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Book Reviews

Approaches to global cinema and global activism

Remapping World Cinema: Identity, culture and politics in film, Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim (eds), Wallflower Press 2006, £16.99, 202pp ISBN 1904764622
Studying City of God, Stephanie Muir, Auteur 2006, £15.99, 56pp A4, ISBN 1903663598
Global, Activism: Global Media, Wilma de Jong, Martin Shaw and Neil Stammers, Pluto Press 2005, £16.99 234pp, ISBN 074532195X
Transnational Cinema: The Film Reader, Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden (eds), Routledge 2006, £24.99 212pp, ISBN 0415371589

It’s interesting that first WJEC and then OCR have included references to ‘world cinema’ in their specifications. The term is also routinely used by media commentators and retail/rental outlets and I thought I was using it sensitively until I was ‘taken aside’ by my colleague Fai and disabused of that notion.

‘World cinema’ is, like ‘world music’, a term of exclusion and dismissal, defined only by what it is not: Hollywood. The cinema of Japan, India or China is as rich and diverse as American Cinema. It should be studied for what it is, not how it is defined by others. The latest edition of the OCR Media Studies A2 textbook, falls into the trap by defining ‘world cinema’ as anything that is not ‘from the US or UK’ (and that’s virtually the only guidance students get). In reality of course, for most Americans, if a British film isn’t distributed by a Hollywood studio and stuffed with recognisable Hollywood names then it is just as much ‘world cinema’ as a film from Hong Kong or Mexico. (Thus the subtitles for Ken Loach’s films made in the West of Scotland.)

All of this is a justification for the plea that all teachers of ‘world cinema’ should have a look at Remapping World Cinema (and some of the other texts referenced inside). This is a fascinating collection of diverse papers, well organised and presented with an excellent introduction by the editors entitled ‘Situating world cinema as a theoretical problem’.

This isn’t a book for A Level students (and I suspect some undergraduates might struggle with the range of material) but for A Level teachers taking a serious look at what they might be doing under the heading of ‘world cinema’, it’s a must. There are fifteen essays in total covering everything from gender and stardom to the concept of ‘crossing boundaries’. The two I enjoyed most focused on the two major crimes from my perspective, the obsession with defining the ‘Western’/’Japanese’ aspects of directors such as Kurosawa Akira and the very poor quality of writing about Indian Cinema outside certain academic departments. Kaushik Bhaumik begins his essay on Indian Cinema with an account of a Radio Times article in which a reviewer systematically rubbishes ‘Bollywood’ whilst admitting that he’s never actually seen a single film from Bombay.

City of God has been one of the most successful Brazilian films of recent years, capturing the attention of younger audiences worldwide. It’s exciting that work on the film has started to appear on A Level courses, but in view of the discussion in Remapping Cinema also worrying in terms of what kinds of approaches to the film might be taken. As is immediately evident from Stephanie Muir’s article in in the picture 54, Auteur have made a wise choice in choosing her as the author of their study guide to the film.

This is one of the best study guides that I have seen with a detailed discussion of the background of Brazilian cinema, culture and political history as well as the wider debate about ‘world cinema’ in a Latin American context. This allows the development of ideas about Narrative, Genre, Representation, Style and Audience Response (or ‘Macro’, ‘Micro’ and ‘Messages and Values’ as the WJEC spec. terms them) related to the film, which are both accessible to students and firmly grounded in terms of context. If you decide to work on this exciting film with your students, you would be foolish indeed to ignore this guide.

Where Remapping World Cinema draws together academics from different disciplines such as Modern Languages and Area Studies, Global Activism, Global Media draws together academics from different disciplines, media practitioners and political activists in a similar ‘interdisciplinary’ enterprise. This collection includes essays on specific political campaigns and how the media is used to communicate their ideas, as well as more contextual essays such as Colin Sparks’ on the ‘global public sphere’. The language is generally more accessible than in the other two collections here and the book would be useful for media teachers inspired to work on globalisation issues.

Transnational Cinema arrived too late for a full review, but it seems appropriate to include it here. Another collection of essays, this would make a good companion volume for Remapping World Cinema. As its title implies, this is more directly concerned with the dynamics of movements of peoples and ideas in relation to film culture. This is evident in the titles of the four sections in the book: ‘From National to Transnational Cinema’, ‘Global Cinema in the Digital Age’ (including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars) ‘Film, Migration and Diaspora’ and ‘Tourists and Terrorists’. This book will definitely be on my summer reading list and I’m already prepared for the DVD purchases that may be necessary.

Roy Stafford, June 2006

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