PhD Oral Exam - Papagena Robbins, Film & Moving Image Studies
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
In this dissertation, I argue that twenty-first century urban archival montage films eschew the dominant historiographical strategies of documentary film and encourage the development of a historically conscious spectatorship. The thesis examines three North American city- symphonies-in-reverse, Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003), the Lost Landscapes film programs (Rick Prelinger, 2006-2017), and My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007). Each film takes as its explicit subject a North American city significant to its author—Detroit, Winnipeg, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—as seen through specific types of archival material. These particular cities have had geographically unique film cultures, and the archival material related to those film cultures shows the importance of investing in and recognizing local film cultures and histories. These films demonstrate that we have been alienated from our local histories in North America, and they provide key strategies to create historical consciousnesses. Each film in this corpus aims to persuade audiences to deal with local pasts themselves without the aid of an infallible historian to create a narrative that assembles and motivates moving image fragments to cohere with other documents into a coherent, plausible, and complete narrative. City- symphonies-in-reverse use the baroque critical methodologies of essay, anamorphosis, and reflective nostalgia to combat the effects of the abstraction of time and space. Such abstractions began to disrupt social structures and subjectivity in Western cultures some 500 years ago with central perspective and the standardization of time. I argue that these critical methodologies help to us to reconsider relationships to time and space within dominant historiographical discourse in documentary by emphasizing subjective embodied experiences of the archive. The films under analysis in this dissertation articulate valuable ways of addressing current crises in historiography, the urban imaginary, and the moving image archive, precisely through their strategic engagement with archival materials.