On 17 January 2020 I presented a paper at the Institute of Geography, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. The title of the presentation was ‘Navigating Cinematic Geographies: Reflections on Film as Spatial Practice’, which is also the title of a chapter I have in the forthcoming The Routledge Handbook of Place collection, edited by Tim Edensor, Ares Kalandides and Uma Kothari. Thank you to Elisabeth Sommerlad and Anton Escher for inviting me and to their students for their very interesting questions and discussion in response to the ideas (and, at times, provocations) I was putting forward.
A new, posthumous Leonard Cohen album arrived yesterday, Thanks for the Dance. It is quite something, especially this opening track, ‘Happens to the Heart’. The record carries a remarkable sense of presence, as if he never went away. In keeping with the music, the video is stark in its beauty and simplicity. It has echoes of Cohen’s years spent at Mount Baldy in the 1990s.
This is a call for papers for a panel we are organising at the Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future conference hosted by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), and jointly organised with the British Academy, British Museum, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and SOAS University of London, 4-7 June 2020.
We are pleased to invite papers for the panel: ‘EMBODYING LIMINALITY IN TRANSITIONAL SPACES’ (Code B01), which is part of the ‘Borders and Places’ stream.
Convenors: Les Roberts (University of Liverpool) and Hazel Andrews (Liverpool John Moores University)
Please provide a 250 word abstract proposal by 8th January 2020. All proposals must be made via the online form that can be found here: https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/rai2020#8286
Papers should be around 15-20 minutes in length.
Further details about the conference can be found at: https://www.therai.org.uk/conferences/anthropology-and-geography
Please see below for panel details:
PANEL B01: EMBODYING LIMINALITY IN TRANSITIONAL SPACES
The aim of this panel is to explore new and emerging scholarship that seeks to draw together work that addresses the transformational potential of liminal spaces and the experiential, affective and embodied affordances that shape deeper understandings of the spatial phenomenology of liminality.
The aim of this panel is to explore new and emerging scholarship that, while steered by foundational anthropological insights into liminality and liminal phenomena (Van Gennep 1960; Turner 1967; Shields 1991; Thomassen 2009, 2014), has sought to push these ideas into more rigorous dialogue with those that speak to questions of space and place. In this respect, building on recent work on liminal landscapes and spatial anthropology (Andrews and Roberts 2012, 2015; Roberts 2018), the panel invites contributors whose research engages with, and is informed by, the sociocultural practices and geographies that shape the experiential dynamics of liminal spaces. The psychosocial underpinnings that have remained a cornerstone of anthropological approaches to liminality (especially the work of Victor Turner) have found productive points of connection with strands of psychoanalytic theory and practice (Schwartz-Salant and Stein 1991), especially that developed by Donald Winnicott in his work on transitional objects and spaces, and the creative and performative possibilities of culture as ‘play’ (Winnicott 1971; Kuhn 2013). This, in turn, recalls Huizinga’s (1980 ) writings on Homo Ludens which speak to the liberatory and creative potential that underwrites what he refers to as the ‘play element of culture’. Guided by these and related cross-currents of ideas on liminality as passage through ‘transitional spaces’, the panel seeks to draw together work that addresses the transformational potential of liminal spaces and the experiential, affective and embodied affordances that shape deeper understandings of the spatial phenomenology of liminality.
Memory in Motion: Filming Bucharest’s Pasts/Presents
Film Screening and discussion organised by the Culture, Space and Memory and Screen and Film Studies Research Groups, Department of Communication and Media
In the Light of Memory (Alyssa Grossman, 2010, 39 mins)
School of the Arts Library
Monday 30 September 2019 5-7pm
As a visual anthropologist, I have been working with film in my research on everyday sites and practices of remembrance work in post-communist Bucharest, Romania. Engaging with the filmmaking process has also made me increasingly curious about the relationship between memory and the visual/multi-sensory medium of film itself. How can memory be invoked through the moving photographic image, when memory’s very existence implies an absence of the object of recollection? What experimental or alternative filmmaking techniques could be mobilised to capture internal, affective aspects of memory that cannot be directly manifested through traditional visual documentary means? In this presentation I will screen my film, In the Light of Memory, which aims to convey the frameworks and contents of individual and cultural memories in the contemporary Romanian post-communist context. I will also discuss my somewhat unorthodox usage of the ‘traveling shot’ in the film, as an attempt to communicate something of memory’s own textures and tones, experiences that are more visceral, fragmented, and multi-layered than the narratives often conveyed by conventional (textual and visual) ethnographies. Alyssa Grossman.
In the Light of Memory (39 min.) explores everyday sites and practices of memory in Bucharest, twenty years after the fall of Romanian communism. Shot in Cișmigiu Gardens, one of the oldest public parks in Bucharest, the film interweaves individuals’ recollections of the past with present-day scenes from the park, creating a montage of images and voices, stillness and motion, landscapes and people.
On Saturday 14 September I attended a screening of two archive film projects that were performed with a live score at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. www.thebluecoat.org.uk/events/view/events/4036
The first, Tracks by the composer Luke Moore, featured footage shot of and from the Liverpool Overhead Railway that included the first ever moving images of Liverpool, filmed by the Lumière cameraman Alexander Promio. The film also included some stunning 3D animation of the railway and surrounding urban landscape by the artist Steven Wheeler (www.stevenpaulwheeler.com/).
The main feature, Anson Dyer’s 1929 ‘city symphony’, A Day in Liverpool, was screened with a live score performed by composer and songwriter Aidan Smith. I had seen this film many times before, but seeing it for the first time, on a big screen, with a much-needed score transformed the film and brought it alive in ways that a mute viewing on a laptop simply cannot match.
I was invited by Anselm Burke to take part in a post-screening discussion along with Luke, Steven, and Aidan. Interesting chat afterwards with people sharing their memories of the Overhead Railway.
Below is a short piece about A Day in Liverpool that I was asked to write by way of background to the film for those attending:
A Day in Liverpool
As a ‘city symphony’, although it is not quite in the same league as such classics as A Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929), A Day in Liverpool undoubtedly qualifies inasmuch as it showcases some of the genre’s key features and motifs. Like Man With a Movie Camera (which, not coincidentally, was also made in 1929), A Day in Liverpool goes out of its way to give a sense of the city’s rhythms as orchestrated by the director and editor (or should this be ‘conductor’?). It does this by drawing on the dynamism and seemingly inexhaustible energy of a city at work (and, to a lesser extent, at play). Structured around the working day, the film ebbs and flows with the activities of office workers (their hurried footsteps streaming up the steps of the Port of Liverpool Building), dock workers, merchants, traders, construction workers, commuters, shoppers, street hawkers, leisure-seekers and others caught up with, and contributing to, the rhythms of everyday life in what was a bustling, frenetic and above all industrious city. What the film also depicts in all its soot-choked splendour is the Liverpool Overhead Railway (LOR), known affectionately as the ‘Dockers’ Umbrella’ in tribute to the lively urban scenes that unfold beneath as much as along the elevated sections of track. One particular shot of the LOR, filmed from the top of the Liver Building, offers what is nothing short of an iconic view of Liverpool’s urban landscape as it was in the late 1920s, a gloriously cinematic cityscape which would not look out of place in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, made two years earlier in 1927. If these images seem familiar, this is on account of their appearance in Terence Davies’s celebrated documentary or ‘cine-poem’ from 2008, Of Time and the City (although it should be noted that the images are historically out of sync with the diegetic time-line of Davies’ film, which covers the years from the director’s birth in 1945 to his eventual departure from Liverpool in the 1970s). Footage from A Day in Liverpool also appears in a documentary produced by British Pathé in 1957, called This in Our Time (now available for purchase on DVD). A film that has been little seen in a theatrical setting, and which has only ever existed in mute or silent form, A Day in Liverpool is itself deserving of a wider audience and commercial DVD release. And if there ever was a film from Liverpool’s rich archival film heritage that has been crying out for a much needed score, then A Day in Liverpool, the city’s first and only city symphony, is most certainly it.
Les Roberts, September 2019