What is refreshing about Gill Branston's book is that it is aimed at students but is also genuinely ambitious in its consideration of the theoretical underpinnings of film studies. It is a provocative review of the key building blocks of the discipline to date (star study, authorship, audiences, and so on) and a strong argument for taking new directions that sometimes reveal themselves to be reconnections with lost concerns. (The final sub-heading of the concluding chapter on representation is "Back to the Future?") Central to these reconnections is modernity, as Branston sees things. This is not to imply that she argues for any naive (or nostalgic, as she puts it) return to early debates about "realism, representation or political economic determinism", but rather that these can be re-cast and re-thought because they raise questions that refuse to go away. They are returning with a special emphasis in an era of globalisation, bewildering patterns of cross-media ownership and intensifying concentrations of representational power.
None of this is to imply a dogmatic approach. One of the book's stylistic features is the incorporation of text boxes containing a fascinating array of "other voices", which Branston hopes will be "helpful and fun". They are both, even though the boxes at times seem to be almost perversely inserted into passages of quite dense argument. What is most fascinating is the diversity of sources in the boxes, which range from the usual academic suspects to the "cynical cyber-pixie Fifi in ads to launch PlayStation 2".
If by the end the book seems slightly to have undersold itself in promising to be a book for undergraduates, this is because it has more to offer, than a mere textbook. It is, in fact, a valuable addition to the ongoing attempt to "reinvent" film studies.
Steve Blandford is associate head, school of humanities and social science, University of Glamorgan.
Cinema and Cultural Modernity. First Edition
Author - Gill Branston
ISBN - 0 335 20077 X and 20076 1
Publisher - Open University Press
Price - £45.00 and £14.99
Pages - 207