New Studies in World Cinema

The adage about newspaper feature writing is that three instances makes a trend. What better indication of a scholarly emphasis than the recent edited volumes devoted to world cinema? Each has a different focus, but taken together they signal new directions and new theoretical concerns. There have been books on the topic before: ones on national cinemas other than the US, on globalism, or on film trade. But the latest interventions are notable for a few tendencies. They combine film theoretical concerns with film history. They turn away, even if with reservations, from a cultural imperialism model. And they respond to developments in contemporary world cinema.

Remapping World Cinema, Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim, eds. Wallflower Press, 2006.
This is the first of what I see as new world-cinema studies, in no small part because of its introduction which interrogates the category of world cinema. As the editors/authors write, "'What is world cinema?' This is deceptively simple question that has proved to be a challenging theoretical problem." Many of the essays are more applied national-cinema case studies than theoretical explorations, but essays like those from Michael Chanan (who assesses the legacy of the underdevelopment thesis in a postmodern film-festival culture) and Lucia Nagib (who critiques Miriam Hansen's vernacular modernism thesis) supply valuable theoretical interventions. What makes this volume seem distinctive to me is its attempt to find conceptual means to deal with contemporary film culture - namely the invocation of "world cinema" in film criticism and film festivals.

World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, Natasa Durovicova and Kathleen Newman, eds. Routledge, 2009
As the title suggests, this volume compiles various arguments grappling with models of transnationality. As the editors note, the transnational signals cultural exchange above the level of the national but below the global. Moreover transnationality suggests a power relationship somewhere between parity ("international") and core-periphery ("global"). Not all of the essays theorize the nation state as directly as Newman's or Frederic Jameson's but the contributions to tease out theoretical implications, even when dealing with case studies. There are many strong and useful essays in this book, including those by Olivier Barlet (on popular African cinema), Mette Hjort (on Dogme), and Yingjin Zhang (on Chinese cinema), but I will single out as indispensible Dudley Andrew's essay on the concept of national cinema (he has contributions to the other two volumes as well) and Miriam Hansen's version of her vernacular modernism argument.

Global Art Cinema, Rosalind Galt and Karl Schoonover, eds. Oxford, 2010
In full disclosure, I do know the editors and have seen their work on this volume at various stages. This volume is as much a participant in newer studies on art cinema as in the scholarship on world cinema; where a generation of film scholars (with the notable exception of David Bordwell) were busy with putting art cinema in defensive quotation marks or marginalizing its study on sociology-of-taste grounds, with the assumption we already know enough about it, more recent studies have taken art films as a serious object of study, theoretically and historically. Contributions here, like Aneglo Restivo's on The Conformist, Dennis Hanlon's on Jorge Sanjines, and Patrick Keating's on Gabriel Figueroa all make me see the familiar in a new light. Mark Betz's updating of Bordwell's category of parametric cinema seems very useful to me. Like the Durovicova/Newman book, Global Art Cinema is particularly valuable for suggesting how transnational cultural exchange has always been operative, especially in the realm of art cinema, yet the transnational dimensions do not negate the importance of national policy and film cultures. Similarly art cinema has never been merely a European and Japanese phenomenon, though each have played a crucial role in its development.

In short, I have found all of these productive in challenging my understanding of national cinema and world cinema. These books have just one major drawback for me: I realize I need to watch many more films.


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