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Elena Gorfinkel
Elena Gorfinkel

Dr Elena Gorfinkel

Reader in Film Studies

Research interests

  • Arts
  • Media


PhD, Cinema Studies, New York University 

MA, Cinema Studies, New York University 

BA, Humanities, Hofstra University, New College 

Before arriving at King’s College London, Elena Gorfinkel was Associate Professor of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she taught from 2009 to 2016.  

Research Interests and PhD Supervision

  • Independent cinemas, esp. marginal, adult, underground 
  • Sexuality, sensation, cinematic embodiment 
  • American film history and historiography 
  • Women’s filmmaking practice 
  • International art cinemas 
  • Performance and labour 
  • Contemporary film theory 

Gorfinkel’s research explores post-war and post-1960s independent cinema in the United States and histories of marginal filmmaking practices, such as adult films, exploitation, experimental and underground cinemas, as well as the production of cinephilic and critical communities; questions of sexuality, materiality and temporality in cinema; and contemporary global art cinemas.  

Her first book, Lewd Looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) examines the little-known history of the production, reception and regulation of American sex exploitation films in the 1960s. The book narrates the sexploitation film as a site for the changing sexual expressivity of US cinema, and a locus of industrial and textual anxiety about the nature of eroticised film spectatorship. In this and other work, Gorfinkel is concerned with the historicity of screen sex, and of thinking through cinema’s investment in corporeal spectacle and its aesthetic labour. 

She has co-edited two books: one on the relationship of place and location to histories and theories of the moving image, Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image, with John David Rhodes (Minnesota, 2011) and the other which considers the historicity of global cinema in a digital era, Global Cinema Networks, with Tami Williams (Rutgers, 2018).  

Gorfinkel is the recipient of a 2018 Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for her second book, Aesthetic Strike: Cinemas of ExhaustionThis project examines several interstitial corporeal states—decelerated movement, fatigue, waiting, sleeping—that are central to the aesthetics and politics of recent film art practices, and it seeks to complicate discourses on slow and durational cinema by prioritizing corporeality, energy, and performance labour.  

Other recent areas of research consider women’s filmmaking practices, including writing on filmmakers such as Peggy Ahwesh, Barbara Loden, and Kelly Reichardt; the role of women and queer makers in adult media across practices in sex cinema and underground film; alternative histories of film writing, including the work of the gay film critic Parker Tyler; and considerations of the intersections of embodiment, labour, and duration in experimental and art cinemas.  

In addition to her academic writing, Gorfinkel regularly writes criticism for Sight & Sound and other publications. 

She welcomes PhD topics within any of her research areas. For more details, please see her full research profile


In 2018-19, Gorfinkel is convening undergraduate modules on The Carnal Screen and American Independent Cinema and the introductory MA module, Formations of Film Studies: An Advanced Introduction to the Field. 

Expertise and Public Engagement 

Elena Gorfinkel has given keynote and invited lectures internationally, including at Goethe University-Frankfurt, Yale University, University of Chicago, Cambridge University, University of Warwick, The University of California-Irvine, Monash University, The Graduate Center, CUNY, Loyola Marymount University. She has led discussions with filmmakers at the Tate Modern and ICA London, a public study session at the BFI, and public talks related to her research at Close-Up (London) Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne), International House Philadelphia (US), the Offscreen Film Festival (Brussels), the Block Museum of Art (Chicago), INOVA (Milwaukee). 

From 2017-2020, Gorfinkel is the co-chair of the adult film history special interest group of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. She serves on the editorial advisory boards of the journals JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture & Media Studies and World Picture, and is Associate Editor of Film at ASAP/Journal; she frequently reviews manuscripts for university presses and scholarly journals.