3 minute read


Cultures And Economies Of Cinema

Cross-cultural dimensions of cinema, initially discussed mostly in terms of the textual properties and ideological concerns of national cinemas, are now the object of much work in reception, political economy, and postcolonial research. Summed up in Ella Shohat and Robert Stam's 1994 title "Unthinking Eurocentrism," cross-cultural studies result in several kinds of work that dispute the normative tendency of neoformalism and the blindness to cultural difference of the apparatus theory espoused by the Screen critics. Some scholars have been at pains to emphasize the creativity or political significance of previously marginalized cinemas and directors. Others apply rigorous theoretical critique to such art house favorites as the Chinese fifth-generation filmmakers. Still more radical was the movement in filmmaking and film theory known as third cinema, after an influential 1976 essay by Cuban cinéastes Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino, which argued that the first and second cinemas—mass entertainment and bourgeois psychodramas, respectively—had failed the revolution and that a third cinema based in popular forms and addressing popular struggles was the best way forward. This spirit was echoed across the world, in the films of Haile Gerima in Ethiopa, Sembene Ousmane in Senegal, and Anand Patwardhan in India, and in the critical writings of Teshome Gabriel, Trinh Minh-Ha, and others (for example, Jim Pines, Paul Willemen, Coco Fusco, and John Downing). Since a central tenet of third cinema was that cultural specificity was integral to a cinema that was genuinely popular in the sense of belonging to and acting with the people, the term acted as an umbrella for a wide range of practice. Another early Cuban proponent, Julio Garcia Espinoza, called for an imperfect cinema; in Brazil, Glauber Rocha called for a cinema of hunger. For some proponents, the third cinema demanded a break with the technical wealth as well as the techniques of the first and second cinemas, while for others the resultant formally challenging films were merely reversions to the self-important antics of art house cinema and of no interest or use to the oppressed. This debate became especially vibrant in North America and in Europe where a new and intensely articulate generation of filmmakers and critics from African-and Hispanic-American, black British, and British-Asian backgrounds began to give voice to their artistic and political demands.

A second effect of this global consciousness has been a reappraisal of the old Marxist political economy espoused by Screen theory, updating the analysis to take account of globalization on the film business, its working practices, and its use of international free trade agreements to maintain and develop monopolistic corporate cartels. Janet Wasko, Andrew Higson, and Richard Maltby, among others, have addressed the impact of information technologies and the increasing integration of entertainment industries in guiding the development of new industrial practices as well as strategic policy on global media flows, intellectual property rights legislation, and the potential impacts of North American dominance of film distribution on the cultural lives of smaller nations. Increasingly, studies of auteurs are articulating the creative process with the industrial, and the best of them are also informed by theoretical paradigms that explain the dependence of creation in film on industrial and technical processes over which an individual director has little control.

Such studies of the development of film industries merge with analytical concerns in the study of cinema's relationships with modernity. A number of scholars, among them Anne Friedberg and Friedrich Kittler, trace cinema's roots back to related developments of the late nineteenth century such as department stores, electric streetlights, railways, and advertising, and argue forward to the digital era that cinema has always integrated with a range of other media into a broad process of modernization. In this context the study of entertainment has developed rapidly, with increasing awareness of the cross-media appeal of stardom, movie soundtracks, and animation. Film sound has benefited especially from the work of Michel Chion, Rick Altman, and Philip Brophy, who listen not only to music but to sound effects, to the construction of off-screen space, thematic constructions of gender and race, and the shifting hierarchy of recorded sound and recorded image. Like stardom, which is governed by a dialectical relation between on-screen presence and real absence, the study of film sound reveals complex interactions of space and time, sometimes reinforcing and sometimes undermining the coherence of a film's imaginary world. The sense of modernity as a complex process of homogenization and fragmentation is also common to studies of popular genres like horror, action movies, and science fiction, genres that frequently evoke both utopian and dystopian alternatives to dominant conceptions of embodiment, agency, and the necessity of current social arrangements.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterCinema - The Language Of Cinema, The Lord Of The Rings, Princess Mononoke, The Specificity Of Cinema