2]

DW: Sorry to jump around, but when you were at La Trobe what cinema subjects were you teaching?

LS: The foundation course in the first year in Cinema Studies was a full [introduction to film theory]. We basically introduced students to theory – narrative theory, theories of realism, theories of subjectivity, theories of viewing – all the things that were going on at the time. We gave them really hard readings to do and there were a lot of film screenings, so we would organise these into modules. We’d have modules like ‘Narrative’ and we would show films like High Sierra [1941] and Breathless [1960]. We did these together, for instance, because there are these kinds of resonances. Sam and I worked really well together in this way. We would try to structure courses by selecting groups of films that would kind of speak to each other and that would range across classic films and more experimental so that the students would get an exposure to a whole range. It was through a very select series of films that we could address various issues. So we might have another one on ‘Subjectivity’ or the viewing subject, and then we’d introduce them to some psychoanalysis. We always team-taught that first year course but we would each do different modules. We would figure out what was really needed rather than doing what we especially were interested in, and so we did a lot of national cinema and we’d always have debates about nation and the national, and we did ‘Australian Cinema’ and there we’d have a lot of arguments and fights with people like Ina Bertrand about how to conceive of Australian Cinema, which of course she knew better and had been teaching for a long time. We wanted to teach it in this different way, but we did see the necessity of doing Australian Cinema.

We also did a course called ‘Traditions of the Avant-garde’, I think, in which we included quite a lot of Australian content and we tried to bring in a lot of local filmmakers. We also taught ‘Soviet Cinema’, and a course on ‘Narrative and Ideology’ that I seemed to have taught endlessly both in Cinema Studies and for the Media people, or the Education students, who were teachers getting an MA in Film or in Media.

DW: Did you teach the avant-garde?

LS: Sam and I used to alternate it. We also decided we had to teach a course on ‘Japanese Cinema’ but none of us knew anything about it and so I started working on that course. That’s how I got really involved in Japanese Cinema, but initially I knew nothing. I went to some courses in Sociology and History and just started reading before doing the course and then I got really involved and spent time in Japan and so on. That course just sort of happened because we felt that for pedagogic reasons we should be teaching Japanese Cinema.
And we did ‘Questions of the Auteur’ but posing it as a problematic – everything was a problematic – and we did things on fiction and documentary with, in a way, a fairly predictable range of films and readings.

DW: Apart from Barbara Creed, can you remember other PhD candidates at La Trobe around this time?

LS: Geoff Mayer, I believe, was a student. Ken Mogg was doing a PhD on Hitchcock, and a lot of people came through La Trobe who subsequently taught, like Liz Stoney and Leonie Naughton.

DW: Did Barbara Creed come on to teach while you were there?

LS: No, that was after I left and so there were these kinds of transitions.
We eventually got Cinema Studies into the Humanities and established as part of the BA. We got the set-up passed by Humanities and we got it through everything, and then because there’d been a lot of dissention, they advertised externally for a Head of the new Division of Cinema Studies.

DW: And you went to Murdoch University after La Trobe?

LS: No, I left the academy for a while. I got a grant and worked on Japanese Cinema. I went to Japan and I started making videos, or learning how to make video. For instance I worked with John Hughes for a bit. I learnt something from him and just tried to pick up as much as I could; wrote some scripts, made some videos, and tried to survive on freelance writing. But I’m not like Adrian Martin; I don’t have his talent and it was tough. Then after a couple of years, which was great because it really gave me a new lease of life in terms of writing, Murdoch approached me to apply for a job there.

DW: When you say it gave you a new lease of life, did it lead you to think differently about the way you would write articles?

LS: Yes. I think by that stage I felt really incarcerated in Screen-ese, in the kind of language of Screen. I could see myself writing it and it was like a demon inside me who would make these convoluted sentences come out. Also with Intervention, it being a very different sort of thing – very Althusserian, very committed to theory – and felt to me very congested then and I didn’t want to write like that anymore.

DW: I remember Bill Routt once describing to me the difference in people’s writing between conceptualising and theorising, which was not locking down and framing something, but theorising it and letting it run. Is that the kind of thing you are talking about?

LS: Yes, I suppose, but I also became more and more aware that there was so much theoretical concern with questions of subjectivity and yet this had made no impact on the kind of writing that people were doing. It was as though all of it came out of the Screen machine in a way, and I was part of that too, but I didn’t want to be. I was much more interested in, I suppose, reflections about the writing position. I was kind of interested in debates in anthropology then, that were happening really about writing and what kind of position you took up as a writer/observer.

DW: Is this through Clifford Geertz?

LS: Yes, that kind of thing, and I was interested in and dabbled in fiction but I hadn’t published much. In Zimbabwe I wrote a lot of fiction and we had these very intensive reading and writing groups. There was a lot of value placed on writing and we ran a journal that included criticism as well as poetry and fiction. But I had let go of all of that and so I wanted to recover something of that because also I love novels and reading fiction.

DW: Did the time away from the academy give you time to read more broadly in anthropology and fiction?

LS: Possibly, though not as much as you’d think because you’re scrambling to make a living and it would be kind of utopian to say it gave me all this free time. But I guess it did open the possibility of reading more expansively, and going to Murdoch also really encouraged that.

I also wrote a little video script that was produced through a workshop and it was so liberating. It was a fiction, a two-hander, but I was able to draw on a lot of the theory, particularly narrative and psychoanalytic theory, and to play it out in an encounter between two characters over half an hour. I just loved doing that; it was just so exciting. That opened up something but it was not like I wanted to give away theory.

Today, for me it’s always most interesting to really try to think through the foundations of thought in any kind of area: how do certain concepts become privileged and why and what can you do to shift that? But I’m not interested in the formulaic, didactic writing that now dominates film studies, which I think has to do with protocols of training and the institutionalisation of film to a large degree. I’m much more interested in a kind of writing that opens up different possibilities for thinking through images and narratives and the relations, say, between politics and film, rather than setting it out in a very…

DW: Programmatic way?

LS: Yes, programmatic would be a good word, I suppose.

DW: It sounds like that would’ve set you up ideally for what was going on at Murdoch at that stage. How did that position come about? Did you apply for that job?

LS: John Frow approached me. John and I had been in touch through reading each other’s writing. I don’t know if he was involved in it, but there had been a conference on pornography at the Perth Institute of Film and Television [PIFT] and I’d been writing on pornography, which had partly come out of my feminist engagement and partly out of screen studies, feminism in film, and that whole area of interest. When John found out I’d be coming to the conference, he invited me to stay with them when I visited Perth. Beverley Brown, who was then teaching at Griffith University, also came and we got on extremely well and I really liked the people in Perth and I liked the people at Murdoch. I’d had this great encounter. John and I also had this interest in questions of subjectivity and readership and textuality and so when a job came up he invited me to apply for it. I gave a talk as part of the interview process that was very unorthodox for an academic position, but they liked it and I thought, “Okay, this is a marriage made in heaven.”

DW: Do you remember what the talk was on?

LS: Not exactly, though I think it had to do with authorship, and questions of writing and the text and the cinematic text and the written text. But I shifted voice quite a lot from using “I” to the third person to quotations. I thought I might as well just go for it and see if they buy it or not because I was really hesitant about going back into the academy.

But I think I should tell you – if you’re interested in the history – some more things about earlier on. There are two things about that time that were really important to me and very formative and which I think also contribute to the character of Australian film culture and make it fairly distinctive, especially in relation to American film culture, if you can generalise like that. One is the connection with independent film and filmmakers, and of filmmaking culture in Australia, and the other, which overlaps, is the feminism, or the engagement in broader cultural and political movements that for me was fantastic about being in Australia. When I got to Australia, on the first weekend, I met all these people who read Juliet Mitchell and all kinds of things and they weren’t academics. There was a lively Left intellectual and political culture in Melbourne at the time. One of the things in terms of independent film is that I started writing – and it was one of the first things I published in Australia about Australian cinema – about some of the films in the Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative.[3] The Sydney Filmmakers Co-op was a really important institution outside of the academy because it was a place where filmmakers gathered and films were distributed and shown. It extended through the nation, even though it was Sydney-based, and really very much a Sydney institution. That was one thing. The other was that in Melbourne there was also an independent film culture and that was one of the things that I got involved in while I was still at La Trobe, actually working with independent filmmakers. But after I left La Trobe I became very involved and helped set up a small group called the Independent Filmmakers Association. John Hughes was involved and Kim Dalton, who was then at Open Channel, Penny Robins, John Cummins, and Russell Porter, who is now in Chicago. There were some other people but we were the core group. Annette Blonski was involved a little bit more peripherally. We formed as an activist group to work on behalf of independent filmmakers who especially were working in a more experimental way. Those sorts of connections were always really important to me and fed into my work. Anyway, I was writing an article about a group of films from the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op, of which there was a feminist section. I borrowed the films and I was writing my article and I was all ready to present it at a conference, which was the Tertiary Screen Association Conference, I think. John Tulloch was one of the first people on the Association and he brought me and other people into it and then we formed it as a national body.

Anyway, I was writing this article and getting ready to go to this conference when I got this phone call from somebody in the feminist group at the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op who said, ‘We hear you’re writing this article about some of our films. Well, we’d like to know who you are and why you think you’re in a position to do this?’ I was like really taken aback. I said ‘I’m kind of nobody. No, I’m not a filmmaker. Yes, I am a feminist, but I’m not a Sydney feminist.’ This kind of interrogation went on and on about my qualifications for writing the article. I went ahead and did it and when I got to the conference I met all these people and we got on really well. Nevertheless there was a tension between so-called theorists and practitioners. Martha Ansara and Jenny Thornley were part of that group, a huge group, but we met and we had these debates and kind of got on. I think it was just very novel to them that anyone would be taking their films so seriously in the academy. Then the conference came and it was really very funny because the Griffith boys were there – that’s Ian Hunter, Dugald Williamson and others. It was before Mick Counihan went there but he also was friendly with those people because he and Ian Hunter had known each other as students. Anyway, they gave their paper and the feminist cohort from Sydney were outraged by them and denounced them and their abstract theory. The girls hauled me – their new friend – in as a support, and the boys expected me to step up to the theory barricades. There I was, a habitual scrapper, in the novel position of mediating. But there was an interesting battle that went on in feminist film circles around Filmnews for quite a while, and they also had seminars and retreats. There was a legendary one at Minto where people came from all over. Sylvia Lawson was there, and a lot of filmmakers and fewer critics or theorists. But it was very intensive with interesting battles and discussions taking place over four days or more.

DW: Were there the same kinds of resistances within the academy to do with the connections that you made?

LS: No, they were different sorts of resistances because they weren’t really so much about institutional boundaries. It was kind of a suspicion about theory from the filmmakers but there was a common ground of feminism. That is, there were very different kinds of feminisms operating but there was common ground to talk through. Actually, I probably romanticize because it was kind of tough at the time and often very distressing. But interesting because it actually meant you were engaging with filmmakers and talking about the kinds of films that could be made and trying to really think about questions of narrative and realism in a more practical context. I’ve always really valued that. I always liked working with filmmakers, although it was always something of a battle as well.

DW: My guess is that when you went to Murdoch you would have been involved in production within an institutional framework, you would’ve had theory and criticism and production. How did that work?

LS: Mostly it was fantastic but really hard work. It was great to combine production and theory, and also it was done very successfully. I taught across three areas. I was appointed to Comparative Literature and to Media, a joint appointment, but I also taught in theatre and then introduced, with Bill Green, a writing course called ‘Reading and Writing Praxis’, which was a fantastic adventure because by now I was doing a lot more writing of different kinds. I was in a women’s writing group in Perth and we really worked. We met regularly and we all wrote and we talked about and critiqued each other’s writing. In the second year Marion Campbell came in and eventually she took it over and now teaches creative writing at Melbourne University. But Murdoch was just great for being able to combine theory and practice, and there was a really interesting group of people there. But it was kind of tough because for me it was a very isolated academic community. There were great colleagues, but you didn’t know anybody else outside of the academy. It was far from everywhere – desert on one side and ocean on the other.

DW: Like the Cinema Studies Division at La Trobe, the departments at Murdoch were kind of extraordinary in bringing together different personnel. Who else was there?

LS: Tom O’Regan, John Hartley, John Frow, Anna Gibbs, Marion Campbell, and Horst Ruthroff were there. Bob Hodge, Josko Petkovic, who taught in Media, and Zoe Sofoulis. I know I’ve missed people. Noel King was there but not at Murdoch. He was at Curtin University; likewise Graeme Turner and John Fiske.

DW: It seems to me that what characterises all of those people, including yourself, is a kind of dexterity across disciplines, the ability to deal with theatre, film, cultural studies, media studies and writing.

LS: Well it was very interdisciplinary. Murdoch was terrific, and it really was conceived as an interdisciplinary program – the Humanities – like at Griffith. Because they were smaller and newer universities, there was more room to do that and, prior to my coming to Murdoch, it had really been conceived in that way. It really was a fantastic place to work, and so too were the sorts of conversations you could have.

DW: That is also the moment when Continuum started but you don’t seem to have been connected to that cultural studies moment as much as some of the others. Is that because of your connection to theatre, or do you think you were?

LS: But I was on the board of the Australian Journal of Cultural Studies. I guess I was writing more about film but I still did quite a lot in cultural studies. For example, the essay on the America’s Cup yacht race in Perth, through photography.[4] Just that I didn’t carve out a career in cultural studies like Meaghan Morris and other people. But I was certainly involved and I would certainly see myself as quite committed to that kind of cultural studies and to see film as part of that.

DW: This was also a time when you started writing about still photography. Was that an institutional thing or a personal interest?

LS: I don’t know, I think it just happened. Kevin Ballantine was a photographer and had done a series of photos on the America’s Cup, which Tom O’Regan drew my attention to, actually. I thought they were fantastic. I was very interested in his photographs and maybe it was just because that was what was on view in Perth. The most interesting art that seemed to be around was photography and maybe I was reading more on photography. It wasn’t something I was very conscious about; it kind of just happened, in part because there were interesting dialogues to be had on the subject with lively thinkers and practicioners like Helen Grace, Laleen Jayamanne and Ross Gibson.

DW: Did you write for Photofile?

LS: I wrote a fair bit for Photofile, on both photography and film. I was particularly interested in film that utilised photography – that relation between still and moving images.

DW: You were at Murdoch for three years and then you went to the University of New South Wales [UNSW]. How did UNSW come about?

LS: I just wanted to be in Sydney I liked Murdoch a lot, but I couldn’t bear being in Perth. I wanted to be back on the east coast, in Sydney or Melbourne but especially wanted to be in Sydney. I really loved Sydney and I’d never had an opportunity to be there. A job came up at UNSW and so I applied for it. It certainly was nowhere near as interesting a department or university to me as Murdoch but it had potential – and it was in Sydney.

DW: What was the status of the department when you got there?

LS: It was a drama department, but they taught some film. Peter Gerdes taught film there and had taught film there since Methuselah’s time. John Tulloch had once taught film there but was long gone, so Peter was the film person. There was the possibility of doing film and theatre – that combined job – but it was essentially a drama department and basically I then embarked on another institutional battle to get film legitimised. It was a drama department when I moved in and by the time I left it was a film and theatre department. We got it changed to theatre and then we got it to film and theatre and then, as I was leaving, I think it was turning into a film, theatre and dance department. Maybe that had happened just before I left or was in the process of happening.

DW: Were you brought in as the head of that department?

LS: No, I was just brought in to teach film and theatre. Again, uneasily because Peter [Gerdes] did not like having someone come in and teach film in a very different way to him. And the theatre people on the whole were quite resistant to film, but gradually I did manage to get more and more people employed in film and to build up the film area. I really did effectively build up the film program but I never had seniority. I hardly ever got a promotion.

DW: So you brought in Jodi Brooks?

LS: Ross Harley, Jodi Brooks and George Kouvaros initially. Ross Harley, if I remember right, was part time for several years and then came fully on board. Again, I was quite committed to it being cross-disciplinary. I never actually wanted to carve off or separate the film department, and we worked quite hard to make performance central there.

DW: and Kouvaros and Brooks, and Harley as well, have a strong interest in performance in film. Did you bring these people in because of their interest?

LS: Yes, because I really wanted to have that cross over with theatre. I didn’t want a separation. Again, I was partly caught between a Dean who did want to separate out the film section but I really didn’t want to be at war with my theatre colleagues, and the theatre colleagues were very suspicious because film was growing much more than theatre. Yet I taught performance courses throughout my time there. I developed performance courses that went across theatre and film.

DW: At this time you must’ve been working on, firstly, The Scorsese Connection, but then there was also the Falling For You conference.[5] Was that the name of the conference or the name of the book?

LS: It was the name of the book. I can’t remember if that was the name of the conference.

DW: It was a very significant conference of that time, I think, in terms of Australian film studies.

LS: I think so, and it was kind of exciting and it was very focused in that we invited the people we wanted to speak. There wasn’t an open call for papers because we really did want to have a discussion; we wanted to keep it fairly small and we wanted to have dialogue over several days. It was very structured in that way and we got some people who were working on performance and film, and some people who weren’t but thought would do something interesting. We asked them to contribute and to write something especially for it. We weren’t interested in people just circulating prior papers. We really wanted people to think about the topic.

DW: So that latter group would be people like Laleen Jayamanne and Ross Gibson.

LS: Laleen had always been interested in performance. She came out of performance studies at New York University, so she already had an interest. Ross Gibson and Adrian Martin were different.

DW: And how did the Scorsese book evolve?

LS: Slowly! [Laughs] When Paul Willemen was doing a series at the BFI he approached me to do a monograph on Scorsese. I said ‘Oh, why me? I can’t look at blood, and Scorsese isn’t my favourite director.’ But he said, ‘No, it’ll be an interesting combination, it’s just a small monograph’. So I tried first by doing some teaching around Scorsese’s films but I was not interested in doing an auteur study. I started teaching a course in which I juxtaposed Scorsese films with other films, sort of using the old model that Sam Rohdie and I had used at La Trobe. It was lots of fun because I’d think about how to work films together and how to use classic Hollywood and avant-garde and experimental and documentary and mix them up with Scorsese films to try to just bring out certain questions. That became really interesting to me and so I pitched this to Ed Buscombe, who was in charge of BFI publishing then, and he turned it down. He wasn’t interested.

DW: Was this a manuscript?

LS: No, at that stage it was a proposal. I basically said I can’t do this auteur study but I could do this and that I would submit a chapter. Well, Ed said fine initially, so I wrote a chapter and he looked at it and said, ‘No, we can’t publish that’. Paul Willemen came to the rescue and said this is exactly what I want to publish. Paul kind of knew what he was getting – not entirely, but he had more of an idea. Paul took it into the [Perspectives] series he was doing with Colin MacCabe, which is a series that Laura [Mulvey] has a book[6] in and Sam Rohdie has a book in.

DW: The Pasolini book.[7]

LS: Yes, and Fredric Jameson[8] and Paul Virilio.[9] It’s a nice collection of books actually and so I was very pleased to be in it. And of course I was very pleased to work with Paul, who is a wonderful editor and thinker and person to bounce ideas against. The book just evolved and I kind of did it the way I wanted to do it and fought a lot with Paul towards the end because the manuscript was about twice as long as it should have been. I did have to cut a lot but I couldn’t at that stage. I was very careful with the one chapter that I knew Paul wouldn’t like, which was on Cape Fear [1991]. I knew he wasn’t going to like the autobiographical stuff but I structured it really carefully so it’d be very hard to cut without losing the whole. Then I gave the manuscript to John Frow and said, ‘Please, just cut 30,000 words’, or something like that. John did a kind of draft thing and his instincts were very good and that helped me. Paul came back and said, ‘You know, you really got me on that last chapter. I don’t like it but I couldn’t do much with it.’ So I was pleased but also really lucky to have him support that project because I can’t see many other places that would’ve taken it.

DW: Why did it take so long? Was it because of the way you work generally or the difficulty trying to get it published?

LS: No, it wasn’t difficult to get it published because that all fell into place. When Ed said no, Paul immediately picked it up. I didn’t have to hock the manuscript or anything like that. No, it was just trying to work on it while teaching, and it was really demanding at UNSW. It was a really heavy workload. In the end you do it, you have to. And I write slowly, but also because of the structure of the book. It probably doesn’t seem complicated but for me it was complicated to structure it. That was really hard to get – it got so big that it was kind of like making a garden or putting together an elaborate meal.

DW: But it’s also one of the most interesting books written in Australian film theory and criticism …

LS: Thank you.

DW: Partly because its topic is, in inverted commas, so unwieldy and it could’ve been ten times as long because it doesn’t do what a book on Scorsese should do in that kind of auteurist way but is emblematic of a way of working that you’ve developed over a long time. It’s almost like your signature work in that respect.

LS: I suppose it allowed me to do something that I discovered in the doing. Just so you know I think there’s a lot wrong with it, but I learnt a lot doing it. I also think I couldn’t have written that book in this country [USA]. Not only getting it published, which I think would’ve been a problem, but also there wasn’t space in the academy to do the kind of work that you could do in Australia. So I’m always very grateful to the Australian context for having made it possible.

DW: Is that because it’s not a kind of book that leads you down a career path as such? It doesn’t make you a Scorsese expert?

LS: I think that is partly it. I think that the American academy is just much older, much larger, and it’s more conventional. It has its conventions in place for how you move through the academy. Australia is a much more maverick kind of place. There’s a downside to that, of course. For instance, where I work now is a much more democratic and transparent place as an institution. Whereas at UNSW I really got done over and there were no mechanisms ever for appeal, or scrutiny or transparency of how people got promoted. That was the downside, but the upside was that there was much more movement between a public space of intellectual life and an academic space.

At Murdoch I did fine and it was great for me in terms of my career. I got promoted and I was with colleagues who liked what I did. But I guess it was kind of hit and miss in the Australian institution; it depended where you were, what the power structures were. That has probably changed but it had its advantage. There would be this movement, somebody like Adrian Martin could move in and out, have dealings with the academy and still work on the outside, and Meaghan Morris did that very successfully too. Not that I think they did that very easily; it was a struggle but they could do it, and I do think that gave a kind of liveliness to Australian writing and a kind of rigour in that people are interested in issues.

Here you’re much more hard pressed to find that interchange between public intellectuals and the academy. I find there’s a kind of orthodoxy in a lot of American academic life, made evident especially in young scholars who come through the institution and onto the job market. You go to conferences and there are lots of people doing not very interesting papers in a very competent fashion and with the utmost confidence. It’s because there isn’t anything on the table that’s at stake. A young person in the academy here can’t very easily afford to say, ‘I don’t know the answers but I can see a problem and that’s what I’m going to do in this paper; set out some problems and explore them.’ That’s kind of rare here, and I think in Australia it is much more par for the course. It’s much more encouraged. There is more of an investigative climate in a funny way, or there was when I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

DW: I wonder if that has to do with a more general acceptance by white Australian culture of not knowing things. I don’t mean a kind of colonial anxiety but a kind of approach that is to do with being quite comfortable with not knowing everything, or at least not having to appear to know everything. I also wonder whether it has to do with a comfort with that cross disciplinarity. I don’t know how that compares with an American model.

LS: I think that’s true. I think the American academy for all the talk about interdisciplinarity is really disciplinary bound. There are really not that many places where there is that kind of interdisciplinary movement. I think it happens in research institutes often, but in terms of departments I don’t think it really happens very much. In my department it happens – and I really love it because of this – but it’s not a calculated thing. It’s just that people don’t really respect the boundaries very much.

DW: I guess one of the things about The Scorsese Connection is that it may be a film book that is kind of about writing where I would think that maybe the problem for some film studies institutions here is that it’s not enough about Scorsese to satisfy them. That may not be such a problem in the Australian context because the text stands up as something singular and that is what is appreciated.

LS: Yes, I think that’s true too. Maybe in Australia the literary culture is very alive, which is not to say that there’s not a literary culture here, but it’s sort of largely separate from the academy. Except for writing programs, but in terms of training your students to write in an interesting way in academic disciplines, it doesn’t happen very much.

I teach a course in writing in my program for both the PhD and the MFA students, and it mixes them with varying degrees of success. The last time I taught it was fantastic; they mixed really well but they don’t always. I love teaching that class and the students generally love it, but it’s very unusual. It’s not often done. I’m not training them to write and some of them complain about this. They want more help with writing their dissertations and I make it very clear at the beginning that I’ll help them and that they can do a chapter as a main project, but it is not what this course is about. In this course you’re going to write poetry, you’re going to write about dreams – all these clichéd things – and it’s about writing technique and it’s about it being exploratory. For some of them it’s hard to see it as not utilitarian; there is an anxiety that it’s not going to help them. I say to them that it will actually help in the long run but they won’t necessarily see immediate payoffs.

DW: Did The Scorsese Connection give you confidence in relation to the writing of The Smoking Book?[10] If so, was that because of the reception of the book or the process you’d been through?

LS: Both, I think. It’s also about just having a book to write. Again, part of the downside of the Australian academy is that it doesn’t put much value on young scholars publishing books. I think it’s really important to actually write a book, and it took me a long time to write a book. I wrote lots of pieces of paper but writing a book is a different thing. It really tests you in a different way and it feels great to hold a thing in your hands that you wrote, no matter what it is.

But I was also encouraged by the fact that [1] The Scorsese Connection was well received, even in funny places and not widely. It certainly wasn’t really taken up by film studies, except by maverick people. But often people I respected, so then I knew that was the way I wanted to write.

DW: Did [1] The Smoking Book take as long to write?

LS: It took a long time. I started writing that in Perth. Yes, it took even longer but I was doing it while doing other things and it wasn’t a book initially. I began writing it as a series of occasional pieces and then eventually it started to shape up as a book. I didn’t even realise it was a book until my friend Mick Taussig, who’s an anthropologist and very interested in writing, said to me: ‘Why are you not making this into a book?’ I thought, ‘Well it’s not a book, it’s just some pieces,’ and then I realised that what could tie it together was the element of memoir, autobiography, of growing up on a tobacco farm. When I realised that then I could see a way of making these series of papers into a book.

DW: What was its reception?

LS: Chicago University Press published it and it was received pretty well. Again I was extremely lucky. I’d been at the University of Chicago as a fellow had a lot of friends there. I found an editor who loved the proposal and also had friends – though I didn’t really know this – who were on the editorial board. I didn’t have a struggle. I would like to have gone with a trade press where I think it would’ve done much better, but Chicago was absolutely fantastic. My editor was great, the press was wonderful, they promoted it, they wanted to do it as a crossover book, they put money into promoting it, and it sold well for them. That doesn’t mean so much. They might be the biggest in the US but they’re an academic press so they don’t promote books in the same way as a trade press does. But it got a lot of really good critical press, surprising actually. It got a really bad review in the Times Literary Supplement and then a few others that weren’t that good, but on the whole it was quite well received. But, you know, not many people have read it in the world really.

DW: Back-tracking a little bit, why did you leave Australia for the US?

LS: The conditions at UNSW and in Australia generally at that time were tough in terms of support for research, and I couldn’t get a promotion. I had been working really hard to try to change the program at UNSW and I just wanted some more time. I wanted a job where I could do more research and writing and there were no openings at a senior level in film in Australia. I knew then that I would start looking in the US. I got a year at the Getty Research Institute really on the basis of The Scorsese Connection, which the people there had read and liked. That was fantastic and it enabled me to finish The Smoking Book and get some other writing out of the way. I knew I liked the LA area and California, and also I had commitments in Zimbabwe. I wasn’t getting promoted and I really needed to earn a little bit more money and so my move was very pragmatic. I just started looking out for jobs here, but I wasn’t going to take anything that I didn’t really want. I was just very lucky that a job came up at UCSD and they approached me to see if I’d be interested. I knew a few people at UCSD and so they knew I was interested in moving if something good came up. I put in for it and got it.

DW: Has the shift away from the relative isolation of your experience in Australia helped in terms of your research and thinking?

LS: It’s hard to say. America is a really funny place. There is a much larger mass. It isn’t that small community of Australia where the people all know each other and have known each other for years. On the other hand it’s atomised in its own way in the academy. What was really attractive to me about the Visual Arts Department at UCSD was precisely its interdisciplinarity, the fact that they had employed writers – they were interested in me as a writer as well as a film theorist/critic – and did production, and I was interested in the people who were here and the kind of program it was. I’d become less and less engaged in formal film studies. It really bores the socks off me to go to cinema studies conferences. I just can’t bear it. I tend to do film things when it’s with people and issues I’m really interested in, and less and less in the formal mechanisms of cinema studies in the States.

I was fortunate I had some time at the research institute for the University of Califormia campuses. There’s a research institute at Irvine and we had a group on ‘Gesture’. It was really interdisciplinary and it turned out to be a fantastic group and we made a book out of that.[11] Those are the things I’m interested in and I’ve become more interested in my department’s move towards Mexico and Latin American art and public culture. I’m writing a book about gardens and culture and politics. I’m less centrally in film and it doesn’t interest me so much to be there. Which is not to say I’ve lost interest in film. Some friends of mine and I are just starting to watch Korean films, which was going to be our summer program but we’re only just starting it now. I’m buying a lot of Korean films for the library and we’re going to try to do a Korean season because we have such a huge population of Korean students.

DW: Do you still have connections with the Australian scene through John Frow, Jodi Brooks and others, or have those connection changed a lot since you’ve been here?

LS: The connections survive mainly through friends, though I have been back. My partner Jeffrey Minson was at Griffith University and only a few years ago he moved to live here, but before that we were going backwards and forwards and so I did some stints at the University of Queensland with Graeme Turner. I really enjoyed that. Graeme’s been really generous with giving me space.

DW: Was that with the Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship program?

LS: Graeme is Director of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies. I had one fellowship with them, but at other times Graeme had given me space there. The University of Queensland then invited me back as a fellow in connection with a series they were doing on autobiography and writing. When I was back for that time I did some talks in Melbourne and Sydney. I keep in touch with people; I exchange emails with Adrian Martin. But the connections are not as alive as I’d like them to be. It’s kind of hard to keep all your connections going all over the place. I haven’t been so good as I really like to be since I moved here. But, hopefully, if I have a block of time when I finish being Chair, I’d like to spend some more extended time in Australia.

DW: Thank you.

LS: Before we finish there’s one other thing that I wanted to tell you that I’d earlier forgotten. When I first arrived in Melbourne – I guess I’d been there six months or so – Mick Counihan got an invitation to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School [AFTRS] in Sydney for a seminar on theory. He also managed to get an invite for me. I distinctly remember having to get up that morning and I hardly had any sleep, I’d been carousing or something the night before. I just remember my eyes were like grit and Mick turned up in the taxi and there was this other person with him who was a short and jovial and very witty person called Ian Hunter. We all went to the airport together and flew to Sydney. I remember the sight of Sydney flying in; it was really amazing and it woke me up. We then went to the Film and Television School and that’s where I met John Flaus, who was then at the School, and Meaghan Morris and Martha Ansara. It was really exciting to meet those people and over the years they all became sort of key points of reference for me in different ways.

Anyway, Mick and I stayed at John’s house – very uncomfortable beds. John Flaus and I had a kind of touchy relationship over the years because John was a real cinephile and therefore quite resistant to everything that I came in with and stood for. But over the years we got to know each other and we kind of liked each other. Before I left Melbourne I remember that I’d packed everything up in my flat except my answering machine. John Flaus, who can talk the hind leg off a donkey, left me about six messages in a row because every time he called the timer ran out and he had to call again and continue. He also gave me a wonderful book as a going away present, which was Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. John knew that I liked fiction and I was very touched that he gave me a book that wasn’t automatically a film book, but something that he thought I would really like. And I did.

Lesley Stern Select Bibliography

With C. Merewether, and J. MacBean. “Front Page Story. Intervention 7, October pp. 34-40. REPRINTED as Mediagraph 6 – Front Page Story: The Media and Strikes, Film and Media Studies Project of the Curriculum Services Unit, Education Department (Vic.). REPRINTED in 1981 in Mediagraph 36.
“The Language of Rape.” Intervention 8, March 1977. pp. 3-16.
“Oedipal Opera: The Restless Years,” Australian Journal of Screen Theory 4, 1978 (pp. 39-48).
“Feminism and Cinema – Exchanges.” Screen 20.3-4, Winter 1978-9. pp. 89-105.
“Point of View: The Blind Spot.” Film Reader 4, 1979. pp. 214-36.
“Independent Feminist Film Making in Australia.” Australian Journal of Screen Theory 5-6, 1979. pp. 105-121. REPRINTED in An Australian Film Reader. Ed. A. Moran et al, Sydney: Currency et al Press, 1985. pp. 314-26.
“Introduction to Plaza.” M/F 4, 1980 (pp. 21-27).
With I. Zilveris. “Fiction/Film/Femininity.” Australian Journal of Screen Theory 9-10, 1981 (pp. 37-68).
With A. Cavadini, C. Strachan, and C. Merewether. “Two Laws/Kanyamarda Yuwa.” Film News, April 1981. pp. 8-11. REPRINTED in Media Interventions, September 1981. pp. 63-77.
“The Australian Cereal: Home Grown Television.” Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends. Essays in Australian Cultural History. Ed. S. Dermody et al., Sydney: Kibble Books, 1982. pp. 102-23.
“The Body as Evidence.” Screen 24.3, September 1982. pp. 39-60. REPRINTED in The Sexual Subject: A Screen Reader. Ed. M. Merck, and B. Creed, London: Routledge, 1992. pp. 197-220.
“Tomato Ketchup/Passion Fruit: Variations on Japanese Independence.” Framework 22-23, Autumn 1983. pp. 67-70.
“Shadows: The Video Work of Idemitsu Mako.” Cantrill’s Film Notes 41-42, June 1983. pp. 22-27.
“Cinema and Sexuality.” Griffith University, School of Humanities 1985. (96 pages).
“Finishing Touches.” Australian Journal of Screen Theory 17-18, 1986. (pp. 49-75) [Film Script].
“High Noon in the Valley of the Dolls or The Character of Feminism.” Literature and Popular Culture, special issue of Australian Journal of Cultural Studies, 1987. pp. 106-118.
“As Long as This Life Lasts.” Photofile, Winter 1987. pp. 15-19.
“A Picture is no Substitute for Anything.” Praxis M 18, [Script of sound-image show] April 1988. pp. 13-15.
“Stepping In.” Art & Text 29, June-August 1988. pp. 8-29.
“Remembering Claire Johnston.” Film News, May 1988. pp.13-14. REPRINTED in Framework 35, 1988. pp. 114-22.
“Cup City: where nothing ends, nothing happens.” Cultural Studies 2.1, January 1988. (pp. 100-116) REPRINTED in Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader. Ed. J. Frow and M. Morris, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1993. pp. 276-291.
“Engendering the Body.” Spectator Burns 2, April 1988. pp. 41-47.
“Acting Out of Character: The Performance of Femininity” in Grafts: Feminist Cultural Criticism, Ed. S. Sheridan, London: Verso, 1989. pp. 25-34.
“Similes”, “Voicing”, “Demons”, “Going Under”, “A Lycanthropic Age”, “Fire Escape”, “A Cure for Addiction”, “Not Wanting” in No Substitute: Prose Poems Images. Ed. T. White et al., Perth: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1990. pp. 53-66.
“Ghosting the Body.” Agenda 17, May 1991. pp. 21-22.
“And then the Lights Come Up.” Westerly 3, September 1991. pp. 82-83.
“Footloose” in … but never by chance … Ed. L. Walker, Adelaide: Experimental Art Foundation, 1992. pp. 1-10.
“Ping On.” Southerly 52.1, March 1992. pp. 69-72.
“The Oblivious Transfer: Analysing Blue Velvet.” Camera Obscura 30, 1994. pp. 77-91.
“The Room was Strewn with Words” and “Figures Painted on a Wall” in Picador New Writing 2. Ed. H. Daniel and D. Modjeska, Sydney: Picador Macmillan, 1994. pp. 68-71.
The Scorsese Connection. London: British Film Institute and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, in the series ‘Perspectives’, edited by Colin MacCabe and Paul Willemen.
“Transgression and the Culture Industry: Australia 1995” in Transgression and the Culture Industry. Ed. C. Williamson et al., Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 1995. pp. 22-41.
“Meditation on Violence” in Kiss Me Deadly: Feminism and Cinema for the Moment. Ed. L. Jayamanne, Sydney: Power Publications, 1995. pp. 252-285.
“The Cutting Edge.” Parallel Gallery and Journal 2, November 1995.http://www.va.com.au/parallel/x1/journal/lesley_stern/cutting.html.
“From Smoke Screen.” Heat 2, 1996. pp. 88-96.
“Film and the Uncanny.” Australian Humanities Review 8, November 1997 – January 1998.http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-November-1997/stern2.html.
“I Think Therefore I Somersault: Film and the Uncanny.” Paradoxa 3.3-4, 1998. pp. 348-366.
“Conversions (A Story Blown Hither and Thither).” Critical Inquiry 25, Spring 1999. pp. 482-504.
“L’écran de fumée.” Trafic 29, Spring 1999. pp. 63-69.
The Smoking Book,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
With G. Kouvaros (eds). Falling for You: Essays on Cinema and Performance, Sydney: Power Publications, 1999. with Introductory Essay: “Descriptive Acts.”
“Acting Out of Character: King of Comedy as Histrionic Text.” in Falling for You. Ed. Stern, L. and Kouvaros, 1999.
“Great Zimbabwe: Metaphors of Stone.” Emergences 9.1, May 1999. pp. 11-40.
“Emma in Los Angeles: Remaking the Book and the City” in Film Adaptation. Ed. J. Naremore, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000. pp. 221-238.
“All Writing is Pigshit” in 100 Years of Cruelty: Essays on Artaud. Ed. E. Scheer, Sydney: Power Publications and Artspace, 2000. pp. 75-82.
“Jener Tag in Leipzig.” Comparativ 10.5-6, Jahrgang 2000. pp. 28-45. Translated from the English (‘In Leipzig Today’), for a special issue: Schädel und Skelette ald Objekte und Subjekte einer Welt-und Menschheitsgeschichte.
“The Tales of Hoffmann: An Instance of Operality” in Between Opera and Cinema. Ed. J. Joe and R. Theresa, New York: Routledge, 2001. pp. 39-57.
“A Fluid Architecture” in Lyndal Jones: Deep Water/Aqua Profunda. Sydney: The Australia Council, 2001. pp. 57-68 [English]; 69-76 [Italian]) for Venice Biennale.
“Paths that Wind Through the Thicket of Things.” Critical Inquiry, 28.1, Fall 2001. pp. 317-354.
“Putting on a Show, or The Ghostliness of Gesture.” Senses of Cinema, 21, July-August 2002, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/02/21/sd_stern.html.
“Cinematic Performance: Between the Histrionic and the Quotidian.” Cinema & Cie. International Film Studies Journal, (Italy), 2, Fall 2002.
“From the Other Side of Time” in The Cinema of Michael Powell: International Perspectives on an English Filmmaker. Ed. I. Christie and A. Moore, London: British Film Institute, 2005. pp. 36-55.
“Ghosting: The Performance and Migration of Cinematic Gesture, focusing on Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Good Men Good Women” in Migrations of Gesture: Film, Art, Dance. Ed. C. Nolan and S. Ness, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. pp. 185-215.
“The Great Grid” in Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn. Ed. Fritz Haeg, New York: Metropolis Books (D.A.P. Publishers), 2008. pp. 36-39.
“Green Fountains” in Bioneering: Hybrid Investigations of Food. Ed. Lisa Tucker, University of Irvine, 2007. pp. 106-123.
“How Movies Move (Between Hong Kong and Bulawaya, Between Screen and Stage…)” in World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives. Ed. Natasa Durovicova and Kathleen Newman, New York and London: Routledge, 2010. pp. 186-216.


[1] Sylvia Harvey, May ’68 and Film Culture. London: BFI, 1978.
[2] Lesley Stern, The Scorsese Connection. London: British Film Institute, 1995.
[3] Lesley Stern, “Independent Feminist Filmmaking in Australia,” Australian Journal of Screen Theory, nos 5-6, 1979, pp. 105–21.
[4] Lesley Stern, “Cup City: Where Nothing Ends, Nothing Happens,” Cultural Studies, vol. 2, no 1, (January 1988), pp. 100–16. Essay with images by Kevin Ballantine.
[5] Lesley Stern and George Kouvaros, eds, Falling For You: Essays of Cinema and Performance. Sydney: Power Publications, 1999. The conference title was Caught in the Act: Cinema and Performance, which was convened by Lesley Stern and George Kouvaros, and held in September 1995 in what was then known as the School of Theatre and Film at UNSW.
[6] Laura Mulvey, Fetishism and Curiosity. London: BFI, 1996.
[7] Sam Rohdie, The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini. London: BFI, 1995.
[8] Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System. London: BFI, 1992.
[9] Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine. London: BFI, 1994.
[10] Lesley Stern, The Smoking Book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
[11] Carrie Noland and Sally Ann Ness, eds, Migrations of Gesture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Created on: Sunday, 5 September 2010

About the Author

Deane Williams

About the Author

Deane Williams

Deane Williams is Associate Professor of Film and Screen Studies at Monash University. His books include Australian Post-War Documentary Film: An Arc of Mirrors (2008), Michael Winterbottom (with Brian McFarlane, 2009) and the three-volume Australian Film Theory and Criticism (co-edited with Noel King and Constantine Verevis, 2013–2017).View all posts by Deane Williams →