Contemporary European Cinema, Mary P. Wood, Hodder Arnold 2007, £17.99, 200pp ISBN 0340761366
This is an important and timely book. Mary Wood attempts a great deal in a relatively short book. Inevitably, this means that the reader might sometimes be left wanting more, but that’s no bad thing if they have been introduced to a wide range of issues and given all the appropriate starting points.
Traditionally books about ‘national’ or ‘regional’ cinemas have focused on particular directors, film movements, specific genres and/or issues related to representations of national identity. In this process, popular cinema sometimes gets neglected because it is less often seen outside its domestic market, lesser-known directors and smaller producing countries are often missing altogether and distribution and exhibition rarely get a look in. In Wood’s book there are none of these omissions.
A quick run through the chapters will establish the book’s range. An overview of European production in terms of the international film market is followed by chapters on art cinema, the so-called ‘quality’ film, the attempts to match high concept Hollywood films and ‘popular films and local stories’. Issues of cultural identity are linked to the importance of television and satellite distribution. Two cultural issues are addressed in the question of ‘heritage films’ in ‘theme park Europe’ and the global/local issues of migration and multiculturalism. The book ends with a case study of a small European country with an interesting history and an important contribution to film culture – Ireland.
Mary Wood is Professor of European Cinema at Birkbeck and her specialism is Italian Cinema. This gives her a headstart in terms of knowledge about a major industry which has to some extent slipped off the radar of cinemagoers in the UK. She matches this with forays into Turkish and Balkan Cinemas and coverage of genres ranging from soft porn and gangster films to massively popular Spanish local comedies and children’s films from across Europe. It’s also good to see contemporary British Cinema discussed as part of European Cinema with Michael Winterbottom as auteur and British heritage films considered alongside those of France, Italy and Eastern Europe.
As well as the diversity of film culture explored, the book also delves into institutional questions and makes use of the wealth of European audio-visual data and reports which have been overlooked by many film studies academics.
At this point, I could register a small gripe about the book’s production. There are no illustrations apart from the various charts and tables (which I think could have been more attractively presented). I think a handful of good quality stills could have helped introduce some of the kinds of films not usually seen in the UK. Overall, the book feels crammed with small margins and a single column of text which is probably too wide for comfortable reading. I can only imagine that Hodder Arnold are trying to save money, but I think the design does a dis-service to the content.
Put the design points aside. If you want to reference European Cinema in your film or media studies teaching, you should definitely buy this book. It is written in an accessible style and crammed with information and ideas that students will find useful and it will introduce issues and case studies that might suggest unusual and rewarding critical research exercises. A detailed bibliography and index will help students get started.