Category Archives: Humanities

The Truth 24 Times Per Second

The Carsey-Wolf Center’s Spring 2019 screening series at UC Santa Barbara explores the international legacies of cinematic New Waves, including films from France, Cuba, China, Italy, and Iran. Whatever their disparate eras or sources, these selections share an emphasis on stylistic and narrative experimentation, a rejection of traditional film conventions, a sympathetic response to youth culture, an insistence on emotional verisimilitude, and a critical examination of contemporary social and political issues.

Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (France-Japan/1959), written by novelist Marguerite Duras, uses the post-war affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect as the basis for a poignant meditation on memory and forgetfulness. The two struggle with their differing perceptions of the Hiroshima bombing and its lingering effects, both societal and personal (one of which is the end of their affair). Resnais, a former editor, employs a dense, elliptical narrative structure that includes documentary footage and brief flashbacks to the lovers’ previous lives, among other innovations. Resnais was a generation older than Truffaut, Godard, and other French New Wave filmmakers, but his innovations proved influential on their work.

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment (Cuba/1968) is a complex character study set in Havana during a period of social turmoil, between the Bay of Pigs invasion and the missile crisis. The protagonist, Sergio, is a wealthy bourgeois aspiring writer who elects to remain in Cuba after his wife and friends flee to Miami. Living a rootless existence in an atmosphere of anomie, Sergio is soon caught up in the social and political Cold War forces engulfing Cuba, and the post-revolution economic upheavals that are causing his privileged class to disappear. As in Renais’ film the narrative which unfolds is fragmented and highly subjective, in a style meant to evoke the process of memory and that requires active participation from the spectator.

Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum (China, 1987), based on the novel by Nobel laureate Mo Yan, chronicles life in a rural Chinese village during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Though seemingly more conventional in style and narrative structure than other New Wave films, Red Sorghum shares its determination to challenge Hollywood conventions, eschewing ersatz sophistication and easy sentimentality in favor of simplicity and emotional directness, expressed in unromanticized depictions of poverty, sexual abuse, and sudden violence. The overall effect at times approaches a state not unlike magic realism. The film was also distinctive for its time and place in centering its story on a young girl, an emphasis which abetted a critique of Chinese society’s traditional sexual mores and treatment of women.

Though diverse in their blending of themes and techniques, what emerges from viewings of these and other New Wave films is a renewed sense of the cinema’s potential as a narrative art form, one illuminating aspects of the human condition far surpassing the boundaries of Hollywood storytelling.

Browse more programs in Carsey-Wolf Center.

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What is in the Air We Breathe?

“What we do in my group is we zoom in on the aerosols.”

Vicki Grassian and her team look at aerosols at a microscopic level to determine their impact on our health and our climate. Aerosols can be mineral dust and sea spray from the ocean or created by human activity or stem from any number of sources. They can travel across the globe impacting people, animals, and the planet in their wake.

Grassian’s work seeks to understand how aerosols and other gases not only affect us but how we might harness them for solar geoengineering.

Watch — What is in the Air We Breathe? – Exploring Ethics

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Neanderthal Among Us? Science Meets Fiction

What makes us human is a question that not only science asks, but all disciplines of mind from philosophy to religion to sociology and ethics, and even to storytelling and the arts.

Tim Disney’s new movie “William” is about a Neanderthal living in the modern world and forces us to ask about humanness and many other questions.

Disney’s movie provides a foil to explore many facets of human nature and sociology, and raises questions about technology and its present and future effects on the human phenomenon.

With research interests and experience exploring the distinctions in the Neanderthal and Human genomes, Alysson Muotri, Director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program, brought together a panel of experts from across a spectrum of disciplines to explore these issues in a lively and engaging forum with the movie’s creator.

Watch — Neanderthal Among Us? Science Meets Fiction – A Discussion of Tim Disney’s Motion Picture “William”

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Women in Leadership 2019

“Where on an imagined clock of equality do we now stand?” asks veteran journalist Lynn Sherr at the start of this year’s Women in Leadership panel.

Listen in as Sylvia Acevedo, Chelsea Clinton, Jedidah Isler answer that question and share their thoughts on the present and future of the role of women in America. Each panelist reflects on her road to leadership and details the support mechanisms and mindsets needed to get there when faced with adversity.

This is the second annual Women in Leadership panel – convened to celebrate and honor the legacy of Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space.

Watch — A Conversation with Sylvia Acevedo, Chelsea Clinton, Jedidah Isler, and Lynn Sherr

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Oy Vey – The Strange Stories of Yiddishland

Unlike most languages, which are spoken by the residents of a particular area or by members of a particular nationality, Yiddish – at the height of its usage – was spoken by millions of Jews of different nationalities all over the globe.

Eddy Portnoy’s book mines century-old Yiddish newspapers to expose the seamy underbelly of pre-WWII New York and Warsaw, the two major centers of Yiddish culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He calls it an underground history of downwardly mobile Jews.

He relates true stories of Jewish drunks, murderers, wrestlers, psychics and beauty queens, all plucked from the pages of Yiddish dailies, revealing unusual and unexpected aspects of Jewish urban life to an audience at UC Santa Barbara. His book “Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press” is one part Isaac Bashevis Singer, one part Jerry Springer – irreverent, unvarnished, and frequently hilarious compendium of stories providing a window into an unknown Yiddish world that was.

Watch — The Strange Stories of Yiddishland: What the Yiddish Press Reveals about the Jews.

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