Friday, 3 July 2009

My Danish Adventure

I'll start by saying that Copenhagen was a big deal to me - I kinda saw it as being my second Bar Mitzvah. Some sort of passage into adulthood. This was a big conference and if it turned out that I was indeed an impostor playing the part of an academic, this would be the place where I would get rumbled...

As such, I was a tad jittery for the first couple of days. Actually, I started getting jittery about 5 days before flying out there. My good pal Dominic enjoyed the brunt of my nerves by having to listen to me fixate on minor things. Breaking point came when I was complaining to him about how unfair it is for a band like Metallica who will never be recognized as one of the greatest bands ever because there is a glass ceiling for heavy metal groups. Dom eventually replied "listen Paul, just chill out". Probably the right thing to say.

At any rate, I didn't get to see too much of Copenhagen itself because the conference was quite intensive. But I did see a whole variety of people whose books I had read. And if you're a film theory dude, these people are like celebrities to you.

Case in point, this is me with David Bordwell:

Bordwell is something of a patriarch to the cognitive film movement, and besides that he's a giant within film theory. Besides that still, he lives up to his reputation as being a tremendously kind and likable guy. I only got the chance to speak to him a couple of times, but he went out of his way to make me and other PhD students (who might otherwise feel intimidated) feel welcome and needed at the conference. It wasn't intentional, but I think this picture gets across how much I look up to the guy and like him as a person.

At any rate, if Bordwell is the patriarch figure of the conference then Joseph Anderson is my favorite uncle:

Joseph wrote a book called "The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to Film Theory", which kick-started my PhD (so as you can guess, I was excited to meet him). I eventually got the chance to speak to him and tell him so, which meant a lot to me. He was very kind with his time and interested in my ideas on film, and was happy to offer a response to questions I had about his book. (Which as basically, how does one factor the avant-garde into an ecological understanding of cinema. But I'll not go into what that actually means for now)

At any rate, the conference itself was fabulous. I was surrounded by other film obsessives who were having thoughts about cinema that had never been thought before - thrilling to see if you're into this stuff. I saw a paper on how spectators visually track the screen and how we miss most of what's going on. I saw a paper on what it means to develop a taste. Murray (my supervisor) spoke on how the sciences can contribute to our understanding of art.

Then there was me. I talked about cinema and a condition called Synaesthesia.

I'll not go into the details of my paper now because I might put some sort of version of it on my blog at some point, but I'll just say that my paper felt like it was warmly received. Bordwell and his wife Kristin Thompson came along, as did two people who I quoted in my presentation (Carl Plantinga and Kathrin Fahrlenbrach) and a guy called Torben Grodal, whom I had read. I'm kinda name dropping here, but it's more for my sake rather than yours (Unlike most people who will read this, I know who they are, and I'm putting it in my blog so I remember!).

Thankfully, I didn't get a wobbly voice and I pretty much held it together during the presentation and Q&A. It appears I'm not an impostor. Phew.

After this, I had a bit of time to snoop around the city. This is Dom and Ted trying to figure out where we were. Note how instead of getting involved, I just decided to take a picture of them...

The next day I also climbed a Church spire in Copenhagen. It's probably famous, but I don't remember what it's called:

Here we are at the top:

As for the city itself, it was very clean. The locals seemed ecologically conscious, there were a lot of bikes around and no litter. There was also a hippy commune place I went to with a few pals (no photos allowed for some reason).

Danes (?) seemed to go for a fairly meat-based diet, and there is a culture of crisps and chocolate comparable to that of the UK. It's also pretty costly out there. But on the plus side, they had an exhibition of weird sign-posts in the city center:

Anyway, then came a major surprise at the conference. Lars von Trier came to do a Q&A after the screening of his new movie, Antichrist. Here's a blurry picture I took of him with my phone camera:

This was a thrill for me because I love his work. I asked him a question about his use of hypnosis in the film. As a guy, he seemed cool though not someone who naturally felt at ease speaking in public about his work. As we went along, he seemed to feel more comfortable in his own skin. If you want to know more about what he said, ask me :)

I took this picture in my Hotel. The shower was better than the signpost would have you believe:

A few more snaps from the final night, when we had a big meal. This is me with another Professor, his name is Ed Tan. He is of Chinese and Indonesian origins but grew up in Holland. I liked him very much.

This is a guy called Chris who also spoke at the conference. I must look him up on Facebook. Though he'll kill me if he sees I've uploaded this picture:

Finally, a drunk lady who was at the conference. Not sure who she is.

At any rate, the whole thing was just a dream. I got a real sense of being in a culture of academics. Lots of schmoozing, and a supportive environment. By the end I was completely pooped, but what fun.

I'll mention a point made by Dominic. The cognitive movement within film theory is somewhat maginalized. It's been an uphill struggle to get recognition, and this is a very strange thing. As we imagine ourselves (and I think it's a reasonable assumption), we appeal to common sense, straightforward language and facts. And this is seen as the alternative to the dominant paradigm. That's kinda creepy.

At any rate, next year it'll be in Virginia! Whoop....


Karen Burke said...

Cool! Did you watch Antichrist? If so, what did you make of it? How did Lars get there? I heard he is afraid of flying. Did he volunteer information or was it straight into Q and A? What did he say?

Looking forward to reading your paper!

Paul Taberham said...

oh, all sorts :) i'll go over it with you when we next chat. too much to write down...