Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 1 No. 2, 1987
Film, TV and the Popular
Edited by Philip Bell & Kari Hanet


Philip Bell

The most recent biennial conference of the Australian (now Australasian) Screen Studies Association was held in Sydney in December 1986. The papers printed here represent many of the issues considered, and reflect on the theoretical perspectives which the conference was intended to interrogate.
Although it has not been possible to represent all the strands of the conference, three principal foci might be discerned in the following papers:
First, a reassessment of film theory, especially in the light of recent work (such as Bordwell and Thompson's) on Hollywood narrative.
Second, a questioning of the future directions of what has for a decade been a most productive conjunction of psychoanalytic and feminist theorising.
Third, the debate concerning TV as a cultural form in the light of studies focussed on active, diverse audience sub-cultures, and the popular/populist controversy. This area implicitly helps to define and evaluate the relevance of what has in the past been seen as specifically film theory to TV and to cultural studies more generally.
These themes intersect with current work on film-TV-cultural studies found in Screen's recent Postmodernism issue (v.28, no.2, 1987) and anthologies such as Robert C. Allen's Channels of Discourse (University of North Carolina Press, 1987) in which, respectively, the challenge of postmodernism to film theory and of film theory to TV studies are explored. Although old theoretical habits die hard, all of the following papers show a determination not merely to reproduce the somewhat one-dimensional preoccupations of much 1970s-80s work which all too frequently sought to appropriate film or TV texts to illustrate the subtlety or fashionability of recently patented and imported 'theory'. The historical and cultural specificity of film and TV was repeatedly emphasised during the conference, as were the limitations of totalising theory generally. Hence, the papers published here are eclectic, although they employ or develop theory in relation to concrete, sometimes quite 'empirical' questions. This is a confident and positive movement, indicating that the search for monolithic theories 'of film' or 'of TV' textual practices has been left behind.

So, a conference which began with the aim of re-examining the orthodoxies of screen theory achieved this by demonstrating that theoretically-informed research into particular texts, genres, audiences, and their interrelationships wa both possible, and a productive way of developing 'theory' itself.

Continuum hopes to publish a number of other papers presented at the ASSA conference in a later issue.

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