Old world is not just a Hollywood backlot

Studies in European Cinema
October 20, 2006

Film studies is still a relatively new kid on the academic block. In terms of senior personnel and research output, it is much smaller than most other humanities subjects. Yet during the past decade it has been greatly expanded by its older neighbour modern languages, embracing film with an enthusiasm that certainly reflects that area's well-known problems of student recruitment - studying subtitled films has an obvious attraction over novels in a still-foreign language - but also speaks of shifting research interests within modern languages.

Where film would once have been considered only tentatively in terms of literary adaptation, there is now a growing number of scholars and researchers, nominally within modern languages, who would identifycinema and television as their main focus, often in a cultural studies context.

The journal Studies in European Cinema , now two years old and with six issues published, emerged from the European Cinema Research Forum with the aim of providing "an outlet for research into any aspect of European cinema".

Unsurprisingly, there is an avowed propagandist thrust behind the journal, which took issue in its opening editorial with Ginette Vincendeau's downbeat assessment of the cinematic prospects for the region. The editors of SEC believe there is life in the old Continent, even in an age of global Hollywoodisation, and they wish to celebrate its diversity and innovation by offering contributions from the widest possible range of sources.

Each issue to date has taken care to avoid the obvious; they range beyond France, Italy and Spain to cover aspects of central and Eastern Europe. The journal deals with the interaction between Europe and America, in articles such as Fiona Handyside's study of "the tourist gaze" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Funny Face and John Davidson on Wim Wenders's recent American films considered in the light of Frederick Turner's frontier ideology and, valuably, in relation to Siegfried Kracauer's aesthetics of cinema.

Another feature of the journal to date has been its encouragement of comparison pieces. These have ranged from Alan O'Leary's illuminating discussion of nationhood as figured through gender in Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth and Neil Jordan's Michael Collins to Charity Scribner's enterprising juxtaposition of Tony Harrison's neglected Prometheus with Mark Herman's popular Brassed Off , in terms of their very different responses to feminism and nostalgia for state Socialism.

More broadly, the most recent issue under review includes valuable survey articles on genre (Ann Davies, "Can the contemporary crime thriller be Spanish?") and on important postcolonial issues (Barbara Levin, "Giving a voice to the ethnic minorities in 1980s French and British cinema"; Carolin Overhoff Ferreira, "The representation of the African colonial war in Portuguese cinema").

Two other benchmarks for the journal must be its ability to reflect the undoubted industrial problems that beset Europe's national cinemas and also to attract high-quality studies of the "classic text". Among the former must be counted Elizabeth Ezra and Antonio S nchez's study of the successful Franco-Spanish co-production L'Auberge Espagnole and Dorota Ostrowska's analysis of the Zentropa company's recipe for success.

Single films have fared more variably. If neither David Gillespie and Elena Smirnova's account of Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark nor Owen Evans's of Tom Tykwer's Run , Lola Run seem to dig deep, Robert Gordon's engagement with the treatment of the Holocaust in Life Is Beautiful adds an impressive contribution to the literature on this challenging film.

Altogether, the editors should be applauded for creating and sustaining a much-needed forum to reflect on the troubled condition of European cinema.

Ian Christie is professor of film and media history, Birkbeck, University of London.

Studies in European Cinema

Editor - Owen Evans and Graeme Harper
Publisher - Intellect, three times a year
Price - Institutions £210.00 Individuals £30.00
ISSN - 1741 1548

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