The silver screen in every hue

Genre, Gender, Race and World Cinema

May 25, 2007

Julie Codell's anthology does not so much carve out a niche in film studies as dive in and out of several pre-existing niches, helping itself en route to anything that looks bright and attractive. The result is a collection that overlaps the territory of various recent publications - including Barry Keith Grant's Film Genre Reader III and Linda Badley, R.Barton Palmer and Steven Schneider's Traditions in World Cinema - while forging links and mapping interconnections between its prime concerns. As Codell notes in her preface, genre, gender and race "are complicated topics whose intersections are even more complicated" - especially when explored through the fertile perspective of world cinema.

Apart from Codell's introductions to each of the four sections, all the material has previously appeared in magazines or other books and anthologies between 1991 and 2004. Some pieces are relatively well known, such as Peter Lehman's memorably titled "Crying over the melodramatic penis: melodrama and male nudity in films of the 90s", others less so. What they share is a lucid and accessible approach imbued with warmth, enthusiasm and, in many cases, humour. The days when "serious" film criticism equated to "solemn" seem at last to be dead.

This element should help the collection appeal to its target audience, whom Codell defines as "students who have had at least one introductory film course"; not only those majoring in film but also "students whose primary disciplines include literature, history, art history, race, ethnic and gender studies, and cultural studies". Attempting to address such a wide constituency risks incoherence, but the pieces have been skilfully chosen to illuminate each other. Yvonne Tasker's "Cowgirl tales", which explores the revisionist effect on the western genre of foregrounding female protagonists, chimes with "Another fine example of the oral tradition?" where Jhon Warren Gilbey examines how Sherman Alexie's Smoke Signals (the first feature film written and directed by Native Americans) subverts road-movie conventions by placing two young American Indians in the lead roles. Likewise, Rey Chow's analysis of sexual configurations in Chen Kaige's Temptress Moon throws unexpected light on Gina Marchetti's reading of Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet as a gender-based allegory of national and political relationships.

The range of films referenced is refreshingly wide and eclectic - as is the diversity of critical perspectives. Mary Flanagan's "Mobile identities, digital stars and post cinematic selves" traces a line from silent stars such as Florence Lawrence and Theda Bara to Lara Croft (in her computer-game incarnation) and the anime sex heroine Ariel, alias Ultravixen. Julianne Pidduck considers Sally Potter's Orlando as a stop-start "feminist journey of becoming" interrupted by colonialist interludes; Shohini Chaudhuri and Howard Finn note how the New Iranian Cinema evades attempts to pigeonhole it as "realism" or even "poetic realism"; Melissa Thackway brings out traditional oral narrative conventions informing the films of sub-Saharan Africa. Ernesto R.Acevedo-Muñoz celebrates the genre-bending irreverence of Pedro Almod"var, and in "Black on white", Dan Flory illustrates the use of film noir themes and techniques in the work of black American film makers, with emphasis on Carl Franklin's Devil in a Blue Dress and Spike Lee's Clockers.

Altogether, this collection should encourage students to explore areas of cinema beyond the conventional English-language mainstream, enriching their viewing experience and offering insights and wider cultural contexts for the films they watch. The book is marred only by two omissions: a lack of illustrations, which is forgivable, and the lack of an index, which is not.

Genre, Gender, Race and World Cinema: An Anthology. First Edition

Author - Julie F. Codell
Publisher - Blackwell
Pages - 496
Price - £60.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 9781405 132329 and 132336

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