E. Kiss

Princeton University (UNITED STATES)
The scholarly examination of cinematic works in today’s classroom does not differ from the kind of close textual analysis upon which academic research in the humanities is generally based. The professor teaches the students how to ground their arguments in cinematic works either by presenting an argumentative claim and showing film citations (clips) that support the claim or –the other way around – first viewing a clip together and then deducing an argumentative claim from it.

Under copyright law this teaching practice is considered ‘fair use’ – citation is permitted without the copyright holder’s permission - usually with the condition that there is a professor or assistant professor present making sure that the experience is educational and face-to-face.

However, when the same professor of Film Studies publishes a book or a scholarly paper in an academic journal, she does not even think about quoting the moving visual and auditory images of the cinematic work properly. Instead she uses stills, but only so, if she had first secured the permission of the copyright holder to waive the hefty fees.

Since I believe that the audio image is as important in the art of cinema as the video image, and, that movement (that carries the main responsibility for the temporal and spatial articulation of a film) cannot be properly quoted by a sequence of stills, I find that academic writing on film does not live up to the standard of scholarship you can pursue in other disciplines of the humanities. What is most regrettable in the present situation is that there is no technological reason whatsoever not to quote filmic examples the same scholarly way in academic writing as in teaching.

I will examine the two main reasons for the deepening gap between teaching and research practices in Film Studies: one rooted in the surprising theoretical inertia of film scholarship itself, the other being the vagueness of the ‘doctrine of fair use’ in copyright law. Finally, I will offer some concrete suggestions how to make the academic research of cinematic works catch up with the teaching of films.