PhD Oral Exam - Andrew Covert, Film and 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.
Abraham Zapruder's 26-second film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is an indisputably unique piece of cinema. Despite its incredible currency in the world of national political history, and the shadowy world of conspiracy, it has a checkered past with regards to its assimilation into the discourse of film studies. Looked at, variably, as a piece of documentary, reportage or abstract fragment, it has been discussed largely for its cultural, historical or legal impact. This dissertation will chart its deeper implications when considered as a discrete film text and theoretical object, and will contend that, in this light, the Zapruder film fundamentally disrupts the cinematic apparatus’ promise of a holistic representation of reality.
This disruption will be fundamentally connected to the film’s interaction with the primary theoretical concepts of attraction, indexicality and contingency as they are understood in the discipline. An investigation of the Zapruder film’s formal and structural similarities to the earliest cinematic products and the disruptions connected to the cinema of attractions and early types of “event” filmmaking will be essential. Connections to the use of attractions in experimental film will also show productive comparisons. Fiction film’s connection to these issues and their engagement with the disruption proposed by the Zapruder film will also be important. Here it will be necessary to chart the way narrative can act as both a palliative and intensifying force for the epistemological uncertainty of the images proposed. Finally, we must understand the extent to which the dynamic and ever-changing context of digital remediation has affected the disruptions of the Zapruder film.
All of these considerations are not intended to fix the meaning of the Zapruder film or to detract from its impact in other realms. The key intervention of this dissertation is to open a space for it, not as an orphan child of circumstance, but deeply connected to the process and fundamental structure of cinematic representations as such. This work then is not so much recuperative as it is meant to fully understand and appreciate the depth to which film texts on the borders of the discipline can speak to its very core.