From PhD Thesis to Monograph: Some Thoughts

A wee while back on Twitter, my fantastic friend and fellow Hispanist Dr Jade Boyd contacted me to ask if I had any advice about transforming my PhD thesis into a monograph. Jade’s question made me reflect on that whole process from a position of relative distance (my monograph Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance, which is based on part of my doctoral thesis,was published by Bloomsbury in August last year) and got me thinking about how helpful a blog post on this topic could be. My blog series on my experience of and advice for the PhD viva are some of my most popular posts on here and my hope is that this post could be just as useful. Below are some of my thoughts on this process and some general pointers to get you started. I’ve also incorporated the advice of some of my friends and colleagues who have been through this process too – thanks to Dr Katie Brown and Dr Paula Blair for sharing their thoughts on this.

My first piece of advice with regards this process would be to not feel constrained by the parameters of the thesis and to really reflect on what you want to be your focus. Think of it as the chance to polish your thesis with the distance and knowledge you now have. Don’t be afraid to make radical decisions about which aspects or sections of the thesis you want to keep and which you feel are best left aside. Do you want to retain the structure or do you want to completely revamp it? Are there any new developments or research you want to incorporate into your work? What did you not cover in your thesis that you wish you had? Did you get any pointers in your viva from your examiners that could help you with this process? If not, could you contact them again to ask them for advice? For me, this was a crucial part of the transition from thesis to monograph. To contextualise, my monograph is based on one of the chapters of my PhD thesis. While the thesis draws connections between three key figures of post-Franco Spanish cinema (the child, the performer, the immigrant), the monograph focuses uniquely on the figure of the performer and the concept of performance. The case study films I used in the thesis chapter on performers and performance remain in the book, albeit radically reworked, but are spread across distinct chapters rather than being grouped together. Besides drastically redrafting relevant sections from the thesis, I also incorporated a lot of new research. I would advise speaking to those who know your thesis well (your supervisors and examiners) for their thoughts on this as well as reflecting yourself on which sections you think are the most successful, have the most potential or indeed require further exploration and analysis.

Even if you are not making radical alterations to the thesis, you will need to reflect on which sections of the thesis need to remain and which need to be cut. To help her with this process, Dr Katie Brown opted to print out the bits of her thesis that required the most work and then chopped it up, saving the sections she wanted to keep, moving them around physically and taking notes about what needed to go in between these sections. I think this is an excellent piece of advice in terms of allowing you to visualise how the monograph is taking shape and to develop an understanding of further research that may need to be completed in the process of preparing the monograph.

In terms of editing, it is worth remembering that you will need to adapt the thesis in the process of transforming it into a monograph due to the distinct purposes of these two documents. Dr Paula Blair pointed out that for her, this was crucial given that the thesis is a document used to assess suitability for qualification and so must demonstrate your thought process and working out. For Paula, sections illustrating your working out (the literature review for example) do not need to feature in such detail in the monograph. As she notes, the intended audiences of each document (examiners versus readers) directly influence the material included in each case. I must admit, editing is not my favourite part of the writing process, but I did find this aspect, being able to cut what felt like the more didactic sections of my thesis, rather liberatory. You do not need to explicate your methods and processes to the same extent as you do in the thesis.

Still on the topic of editing, I cannot emphasise how important it is to have others read your work. I found it helpful to have others read the manuscript, particularly those outside my field as I wanted the book to be accessible to those with an interest in Spanish cinema, not just to specialists within the area of Hispanic cinema studies. Friends and colleagues both within and out with my field (you know who you are!) very kindly and generously offered to read sections of the manuscript and provided me with detailed feedback about how I might improve each section. Their feedback was vital in helping me shape my thinking and ultimately improve the manuscript. I was careful to select people whose expertise was relevant to the distinct chapters of the monograph so that I could benefit from their insights on my work. I would definitely advise that you ask colleagues and friends to read sections of your manuscript at various stages of the drafting process to assist you in pinpointing potential pitfalls as well as to help you identify the successful sections of the work.

With regards useful resources to consult during this process, I was recommended this book by a colleague: William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book. I used this when I was preparing my book proposal rather than actually writing up the monograph but it certainly helped me in terms of reframing and restructuring the material for the book. I found this a useful read in terms of thinking through the logistics of transforming the thesis into a book. There are sections on thinking about practicalities such as timescales which were invaluable in forward planning. On this note, I would suggest you are generous and conservative with your estimates for timeframe as things always take longer than you think they will!

In sum, here are my basic pointers for transforming the thesis into a monograph:

  • Reflect on your focus (retain from thesis or alter slightly/drastically?).
  • Consider what to keep and what to cut (keep in mind the purpose of the work).
  • Have others read your work (within/outwith your field).
  • Read William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book.

I hope these meandering thoughts prove useful! Do let me know either in the comments or on Twitter if you think of any further pointers that you could share with academics attempting to transform their doctoral research into a monograph. I am contemplating writing a post on preparing a book proposal too so please do let me know if you think that might be helpful.

AHGBI Conference Paper on Vis a vis [Locked Up]

IMAGE: Screengrab of the Prezi presentation that accompanied my AHGBI paper.

“Ten mucho cuidado con lo que tú vas diciendo por allí”: Silence, Sound, Gender, and Voice in Vis a vis [Locked Up] (Globomedia/Fox Networks Group España, 2015-2019)

In March 2021, I virtually attended the annual conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI). I participated in a panel on the topic of ‘New Female Subjectivities on Television Made in Spain’ alongside Dr Abigail Loxham and Dr Anja Louis and presented a paper entitled ‘“Ten mucho cuidado con lo que tú vas diciendo por allí”: Silence, Sound, Gender and Voice in Vis a vis [Locked Up] (Globomedia/Fox Networks Group España, 2015-2019)’. This paper details preliminary research I have undertaken for my new project on soundscapes of gender in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. I am going to outline the paper here and would love to hear your feedback as I develop this project. Please feel free to leave me a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@FionaFNoble).

My paper focused on the Spanish television series Vis a vis [Locked Up], which is one of the proposed case studies of my new research project on soundscapes of gender. The aim of this project is to investigate intersections of gender, sound, silence, and voice in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures, with case studies including feature-length films, documentaries, and television series. While I acknowledge the collaborative character of such works, I have deliberately selected case studies created principally by women in order to investigate the correlation between onscreen depictions of women and the prominence of women offscreen.

The impetus behind my new project emerges within the wider context of feminist popular movements sparked by persistent prejudices against women, both within and beyond audiovisual production industries. The most prolific of these is the #MeToo movement, initiated by Tarana Burke in 2006 as a means of raising awareness of, and creating solidarity amongst, women who had suffered abuse. In 2017, the movement gained traction when the hashtag was tweeted by actress Alyssa Milano, who accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and encouraged women to speak up if they too had been abused. Other relevant movements include #SayHerName, a campaign that that illuminates Black women and girls who have suffered racist police violence, and, in the Spanish context, #MasMujeres and #Cuéntalo, inspired by both the #MeToo movement and the Pamplona Wolf Pack case, in which five men were acquitted of rape charges. What interests me about these recent popular iterations of feminism is their specific concern with voice, in both literal and symbolic terms, as well as their emphasis on the twin processes of the refusal to remain silent and the need to speak up/out.

My theoretical approach for this project is informed by contemporary postfeminist theory, particularly the work of Alison Phipps, Angela McRobbie, and Jilly Boyce Kay. In the Spanish context, Laura Martínez-Jiménez highlights how ‘In the (post)crisis setting, thanks to feminist activism against precariousness, institutional patriarchy and everyday sexism, gender justice has penetrated Spanish common sense in a way that the broad formal/legal development of equality during the last 15 years was unable to achieve’ (2020: 2). More specifically, in the context of audiovisual analysis, my focus on sound considers not just technical aspects such as soundtrack and dialogue, but also the conceptual, thematic, narrative, and visual dimensions of sound. The work of theorists such as Kaja Silverman, Mary Ann Doane, Michel Chion, Britta Sjorgen and Liz Greene informs my analysis of sound, as does that of Tom Whittaker and Sarah Wright in the Hispanic Studies context. The correlation between sound and gender onscreen was underscored as early as 1988 by Kaja Silverman: ‘sexual difference is the effect of dominant cinema’s sound regime as well as its visual regime, and […] the female voice is as relentlessly held to normative representations and functions as the female body’ (1988: viii). An oft-neglected facet of audiovisual scholarship, the premise of my project is that sound constitutes a key site of gender expression onscreen.

Turning to my case study for this post, the first two seasons of Vis a vis [Locked Up], of 16 and 19 episodes respectively, were produced by Globomedia and Atresmedia and broadcast on Spain’s free-to-air television channel Antena 3. Antena 3 subsequently cancelled the series but Fox España stepped in to produce a third and final fourth season, of 8 episodes each, which were broadcast on Fox’s pay-TV networks in Spain and Portugal. A further spin-off series, Vis a vis: El oasis,was released in 2020 focusing on protagonists Macarena and Zulema, constituting the last instalment of the series. Netflix bought global streaming rights for the show which was also streamed on All4 in the UK as part of Channel 4’s Walter Presents video-on-demand service.

My interest in Vis a vis for the project on soundscapes of gender is twofold: the first concerns its female-led cast and its prominent female producer/screenwriter; and the second, its emphasis on sound. With regards the cast, the series initially focuses on protagonist Macarena Ferreiro (Maggie Civantos), a young white privileged woman who finds herself facing a seven-year prison sentence on account of various charges including fraud and theft. However, as the series develops (and Civantos becomes a regular in Las chicas del cable [Cable Girls]), Vis a vis evolves into a female ensemble cast drama/thriller with several of the inmates forming focal points for various storylines. Relatedly, one of the key figures behind the scenes of the series is Esther Martínez Lobato, who is also known for her work on La casa de papel [Money Heist] and, most recently, Sky rojo. Besides the importance of gender in Vis a vis, sound is also highly significant, intrinsically linked to power and agency, to memory and temporality, and a site of resistance to hierarchies of power, an argument I make in relation to Katie Hemsworth’s article on the various sites of tension (spatial orientation/disorientation; connection/disconnection; power/resistance) within prison soundscapes.

There are various ways in which gender, sound, silence, and voice converge in Vis a vis. In terms of form, music plays an important role. For example, the music accompanying the opening credits becomes a musical leitmotif throughout the series, playing at important moments in terms of the plot. Music also functions as a coping mechanism for many of the prisoners, most notably Saray (Alba Flores) who sings and performs at key moments throughout the series, and Zulema (Najwa Nimri) who is often linked with classical and operatic music in interesting ways. In later episodes, music additionally emerges as being interconnected with maternal relationships for both characters. Intersections amongst motherhood, sound and gender is an area I am keen to explore as part of the wider project. Alongside music, ambient sound constitutes an important component of Vis a vis’s soundscape, with noises associated with prison, such as the slamming of cell doors, frequently audibly exaggerated and enhanced. In terms of theme, listening constitutes a prominent narrative trope in Vis a vis, emerging through audio surveillance with prison officers and police often listening in on prisoners’ phone calls and tapping mobile phones. Relatedly, remaining silent features as a regular theme throughout the series, with the plot and narrative action often hinging upon characters not speaking up about something they have witnessed or being forced to remain silent about mistreatment or abuse.

For the purposes of this post, I produce a close reading of a pertinent aural technique in Vis a vis: the voiceover. Although my research is still in its preliminary stages, I have identified a growing field of audiovisual scholarship on the significance of female voiceover and its distinct uses including in relation to nostalgia (as Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai argues in relation to Out of Africa), female agency and sexuality (as Ashli Dykes contends regarding Sex and the City), and trauma (as Kathleen A. McHugh argues with respect to Jane Campion’s films). With regards form, the voiceover constitutes a significant sonic site in audiovisual cultures insofar as it exposes the technical illusion of unity upon which the audiovisual image hinges. In audiovisual media, the soundtrack is most typically assembled in postproduction, using a range of sonic material such as recordings made on set/location, sound effects libraries, and music. Indeed, as Tomlinson Holman notes, ‘Sound for film and television is thus a thoroughly constructed experience, usually meant to integrate many elements together seamlessly and not draw specific attention to itself’ (2010: xi). However, moments utilising the technique of the voiceover specifically emphasise a mismatch between sound and image, whereby the voice we hear does not correspond to a talking body on screen. The voiceover is thus a disruptive site of disjuncture in the audiovisual soundscape, making it an intriguing aspect for analysis in context of intersections of sound and gender.

The importance of the voiceover as sonic technique in Vis a vis is underscored in the opening sequence of the first episode of the series (Season 1, Episode 1, 00:00 – 01:30). (If you want to watch this clip, or indeed the series in its entirety, you will find Seasons 1-4 free to stream on Channel 4’s on-demand streaming service All4 at time of writing 16.04.2021). The opening scenes depict protagonist Macarena in her plush apartment in the centre of Madrid, initially watching her yellow canary flap around its cage before unwrapping a larger birdcage. The sound of a telephone ringing interrupts the gentle melody that accompanied the opening images, and a conversation ensues between Macarena and her mother, as the young woman reveals that she is to embark on a sailing trip with her boyfriend Simón and so will not see them or be in touch for a while. Rather than directly depicting Macarena speaking on the phone, the sequence deploys the technique of the voiceover so that we hear Macarena detailing her plans as we see her prepare to leave her apartment. Just before she is about to leave, she returns to the canary and opts to set it free. Her mother asks her ‘¿Y cuánto tiempo vas a estar?’, the question echoing and fading away, remaining unanswered as the voiceover draws to a close.

The mismatch between sound and image here, insofar as the voiceover emphasises the disjuncture between voice and body, exemplifies both the voice and the voiceover, as sites of tension and conflict. This technical discord is further underscored by the plot, in that Macarena’s conversation with her mother is disingenuous. Rather than heading off on an extended holiday, Macarena is about to begin her prison sentence, a fact revealed to the viewer in the subsequent scene when the action cuts to Macarena being read her charges before then resuming the telephone conversation in real time as she prepares to enter prison. This underscores the separation of sound and image inherent within visual media, as underscored by Mary Ann Doane: ‘Sound carries with it the potential risk of exposing the material heterogeneity of the medium; […] In the discourse of technicians, sound is “married” to the image’ (1980: 35). However, this sequence and its use of the voiceover also posit the voice as a site of agency and control: Macarena uses her voice as a means of exercising agency over her impending imprisonment. This is particularly significant given that she is about to become a prison inmate and therefore have very little control over her surroundings, circumstances, and actions.

The voiceover as technique itself exercises agency and control over both sound and image by pushing at the boundaries of the visible, exemplified in instances of voiceover as internal monologue. As Mary Ann Doane contends, ‘In the interior monologue […] the voice and the body are represented simultaneously, but the voice, far from being an extension of that body, manifests its inner lining. The voice displays what is inaccessible to the image, what exceeds the visible: the “inner life” of the character. The voice here is the privileged mark of interiority, turning the body “inside-out”’ (1980: 41). An example of the voiceover as interior monologue occurs in Series 1, Episode 2 (29:30 – 30:50), in a sequence that details Macarena spending time in solitary confinement. She awakes to the sound of diegetic classical music which is being played for the prisoners as a reward. We hear Macarena’s voice, once again in voiceover, describing her experience of prison so far in an imagined conversation with her mother in which she compares prison to boarding school. As in the introductory sequence of the first episode (discussed above), the accompanying images betray the words spoken by Macarena in voiceover and emphasise her dishonesty: the protagonist at this point is in solitary confinement having been forced to carry drugs for her cellmate before being caught and punished. Macarena’s internal monologue prefigures a conversation with her mother that occurs later in the same episode in which she repeats elements of the monologue as she attempts to reassure her mother, and arguably herself, about her wellbeing.

In spite of the disunity conveyed by this voiceover, the sequence once again depicts the voice, and specifically the voiceover, as instruments through which one can exercise agency and control even in severely restricted circumstances. Here, Macarena imagines using her voice to reconfigure her reality within solitary confinement while, in formal terms, the recourse to voiceover similarly reconfigures the audiovisual image through its provision of access to Macarena’s thoughts and imagination. Interestingly, Macarena’s voiceover is interrupted by the voice in situ of another inmate who addresses her through the vent of her cell. Macarena confides in this unseen individual about who had asked her to collect the drugs, only for the camera to then travel through the vent to reveal that Macarena has been set up by Miranda, the prison director, their conversation recorded to be used as evidence against the prisoner in question. This once again highlights how the voiceover functions as a disruptive site of disjuncture characterised by dishonesty and discord between voice and image.

While this post on Vis a vis constitutes part of a much wider project at a preliminary stage of research, I do hope that I have succeeded in conveying the importance of analysing soundscapes of gender in the context of contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. The examples detailed constitute just two instances of intersections amongst voice, gender, sound, and silence in Vis a vis and demonstrate the importance of this series as a case study for this project. This is very much work-in-progress research and I would very much appreciate any thoughts/feedback readers might have!

REFERENCES

Chion, Michel. 1999. The Voice in Cinema. Translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press.

Doane, Mary Ann (1980): “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space”. Yale French Studies, 60: 33-50.

Dykes, Ashli. 2011. “And I Started Wondering…”: Voiceover and Conversation in Sex and the City. Ed. Rhonda V. Wilcox. Studies in Popular Culture, 34: 1, 49-66.

Eswaran Pillai, Swarnavel. (2015). The Texture of Interiority: Voiceover and Visuals. Studies in Visual Arts and Communication: An International Journal 2:1, 1-12.

Greene, Liz. (2009). Speaking, Singing, Screaming: Controlling the Female Voice in American Cinema. The Soundtrack 2:1, 63-76.

Hemsworth, Katie. (2016). “Feeling the range”: Emotional geographies of sound in prisons. Emotion, Space and Society, 20: 90-97.

Holman, Tomlinson (2010). Sound for Film and Television. Third Edition. Routledge: New York; London.

Kay, Jilly Boyce (2020). Gender, Media and Voice: Communicative Injustice and Public Speech. Palgrave Macmillan: Cham, Switzerland.

Martínez Jiménez, Laura (2020): “Neoliberal postfeminism, or some other, sexier thing: Gender and populism in the Spanish context”. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 0, 0, pp. 1-7.

McHugh, Kathleen A. (2001). “Sounds that Creep Inside You”: Female Narration and Voiceover in the Films of Jane Campion. Style, 35:2, 193-218.

McRobbie, Angela (2004): “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture”. Feminist Media Studies, 4, 3, pp. 255-264.

Silverman, Kaja (1988). The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema: Theories of Representation and Difference. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Sjogren, Britta H. (2006). Into the Vortex: Female Voice and Paradox in Film. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago.

Whittaker, Tom and Sarah Wright, eds. (2017). Locating the Voice in Film. Oxford University Press: New York.

A voice of one’s own: Soundscapes of gender in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures – new research project

The Best 39 LGBT Netflix Shows to Watch | Once Upon A Journey
Saray (Alba Flores) and Rizos (Berta Vazquez) in Vis a Vis / Locked Up (proposed case study for my new project)

As regular readers will know, my book Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance was published earlier this year. Although the time I currently have available for research is limited, I am still keen to continue researching and writing about Spanish audiovisual cultures.

At present, I have a postdoc application under consideration with the British Academy. The proposed project is entitled A Voice Of One’s Own: Soundscapes of Gender in Contemporary Spanish Audiovisual Cultures. I am hopeful that I will pursue this research project even if unsuccessful in my funding bid.

The premise of the project is to explore intersections of gender and sound in contemporary Spanish audiovisual cultures. I use the term ‘audiovisual cultures’ as I intend to explore cinema and television as well as to emphasise the aural dimension of visual cultures. The inspiration for this project lies, in part, with recent socio-political movements (such as #MeToo and #MasMujeres) which highlight the endemic imbalances, biases and abuses in audiovisual production industries. Driving these movements is an impulse to speak out and vocally condemn the subjugation of women within such contexts. In this way, these phenomena articulate modes of femininity outwith assumptions of conformity and silence that have typified cultural production designated as postfeminist.

Invisibles, un relato de mujeres invisibilizadas que pasean por Cáceres
The principal characters of Gracia Querejeta’s 2020 film Invisibles (another proposed case study for the project).

My project will analyse interactions amongst gender, sound and space in Spanish audiovisual content authored principally by women. At this early stage of research, my hypothesis is that these interactions simultaneously denounce pervasive gender inequalities and forge innovative understandings of gender identity within contemporary Western societies, both of which are vital as we negotiate post-Covid shifts in gendered divisions of professional and domestic labour. The Spanish case is of particular interest in these contexts given the extent to which gender justice has permeated Spanish consciousness in the aftermath of the 2007-8 economic Crisis (Martínez Jímenez).

A key element of this project is my intention to interview female audiovisual creators about their works as well as their experiences working in audiovisual production industries. One of my aims is to interrogate how female-authored audiovisual portraits of female subjectivities conform to and/or undermine patriarchal understandings of female identity. Simultaneously highlighting the works and amplifying the voices of female filmmakers, documentarists, screenwriters and producers, I am particularly interested in how sound becomes a privileged site for the formulation of alternative female subjectivities outwith male-dominated frameworks such as patriarchy, heteronormativity and white Western hegemony.

Gure Hormek - Txintxua Films
Image from documentary Gure Hormek / Our Walls by Basque duo María Elorza and Maider Férnandez (another proposed case study for the project).

Proposed case studies include:

feature films:

* El patio de mi cárcel/My Prison Yard (Belén Macías, 2008),
* Todos están muertos/They Are All Dead (Beatriz Sanchis, 2014),
* Estiu 1993/Summer 1993 (Carla Simón, 2017),
* Brava/Brave (Roser Aguilar, 2017).
* Invisibles/Invisible (Gracia Querejeta, 2020).

documentaries:

* Madre/Mother (Mabel Lozano, 2012),
* Manzanas, pollos y quimeras/Apples, Chickens and Chimeras (Inés París, 2013),
* Gure Hormek/Our Walls
(María Elorza, Maider Férnandez, 2016).

and television series:

* Las chicas del cable/Cable Girls (Netflix/Bambú Producciones, 2017-2020),
* Vis a vis/Locked Up (Globomedia/Fox Networks Group España, 2015-2019).

I have selected these works for two reasons: 1) their production principally by women creators and 2) their depictions of gender, sound and space on screen which respond to and/or critique stereotypical conceptualisations of women, femininity and female subjectivities as well as proposing alternative configurations of these categories. Taking fiction film, documentary and television together while remaining sensitive to their distinct production contexts, my study brings to fruition connections between and amongst these distinct audiovisual formats and contends that it is precisely through these interconnections that innovative understandings of female subjectivities emerge.

I am hoping to blog about this project as I move forward with it and would love to hear what people think of it and my ideas as I share them here!

Pleibericos book launch

On Thursday 10th December 2020, I participated in the 6th Pleibéricos event. Pleibéricos is a virtual platform created by Esther Gimeno Ugalde (University of Vienna) and Santiago Fouz Hernández (Durham University) as a means of promoting recently published works in the fields of Iberian Studies. It was an honour to take part in the event which also featured Steven Marsh, José Luis Sánchez Noriega, Tom Whittaker and Sarah Thomas, as well as Barbara Zecchi as guest moderator.

I’ve embedded the YouTube video of the event here:

Pleibéricos 6 (10 diciembre 2020) cine español

And here is a transcript of my presentation:

Presentación

Antes de empezar quiero agradecer a Santi y a Esther, no solo por invitarme a participar en este evento, que es un placer enorme, pero también por organizar esta serie de eventos que he seguido con mucho interés.

Para empezar, me gustaría apuntar que la idea de enfocarme en el concepto de performance viene de hecho de mis estudios doctorales y es verdad que la performance es un tema emergente en el campo de estudios hispánicos, sobre todo en cuanto al cine español. Si os interesa, se puede ver el libro editado de Tom Whittaker, Dean Allbritton y Alejandro Melero que también trata de este tema.

En esta presentación, voy a mantener la palabra performance en inglés y voy a explicar ahora por qué. Performance quiere decir la actuación en castellano, pero la palabra inglesa también implica otros significados. En el libro analizo tres aspectos distintos del concepto de performance:

En primer lugar, las películas que estudio incluyen performance a nivel narrativo: es decir tienen personajes que son performers – que cantan, bailan o actúan – de forma profesional o en ámbitos más informales o incluyen secuencias de performance dentro de la acción narrativa.

En segundo lugar, está el trabajo que hacen los actores dentro de la película: la manera en la que actúan, como usan el cuerpo físico, la cara, las expresiones etc.

En tercer lugar, y esto es una de las ideas claves de mi libro, se ve que los directores españoles contemporáneos utilizan el concepto de performance como un concepto ideológico y una estrategia política y voy a hablar más de esta idea ahora.

En el libro, centro en el cine de la España democrática. Lo que argumento es que la performance se usa como herramienta política en el cine español actual y que esta estrategia viene de la época franquista. En las obras de directores como Luis García Berlanga y Juan Antonio Bardem, de que hablo en la introducción, la performance es una forma de ocultar sus ideas políticas que obviamente van en contra del régimen franquista.

No quiero decir con esto que todo tiene que ver con el franquismo en el contexto contemporáneo, sino que me interesa la manera en la que los directores del cine español actual adaptan esta estrategia.

Relacionado a esto, otra idea clave del libro es que los performers a veces se convierten en agentes subversivos. Un ejemplo perfecto es los casos de Willy Toledo y los Títeres desde abajo que han tenido problemas legales con el contenido de sus obras en plena democracia.

Esto demuestra una tercera idea clave del libro: que la cultura es un enfoque político tanto en la democracia que en la dictadura.

Finalmente, para terminar esta presentación, quiero destacar la estructura del libro para daros una idea de cómo organizo el contenido. Tengo cuatro capítulos principales que se organiza temáticamente.

En el primer capítulo, hablo de la performance y el pasado y como, a veces, lo que hace el cine es simular el pasado.

En el segundo capítulo, analizo la performance e identidades que tiene que ver con la performatividad y las teorías del género.

En el tercer capítulo, estudio el concepto de metaperformance y unas películas que juegan con la idea de la performance dentro de la acción narrativa.

Y finalmente, en el cuarto capítulo, examino la performance como catarsis y terapia.

Estoy dispuesta de hablar más sobre cualquiera de estos temas si hay preguntas. Muchas gracias.

Pregunta

Muchas gracias, Santi por tu pregunta interesante.

Para empezar, quiero apuntar que la performance como catarsis y terapia no es únicamente una experiencia positiva o afirmativa; también tiene un lado difícil o incluso, en algunos casos, peligroso.

Analizo tres películas en este capítulo: la que has mencionado – Ocaña; Hable con ella de Pedro Almodóvar; y Noviembre de Achero Mañas.

En estas tres películas, la performance funciona como una especie de working through y mantengo esta palabra en inglés también porque quiero citar a Cathy Caruth y los estudios de trauma. Básicamente significa un proceso de intentar entender o superar unos eventos personales y políticos, o – a veces – las dos cosas juntas.

Ocaña es un ejemplo perfecto de esta idea. Es un documental y el protagonista es un artista andaluz que migró a Barcelona después de la muerte de Franco y que forma parte importante de la cultura catalana de la Transición.

Hay una secuencia en particular que representa esta idea. Tiene lugar en un cementerio y canta Ocaña sobre Federico García Lorca y el hecho de que no se sabe dónde exactamente está su cuerpo. La canción destaca el duelo de la madre de Lorca en particular y con esto, e qsta secuencia resume perfectamente mi tesis sobre la performance como catarsis o terapia en cuanto a los traumas personales y políticos en el cine español de la época posfranquista.

THE BOOK IS OUT!

My first monograph, Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance, was published by Bloomsbury last month. If you are interested in purchasing it, you can check it out here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/search?q=subversive+spanish+cinema&Gid=1.

Monograph available for preorder!!

Just a quick post from me (after a long hiatus, I know!) to share the link for my forthcoming book, Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance, which is now available for preorder with Bloomsbury. If you would like to preorder it, you can click here.

 

Transnational Cinematic Childhoods

LMS I
Figure 1: The Child and the Screen (Little Miss Sunshine)

In Spring 2018, I taught an Honours course entitled Transnational Cinematic Childhoods at the University of Aberdeen. It’s been on my to-do list since then to write a blog about the course as there was a lot of interest in the course when I tweeted about it at the time. Finally getting round to writing that post now! Life has been somewhat busy in the interim, what with retraining, finishing my book & having a baby! I’m sharing some insights here but I’m happy to share more in the way of course documentation if folks are interested. Just drop me a line either in the comments below or on Twitter (@FionaFNoble).

LMS II
Figure 2: The Child before the Screen (Little Miss Sunshine)

The aims of the course were to explore the ways in which cinema constructs children and to interrogate the significance of cinematic constructions of childhood (Figures 1 and 2). The word construction is key here. Children on/in film are just that. Constructions, representations, figures. Furthermore, cinematic depictions of children and childhood are typically shaped not by children but by adults. Adults write, edit, frame and direct children onscreen (Figure 3). That said, one cannot deny the agency and presence of the child actors who perform the roles of cinematic children. Indeed, child actors are often lauded for the power of their performances and praised for their authenticity and natural presence. Caught between these tensions, cinematic children are rich sites with regard to the human race and the big questions that inform our existence.

TVS I
Figure 3: Framing Children (The Virgin Suicides)

As cinematic figures, children onscreen carry significant symbolic weight. I proposed a flexibly broad definition of the child and childhood, encompassing adolescence and even adults grappling with difficult pasts (Figures 4 and 5). The child is a figure for what we once were and what we will never be again. The child carries connotations of innocence, of hope and of regeneration. But that which is innocent is subject to corruption. The child is also a site of cultural anxiety around which preoccupations concerning gender, sexuality, life and death cluster. And it is precisely these anxieties that my course sought to explore.
The corpus of the course was, as suggested by the course title, transnational in scope. It included films from the UK, US, Spain, France and Mexico. The corpus was as follows:
  • A Story of Children and Film (Cousins, 2013)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton/Faris, 2006)
  • The Virgin Suicides (Coppola, 1999)
  • Waterlilies (Sciamma, 2007)
  • The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
  • Raise Ravens (Saura, 1976)
  • The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, 2001)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (del Toro, 2006)
  • Who Can Kill A Child? (Serrador, 1976)
  • The Others (Amenábar, 2001).

The Others
Figure 6: Locating the Child (The Others)

There was an emphasis on Hispanic cinemas due to my expertise in that field. But the course was taught to students undertaking the Film and Visual Culture MA at Aberdeen so actively sought to make transnational links across the films studied. The categorisation of films along national lines is problematic in any case given the increasingly transnational character of funding streams and channels of exhibition and distribution. Many of the films chosen reflect this complexity. For example, The Others (Figure 6) is directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar but filmed in English and stars Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman who hails from Australia. Is the film Spanish? Anglophone? A Hollywood production? All of the above? With these dynamics of transnationalism in mind, my students and I sought to trace a cinematic map of children and childhoods across national borders, while remaining sensitive to local and national specificities influencing childhood and its cinematic depictions.

Waterlilies I
Figure 7: Orienting the Child (Waterlilies)

Course readings were similarly diverse in scope, ranging from nationally specific readings of the films that pay particular attention to their sociohistorical production contexts to theoretical takes on the significance of cinematic children and childhoods. They included, as examples, Karen Lury’s The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairytales, Emma Wilson’s Cinema’s Missing Children and Kathryn Bond Stockton’s The Queer Child; Or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. I chose readings that complemented the films in question and that encouraged the students to think through the significance of cinematic children and childhoods in diverse ways (Figure 7).
The course was organised around five key themes with each theme spanning two weeks and encompassing two films as case studies:
  1. Framing Childhood (A Story of Children and Film / Little Miss Sunshine)
  2. Boundaries and Borders (The Virgin Suicides / Waterlilies)
  3. Childhood as Transition (The Spirit of the Beehive / Raise Ravens)
  4. Transnational Childhood (The Devil’s Backbone / Pan’s Labyrinth)
  5. Death and the Child (Who Can Kill A Child? / The Others).
Figure 8: Dead, Violent, Ghostly and Killer Kids (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Who Can Kill A Child?)
Across these themes, we asked questions of cinematic illustrations of children and childhood. We analysed child sexuality, the applications and implications of gender norms in relation to the child and childhood, violent children and child ghosts (Figure 8). We considered children as liminal, in transition, queer.
Because I was on an hourly paid fixed term contract while teaching this module and live a considerable distance from campus, I requested that my lecture and two hour seminar for the course be scheduled back-to-back. The only timeslot they could give me for this was 1-4pm on a Friday afternoon. I was convinced my students would be completely unimpressed at this but I was pleasantly surprised. The group of students who opted to take my course were the most dynamic, engaged and enthusiastic bunch of individuals I’ve had the pleasure of teaching in the 10 years I taught at university level. I always had to call the discussions to a close at 3:55pm as they had so much to say!! I think I was fortunate to have such a great group of students but I’ll also take some of the credit for compiling a course that inspired interest, debate and even controversy (we’ll skip over the one student who complained about the overtly feminist course content and that I was gender biased against him …).
Overall, this is undoubtedly the most successful course I’ve designed and taught. The students raved about it (for the most part) and wanted to know if I’d be back teaching them again the following year. It’s just a shame those in charge of hiring at the university have (thus far) not seen recruiting myself to the department as an option. I’ve not taught at university level since I delivered this course and it’s unlikely I’ll have the opportunity in the near future. But I want to share the details of this module in the meantime as its work I’m particularly proud of and would love to see it engaged with by others.

Update – January 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here so I thought I’d write a little update blog on what I’ve been up to and why the blog has been somewhat neglected of late.

The end of January marks four years since I submitted my PhD thesis at the University of Aberdeen. In some ways it feels like just yesterday. In others, it feels like a long time ago. In the four years since I submitted, I have achieved a lot. I was awarded a fixed-term teaching contract at Durham University. I had such a fab time there. I love the north-east of England and really enjoyed working in the Hispanic Studies department there. My colleagues across the School of Modern Languages and Cultures were warm and welcoming. The students were engaged and motivated. And I got the opportunity to teach research-led sections across a variety of team-taught modules. In fact, my former colleague and PhD examiner Professor Santiago Fouz-Hernández contacted me earlier this evening to let me know that he asked his dissertation students why they had chosen to work on Spanish cinema and that they said they’d been inspired by my classes when they were in first year. Since my time in Durham, I became a mum and had a spell of maternity leave (though admittedly kept working on academic stuff during this time – work on my book, peer reviews, book reviews etc.). I worked part-time outwith academia for a while after my maternity leave before taking up a fixed-term contract as Associate Teaching Fellow in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen. I was lucky to be asked to teach an Honours module on the topic of childhood in cinema and I had an absolute blast designing and delivering a course entitled Transnational Cinematic Childhoods. (I might well do a post on this at some point as I had a lot of interest in my syllabus on Twitter… Watch this space!!).

Last Spring, while working part-time as a waitress, teaching part-time on an hourly-paid contract, trying to keep my research going plus being a mum, I decided I couldn’t keep juggling all of the things. I applied for the PGDE in Secondary Education (French-Spanish) at Aberdeen and was offered a place. I quit my waitressing job. I’m still plugging away (admittedly, very slowly!) with my book manuscript though my deadline has now passed. I’m still applying for academic jobs. And I am almost halfway through my PGDE. Life is pretty hectic and I’ve just not had much time to dedicate to research-related activities and hence to post on the blog. One of my goals for 2019 is to resume my blog writing so I am going to try and post a bit more regularly in the coming months. We’ll see how this pans out …

Editing a Special Journal Issue – Chat with Liz Harvey-Kattou

In June 2018, my friend Dr Liz Harvey-Kattou (@lizharvey99), a lecturer in Hispanic Culture at the University of Westminster, tweeted about the publication of a special issue of Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas on the topic of Central American Cinema, edited by herself and Amanda Alfaro, (a PhD student from Costa Rica). When I saw her tweet, I messaged Liz to ask about her experience of editing the journal issue. I was intrigued to know more about the whole process, not having embarked on such a project myself in my academic career to date. Liz replied with really interesting and helpful advice about the venture. We decided to have a Skype session to talk about it in more detail as I felt that Liz’s recent experience and excellent insights would make a very useful blog post for anyone interested in pursuing such a task. I have edited our conversation for clarity.

 

Liz, firstly, thanks for agreeing to chat with me about this! Your insights will be valued, I’m sure. First off, what gave you and Amanda the idea for the special issue? Why did you think it was important there be a publication dedicated to the topic of Central American Cinema in the 21st century?

No problem, I’m happy to share my experience! My PhD dealt with national identity in Central American literature and cinema and there is currently not much scholarship on this topic. In fact, Amanda and I are the only two people looking solely at Central American cinema in the UK! Though there are a number of individuals in Costa Rica studying this topic too. We became aware of an emerging interest in Central American cinema more broadly, with Guatamalan film Ixcanul winning a host of awards in 2015, a couple of Central American films appearing on Netflix for the first time and a growing awareness in the cinematic production of various Central American nations on film festival circuits. We felt well-placed to complete this project given the centrality of the framework of Central American cinema to our work, although it was not an ideal time to embark on such a venture: I had just finished my PhD and was precariously employed at that point and Amanda was in the process of undertaking her PhD.

 

Sounds like you both invested a lot of time and effort into the process! Why did you opt for an edited special journal issue rather than another format, an edited book for example?

There were two main reasons for this: 1) we wanted to get the issue out quickly and knew the book process would take a bit longer; and 2) we wanted to make use of the journal’s infrastructure in relation to peer review, for example. Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas was our number one choice due to its significance for the field.

 

That makes sense! How did you approach pitching the idea to Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas? What factors influenced this choice? Was there a formula/template to follow for pitching the issue or did you have a bit of freedom as to how you did this?

Our first choice was Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinema due to its significance for the field of Hispanic visual culture. They had previously featured a special issue on Cuban cinema and it seemed like a good fit for our project. Our experience of the process was somewhat informal. We initially contacted the editors to establish whether they might be interested in receiving a proposal for a special issue on the topic. We then sent the proposed Call for Papers, which in the end formed the basis for our jointly-written introduction to the journal issue, to the editor. Her response was positive and we worked out a timeline with her.

 

You mentioned the Call for Papers there. How did you go about soliciting articles for the issue? How did this process pan out? Were there any particular hurdles at this stage? What would you do differently, if pursuing a similar project in the future?

We wrote the Call for Papers and distributed it widely. We were particularly keen for scholars based in the US and Central America to contribute. We asked for the submission of a 300-word abstract initially and were completely shocked at the number of submissions (around 24 in total)! We realised, with hindsight, that we should have made the Call for Papers more specific. We had deliberately left it as open as possible because we weren’t sure how much interest there would be! We had an array of really interesting proposals on documentary filmmaking, for example, but decided to focus on feature-length productions as that is where our interest lies.

In terms of narrowing down the submissions, we thought about how the different proposed articles would fit together. We were keen to have a film from every country in Central America though that ultimately wasn’t feasible. In the end, we had an article with an overview of the field, one on distribution, film festivals and the effect of these elements on the aesthetics of filmmaking and the remainder of the articles focused on specific films from various regions. We looked for a coherent narrative across the different contributions when trying to narrow it down. There were so many interesting proposals we had to reject that just did not fit, for example one on sports figures in Central American film. But it just didn’t work well with the other contributions and so we had to reject it. That bit was tough!

 

In addition to narrowing down the contributions, what else were you responsible for as editor? How would you describe your role as journal issue editor? How did you divide the labour between yourself and your fellow editor?

One of my main tasks as editor was translating reviews into Spanish for the Spanish contributors. I also had responsibility for editing the language used in the articles while Amanda did a lot of the communications. Amanda and I have known each other for some time as we both worked with the same supervisor at UCL. We were able to work well together because of this. We both read all of the articles numerous times and were very familiar with them by the end of the process. In effect, most things were done twice by both of us! It was great working with someone else on this as I think I would have questioned myself a lot if I had embarked on such a project on my own. It was really helpful having someone to check stuff over, especially when a lot was done in Spanish. We would often meet up and read the articles together, going over them with fine tooth comb. We also wrote the introduction together. It was very much a joint venture!

 

I’m a real fan of collaborative projects for this very reason! What about the peer review process? What was that like? Would you do anything differently if embarking on a similar project in the future?

Prior to peer review, we collected in the final articles. The peer review was organised by the journal, rather than by us as editors. It was a long process and a few of the articles had to go through double peer review, in the end. What we should have done was an initial informal peer review ourselves, swapping the various articles amongst the contributors, for example. Had we done so, we would have realised that there were some incongruities in terms of style, in part due to the translation of some of the articles from Spanish into English, and in terms of the preferences of the journal’s editorial board, for aesthetic analysis over historical overviews for example. This is definitely something we learned from the process!

 

What was the timeframe of the whole process?

It took about 2 years in total. It should have actually been three months short of that. I think that’s pretty good going!

 

I’ll say! That’s amazing. What did you most enjoy about the process?

For me, the most enjoyable thing was getting the actual journal out. That was really exciting! I also enjoyed the networking, making new contacts and getting to know people’s work. We were aware of some of the contributors and their work prior to this but there were others who were new to us, particularly ECRs and people moving into the field.

 

And what did you least enjoy?

The peer review process – especially being the go-between between the contributors and the journal. You feel like you’re on the side of the contributor and it was awful having to pass on negative feedback as you don’t want to knock someone’s confidence. There was also a lot of going back and forth in some cases which involved a lot of work for us as editors. It was all worth it in the end though!

 

Any final points of advice for anyone wishing to pursue a similar project?

I guess, this sort of thing that we are doing now with the chat and blog post! Try and talk to people who have done this and can give advice – especially at a similar career stage and/or who’ve done it recently.

 

Thanks, Liz! It has been so great to chat about this process with you and I do hope this blog is useful to anyone interested in pursuing such an editing project. Your experience and advice should certainly prove valuable!

Bullet Journalling For Beginners

Weekly planner spread

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll perhaps already know that I’ve abandoned a typical planner this year in favour of a Bullet Journal. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Bullet Journal offers a flexible and creative means with which to plan, track and organise your life. I’ve been aware of the Bullet Journal for a while now and though the format appealed I felt somewhat intimidated by the creativity required. But when shopping for a 2018 planner I couldn’t find one that seemed fit for my needs. I am currently spinning a lot of different plates so to speak and I wanted a planner that would allow flexibility first and foremost. The Bullet Journal seemed the best option.

July Monthly Spread

When I originally drafted this post, I was one week into it. Somehow, 6 months have now passed! And I am a total #bujo convert! I’ve been charting my progress via Twitter: check out my feed if you want to follow what I’m doing there (I’ve been using the hashtags #bulletjournal #bujo #bujobeginner – though I’ve dropped the latter one of late as it feels a bit disingenuous now that it’s been 6 months!). I’ve found it really useful and not half as time-consuming as I expected.

June Monthly Spread

I mostly work with monthly and weekly planning spreads. I usually vary the monthly layout based on templates I find on Pinterest. I’ve tended not to experiment too much with my weekly planner format. If I find something I like and that’s functional, I tend not to tweak it too much. Again, I usually scan Pinterest for ideas though all that seems to achieve is me feeling envious at my lack of creativity & artistic ability!

Word Count Tracker

Daily Writing Tracker

I’ve also been using the Bullet Journal to track my writing progress as I work towards the completion and submission of my book manuscript. I’ve come up with writing logs and word trackers which allow me to see how productive I’m being. Taking note of how much I can achieve in a short time as well as noting when I actually get time to write is proving enormously helpful in terms of understanding my work habits within my current routine.

I am absolutely loving the Bullet Journal and plan to proceed with this for the foreseeable. It has most definitely aided my productivity and there is something very therapeutic in the process of creating new spreads. What about you? Do you #bujo? Do you have questions about bullet journalling? Drop me a line!