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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

'Viewing the Past / Framing the Future: History, Heritage and the Cinema' Study Day Event

Lifelong Learning
A still from the Kings Speech
10:00 - 16:00
31 May 2014
Avenue Campus Highfield Road Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this event, please email Lifelong Learning Team at .

Event details

We will be holding a one-day cultural event on Saturday 31 May consisting of a series of short talks led by experts from within English, Film and Archaeology at Southampton. This thought provoking and inspiring conference will provide you with the opportunity to learn and engage in discussion about cinema from academics of international distinction.

Cinema has always been, in some sense, the art of bringing the past to life. Drawing from wider visual culture as well as archaeological insights, film can animate historical images and immerse us inside them, and perhaps influences the way we view the past more than any other medium. In the silent era stars like Ramon Novarro and Greta Garbo were promoted as modern Apollos and Venuses to show that cinema’s idols emerge from a cultural history reaching back to antiquity.

Heritage films and TV shows such as The King’s Speech and Downton Abbey belong to a whole industry that commodifies the past through artefacts, costumes and landscapes, but can be challenging as well as conservative in their use of the past. Turning our gaze towards the future, science-fiction film, from War of the Worlds to Star Trek , can highlight how our representation of past and future alike is always the product of the present, allowing us to map the social and political changes of our times.

With contributions from both Film and Archaeology staff, we show how archaeology also wrestles with the conflict between excitingly visual, and increasingly interactive, techniques of engaging with the past, and the problems posed by the uncertain truth of the digital image. This cultural day explores fascinating questions about the different ways in which cinema and other visual technologies interact with the past, present and future.


Dr Veronica Spencer : Heritage Cinema: Representing the Past?
Heritage cinema, with its countesses, corsets, and castles, has been characterized by a tension between content and form: the social critique subsumed by lavish aesthetic spectacle. We will be looking at some films from the 1980s (such as A Room with a View) to explore this argument, and examine the way these images representing the past work in the turbulent social context of 1980s’ England. We will then consider some recent productions, such as Downton Abbey and A Cock and Bull Story, to see how our relationship to these representations of the past may have changed and what that says about heritage film today.

Dr Michael Williams : Screen Apollos and Venuses: Hollywood Stardom and the Ancient Past
From its beginnings, cinema has fascinated by the ancient past, with its opportunity to showcase film’s potential for spectacle and sensation, all placed within the reassuringly respectable frame of history. There is also perhaps something deeper to this association that speaks of cinema’s almost mythic qualities as a medium that brings the past ‘to life’, in animating still images into movement. As cinema developed, the star became a key way to attract audiences, and a discourse of gods and goddesses, screen Apollos and Venuses, helped promote them as symbols of desire and aspiration.
This talk focuses on the different ways, often implicit, that the ancient past was used in the construction of Hollywood stars such as Gloria Swanson and Ramón Novarro in the silent era. It explores how audiences responded to them in the USA and UK, and asks whether there a ‘mythologisation’ of stars still persists today.

Dr Shelley Cobb : From Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf: Women Filmmakers and Classic-novel Adaptation
Several contemporary women filmmakers have adapted classic novels. A few have adapted classic novels written by women who use the past to authorise their own identities as authors. There are very few women filmmakers working in the industry, though there are more now than there were during the classical Hollywood period. There aren't many previous women directors for contemporary women to look up to. And those that do exist in history do not have the fame or credibility of literary authors like Austen and Woolf.
This talk will think about how women directors of the present make connections with women writers of the past to both give themselves authority and to a connection with a longer women's history of authorship and art.

Dr Graeme Earl: Whither Minecraft? Computer Graphics, Realism, Uncertainty and the Past
Computer Graphic Imagery has become increasingly accessible to scholars and developers of museum displays. It is no longer solely within the budget of mass market documentaries and films to recreate a vivid sense of the past. This talk will discuss the growing accessibility of tools to simulate past worlds, the communities of practice emerging around graphical modelling, and the implications for scholarship of creating engaging visual models of the past. Should we be concerned by the power of these images? And what do we need to do to feel ourselves part of an alternative, digital, historical world?

Dr David Dunn : Film Science Fiction is not about the Future but the Present
Taking various incarnations of Star Trek, and using simple exercises that consider the roles men and women have played aboard a functioning (albeit fictional) star ship (e.g. communications officer, doctor, security chief, engineer, captain), we can plot key outcomes in the battle for sexual equality in western society over a fifty year period.
When H.G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds in 1897, his British audience would have been mindful of the international tensions and enemy ‘aliens’ of the time, namely Germany, France, and maybe Russia in an alliance with Germany or France. When Wells’ novel was first made into a film in 1953, its Martian invasion reflected Cold War concerns about a nuclear attack: the USA being taken over by the Communist Soviet Union. Remade in 2005, Steven Spielberg claimed his War of the Worlds ‘reflects a lot of 9/11 fears.’
Whether on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, remakes of the War of the Worlds, or indeed other fantasy films about the future, Sci-Fi is a mirror of our here and now.


£31 full rate

£21 loyalty rate (Harbour Lights Members, Friends of Parkes, English Teachers Network, university staff and alumni)

£11 discount rate (students/sixth form & college students and those in receipt of income-based Job Seeker's Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Council Tax or Housing Benefit)

All prices include lunch and refreshments



Please note that prior booking is required for attendance of this event.

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