Works in Progress
"Nomadic Cinema: A Cultural Geography of the Expedition Film"
A proposed fourth monograph, Nomadic Cinema examines the golden age of expedition filmmaking in the interwar period, focusing on films shot in Borneo, Central Asia, and the American Southwest. Grounded in rigorous archival research the book focuses on both internationally recognized organizations and privately funded anthropological research trips.
Drawing upon the fields of cinema studies, visual anthropology, cultural geography, museum studies, and ecocriticism, the book traces the habits of seeing and writing of leaders of four distinct twentieth century expeditions, some famous and others barely known.
Three questions structure this investigation: What were the conditions of possibility and patterns of exhibition of expedition cinema? How did the films function as anthropological data while also having a use value in scientific organizations, public lectures, trustees’ homes, and commercial theaters? And what can we learn from linking the endeavor of expedition filmmaking to the long tradition of pre-modern travel writing and medieval visual representation?
Carceral Fantasies : Cinema and Prisons in Early Twentieth Century America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016)
Griffiths considers a diverse mix of cinematic genres, from early actualities and reenactments of notorious executions to reformist exposés of the 1920s.She connects an early fascination with cinematic images of punishment and execution, especially electrocutions, to the attractions of the nineteenth-century carnival electrical wonder show and Phantasmagoria (a ghost show using magic lantern projections and special effects). Griffiths draws upon convict writing, prison annual reports, and the popular press obsession with prison-house cinema to document the integration of film into existing reformist and educational activities and film's psychic extension of flights of fancy undertaken by inmates in their cells. Combining penal history with visual and film studies and theories surrounding media's sensual effects, Carceral Fantasies illuminates how filmic representations of the penal system enacted ideas about modernity, gender, the body, and the public, shaping both the social experience of cinema and the public's understanding of the modern prison.
Since their inception, museums of science and natural history have mixed education and entertainment, often to incredible, eye-opening effect. Immersive spaces of visual display and modes of exhibition send "shivers" down our spines, engaging the distinct cognitive and embodied mapping skills we bring to spectacular architecture and illusionistic media. They also force us to reconsider traditional models of film spectatorship in the context of a mobile and interactive spectator.
Through a series of detailed historical case studies, Alison Griffiths masterfully explores the uncanny and unforgettable visceral power of the medieval cathedral, the panorama, the planetarium, the IMAX theater, and the science museum. Examining these structures as exemplary spaces of immersion and interactivity, Griffiths reveals the sometimes surprising antecedents of modern media forms, suggesting the spectator's deep-seated desire to become immersed in a virtual world. Shivers Down Your Spine demonstrates how immersive and interactive museum display techniques such as large video displays, reconstructed environments, and touch-screen computer interactives have redefined the museum space, fueling the opposition between public and private, science and spectacle, civic and corporate interests, voice and text, and life and death. In her remarkable study of sensual spaces, Griffiths explains why, for centuries, we keep coming back for more.