Tagged: New York University

The Smoker: A History of Stag Films at Light Industry, but No Smoking, Please

As I get older, I forget about some of the things I’ve done that not many others have. Case in point: I took two pornographic film classes as part of the my film studies curriculum.

The first was as an undergraduate at UCSB that was taught by Constance Penley, who Rolling Stone called a notorious professor in 1998. By the time I took the class, it had been taught several times and was not the hot-topic around campus as much as it was when it was first offered. Nonetheless, Penley ran the class as an historical survey of pornographic film, no different than any other professor would teach a survey of animation, documentary, or French cinema.

The second class was as graduate student at NYU, although our instructors were a bit sly about the subject matter of the class. They called it Explicitly Independent, insisting that we were studying experimental, independent film that pushed the boundaries of representing sexuality. This class was not meant as a broad survey of explicit film, as my undergraduate class was, but instead was meant to address a number of topics that our instructors were studying.

Both classes made clear a couple of facts about pornographic film:

  1. it has been around a long time: about as long as motion pictures themselves have been around.
  2. more people consume pornography than you think: it’s pretty much close to 100% of film viewers.
  3. a stylistic history of pornography tracks closely to the stylistic history of cinema at large: the golden age of pornographic film is in the 1970s, which is the same decade as the golden age of New Hollywood.

Light Industry is presenting nine short films on Tuesday, February 20, beginning at 7:30 PM: a program they call The Smoker: A Brief History of the Stag Film. The term “smoker” refers to the smoke-filled rooms where men—and only men—would watch sex on film as part of some weird homosocial ritual to prove that each guy wasn’t “a homo.” If you ever wondered what your grandfather did with his buddies at an Elks Lodge meeting on a Saturday night, it was probably watching these films.

As someone who watched a lot of these kinds of films with an audience that isn’t there for sexual gratification, I will tell you will initially feel a bit awkward when you recognize the situation of watching porn while sitting next to strangers.

Light Industry seems to recognize this. They will screen the films silent in the spirit of historically accuracy. It was common for men to hoot-and-holler while these films played, and indeed, Light Industry’s website notes “in the spirit of smokers past, we encourage attendees to provide their own soundtracks.”

I would go a step further and encourage you to provide your own beverage, too. But, remember that this is the twenty-first century: there no smoking during these smokers.

Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film at New York University

Partly to torment my students with a long reading, but also to perhaps have them reflect on contemporary issues, I assigned Siegfried Kracauer’s “Mass Ornament” essay to my students in my History of Film class this week.

By a great stroke of luck, Nicholar Baer is delivering a lecture about Kracauer’s writings and film on Wednesday, February 15, at the department of Cinema Studies at New York University. The students in my Tuesday class may get a chance to hear this lecture, but the students in my Wednesday class will not. Our class meets at the same time as this lecture.

The announcement from NYU Cinema Studies is reproduced below.

Abel Gance's Napoleon Playing at Apollo Theater

Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film

This presentation will examine how Siegfried Kracauer addressed the relation between history and poetics in his film-theoretical writings. I will argue that insofar as Kracauer came to define the medium’s “basic aesthetic principle” in terms of engagement with the singular and transitory occurrences of physical reality, he obfuscated Aristotle’s opposition between history and poetry, paradoxically locating the poetics of film in its potential as a historian of contemporary life. Notably, however, the genre of the historical film was problematic for Kracauer, given its efforts to visualize a past that is by definition no longer present. Rather than showing “how things actually were,” in Leopold von Ranke’s famous words, the historical film can only envision “things as they could have happened.” An examination of Kracauer’s extensive writings on the historical film will shed new light on his film theory and illuminate significant developments in his thought from Weimar Germany to 1960s New York. Not least, Kracauer’s texts will provide an occasion for considering cinema in relation to historical-philosophical debates on the dissolving distinction between empirical reality and fictional construction, the history and the story, and the true (das Wahre) and the verisimilar (das Wahrscheinliche)—issues of renewed concern in our own “post-truth” era.

Nicholas Baer: Siegfried Kracauer & the Historical Film

  • February 15, 2017
  • Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6 Fl
  • Free

Lecture: Ernie Gehr at New York University

Tonight, experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr will be giving the seventh annual Experimental Film Lecture, jointly presented by the departments of Cinema Studies and Undergraduate Film & Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The pre-lecture screening is of his films in 16mm. You might want to see those while you can, lest they burn up in the projector.

The announcement from NYU Cinema Studies is reproduced below.

Gehr web

Ernie Gehr, “What Is an Unfinished Work?”

​For nearly fifty years, artist Ernie Gehr has transformed his deep knowledge of the moving image into a distinct vision of cinema’s potential for interpreting and fragmenting reality. With an astute, often humorous, appreciation for the limits and possibilities of the frame, Gehr has, since the mid-1960s, created a large, radical body of work that continues to challenge and surprise audiences. He uses his camera as a tool for creating new modes of perception. With few words, no characters, and no plots, his films, video work, and installations push us to re-imagine our own relationships to time and space.

There are a multiplicity of adjectives that fit Ernie Gehr’s experimental film and digital work: abstract, beautiful, mysterious, invigorating, utopian.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 11/11/11

In Gehr’s hands, the camera seems to take on magical properties, able to transform the most quotidian object or environment—the pattern of sunlight on a wall, a busy street—into marvelous and unexpected phenomena.

Ernie Gehr’s Marvelous Cinema, Harvard Film Archive

Join us for screenings at 5:30 and Gehr’s Experimental Lecture at 7:00.

Pre-lecture 16mm screening of Serene Velocity (1970), Shift (1972-74) and Rear Window (1986/1991)
Artist reception
Experimental Lecture with screenings of Lisa and Suzanne (1968-69), Untitled: Part 1 (l981), Coney Island Boardwalk (2013)

Free and open to the public.


  • October 19, 2016
  • Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6th Fl
  • Free

Spring Breaks, Compared

The middle of March is upon us, and all around the New York area, many college students and faculty are preparing for Spring Break. The break is always welcomed because it “breaks” up the extended slog of the spring term, which usually lasts for four full months.

This semester, I’m teaching at two colleges: at Pratt Institute and at CUNY Queens College. For my film history class at Pratt, I was able to schedule the midterm exam today, on March 11, just before spring break starts on March 14. However, I couldn’t do the same for the students in my media technologies class at Queens College. Their midterm exam will take place on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), but their spring break doesn’t take place until April 28. That is a very late spring break, taking place between the twelfth and thirteenth weeks of class.

Here’s a comparison of spring 2016 semesters at four area colleges where I have worked (Pratt, CUNY, and Fordham) or studied (NYU).

Week NYU Pratt CUNY Fordham
Jan 18 Week 1 Week 1
Jan 25 Week 1 Week 2 Week 2
Feb 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 1 Week 3
Feb 8 Week 3 Week 4 Week 2 Week 4
Feb 15 Week 4 Week 5 Week 3 Week 5
Feb 22 Week 5 Week 6 Week 4 Week 6
Feb 29 Week 6 Week 7 Week 5 Midterm Exam
Mar 7 Midterm Exam Midterm Exam Week 6 Week 8
Mar 14 Spring Break Spring Break Midterm Exam Week 9
Mar 21 Week 8 Week 9 Week 8 Spring Break
Mar 28 Week 9 Week 10 Week 9 Easter Break
Apr 4 Week 10 Week 11 Week 10 Week 10
Apr 11 Week 11 Week 12 Week 11 Week 11
Apr 18 Week 12 Week 13 Week 12 Week 12
Apr 25 Week 13 Week 14 Spring Break Week 13
May 2 Week 14 Studio Days Week 13 Week 14
May 9 Reading Day Final Exam Week 14 Final Exam
May 16 Final Exam ?
May 23 Final Exam

NYU and Pratt both schedule their spring breaks in the middle of March, just after Week 7 at NYU and Week 8 at Pratt. That’s ideal because you can schedule a Midterm Exam the week before and have it wrap up the first half of the course. Fordham schedules their spring break a week later but, because it’s a Jesuit university, it adds an additional Easter Break. For some reason, Fordham dictates that faculty schedule their Midterm Exams in late February. Whereas courses at NYU and at Pratt are divided into halves, the semester at Fordham is broken up into (unequal) thirds: before the midterm, between the midterm and breaks, and after the breaks.

The CUNY schedule, on the other hand, is a mess. As I’ve complained in the past, CUNY should stop scheduling spring break around the spring Easter/Passover holidays because it’s not conducive to learning. My students will endure twelve consecutive weeks of class before they get a break. Once the break is over and they will have emptied their minds of everything I taught them, they will have only two weeks to recover that knowledge before heading into the final exam. Moreover, the students in my class will also bear an additional burden: our final exam is scheduled for two weeks after our last class, despite Finals Week starting on the week of May 16.

My own undergraduate experience was quite different from that of these students. My university was on the quarter system, and spring break was the week between the winter and spring quarters. Once we finished our winter-quarter, final exams in late-March, we were off until classes started again in early April.

It was a true spring break.

Los Sures Screens and Lives, at NYU

Ten summers ago, I taught a six-week summer class at NYU on New York Independent filmmaking. The class was based on my own interests in New York City as an historical center for independent, experimental, and avant-garde filmmaking. This fact was a key factor in my moving here after college.

Looking back, there were three distinct highlights:

  1. We screened the full three-hour, two-screen diptych of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls.
  2. Nick Zedd shook me down for money, years after I ran the course, because he had learned that I screened his films in this class.
  3. I saw, for the first time, the Diego Echeverria film Los Sures, a 1984 documentary of the then-Puerto Rican enclave of South Williamsburg. The film’s title is Spanish for “the Southsiders” and refers to the residents who dominated the neighborhood in the 1980s.

Over the years, Los Sures has reemerged through the efforts of Brooklyn-based UnionDocs. UnionDocs remixed the original film and created an immersive documentary project called Living Los Sures. Both films screened at the New York Film Festival in 2014, thirty years after the Echeverria film premiered there.

The original film is remarkable today because it documented a part of Williamsburg that has undergone radical changes over the last thirty-plus years, and the Living Los Sures project attempts to excavate and preserve the culture of the Southside.

Tomorrow, the Cinema Studies Department at NYU, is screening the 1984 film and hosting a presentation about the current and ongoing Living Los Sures project. This is a rare opportunity to see this film. Until the original film is available for purchase, you’ll have to settle for screening a 16mm or VHS copy at the New York Public Library.

Admission to tomorrow’s screening is free, but seating is limited.

Living Los Sures

  • March 3, 2016
  • NYU King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square South
  • Free
  • More Information

Long Live Cinematologists!

Around 2003, I bought the domain name cinematologists.com for the Cinema Studies student association at NYU. I chose the domain name because film scholars used to call themselves “cinematologists,” in part to grant a pseudo-science legitimacy to the field. By the 1990s, when I started studying film, the name had long gone out of favor.

I used the domain name to stage a few websites for the annual student conference and a few symposia, such as Michael Bowen’s Confessions of a Vice Baron. The department renewed the registration over the years, but the newer crop of students who succeeded me preferred to use web 2.0 platforms such as Blogger, WordPress, Facebook, and even Tumblr. They never seemed to stick to one platform, and a few years ago, the registration for cinematologists.com expired.

I considered renewing it for myself to eventually use it for something film-studies related down the line, but I found that I am too late. A bunch of English scholars have launched their own Cinematologists podcast and host the companion website at http://www.cinematologists.com.

At an hour and a half in length, the episodes run a bit long for my taste, but the episodes are great at making an academic discussion accessible for an aspiring cinematologist.

Why I Renewed My Citibike Membership

Bike covered in snow

About a year and a half ago, I let my annual Citi Bike membership expire because the bikes never made it to Long Island City, where I lived at the time. Although I left the neighborhood for a different one on the banks of the Newtown Creek, it was more convenient to ride my own bike than participating in the bike share.

A lot has changed in the last eighteen months.

First, the bike share operation was acquired by another company, which has since invested a lot of money in the operation. The software was revamped and improved. Newer and better bikes started to appear at newer and farther flung stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and even Jersey City. After many delays, the bike share was finally available in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City, the neighborhoods where I spend the most time.

Those systemwide improvements were certainly reasons for my revisiting the local bike share, but there were two even more compelling reasons for actually renewing:

  1. As a member of the NYU Federal Credit Union, I am eligible for a $60 annual membership rate. Although the current annual rate of $149$155 is considerably higher than the launch-day rate of $95, it is still a great deal. This is especially true when you consider that a 30-day unlimited Metrocard costs $116.50 and that $150 is about what you’ll spend for a decent bike lock and tires that won’t go flat every week. But being able to renew at $60 per year was simply irresistible.
  2. The most compelling reason for joining the bike share was that I wanted a “winter bike.” Each winter, I have to decide whether to continue cycling or to wedge himself into a crowded subway car or bus. Continuing to ride requires some modifications to my bike, including adding some fenders and installing fatter tires, to navigate the wet and slushy roads during this time of year. Sadly, my single-speed frame won’t accept those modifications too easily. The bike and I end up caked in salt and road mush after a few short miles. To avoid this, some riders go as far as getting a dedicated winter bike, and although I considered doing that, I remembered my own advice for using the bike share as your first bike. Citi Bike could be my first second third bike.

In short, I renewed because, for sixty bucks, I now have access to a winter bike for riding on wet or slushy roads. I have saved myself the trouble of buying overpriced, ill-fitting fenders for my single-speed bike, I will ride with better traction due to the wider tires, and I will keep my drivetrain relatively clean. I’m also hoping that bikes will be actually be available, especially in my neck of the woods, as ridership presumably decreases during the colder months.

Of course, this solution has its limits. This past weekend’s historic storm shut down the bike share for five days, and I don’t feel comfortable riding any bike on icy roads in the city.

For those days, I will have to make do with the G train and a Metrocard.

Sign up, and we each get a free month

Update: Citi Bike will raise its annual membership rate to $155, effective March 1, 2016. Also, it’s “Citi Bike,” not “Citibike.”

  1. Or at least in the more gentrified parts of those boroughs. ↩

Lecture: Carolee Schneeman at New York University

Experimental filmmaker Carolee Schneeman will be giving the fifth annual Experimental Film Lecture, jointly presented by the departments of Cinema Studies and Undergraduate Film & Television, two departments that coordinate much less that you would expect.

The announcement from NYU Cinema Studies is reproduced below.

Schneemann email

“Where did I make the wrong turn?”

by Carolee Schneemann

The 5th Annual Experimental Lecture
Presented by the Departments of Cinema Studies and Undergraduate Film & Television

Carolee Schneemann is a visual artist and moving image maker known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender. She has been a leader and provocateur in the American avant-garde community since the mid 1960s when she created her groundbreaking performance Meat Joy. From Interior Scroll to Plumb Line to Mortal Coil to Vespers Pool, Schneemann’s work pushes form and consciousness like no other artist working today. Ever since Fuses (1965), her landmark exploration of the female body, Schneemann has pushed visual perception in radical directions that awe, disturb and mystify audiences.

In her Experimental Lecture, Schneemann travels backwards and forwards in time. Beginning with obsessive childhood drawings of a staircase, she will analyze recurring formal properties in her film, sculpture and installation work. The mysteries of a notched stick, paper folds, indentations, the slice of line in space are followed as unexpected structural motives, up to and including her recent photographic grids and objects.


  • September 17, 2014
  • 6:15 PM
  • Michelson Theater, 721 Broadway, 6th Floor
  • Free

Rise and Shine with NYU

This afternoon at NYU, I went to a seminar on media archeology and digital humanities. I had thought that these two areas were new to me, but it turns out that I have been doing alot of that work already without having realized it. There were some very enlightening discussions at the seminar, but I’ll save those points for another day, another post.

After we adjourned for the day, a graduate student in the English department told me about an educational television series NYU had helped produced in the 1950s called Sunrise Semester. It was where television viewers could take classes from NYU faculty with broadcasts scheduled as early as 6:00 AM, and the program ran from the 1950s to 1980s, he said. This format of "telecourse" was not as rare as most people might think. Most notably, NBC produced and aired The Continental Classroom from 1955 to 1963, if memory serves, as an early-morning nationally televised program. Unlike Sunrise Semester on CBS, many different universities participated.

The "telecourse" is back with the push for Massively Open Online Courses and ways to "disrupt" traditional universities with technology. NYU shares its courses for free through its OpenEd initiative. Some subjects include sociology, biology, and mathematics. A professional crew records lectures throughout the semester and posts them on YouTube, iTunesU, and its own NYU Stream platform. Students anywhere can "take" the course, although they do not yet receive credit.

Here’s one example from Cyrus Patel’s American Literature course.

The two programs are more different than I would have thought. For one thing, the primary audience for the OpenEd example is the classroom and the paying customers attending. In the case of the Sunrise Semester, the professor speaks to the camera in direct address. There is a fair amount of editing in the Sunrise example, especially compared to OpenEd, although it does not leverage the visual form by showing slides or other illustrations as we see in the latter course.

It is hard to make generalizations about a single episode of a television program with a decades-long run, but that is why we need media archeology to uncover these media artifacts. By looking at how universities were using new technologies, such as television in the 1950s, we can better gauge the possibility of something like MOOCs replacing the traditional university.

More Closures due to Storm

By now, the string of emergency alerts from my work sites have been trickling in and are beginning to have a pretty predictable pattern.

Here’s the order of the announcements.

  • CUNY announced a complete closure of its campuses, around 7:00 this morning.
  • Around 12:30 PM, Fordham reassures us that everyone and its facilities are unharmed, but that classes are cancelled for Wednesday. That closure directly impacts me since I teach an 8:30 class there.
  • Just before 1:00 PM, NYU also announced a complete closure of classes and activities, although they have established electronics charging stations, provided Internet and health care services at Kimmell and the lower level of Bobst Library.
  • At about 1:45 PM, Pratt Institute, where I was supposed to teach class today, has been cancelled classes for tomorrow as well. However, that is a moot point for me since I only teach there on Tuesdays.

Oh well, back to getting some board games.