October 17, 2008
Vanessa Schwartz (USC), “The Cosmopolitan Film”
Additional support for this event came from McGill University Department of Art History and Communication Studies.
Vanessa R. Schwartz is Professor of history, art history, and critical studies at the University of Southern California, where she directs the Graduate Certificate in Visual Studies program. A historian on modern visual culture, she was trained in modern European history with a concentration on France and urban culture at Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her PhD. Schwartz is the author or editor of numerous publications, including It’s So French! Hollywood, Paris and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2007) and Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in fin-de-siècle Paris (University of California Press, 1998).
Event report: Schwartz was in Montreal as a visiting scholar in October 2008, during which time she met with students and led a series of public talks at Concordia and McGill. This seminar at Concordia was based on a chapter from Schwartz’s latest book, It’s So French! Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture. In the chapter titled “The Cosmopolitan Film: From Around the World in Eighty Days to Making Movies Around the World,” Schwartz suggests that we think of “roadshow exhibition” films like Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) as a genre unto themselves, or at least a film “cycle.” She explored how these oft-overlooked films highlighted a sense of cosmopolitanism through globally oriented narratives, settings, and casts, a cosmopolitanism that paralleled the internationalization of film production and distribution practices during this period. Schwartz looks to Anthony Appia for the term “cosmopolitanism” as a perspective on the global movement of culture that avoids reducing it to culturally insensitive imperialism. The talk, like the book, considered the genealogy of the globalization of film culture, tying it to the development of the Cannes Film Festival. By placing France at the centre of the history of global film culture, Schwartz challenged clichés about France’s commitment to cultural protectionism and cultural exceptionalism, particularly in relation to the US film industry. Schwartz also touched on a broad range of other topics, including historiographic methodology in Film Studies, discrepancies in official accounts of the popularization of widescreen cinema in the 1950s, and semantic questions presented by the term “blockbuster.”