Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SWPACA Post Annual Conference Report (2014)

It's February, it must be Albuquerque, New Mexico

I make a yearly trek to downtown Albuquerque, home of Route 66 and the location of a budding film community known as Tamale-wood, for the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association’s annual conference. During the day, this high desert city has a modest bustling business district and each night as darkness takes root and the streets become sparse of activity, many of the business buildings are bathed in beautiful hues of soft light, revealing why this place is known as the city of light. And centered in the Hyatt, a couple of thousand undergraduate, graduate and independent scholars assemble to discuss all things pop culture over three days each February.

In my third year as the James Bond, Espionage and Eurospy Area Chair, this year there was a marked increase in interested presenters for my area. I had 14 presenters that made up four panel sessions. Three sessions were scheduled Wednesday afternoon and the fourth was Thursday morning.

Here’s a recap of presenters and their presentation titles. All gave informative presentations that solicited intriguing Q&A sessions.  

Panel 1: Brody and Rafael

Session 1: Literary Bond

Brody Wedgeworth of Stephen F. Austin State University
“Mechanical Spies and Female Sidekicks: Ludlum's Response to Fleming's Bond”

Rafael Hernandez of University of Florida
“Secret Agency: Fanon, Algeria, and the Female Double Agent in Spy Fiction”

Panel 2: Tom and Sarah
Session 2: Gender and Identity

Tom McNeely of Vernon College
“The Feminization of M, Revisited: Gender and Authority in the Bond Films”

Sarah Kelley of University of Bristol
“For Queen and Country: James Bond and National Identity in the Daniel Craig Era”

Session 3: Audio Interpretations

Ian Dawe, Independent Scholar
“ 'Archer': A Spy Parody for the Ears”

Michele Brittany, Independent Scholar
“Spectra*Paris' Murder Show: The James Bond Rock Opera”

Panel 4: Elyn, Hannah and Nick
Session 4: Cold War Spies

Elyn Achtymichuk of University of Saskatchewan
“Women on Fire and Men Bleeding Spades: The Audio-Visual Signifiers of Masculinity in the Opening Sequence of James Bond Films”

Hannah Means-Shannon of Georgian Court University
“Super-Spies Face the Collective Shadow of the Cold War in Matt Kindt's Mind MGMT

Nicholas Diak, Independent Scholar
“Spionagio all'italiana: Exploring Italy's Spy Film Phenomenon and Its Importance to Italian Film Canon”

Film Screening: The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
This was my second year hosting a film screening. Last year, my showing of Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies (2006) packed the room, so I decided to reach back into the spy vault and selected The Quiller Memorandum (1966, Michael Anderson). This spy-thriller was shot on location in Berlin and at Pinewood Studios and was based on the 1965 spy novel by Elleston Trevor titled The Berlin Memorandum. The film starred Alec Guinness, Max von Sydow (timeless!), and a young George Segal as Quiller. The score was composed by John Barry, who scored Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. The film received three BAFTA nominations for Best British Screenplay, Best British Art Direction, and Best British Film Editing.

The film meets up with Quiller, who has been assigned to assist the British secret organization stationed in Berlin where there are covert Neo Nazi fractions operating. The relationship between Quiller and his handler (Guiness) is filled with controlled animosity and nothing of the almost stern fatherly relationship Bond has with M. Much emphasis is placed on the non-descript – “could be anyone” – enemy that Quiller is trying to uncover. Along the way, Quiller continually ditches the shadow agent that is meant to protect him, but he is completely inept at losing the henchmen of the main villain (Sydow). Quiller’s spy abilities are consistently called into question: does he know what he is doing? Is he lucky, or unlucky, depending on the situation? Part of interesting part of the film is its pacing, which compliments a sense of anxiety and tension, never really crossing into an action film – it is a pot that never boils. 

Film Screening Panel: Ian, Rob, Nick, and Hannah

Given the “anti-Bond” nature of the film, I felt it was less approachable as a result, so I invited Ian Dawe, Nicholas Diak, Hannah Means-Shannon, and Robert Weiner to sit for a round table discussion at the conclusion of the showing. Each summarized their thoughts on the film, but one common theme they all agreed on was the surrealistic nature of the film. Quiller’s efficiency as a spy was another topic of conversation by the panel, and the audience.

The movie did not attract nearly the same numbers as the previous year, but I think it was a valuable film to contrast with the Bond films of the 1960s. While I do want to screen a film next year, I’m not sure what film it will be. Initially, I am interested in showing Agent Vinod (2012), but I’m concerned about the length (160 minutes). 

Since my panels were over Thursday morning, I did spend time visiting the booksellers that were set up outside of the various meeting rooms: Intellect, McFarland, and University of New Mexico Press, stand out each year. This is the time to snag books you have been wanting, but couldn’t afford since some of the presses will offer conference discounts. I was fortunate to come across a book on Brian de Palma from Intellect, which fits nicely with my research on SPECTRA*Paris.

I cannot express how very important and beneficial it is to spend time networking at these academic conferences. The open lobby area of the Hyatt was conducive for re-establishing professional friendships and making new connections. You never know what conversations you’ll end having with others. It can be a wonderful organic experience. This is in addition to presenting of course. Most of the panels are smaller, allowing 15 – 20 minutes of speaking time. Audience size varies, depending on the time of day, what other panels are going at the same time, and popularity of the subject matter. Time spent presenting is always to one’s advantage.

Thursday evening, I attended the film screening of the later silents The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt (one of my favourites!) and Mary Philbin in the German film directed by Paul Leni. Rob Weiner hosted the screening as a study of the first portrayals of a Joker character in film. What a treat to experience such films on a big screen and amongst other cinephiles. I just wish I had not been sick and suffering from intermittent bouts of laryngitis throughout the conference, otherwise I would have enjoyed participating in the discussion afterwards.

Networking and making friends Thursday night

The rest of the evening and into the wee hours of the morning was spent chatting with a fantastic group of folks and then it was on an early Friday morning flight back home. My shuttle driver was an older man dressed in leathers and from the East Coast. He was quite a character: he quizzed three very sleepy-eyed and rather incoherent pop culture scholars about Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. While exiting, he whispered he was 72 – well, he was definitely still young at heart and I wish I could have been more engaging at 5 AM.

The conference continued through Saturday with a scheduled Breaking Bad trip for conference-goers interested in seeing the various places around Albuquerque featured in the series. I understand it was a fun time and the weather quite mild for February. I know I’ll be back next year, so if you are interested in attending a friendly, smaller pop culture conference and presenting on James Bond, spy-fi, espionage and/or Eurospy,  check back here for my call for proposals later this year.  

1 comment:

  1. Oh, these conferences are a mixed bag.

    This was my 6th year attending the SW PCA/ACA conference, and my 2 year attending after being done with school, and thus being an “independent scholar” rather than a graduate student from the University of Washington.

    What I enjoy about the conference? One there is the energy of seeing other scholars and students hustling about. It recharges you to keep on your studies, writing, or research. In my current day-to-day life, I don’t really have that environment. 8 to 5 day to day office job, one isn’t really surrounded by creative people or scholars. So when you’re surrounded by them, it’s refreshing and recharging. Makes you think you’re not alone in trying to do work like this.

    Of course it is a little discouraging at the same time – since I am 31, and I see people 5 to 10 years younger than me, working on PhDs, getting published, etc. Makes me feel old, makes me feel I’ve missed a boat at times.

    So the people you interact with become the best facet. Able to talk popculture in a legit fashion with peers and colleagues. However I find the interaction is a double sided coin. A lot of people come to these conferences to network, rub elbows, make partnerships. However those are usually 1 way roads – it’s that THEY want and usually for a one time thing.

    I would say for every 10-15 people I meet, shake hands with, exchange emails with – maybe I’ll hear back from half – so 7. And of those 7, maybe 1 will actually want to keep a relationship or rapport going.

    Last year I thought I was generating a wonderful rapport for Michele and I with a scholar of Armenian studies, especially since she was local. But as soon as I referred her to another teacher that could further something she was researching, that relationship got cut real quick. Even this year, one of the ladies that presented last year that I tried to strike up a rapport with and failed – I tried again this year, and failed again. You would think “hey, we met last year, had pizza, presented on the same stuff, and we’re doing it again this year, our paths are obviously crossing” – nope.

    So I do find this all very self serving. I like to form partnerships, friendships, peers, and colleagues. And not to brag, but I am also an amazing mentor.

    But at the same time those 1 out of 15 people, like Hannah, are awesome people and make up for the lack of other establishing relationships, so eff the other 14.

    This year for me the conference was a bust though. I was ill the entire time. I put a few pounds back on. And my presentation was at 8am Thursday, so no one was in attendance. I paid how much money to go to this conference and present to an empty room?

    The Quiller Memorandium was a let down too. Last year the crowd was so awesome for OSS 117, but it was pretty empty when the movie started, and got even more empty as it progressed. But in the end, there was a few handfuls of people in the large auditorium, and a good dialog and Q/A session was had this time (no Q/A last time), so maybe in the end it was more successful than first glance.

    I did meet a lot of awesome people this time, probably more this conference than priors, but at the same time, I wonder how many of the people I met this time will just fade away?


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