Wednesday, 18 July 2018, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Reflections on Orientalism and Early Cinema

Michael Allan
(University of Oregon / EUME Fellow 2017/18)

Chair: Rasha Chatta
(EUME Fellow 2017/18)

In December 1896, Alexandre Promio arrived in Algiers to begin a journey across North Africa and the Middle East on behalf of the Lumière Brothers film company. He was part of a global network of camera operators and carried with him the newly invented cinématographe, which both recorded and projected scenes at sites including Algiers, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus and Istanbul. His journey inaugurated the arrival of cinema to the region, but also forged formal innovations in visual culture for years to come. Scholars tend to bracket this curious moment of early film history (as a foreign importation of a new medium) and privilege instead the eventual rise of studio-based production. But taking account of film form, what does it matter that one of the first close-ups, for example, occurs in Jerusalem? Or that a film from Algiers occurs off-center and partially out-of-frame? Does place matter in the global history of film form? Focusing on a single fifty-second film shot in 1897 at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, the talk will address the emergent framework through which these early films came to picture the world—what they revealed, how they were understood locally, and what alternate media were marshaled in explanation. In the end, this microhistory of the Lumière Brothers will serve as the point of departure for a transnational film theory connecting a single camera operator’s journey to the foundations of film form.

Michael Allan is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Petrone Faculty Scholar at the University of Oregon, where he is also program faculty in Cinema Studies, Arabic and Middle East Studies. He is the author of In the Shadow of World Literature: Sites of Reading in Colonial Egypt (Princeton, 2016, Co-Winner of the MLA Prize for a First Book) and of articles in venues such as Modernism/Modernity, Comparative Literature Studies, Early Popular Visual Culture, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and the Journal of Arabic Literature. He was the guest editor of a special issue of Comparative Literature (“Reading Secularism: Religion, Literature, Aesthetics”), and with Elisabetta Benigni of an issue of Philological Encounters (“Lingua Franca: Towards a Philology of the Sea”). He earned his PhD in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Judith Butler, Saba Mahmood and Karl Britto, and his BA in History and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. He was previously a EUME Fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin (2011-12), a member of the Society of Fellows at Columbia University in New York City (2008-09) and a fellow at the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley (2006-07). In 2017 (February-July) and 2018 (June-August), he is a EUME-CNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.