Dyer on Film Studies

I've talked up the Oxford Guide to Film Studies before. Now that I'm revisiting it for my Critical Methods class, I thought it worth calling attention to the opening essay: Richard Dyer's "Introduction to Film Studies." Even if you don't have the time or need for a reference book like the Oxford Guide, this short essay is worth taking a look at. Even the second time around, I find it a useful and brilliantly written statement of what film scholars do and a reflection on what we don't do. It's simply one of those reflections on the field that can help and inspire a scholar.

But there's a specific reason I think this essay written a decade ago is relevant today: the discipline faces foundational issues as television studies gets better footing in the academy and as new media – their media landscapes and the forms themselves – challenge the definition that film studies has of itself. Dyer writes that "the very success of film studies in establishing itself as a discipline may mean that the reasons for establishing itself as a discipline may mean that the reasons for establishing it no longer need asserting of even addressing. This may be short-sighted." (6). Indeed.

Meanwhile, there's something about Dyer's intellectual spirit that I admire. It's not the case that film scholars have covered it all, that at best it's the objects of study rather than the approaches that are left to discover. Nor are the debates from yesterday meaningless. The old guard may be worth arguing with or even deposing, but the key inquiries into the nature of representation, ideological formations, interpretation, and historical explanation are worth keeping at the forefront. Hopefully, we can continue to shine new light onto these matters with the humility that that previous theorists and historians had a lot to say and that we have yet a lot to understand.


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