Cinema Entertainment: Essays on Audiences, Films and Film Makers

September 24, 2009

This short book enters into a debate that has a lengthy history, not only in the context of cinema but in relation to the cultural industries more broadly. From its inception, cinema has found itself straddling the entertainment/art distinction that has frequently divided mass-cultural forms from their elite counterparts. Exploring, in brief, the history of this opposition (expressed variously as Europe versus Hollywood, art versus commerce, intellect versus emotion, representation versus identification, intellectual engagement versus sensual pleasure and auteur versus entertainer), Alan Lovell and Gianluca Sergi argue that this opposition is no longer tenable and "should be abandoned".

Much of their text, which appears to be aimed primarily at undergraduate students but would function well as a reference text for lecturers and is comfortably accessible to the general reader, is concerned to demonstrate the faulty logic that has led to the common acceptance of such universally recognised binaries.

They argue that, inevitably, the issue is more complex than has been acknowledged and that history reveals a strong cultural and class bias. Certainly since Laura Mulvey's polemical call for the destruction of visual pleasure in the mid-1970s, the academic study of film has fought shy of the notion of pleasure as a response to film viewing; cinema entertainment was seen to be driven by commerce, which, in turn, was regarded as an instrument of capitalism.

In objecting to this account, Lovell and Sergi argue that this "leads into the aesthetic ghetto of avant-garde art and to political impotence (a position so depressingly inhabited by Godard)". Film studies as an academic discipline, along with film criticism as a serious cultural activity, has worked hard to position itself on the "right" side of the divide, and it is only recently that attempts to explore the pleasures of entertainment have been sanctioned. There have been some exceptions - Richard Dyer, who is cited in Lovell and Sergi's book, is one writer who has sought to consider the uses and value of cinema entertainment. However, the overwhelming response has been to promote critical distance and intellectual contemplation over emotional engagement and the analysis of viewing pleasure.

It is generally in relation to genre cinema and disenfranchised viewing positions (taking pleasure as a form of resistance) that pleasure in cinema has been explored. Lovell and Sergi take The Dark Knight (2008) as an exemplar par excellence of genre cinema, arguing that the film functions as entertainment but also as innovative and intelligent film practice. Commenting, for example, on the film's use of screen space and its manipulation of depth, the authors argue that the film is "as much a sensual experience as it is an intellectual one". While this book asks more questions than it ultimately answers, its intention is, as its authors state, "to encourage a more serious interest in audience pleasures (and displeasures!)".

Cinema Entertainment: Essays on Audiences, Films and Film Makers

By Alan Lovell and Gianluca Sergi Open University Press/McGraw-Hill. 140pp, £60.00 and £19.99 ISBN 9780335222520 and 513 Published 1 May 2009

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