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Reviewed by:
  • Film in Canada
  • David Clandfield
Jim Leach . Film in Canada. Oxford University Press. iv, 196. $39.95

The last decade has seen a spate of books competing for the undergraduate textbook market in Canadian film. Somebody somewhere is impressed by the growth of film studies in Canadian universities and the importance within them of Canadian cinema. So far a dozen or so works have cut a broad swath through the history of film in Canada. Many limit themselves to a particular corpus, whether linguistic (Beard and White's anthology North of Everything – anglophone), regional (Marshall's Quebec National Cinema, Gasher's Hollywood North on BC), period (Loiselle and McSorley's anthology Self Portraits, since 1984), ideological (Armatage's Gendering the Nation, Thomas Waugh's The Romance of Transgression in Canada, Alemany-Galway's A Postmodern Cinema: The Voice of the Other in Canadian Film, Khoury and Varga's Working on Screen), by genre and mode (Vatnsdal's They Came from Within – horror, Jim Leach's Candid Eyes – documentary), by auteur (Melnyk's anthology Great Canadian Film Directors), or simply by canonical selection, as in Jerry White's anthology The Cinema of Canada, with articles on twenty-four films, and Gene Walz's Canada's Best Features at greater length on fifteen. [End Page 192]

Others attempt comprehensiveness, encompassing as varied a Canadian film corpus as possible, without the above limitations. Since 2000, the two most notable are from Alberta – Christopher Gittings's Canadian National Cinema and George Melnyk's One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema. Alongside these, Brock University's prolific Jim Leach has now added his, which is already on some required text lists.

What all the above books share is a confrontation with the national identity question. Some schematize Canadianness by outlining a spectrum of shared characteristics in their chosen corpus; most problematize it with competing identities, which fragment or deny the national one. Leach at first appears to belong to the former category, declaring his focus as 'questions of national identity and the complex ways in which films engage with the political, cultural, and mythic dimensions of national life.' But the thematic structure of the book speaks to fragmentation. The twelve chapters resist the broadly chronological narratives of Melnyk and slot neatly into twelve course modules: resistance to the realist thesis, the problematics of canon formation, regional visions, deconstructed genres, the disjunctions of popular and high cultures, the destabilizing effect of the fantastic, avant-garde experiments, gendered visions, art-house auteurism, diasporic communities, camp and postmodernism, and global/local tensions. Indeed, the range of discussions projects most of the concerns of current film studies into a Canadian corpus. No wonder that this appeals to course designers and to students in the mainstream of cinema studies, one that Leach has contributed to himself by co-writing four Canadian editions of Louis Giannetti's introductory course textbook classic, Understanding Movies.

With only 160 pages of discursive text, the book has had to limit its scope anyway. The first sixty-eight years of film-making in Canada receive scant attention (three pages on the early documentary tradition and as much again on the first Quebec film industry of 1944–53). These may be compared to the 85 pages in Melnyk's account. Leach's attention to Aboriginal film is scant, though not significantly less than Melnyk's. Gittings has a 35-page chapter called 'Visualizing First Nations' and Jerry White gives First Nations films one third of the space in his latest anthology. However, there are welcome inclusions in Leach's book that are missing in the other two, most notably William MacGillivray in the Maritimes and Gilles Groulx in Quebec.

Leach's work is particularly strong, on the other hand, when he probes individual films and engages with the academic body of opinion about genre and auteurs. Better still, it is written in an easy language that most film students will recognize. This is not to say that the work is bereft of salutes to theory. Leach feels comfortable enough citing Gramsci, Stuart Hall, and Baudrillard. But for a work imbued with the language [End Page 193] and theoretical framework of critical theory in the tradition of...


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