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Reviewed by:
  • Working on Screen: Representations of the Working Class in Canadian Cinema
  • Kay Armatage
Malek Khouri and Darrell Varga, editors. Working on Screen: Representations of the Working Class in Canadian Cinema. University of Toronto Press. xv, 293. $75.00

The articles in this anthology take a variety of approaches, from Scott Forsyth's straightforward history of the cultural activities of the Communist Party of Canada in the 1930s to Brenda Longfellow's analysis of globalization in some recent dystopian city films. Several excellent articles do the valuable work of historical contextualization around specific texts, such as Rebecca Sullivan's piece on the Quebec skin flick Valerie, Bart Beatty's on hockey films, Margot Francis's informative article on Dirty Laundry, and Susan Lord's on the Women's Labour History Project and Sara Diamond's Vancouver video work. Andre Loiselle's politically informed analysis of representations of the working class in Quebec feature films offers a useful survey from the 1960s to the present.

When treating canonical texts (however vexed that notion may be), a few of the pieces take an approach familiar from old-style feminist criticism that attacked stereotypes and lamented the paucity of positive women characters. Some writers seek – usually in vain – traces of workers in the narratives or castigate the films if they don't celebrate the working-class characters. The writers' search may be accounted for somewhat by the genealogy of the articles published originally in the 1990s, yet, by the 1980s, theoretical work in film presented more complex rubrics of analysis.

There is a section on work, gender, and sexuality in which Peter Urquhart admits to revising his 1999 article on Margaret's Museum to consider gender, and the pieces in this section are generally assiduous in their attention to interlocking categories of identification and hegemonic subordination. But few writers in other compartments take gender, sexuality, or ethnicity into account. [End Page 194]

Despite the acknowledgement of filmmaking as a collaborative enterprise early on in the book, many articles take auteurism as a defining rubric for analysis. This is common parlance in mainstream film scholarship, which routinely buys into the canon-production of films through the commercial marketing of auteurs. I expected a more nuanced approach, however, in a work on class, as one of the earliest lessons of Marxist film theory was the critique of auteurism and the positing of films as texts to be read, rather than as direct expressions of the director's intentions or actions. The format of the book belies such insights, consistently offering the director's name as sole author of the work (e.g., 'Perfectly Normal [Simoneau, 1990]'). This may be a University of Toronto Press decision, yet authors often ascribe intention (or its absence) to directors, and even a theoretically sophisticated piece such as Susan Lord's on the collectively named Women's Labour History Project credits the director in editorial (usually collaborative) decisions.

Even so, as the first book of scholarship to deal with class in Canadian cinema, this is a welcome volume.

Kay Armatage
Cinema Studies Institute, University of Toronto


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pp. 194-195
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