Examining a range of short films, this workshop explores how industry-produced documentaries from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s depict the materiality of petroleum and its by-products. Whether the wavering psychedelic shimmer of an oil slick on water, the abyss of blackness in a puddle of crude, or the antics of a four-armed anthropomorphic animated character representing a molecule of gasoline, these films manifest a surprising ambivalence about the precise nature of the twentieth’s century’s most infamous fuel. Looking at the qualities made visible by these films is essential for understanding the political nature of a petroleum-based economy and cultures of the years of supposed post-war plenitude in the North Atlantic—i.e, the US, Canada, and Western Europe. In the images of these films, a fascinating set of formal relationships manifest an ambivalence around the materiality of petroleum and surface tensions fester that would be otherwise unavailable in the official discourses of “big oil”.
Karl Schoonover is Associate Professor in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick. He is the author of Brutal Vision: The Neorealist Body in Postwar Italian Cinema (U of Minnesota Press 2012) and co-editor of Global Art Cinema (Oxford UP 2010). His new monograph, co-authored with Rosalind Galt, is Queer Cinema in the World (Duke University Press, 2016). He has recently published numerous essays on Italian cinema, including on such topics as Giulietta Masina's gestures, Antonioni's sense of pollution, forgotten matter in Dario Argento's horror and on the problems that eco-docs have representing toxic waste.
This event is co-sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Studies and the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the Italian Cultural Center, and the Italian Program at the University of St. Thomas.