PhD Oral Exam - Dominic Leppla, 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.
The anniversary of 1968 provides an opportunity to revisit its unique intersection of revolutionary politics and collective creativity, in which cinema was caught up as never before—in the production of a certain political affect, global in its scope. This dissertation pursues what followed in its wake, using the case of People’s Poland, which saw an unprecedented labor struggle in the region just as things had begun to dissipate elsewhere—from the mid-1970s on—culminating in one of the largest social movements in human history, in 1980, the independent and free trade union Solidarność (Solidarity). In recuperating these years, we locate a corresponding, alternative history for Polish political aesthetics and radical cinema practice after 1968, using a combination of historical documentation, close reading, and theoretical intervention. Like the politics of 1968, and the horizontal organizing of Solidarity, these films put pressure on existing categories of “the political,” locating it an aesthetics of participation and the spirit of research, in which viewers play a large part in constructing meaning, rather than it being a function of a self-contained “political text.” Much of this grows out of the strong documentary tradition in Polish cinema, which the film artists under discussion then subvert, pushing beyond its limits. We see how, in different ways, contemporaries Grzegorz Krolikiewicz (Ch. 1) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (Ch. 2 and 3) call into question this tradition—the former using an avant-garde/film-theoretical approach, and the latter developing an immanent critique of the capacity of cinema to represent (i.e., speak fo) political reality. Piotr Szulkin (Ch. 4) adds to these a haptic, affective element that explicitly theorizes labour as the subject of cinema. Finally, Andrzej Zulawski (Ch. 5) pushes these haptic, affective, elements into the red, using a visceral approach that marries genre cinema and historical embodiment, drawing on the traditions of Polish Romanticism and utopianism. In sum, these films use viewer participation to forge an embodied, affective, negativizing cinema aesthetic able to encompass a wider array of human experience than that circumscribed by Party politics or the (male) discourse of the intellectual opposition. This we call radical communication.