The Unburied: Material Histories of Film in the Owens Valley
Genevieve Yue, The New School
Mon, 11/27 · 4:30 pm—5:30 pm · 010 East Pyne
Committee for Film Studies
The Owens Valley, a slender stretch of high desert in Eastern California, is a place of origins. It has played a major, if underrecognized, role in the industrial development of Los Angeles, particularly for the silver extracted in the late 19th century and the water diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 20th. These and other histories have been inscribed, though often miswritten, in film, including in the nearly 500 Hollywood productions shot in the region’s Alabama Hills. But look closer into these beginnings and one will find traces of the lives and labors of dispossessed Indigenous peoples, Mexican settlers, and Asian immigrants. This talk focuses on the latter group: Chinese miners killed in a devastating accident at the Cerro Gordo mine, Japanese-Americans interned at Manzanar, and the minor characters that, through their background expressions in films, point to a different direction for the Hollywood imaginary. The history of film, in its most basic, material composition of silver nitrate, is conditioned by these half-buried figures, however incidental they have been to an already neglected landscape. As the experience of “film” has become all but entirely digitized, the retrieval of these foundational elements of the film image reveals a representational form whose geographical and material origins are still largely unexplored.
Genevieve Yue is an associate professor of Culture and Media and director of the Screen Studies program at Eugene Lang College, The New School. She is co-editor of the Cutaways series at Fordham University Press, and her essays and criticism have appeared in Reverse Shot, October, Grey Room, The Times Literary Supplement, Film Comment, and Film Quarterly. She is also an independent film programmer, with screenings at Anthology Film Archives, Metrograph, Light Industry, and, most recently, Tallinn Photomonth, a biennial of contemporary art and visual culture in Tallinn, Estonia. Her book Girl Head: Feminism and Film Materiality was published in 2020 by Fordham University Press.