Film Review: Hole in the Head (Dean Kavanagh, 2022)

Ciara Chambers, University College Cork (UCC)

9 May 2023

When the curtain fell John hoped that his life would flash before his eyes just like so many people had said in films and books. In this flurry of images, he hoped to glimpse the missing pieces, all of the moments and faces that were concealed for him in his waking life.

Tantalisingly mysterious, Hole in the Head is simultaneously utterly original and self-consciously cineliterate. An ode to obsolete audiovisual formats (small-gauge film, analogue video, tape), the film effectively combines the conventions of narrative with experimental form. A dizzying array of textures is deftly interwoven by director Dean Kavanagh and producer Anja Mahler. The film is a spellbinding celebration of the image and its extricable link to an enlightened understanding of the human condition. It tells the story of John, a cinema projectionist who has no memory of his life before his seventh birthday when his parents disappeared, leaving only home movies and his father’s photographic collection behind. John, who hasn’t spoken since the disappearance, hires actors to restage the 16mm family films in an attempt to unlock his past.

The film’s labyrinthine bricolage of formats and modes of viewing makes it a clever (and often darkly comedic) reflection on the essence of spectatorship. Its exquisite cinematography is full of painterly landscapes overlaid with immersive soundscapes. The placing of John in epic natural settings neatly symbolises the complex question of nature versus nurture in identity formation. This train of thought is expanded upon through John’s constant association with equipment – film cameras, tape recorders and the mechanical voice emanating from the phone he uses to type his sentences. Kavanagh’s composition is also masterful; each shot is beautifully framed and every sumptuous interior presented with an impeccable mise-en-scène. Every object, every colour, every word, every image in this film are expertly constructed – nothing is redundant – and the result is captivating from beginning to end. In a film with performativity at its core, the actors offer accomplished, nuanced and intricate performances. There are countless reminders of the constructed nature of the audiovisual – edits in camera, a slip of the needle on vinyl, video distortion, static and white noise – all of these point to the mediated nature of what we see and hear and the precarious lifespan of obsolete formats. It is striking that the protagonist appears to die in a cinema while he watches a piece of film crack and burn out of existence on screen. There are many such reflexive interactions between the filmer and the filmed, the creator and spectator, where the roles are interchangeable and the viewer must realign their perception of what is unfolding.

The film’s cinematic allusions are wide and diverse, from Michael Powell’s story of perverse image-making by both father and son in Peeping Tom (1960), to Bill Morrison’s experimental tribute to decaying cinema Decasia (2002). There are nods to the lone hero of the Western, grappling with an individual quest against forbidding but beautiful landscapes, and the head-exploding moments are undoubtedly Cronenbergesque. It is also reminiscent of the work of Canadian directors Atom Egoyan and Sarah Polley. Egoyan places video at the centre of complex family dynamics in Next of Kin (1984) and Family Viewing (1987) while Polley controversially staged Super 8 films using actors in order to solve the real-life mystery of the identity of her father in Stories We Tell (2012). In his independent spirit, Kavanagh also been influenced by Co. Down-based amateur filmmakers the Spence brothers. Twin brothers Roy and Noel Spence have garnered a cult following (and many awards) for their prolific catalogue of B-movie-inspired films which they screen in their non-commercial cinemas, utopian spaces of filmic heritage. Kavanagh himself has written about how these spaces are constructed like Frankenstein’s monsters “using cannibalised artefacts of the now defunct or ‘deceased’ cinema theatres of their youth.” Hole in the Head reminded me of another important amateur filmmaker, Terence McDonald, known for socio-political films often made in collaboration with John Hume. Alongside his documentary work, McDonald produced award-winning experimental films such as Nebelung and Zwischen, both made on 16mm in 1978 and both of which focus on image-making and cinema projection.

Kavanagh and Mahler worked with a collective of creatives and some scenes were shot in the Irish Film Institute, the heart of artistic cinema exhibition and film preservation in Ireland. We see both the public and private spaces of the IFI: the cinema screens, the basement archive and the preservation vaults. In one sequence John is positioned offscreen with an archivist, authentically played by real-life archive legend Manus McManus, also a cinephile of great distinction. We see a Steenbeck laced with what appears to be John’s home movies (one reel of 16mm film “spliced together from odd and ends”) while the archivist describes the complex nature of acquisition. Flickering shots of the vaults filled with cans of film and shelves of tapes serve as a reminder of personal and collective cinematic heritage, essential for both family myth-making and nation-building.

The crux of the film for me is a heart-stopping moment where two hands are joined across different formats and timeframes through a cine camera. We see John in the present day setting up his 16mm camera, positioned to shoot a painterly landscape evocative of the work of another independent and aesthetically-awe-inspiring image maker, Patrick Carey. As the camera whirrs, John moves his hand in front of it; there is a cut from digital video to cinefilm, from John’s hand to what we are led to believe is the hand of his mother. As Barry Monahan has suggested, “the cinematic medium is ideally constructed for the symbolic capturing of memory” and within this function, the hand may constitute “a character’s means of accessing personal recollections, and the psychic trigger concurrently becomes the site wherein the memories reside” (2022: 127). The symbolic function of two hands performing the same gestures across generations and formats creates an achingly nostalgic moment that seems to capture everything that we seek in trying to understand our existence. In this way the film is profoundly philosophical, questioning identity, familial relationships and the significant place occupied by image making in the contemporary world.

The textural and temporal move from the digital video of the present to the 16mm cinefilm of the past.

In Kavanagh’s foray into narrative filmmaking he has not abandoned his experimental roots. This is, thankfully, not a film with a neat ending –we are warned at the beginning: “John Kline’s story is one of many unknowns.” As spectators, we watch but do not fully understand what we see; often meaning appears intriguingly just out of reach. As Godard once suggested: “He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” This is a brave and unique intervention into the Irish cinematic landscape (one funded by the Arts Council), and it is both exciting and inspiring to see its critical success. As Donald Clarke noted, it “shows there is space in Irish cinemas for the avant-garde” and it paves the way for other filmmakers to share experimental work unapologetically with “mainstream” audiences. Hole in the Head will no doubt make its way into the canon of Irish film (and the vaults of the IFI Irish Film Archive) and it is best enjoyed in the sacred space of the cinema.

Hole in the Head will screen at Seattle International Film Festival on 16th and 17th May 2023.

Works Cited

Clarke, Donald (2022) “Hole in the Head: An imaginative and infuriating cut from the edge of Irish cinema.” The Irish Times (August 6).

Kavanagh, Dean (2018). “Keep Watching the Skies: The Cinema of Roy Spence.” (July 18).,cinema%20theatres%20of%20their%20youth

Monahan, Barry (2022). Hands on Film: Actants, Aesthetics, Affects. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Ciara Chambers is Head of the Department of Film & Screen Media, University College Cork, a council member of the International Association of Media and History, and co-PI of the AHRC/IRC-funded Make Film History, in partnership with Kingston University, BBC Archive Editorial, The Irish Film Institute, The British Film Institute and Northern Ireland Screen.

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.


From Russian Film Pioneers of the 1920s to German Post-war Newsreels and Television

Sigrun Lehnert, Hamburg, Germany

2 February 2023

The aim of this blog post is to introduce the cinema newsreels as a unique example of media archaeology and media evolution. I argue that the elements of the communication strategy of post-war newsreels can be traced from the Russian film pioneers, directors of nature film of the 1930s and newsreel cinematographers in war times. In the 1950s, the strategies of the post-war newsreels were also transferred to film journalism of television. In my contribution, examples of the ‘Bergfilm’ genre (mountain film) and Leni Riefenstahl´s films, of Ufa-Tonwoche (Ufa sound newsreel) from 1939 as well as Ufa-Wochenschau from 1961 will support the claim of the aesthetic evolution.[i]


The History of Newsreels

The history of the newsreel is directly connected to the history of film and cinema. It begins at the end of 19th century with short films on incidents, glued together to a programme, presented in vaudeville theatres and in the first purpose-built cinemas from 1910. The German newsreel market was dominated by French newsreels, for example the Pathé Journal, which was founded in 1906. The First World War encouraged the newsreel market, as each nation aimed to present its achievements and military successes. After the First World War, the newsreels contained mixed topics, e.g. cityscapes, sport, fashion, current affairs and royals. The newsreel reports followed a documentary mode, but techniques and staged scenes were not uncommon.

As newsreels also belonged to the new medium ‘film’, and in order to explain some principles of filmmaking in the 1920s it has to be referred to the Russian formalists. From 1916 to 1930 a literary-critical movement spread from St. Petersburg in Russia, which became the impetus for narratology and was transferred to film. The important principles of formalism included alienation (Ostranenie, Verfremdung), the dichotomy of Syuzhet (Sujet) and Fabula, audience orientation and the transfer of meaning through montage.[ii] Russian montage strategies and techniques spread quickly to filmmakers in Europe.[iii] Especially Russian filmmakers, however, associated socially critical and revolutionary ideas with film and encouraged viewers to reflect. For example, Dziga Vertov’s film Der Mann mit der Kamera (The Man with the Movie Camera) (1927) shows his principles of film making: movement through images, cross-fades (Überblendungen), pictures of machines combined with images of social contrasts. It was the time of so called “Querschnittsfilme” (cross-sectional films) and symphonic concepts, for example Walter Ruttmann´s Berlin – Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (BerlinSymphony of the Metropolis) (1927) which uses similar cinematic elements and montage.

At the end of the 1920s to the beginning of the 1930s, another important filmic movement existed in Germany: The fictional genre of ‘Bergfilm’ was established – it was a mixture of documentary and nature and sports films. In those films, not only the shots (under extreme conditions at the film set), perspectives, but also the editing with close-ups and panorama shots were impressive. The geologist, photographer, director and author Dr. Arnold Fanck was founder of the Berg- und Sport-Film GmbH, where cinematographers were trained, and which was therefore called Freiburger Schule (Freiburg School). Most of them were talented sportsmen and cinematographers at the same time. In the early 1920s, Leni Riefenstahl was a dancer and became an actress at the end of the decade. She received female main roles in mountain films, such as in Die weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü (The white Hell of Piz Palü) (1929). The directors of the film, Georg Wilhelm Pabst and Arnold Fanck, became her mentors.


‘Filmischer Film’ (Cinematic Film)

For her debut as a director of the mountain and fairy tale film Das blaue Licht (1932) (The blue light from 1932) (see Figure 1), Leni Riefenstahl worked with the cinematographers who she had been acquainted with through her staging in Fanck´s Bergfilms – for example Hans Schneeberger, Walter Riml and Heinz von Jaworsky.

Figure 1: Scene from Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light) (1932) Source: Retrospektive: Das blaue Licht (1932) | epd Film (

Later on, she also supported talents, such as Walter Frentz, who admired her work on Das blaue Licht.[iv] Walter Frentz was a sportsman, who practiced kayaking and white-water paddling, and directed sports films and nature films. From 1933 he worked for Riefenstahl and her Parteitagsfilme (Party conference films) of NSDAP[v] and Olympia in 1936.[vi] From 1939 he was at Hitler’s Führer headquarters and filmed until 1945 for Die Deutsche Wochenschau as a member of the propaganda company. He mentioned the work of Sergej Eisenstein and the Russian film of the 1920s as well as cultural films by Willy Zielke as his role models (Zielkes work, for example, was particularly characterised by crossfades).[vii]

Walter Frentz propagated the term and concept of the “Filmischer Film” (Cinematic Film),[viii] which contained:

  • Priority of the image, named as “Primat des Bildes”, what meant that the music and especially the text were subordinate to the images.
  • Creating movement either through the movement of objects in the pictures or through the moving camera
  • Creating dynamic scenes by using intercuts (e.g. shots from the audience for shot-countershot-dialogues)
  • Considering and designing film as a coherent whole
  • Application of unusual and subjective perspectives (depending on context and use, e.g. sports)

One of his most important films in which he followed his principles was Hände am Werk – ein Lied von deutscher Arbeit (Hands at Work – A Song of German Work) from 1935 (see Figure 2). He was convinced that film can be compared with an orchestral score. He agreed with Leni Riefenstahl on the principle of “Primat des Bildes” and thus always sought out unusual perspectives and the special shot.[ix]

Figure 2: Hände am Werk – ein Lied von deutscher Arbeit (Hands at work – a song of German labour) (1935). Source: Werkaufnahmen zu eigenen Filmen – Sachthemen I 1933-1939 – Fotoarchiv | Walter Frentz Collection (


‘Heroischer Reportagefilm’ (Heroic Reportage Film)

The style of Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary films about the party conferences of the NSDAP and about the Olympic games in 1936 were described as “Heroischer Reportagefilm” (“heroic reportage film”).[x] Crucial to her films´ success was the shooting quality of the cameramen she was able to hire and her editing style of making each scene interesting. The images expressed movement that was enhanced by the pace of the editing. The heroic music by well-known composers, e.g. Herbert Windt, fits perfectly with the rhythm of the images. The result was not just a factual report, but a subjective and suggestive reportage. The order, in which the events took place in reality was irrelevant – instead, the heroic effect was important. The effect was created by changing perspectives and shot sizes, as well as shot-counter-shot techniques. This generates a dialogue between the protagonists, for example Hitler and the people or Hitler and the athletes at the Olympia stadium. In Triumph des Willens (1935) and Olympia (1938) (two parts), a spoken commentary was almost unnecessary, because the images spoke for themselves. Apparently, ‘Filmischer Film’ (cinematic film) and ‘Heroischer Reportagefilm’ (heroic reportage film) followed more or less the same principles.


The ‘Artistic’ Newsreel

In the 1920s, four newsreels competed on the newsreel market. By the early 1930s, the newsreel had been criticised for being “unfilmisch” – the scenes seemed to be stiff and were not impressive enough.[xi] To increase the propaganda effect, the reportage style became the role model for the newsreel. The renewal of the newsreels was promoted by the founding of the newsreel office under the direction of Hans Weidemann. Above all, each report as well as a newsreel edition was to become a ‘coherent whole’. The newsreel films should be dynamic, show movement, have a dramaturgy and build up excitement and suspense. The viewer should be involved, which was also supported by the protagonist’s point of view and the background music.

From 1938/1939 onwards, the Wochenschauzentrale (newsreel office) was in total control of and consolidated the newsreels (Ufa-Tonwoche, Deulig, Fox tönende Wochenschau, Emelka) which ran under the label Die Deutsche Wochenschau (The German Newsreel) from June 1940 onwards. This newsreel became the most important instrument for propaganda and war reporting. It was produced by the UFA. Fritz Hippler, head of the film department at the Ministry of Propaganda in 1939, wrote about the newsreel:

Compared with other media [newspaper, radio] the newsreel conveys a lively and direct experience as a result of the design of moving images and sound. Pictures of buildings, launching of ships, parades, German work and community are the most impressive documents of our time. Because of their simplicity, design and purpose they present a distinctive artificial attraction. [xii]

Heinrich Roellenbleg, head of the newsreel department of the UFA (Universum Film AG, the most important film production company) said in the same year:

Today’s newsreel is intended to be a document of time and also a small work of art. Today, it is not just about the outer appearance of an object – it is rather about its atmosphere and the mental content at the same time. This work starts with the cinematographer and ends with the editor, who is in charge of arranging the film material in a certain rhythm so that a coherent whole emerges from the great number of single frames. The spirit and the atmosphere have to become perceptible through the whole design from the editing to the background music. The sequence has to be dramatic to achieve the best effect.[xiii]

An example for demonstrating the renewal is the edition of the Ufa-Tonwoche No. 451 from 25 April 1939 which covers the activities for Hitler’s 50th anniversary. For this, the editor Georg Santé at the UFA exactly planned the locations of the twelve newsreel cameramen for taking different perspectives[xiv] (see Figure 3). [xv] In the film the editing of shot-counter-shot-principles and all scenes result in storytelling on the preparations for the anniversary, opening of the so called East-West-axis in Berlin, playing military bands, congratulations of the guests, people at the streets, Hitler’s drive through Berlin passing the marched up battalions and the largest army show of the Third Reich, which lasted four hours, as the speaker said. The whole film is of course accompanied by marching music.

Figure 3: Sketch from Georg Santé: Parade als Paradestück (Parade as a showpiece) (1939)


The Wartime Newsreel

Many cameramen of the mountain film and the newsreels became soldiers in the propaganda companies and worked for Die Deutsche Wochenschau. In addition, film editors and music editors from the UFA also worked for Die Deutsche Wochenschau. For making sports films as well as in war settings, a cinematographer needed the instinct for the right image and a distinct ability to react quickly. The aesthetic of the wartime newsreel consisted of:[xvi]

  • Technically perfect shots by good camera equipment: essential perspectives and intercuts (picture-filling with close-ups)
  • Selecting the most effective images for a ‘coherent whole’ and adding intercut images
  • Creating suspense with e.g. a dramatic finale
  • Heroic music and the addition of sound (the audience should get to know what war sounds like), pithy voice of always the same speaker
  • Strategic compilation of reports in an edition and logical transitions between them.

Manipulations were accepted (e.g. through tricks and models) and the order of the events in reality was not important – the order in the film could be different, as long as propaganda and the motivation of the will to persevere were focussed on.


Post-war Newsreels

Since professional staff was scarce after the Second World War – only half of the cinematographers of the propaganda companies had survived – there was some continuity in personnel: cameramen from the propaganda companies, editors and music editors, who had worked for Die Deutsche Wochenschaucontinued to work at the West and East German newsreels. They even worked for the occupation newsreels, the British-American Co-Production Welt im Film (World in Film) and the French influenced Blick in die Welt (View of the World). The instinct and flexibility of the cinematographers were in demand, because of insecure and volatile situations after the war. The aesthetic principles of the ‘cinematic film’ and ‘heroic reportage’ were also transferred to the post-war newsreels – as well as all the technical developments from the war newsreel period. There again was a mixture of topics (as it was the case in the Weimar Republic newsreels) with 8-15 reports, but in particular the strategic structure was taken over from the war newsreel, so that the viewers were stimulated to make associations.

At the end of 1949, the Neue Deutsche Wochenschau (NDW) [new German newsreel] was founded in Hamburg.[xvii] At the same time, not only the Welt im Film and Blick in die Welt (in the former French occupation zone) were spread throughout West Germany, but also the private American Production Fox tönende Wochenschau.

The archive for music and sound for the NDW had to be rebuilt, and in lack of music some UFA-tapes from the old newsreel (Die Deutsche Wochenschau produced by the UFA) were taken over, but a new speaker was hired from the radio. Staged scenes were also possible in the post-war newsreel, but not for intentional distortion, but to make scenes interesting. In the 1950s, the production was still under the influence of the Allies for a long time and was subsidised by the Federal Government in the West, while in the East the newsreel was affiliated with the state film production DEFA. The newsreel companies started a worldwide exchange of newsreel reports.

Over time, the newsreels were renamed: In 1952, the Welt im Film became the Welt im Bild (also produced in Hamburg) and in 1956 it turned to the ‘new’ Ufa-Wochenschau (Ufa newsreel). Whereas several newsreel productions existed on a competitive market in West Germany, in East Germany, only Der Augenzeuge (The Eyewitness) was produced by the state production company Deutsche Film AG (DEFA). From 1957 to 1960, the DEFA produced two editions per week (Version A and B). The producers wanted the newsreel to be an educator for the people. One of the specialties of Der Augenzeuge were well-designed political reports (“gestaltete politische Sujets”),[xviii] which were used to make political statements – be it directly or indirectly.

A report in the edition No. 265 of the Ufa-Wochenschau from 23 August 1961 shows the visit of US Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lucius Clay (organiser of the Airlift of 1948/1949) to Berlin – shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall. The entire design corresponds to the reportage style and the ‘cinematic film’ (see Figures 4 and 5).

Figures 4 and 5: Parade in Ufa-Wochenschau No. 265 from 23 August 1961


From Newsreels to Television

After television became more widespread, some newsreel cameramen changed jobs to the new medium television. In the beginning, newsreel films were also shown on television news and some newsreel cameramen filmed reports for television. Today, newsreel films or individual images are used for TV history formats.[xix] Moreover, the way of giving scenes different perspectives as well as changing shots and intercuts, remains unchanged.


Conclusion: Evolution of the Cinematic Medium

The newsreel stands as an ‘archetype’ of media history between television and film. The example of the newsreel shows: What has been tested and considered to be effective has been preserved in media history. The political messages of course change, and the content is interchangeable, but successful aesthetics and structures remain. Music and sound contributed to the habitual patterns of the viewers’ perception at any times. In the case of the newsreels, a highly formalised media format emerged. The approach of Neoformalism (by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson) borrows the terms from Formalism: syuzhet (also called plot) and fabula (also called story) are given a slightly different meaning. In addition, Bordwell introduced ‘style’, which is directly linked to the medium – whereas syuzhet is not. Music, sound and voice continuously contributed to build up schemes and patterns of perception. Strategic storytelling and framing by a strategic structure remain important, as well as transmediality (transfer to another medium) and transnationality (transfer and connecting with stories in other nations) – all of which are still relevant in television today.


[i] The blue Light (Das blaue Licht, 1932, directed by Leni Riefenstahl), Ufa-Tonwoche (UTW) No. 451 /1939 about Hitlers 50th anniversary and Ufa-Wochenschau No. 261 /1961 among others with a report on the visit of US Vice President Johnson after the erection of the Berlin Wall.

[ii] Viktor Sklovskij introduced the dichotomy of “fabula” and “syuzhet”, which became significant for narratology. He called the plot in its chronological sequence fabula and the syuzhet the alienating procedures applied to the fabula.

[iii] Russian filmmakers and filmmakers of Weimar Expressionism (e.g. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau) were proven to be in professional exchange.

[iv] Walter Frentz was introduced to Leni Riefenstahl by Albert Speer, a sports mate of his.

[v] Der Sieg des Glaubens (1933), Triumph des Willens (1935), Tag der Freiheit! – unsere Wehrmacht (1935).

[vi] Olympia film in two parts: Fest der Völker and Fest der Schönheit (1938).

[vii] Struch, M. (2007): Walter Frentz – der Kameramann des Führers. In: Hiller von Gaertringen, G. (Hrsg.): Das Auge des Dritten Reiches. Walter Frentz – Hitlers Kameramann und Fotograf. Augsburg: Weltbild, pp. 15-42, here p. 36.

[viii] Stamm, K. (2007): Avantgarde und Propaganda. Der Film „Hände am Werk – Ein Lied von deutscher Arbeit“ (1935). In: Hiller von Gaertringen, G. (Hrsg.): Das Auge des Dritten Reiches. Walter Frentz – Hitlers Kameramann und Fotograf. Augsburg: Weltbild, S. 51-61, here p. 54.

[ix] Struch 2007, p. 36.

[x] „Gibt es einen deutschen Kamerastil?“, in: Der Deutsche Film 3 (1938/39), Nr. 7, January 1939, p. 176.

[xi] Bartels, U. (2004): Die Wochenschau im Dritten Reich. Entwicklung und Funktion eines Massenmediums unter besonderer Berücksichtigung völkisch-nationaler Inhalte. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang, p. 77.

[xii] Hippler, Fritz (1939): Wochenschau und Aktualität. Der Filmbericht, Dokument und Gestalter unserer Zeit. In: Ufa-Lehrschau (ed.): 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa. Filmschaffen – Filmforschung (Schriften der Ufa-Lehrschau Band I). Berlin: Illustr. Filmwoche, pp. 8-9.

[xiii] Roellenbleg, H. (1939): Ziele der Wochenschau unserer Zeit. In: Ufa-Lehrschau (Hrsg.): 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa. Filmschaffen – Filmforschung (Schriften der Ufa-Lehrschau Band I). Berlin: Illustr. Filmwoche, pp. 33-34.

[xiv] C.f. Stamm, K. (2006): Ästhetisierung im Nationalsozialismus. Die Ufa-Tonwoche 451/1939 als Fallbeispiel. In: Böhnigk, V. & Stamp, J. (Hrsg.): Die Moderne im Nationalsozialismus. Bonn: University Press, pp. 41-53.

[xv] Santé, G. (1939): Parade als Paradestück. Zwölf Augenpaare, die mehr als Hunderttausende sahen – Großeinsatz bei der Wochenschau. In: 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa, pp. 42-45.

[xvi] Stamm, K. (1979): Das „Erlebnis“ des Krieges in der Deutschen Wochenschau. Zur Ästhetisierung der Politik im „Dritten Reich“. In: Hinz et al. (Hrsg.): „Die Dekoration der Gewalt“. Kunst und Medien im Faschismus. Gießen: Anabas-Verlag, pp. 115-122.

[xvii] In the 1950s, NDW was played in about 1400 cinemas in FRG and West Berlin.

[xviii] Jordan, G. (1990) DEFA-Wochenschau und Dokumentarfilm 1946-1949. Berlin: Humboldt-Universität (unpublished dissertation), p. 93.

[xix] The history report on the fall of the Berlin Wall of ZDFinfo is an example: Mauerfall 1989: Das Ende der DDR. Warum die Berliner Mauer fallen musste | ZDFinfo Doku – YouTube

References (selection)

Online Archives: (Neue Deutsche Wochenschau, Welt im Film/Welt im Bild, Ufa-Wochenschau) (DEFA-Augenzeuge and Blick in die Welt)

  • Allen, D.C. & Gomery, R. (1985): Film History: Theory and Practice. McGraw-Hill.
  • Barkhausen, H. (1982). Filmpropaganda für Deutschland im Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg. Hildesheim: Olms Presse.
  • Bartels, U. (2004): Die Wochenschau im Dritten Reich. Entwicklung und Funktion eines Massenmediums unter besonderer Berücksichtigung völkisch-nationaler Inhalte. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang.
  • Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (1979): Film Art: An Introduction. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
  • Hippler, Fritz (1939): Wochenschau und Aktualität. Der Filmbericht, Dokument und Gestalter unserer Zeit. In: Ufa-Lehrschau (ed.): 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa. Filmschaffen – Filmforschung (Schriften der Ufa-Lehrschau Band I). Berlin: Illustr. Filmwoche, pp. 8-9.
  • Jordan, G. (1990) DEFA-Wochenschau und Dokumentarfilm 1946-1949. Berlin: Humboldt-Universität (unpublished dissertation).
  • Kirsten, G. (2016) ‘Neoformalismus und Kognitive Filmtheorie’ in Groß, B. and Morsch, T. (eds.) Handbuch Filmtheorie, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 1-15.
  • Maltby, R., Biltereyst, D. & Meers, P. (Hrsg.) (2011): Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Paul, G. (2012): Visual History, Version: 2.0, in: Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte, 29. 10.2012
  • Roellenbleg, H. (1939): Ziele der Wochenschau unserer Zeit. In: Ufa-Lehrschau (Hrsg.): 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa. Filmschaffen – Filmforschung (Schriften der Ufa-Lehrschau Band I). Berlin: Illustr. Filmwoche, pp. 33-34.
  • Santé, G. (1939): Parade als Paradestück. Zwölf Augenpaare, die mehr als Hunderttausende sahen – Großeinsatz bei der Wochenschau. In: 25 Jahre Wochenschau der Ufa, pp. 42-45.
  • Stamm, K. (1979): Das „Erlebnis“ des Krieges in der Deutschen Wochenschau. Zur Ästhetisierung der Politik im „Dritten Reich“. In: Hinz et al. (Hrsg.): „Die Dekoration der Gewalt“. Kunst und Medien im Faschismus. Gießen: Anabas-Verlag, pp. 115-122.
  • Stamm, K. (2006): Ästhetisierung im Nationalsozialismus. Die Ufa-Tonwoche 451/1939 als Fallbeispiel. In: Böhnigk, V. & Stamp, J. (Hrsg.): Die Moderne im Nationalsozialismus. Bonn: University Press, pp. 41-53.
  • Stamm, K. (2007): Avantgarde und Propaganda. Der Film „Hände am Werk – Ein Lied von deutscher Arbeit“ (1935). In: Hiller von Gaertringen, G. (Hrsg.): Das Auge des Dritten Reiches. Walter Frentz – Hitlers Kameramann und Fotograf. Augsburg: Weltbild, S. 51-61.
  • Thompson, K. (1995) ‘Neoformalistische Filmanalyse: Ein Ansatz – Viele Methoden‘, montage/av, 4(1), pp. 23-63.
  • Wiers, H. (1954): Die politische Bedeutung der Wochenschau. In: Politische Studien (Monatshefte der Hochschule für Politische Wissenschaften München), Heft 56, 5. Jahrgang, Dezember 1954, pp. 33-38.

Dr Sigrun Lehnert is an independent media scholar in Hamburg, Germany. She received her PhD at University of Hamburg with her project about newsreels and television newscasts in the 1950s. Her following book, “Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren,” was published by UVK Verlagsgesellschaft in October 2013. Her research interests are film and television history, newsreels, documentaries, archiving, and film heritage. Website:

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Completing a PhD by Published Works

Bethan Jones, University of York

4 March 2022

In June 2021 I sat my viva. Not unusual for a PhD student, I hear you say. You’re right. But my PhD was done via published works and in the research I did to prepare for the viva I didn’t find much about this route.

A PhD by published works ( isn’t a particularly common route in the UK, though the availability does seem to be growing. As the name suggests, it’s an option which allows you to submit a thesis comprising of a series of publications on a common theme (books, book chapters or journal articles) which when put together fulfil the requirements of a PhD – original work making a significant contribution to the field and demonstrating a rigorous approach.

I started my PhD journey via the standard thesis routes but for a variety of reasons ended up withdrawing and subsequently applying for a PhD by Published Works at Cardiff University  ( Because this isn’t generally offered to students beginning a PhD there were some specific requirements. These will vary from institution to institution but at Cardiff you have to have:

  • graduated from Cardiff University six or more years ago, or
  • been a member of staff for six years, or
  • been the holder of an honorary title from Cardiff University for six years

I received my MA from Cardiff in 2010 and was applying for the PhD by Published Works in 2019 so that checked the first box. I’d also published extensively on anti-fandom and had enough to demonstrate a coherent research direction. My submission was reviewed by an internal panel who approved my application for a February 2020 start. All I needed to do was produce a 5,000 – 10,000 word critical commentary evaluating the field (fan studies in my case) and indicating the original contribution to learning I’d made and submit within 12 months.

Then Covid happened.

Did I mention I was working full time in government communications? Cardiff granted extensions to all PhD students which meant that despite the pandemic I was able to submit in April 2021 and passed the viva in June. I was the first person who’d done a PhD by Published Work in Cardiff for some time, and while I was writing the critical commentary and preparing for the viva I found very few resources for completing this route (Agata Frymus’ IAMHIST blog – – on viva preparation was really useful though!). So here’s what I did and how I did in, in the hopes it might help others undertaking this route.

Writing the Critical Commentary

The critical commentary that I had to produce needed to evaluate the field and indicate the original contribution to learning I’d made. What I did first was arrange a meeting with my supervisors to talk about what I felt the key themes were and how I was thinking of approaching the commentary, and then discussing what they thought the key themes were and how they suggested approaching it. The key things to keep in the back of my mind throughout the writing were originality, significance and rigour. I also had to not be too modest (this is underlined and followed by an exclamation mark in my notes).

We talked about pulling out themes and talking across them, as well as making nods to omission and things I didn’t have the time to do. I had thought about writing the commentary chronologically, but given the often arduous process of academic publishing (one of the chapters I wrote in 2013 was published in 2019) that didn’t really make sense. So I read through each of my articles, noted where there was overlap between the things I was discussing and ended up with four categories (textual anti-fandom and beyond; power structures and hierarchies; intra- and extra- fandom relationships; and ambivalence and unticipation for those who are interested). Each category discussed two of the chapters, and I also included a methodology section which discussed a journal paper I wrote about the ethics of researching anti-fans. My commentary ended up looking like this: introduction; methodology; discussion of submitted papers; absences and future work; conclusion; bibliography.


I wrote a paragraph introducing myself and my entry into fan studies as well as the things that led me to researching anti-fandom. From there I went straight into a mini lit review of the scholarship on anti-fandom, the different waves of fan studies as defined by Gray, Sandvoss and Lee Harrington (2007) and where my work intersects and builds upon this. I outlined three key areas which my work has focused on and pointed out where I had expanded previous work, including references to articles and chapters that I’d written as well as work by other scholars. I briefly outlined the later sections of the commentary, again pointing out where my key contributions were.


Fan studies borrows a lot of theoretical and methodological approaches from other disciplines and the ethics of research fans has long been a debate in the field. I felt it was important to engage with this not only to show the approaches I’d used across my work and my understanding of different methodologies, but to highlight the contribution I’d made in writing the first article of the ethics of researching anti-fans. A recent special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures ( discussed methodologies so I was able to cite that, as well as older work to demonstrate my depth of knowledge. I also brought these back to other papers I’d written, pointing out the methods I’d used in papers that I would be discussing in later sections. This section also allowed me to demonstrate rigour in terms of number of survey participants, how I approached public tweets, etc.

Paper discussions

Although the paper discussions were divided into four sections each followed a similar pattern. I first gave a brief overview of a key text that had influenced my thinking (e.g. Gray’s 2003 article on anti-fandom), explained why that was important or how I was using it, and then talked about how I expanded on that text in the articles discussed. I highlighted where my original contribution was (there was a LOT of this throughout the commentary) and included pertinent quotes from my papers. I ended each subsection with a short summary of where the papers expanded current thinking and signposted to the next one.

I referred to existing literature throughout this section to demonstrate my understanding of work in the field and to situate my scholarship amongst it. It felt like a lot of blowing my own trumpet, and the consistent feedback from my supervisors was to talk more about my original contribution, to show what I’d done was significant. That was probably one of the hardest things to do but it made me think critically about the work and ultimately helped with the viva.

Absences and future work

I was keen to point of where there were weaknesses in my research and what I was thinking about doing next. 10,000 words isn’t a huge amount to play with, but with current discussions in the field about race and racism I felt it was important for me to address that lack in my work. I also wanted to point out where fan studies as a field was growing and how I was engaging with that, so I talked about a paper I had recently presented and a book chapter I’m writing that engage with the current climate. You’ve always got to show the significance of your work!


The conclusion was essentially a recap of what I’d been saying throughout the commentary: my work has developed as the field has developed and I’ve been able to influence that through the publications I discussed. I also touched on work I’d done elsewhere that I hadn’t included in the commentary, and lectures I’ve been asked to give. This was really the final place where I could underscore how my work has been significant and where my contribution to the field is original.

Preparing for, and Undertaking, the Viva

I submitted the PhD in April and had a few weeks off before thinking about the viva. That time was important not only to switch my brain off but because I’d become sick of reading and rereading my work! When I got the date for the viva I turned to Google to see how others had done their viva preparation. There wasn’t much on the PhD by published works route, so I turned to Reddit and was told it would be very similar to a regular viva except I’ve already got the benefit of having the work peer reviewed and published. The focus would be on showing I did the work and understand it. That was pretty reassuring so I returned to Google, read various blogs and articles about viva questions and jotted down some of the ones I thought I’d struggle with. This blog was particularly helpful with those: After that I began reading through the publications I was including and making notes as to their key arguments and findings; the methodology and scholarship used; and their strengths and weaknesses (thanks to Agata’s blog piece).

I’d fairly recently read the work for the commentary so each article was pretty clear in my mind. This time though I read the articles on my laptop and made notes and highlighted sections I thought would be useful for answering questions. At the same time had a notebook next to me where I noted really top-line details using the headings Agata outlined in her blog. Once I’d done that I wrote  down the theories used across all articles, the originality of the work as a whole, and its strengths and weaknesses.

That done, I arranged a mock viva with one of my supervisors. As much as I hate doing things like mock interviews it was really useful. My supervisor treated it as a real viva and covered questions from the methods I chose to use to what was significant about particular articles to what had gone wrong and what would I do differently. Some of the questions I could answer easily, others I had to really think about, but it gave me the chance to think through my work and articulate the things that were really important.

The weekend before the viva I read over my notes, then went to visit friends for a birthday party. I had thought about staying home and revising some more, but a lot of the blogs I’d read suggested that would only stress me out and wouldn’t do much good (remember, at this stage you know your work inside out). So I went and had a lovely time, and I’m really glad I did. The day before the viva I put my back out so spent most of that day on painkillers and not doing much reading either. 0/10, would not recommend.

The day of the viva I read through my notes a bit and, I think, played games on my phone. The viva was via Zoom so I made myself a cup of tea and put two bottles of water and some sweets by my computer. I had my submission up on one computer with the other ready to log into the meeting, and I had the notebook I’d been using to prepare with me as well. I took some painkillers because I still couldn’t move without being in pain and also hoped that my cat wouldn’t come in and start meowing at me (I love him, but the number of meetings he interrupts…)

Yes, that is the mug I used…

I logged in at half three, met my examiners and the chair, then logged out until their pre-brief was done and they were ready for me. I’m not going to lie, I was as nervous as I’ve ever been! At this point everyone had been telling me I had nothing to worry about, but with a PhD by Published Works you don’t have the option of different types of corrections – the work is already published so you’re looking at a pass or fail. The first question I got asked – what’s significant about your research – totally threw me even though I’d been preparing for it and it’s one of the most common opening questions. I bumbled through somehow and as the viva went on it did become easier. I got asked about the duty of care we have to research participants (even if we completely disagree with their actions or the views they’re expressing) as well as ourselves as researchers, and the difficulty of undertaking surveys rather than face to face interviews. I got asked to expand upon something I’d mentioned in the commentary but hadn’t talked in detail about; I got a really interesting question after talking about Fifty Shades of Grey about whether you can be an anti-fan of domestic violence and if not, why not. By the time we’d been going for an hour I was really enjoying it. The chair asked if we wanted a break, my examiners said they were done and I got asked to leave while they deliberated. Deliberations took about five minutes but it felt much longer. I got told I’d passed, had a bit of a joke about how normally they’d ask what my publishing plans were but that kind of didn’t apply in this case, and one of my examiners suggested expanding upon one of the things I’d talked about and submitting it to a journal. Then it was over. I rang my family, texted my friends and celebrated with cake.

Dr Bethan Jones is a Research Associate in the Department of Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media at the University of York. Her work primarily focuses on gender, anti-fandom, and popular culture and she has been published in SexualitiesIntensities, and Transformative Works and Cultures, among others. She is coeditor of Crowdfunding the Future: Media Industries, Ethics and Digital Society published by Peter Lang and is a founding board member of the Fan Studies Network.

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

  • Archives