Daniel Morgan

Morgan (photographer: Jason Smith)
Chair of Cinema and Media Studies; Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the College
Classics 308
Ph.D., The University of Chicago
Research Interests: Film and philosophy; classical film theory; experimental and avant-garde cinema; nonfiction cinema; animation; cinema and the other arts; European and Classical Hollywood cinema; modernism and realism; new media

Biography

Daniel Morgan’s work focuses largely on the intersection between cinema and aesthetics. He has written extensively on André Bazin and other figures within the history of film theory, on contemporary trends in film and media theory, and on the broader implications posed by considerations of film form: the virtuosic camera movements of Max Ophuls; the perceptual games of Orson Welles; the shifts in subjectivity in Fritz Lang’s early films; the production of conceptual knowledge in Robert Gardner’s ethnographic documentaries; and the role of backgrounds in classical animation.

His first book, Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema (2012), is about the films and videos of Jean-Luc Godard since the late 1980s, especially Soigne ta droite (1987),Nouvelle vague (1990), and Allemagne 90 neuf zéro (1991)—as well as the video series, Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998). Through detailed analyses of extended sequences, technical innovations, and formal experiments, the book argues for the importance of philosophical aesthetics for an understanding of Godard’s late work. It also takes up wider debates on film and politics; the representation of history; the place of nature in cinema; and the relation between film and other media.

Morgan’s second book, The Lure of the Image: Epistemic Fantasies of the Moving Camera (2021), is the first sustained study of major theoretical challenges raised by camera movements. The book argues against the most common and intuitive way that camera movements are understood, namely as a surrogate for the spectator; from early phantom rides to contemporary accounts of new digital cinema, this is the dominant assumption. Yet if this cannot be true—viewers are not within the world of the film, seeing it from the perspective of the camera—we still feel it to be the case, and filmmakers take advantage of that circumstance. The Lure of the Image describes this dynamic as based around an epistemic fantasy that camera movements might be able to place us within the world of the world itself, actually or virtually—of being at a place we cannot be, a place we are ordinarily barred from inhabiting. The book also offers a new model of the relation between spectator and the moving camera, arguing that how we relate to the image is not a given, fixed by the different ways the moving camera has of luring us into the image.

Morgan is currently working on a third book project which aims to explore an overlooked period in the history of film theory located between classical film theory and political modernism. The project includes thinkers as diverse as Stanley Cavell, Annette Michelson, P. Adams Sitney and Peter Wollen, and it argues that what is common to them, despite their differences, is a central preoccupation with the status of modernism in and for film. This overlooked strand of film theory that lasts from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, at least within an Anglo-American context, is defined by a struggle over the meaning of modernism, and by a competition between different modernisms.

 

*Editor of Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons

 

Selected Publications

“Modernist Investigations: A Reading of The World Viewed.” Discourse 42.1-2 (Winter/Spring 2021).

“Toward a Natural History of Animated Backgrounds.” Screen 61.2 (Summer 2020).

Missed Connections.” nonsite.org, Issue #22: “’Art and Objecthood’ at Fifty” (Fall 2017). 

“Aesthetic Form and Ethnographic Discourse” in Looking with Robert Gardner, eds. Rebecca Meyers, William Rothman, and Charles Warren (State University of New York Press, 2016): 31-48.

“Where Are We?: Camera Movements and the Problem of Point of View.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 14.2 (2016): 222-48.

“Beyond Destiny and Design: Camera Movement in Fritz Lang’s German Films” in A Companion to Fritz Lang, ed. Joe McElhaney (Blackwell, 2015): 259-78.

“’Play with Danger’: Vernacular Modernism and the Problem of Criticism.” New German Critique 122 (Summer 2014): 67-82.

“Bazin’s Modernism.” Paragraph 36.1 (Spring 2013): 10-30.

“Max Ophuls and the Limits of Virtuosity: On the Aesthetics and Ethics of Camera Movement.” Critical Inquiry 38 (Autumn 2011): 127-63.

“The Afterlife of Superimposition” in Opening Bazin, eds. Dudley Andrew and Hervé Joubert-Laurencin (Oxford University Press, 2011): 127-41.

“The Pause of the World” in Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, Jean Rouch, ed. William Rothman (State University of New York Press, 2009): 139-56.

“Rethinking Bazin: Ontology and Realist Aesthetics.” Critical Inquiry 32 (Spring 2006): 443-81.

 

Teaching

  • History of International Cinema, Part I: The Silent Era (Autumn 2021; CMST 28500 / 48500)
  • Film and the Moving Image (Winter 2022; CMST 14400)
  • Advanced Seminar - Spring (Spring 2022; CMST 29202)

Previous courses taught include: Film Theory and the Competition of Modernisms (CMST 67411), What's New in New Media (CMST 67830), Movement (CMST 27206 / 37206), Aesthetics (CMST 67207), Film and Philosophy (CMST 63710), and Methods and Issues (CMST 40000)