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Cinematic (ab)normality

Monday 6 May 2013, 5.15PM

Speaker(s): Catherine Oakley and Verena von Eicken

  • Catherine Oakley: ‘Visualising Neurology: Cinema, Medicine and Modernity, 1895-1912’

  • Verena von Eicken: ‘Transgressing cultural and gender boundaries - Sibel Kekilli in Head-on (2004)’


This seminar will bring together research from two PhD students working on cinema.

Catherine Oakley is a first-year PhD student in the English and Related Literature department here at York. Her presentation will be drawn from work-in-progress for the first chapter of her doctoral thesis,which investigates the close interrelationship of medicine, literary fiction and early cinema throughout the period 1880-1925, tracing written and visual representations of modified and mutable bodies across a range of cultural forms. This interdisciplinary project seeks to examine the intersection of the humanities and the medical sciences at a key historical moment for modernism and modernity. The talk will focus on representations of neurological conditions and of their treatment in the period 1895-1912. Recent critical exploration of the interrelationship between science and cinema in the late nineteenth century has drawn attention to the relatively under-researched use of the cinematograph in medical contexts. The medical cinematography of a number of European neurologists will be considered alongside the imaginative, unorthodox, comedic and often fantastical representations of clinical bodies and cures in a range of early fictional silent films held in the archives at British Film Institute. These real and imaginative representations of physicians, patients and bodies during a period of unprecedented technological change have continuing implications for a broader understanding of the ways in which physical ‘normality’ is framed, the visualisation of the ‘abnormal’, and our conceptualisations of modern corporeality.

Verena von Eicken is a third year PhD student at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, also at York. She will discuss Fatih Akın’s art house success Gegen die Wand/Head-on (2004), the first German production in eighteen years to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, often cited by critics and scholars as one of the films signposting the revival of German cinema in the 2000s. Set in Hamburg, Head-on tells the story of Sibel, a young woman who seeks to escape the control of her strict parents through a marriage of convenience to a man who shares her family’s Turkish origins. Sibel, played by actress Sibel Kekilli, is independent, promiscuous, and brave – an exceptional female character that defies conventions not only by rejecting her family’s cultural customs, but also through her reckless lifestyle. The talk will explore how Head-On portrays the life choices of young Turkish-German women oscillating between cultural and family traditions and the experience of life in Germany. Centring on members of the Turkish diaspora that is the biggest immigrant group in Germany, the film captures key moments of confrontation or dialogue between cultures and genders.  The analysis will draw on concepts used in Performance Studies, particularly Judith Butler’s work, who states that “there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results”. Butler thus suggests that women’s identities are constituted by a learned ‘female’ mode of behaviour, an idea that is central to the analysis of the character of Sibel in Head-On. She experiences rejection because she fails to emulate this expected ‘female’ behaviour, instead practising rebellion, aggression and a supposedly ‘male’ promiscuity. The paper will demonstrate how the film subverts gender images through Sibel’s character, which is brought to life by Kekilli’s strong performance, and how it addresses the question of whether young Turkish-German women indeed enjoy the equality long granted to women by German law.

Location: BS/008, the Berrick Saul Building

Admission: All welcome