- Encountering Modernity, and: South African National Cinema
We should perhaps not judge books by covers designed by people other than their authors, but the images on these two books offer a remarkably accurate preview of the content and organization of each. South African National Cinema is adorned by a portrait of the young Dolly Rathebe in Jim Comes to Joburg (1949), the first film to appeal albeit ambiguously to a black urban audience and thus to anticipate the constitution of this audience as the collective subject of modern South Africa even as the advent of apartheid denied blacks the rights of citizens. Rathebe, who died in 2005, returns near the end of this book, in Waiting for Valdez (2002), as the grandmother in a postapartheid vignette of a boy’s life set in the high apartheid era of the 1970s. While Rathebe’s image thus anchors the beginning and end points of South African National Cinema, the collage of film stills, camera equipment, and [End Page 166] fragments of South African and global culture, from an ox-wagon to the stylized fist of the protest poster, on the cover of Encountering Modernity matches the motley combination of history and autobiography, reflection, and invective that characterizes this book.
Tomaselli’s contribution to the study of South African film and other media is considerable. As a filmmaker as well as a critic, Tomaselli combined the historical analysis of apartheid and anti-apartheid institutions with accounts of a diverse body of films. The Cinema of Apartheid remains influential inside and outside South Africa; the sheer collection of titles from archives and the anti-apartheid movement made this book an indispensable reference for further research. Tomaselli’s work as editor of Critical Arts grounded the fields of media and mass and popular culture in South Africa. The present book, whose subtitle alludes to the diversity of South African cinemas, reworks several articles, which range beyond South Africa to include not only African cinema but key films from other points in the global South such as Brazil.
The range is impressive but the organization of the book and of individual chapters seems driven by local prompts in texts by colleagues, especially Ntongela Masilela whose foreword praises Tomaselli and the pioneering research of Thelma Gutsche, author of the first book on South African cinema, rather than by the chrono-logic of his earlier book or by the systematic investigation of theoretical concepts. Chapters one and two anticipate the analysis of modernity implied by the book’s title but the first moves rapidly from citations of one or two sources such as John and Jean Comaroff to a summary of film scholarship from Gutsche on, while the second offers an account of Tomaselli’s formation as a filmmaker, which, while interesting, seems out of place under the subheading “into postmodernism” without any systematic definition of this slippery term. Chapter three promises to “grapple with the new South Africa” but, after brief remarks about new films like Forgiveness (Gabriel, 2004) and Coming to South Africa (Louwrens and Ike, 2003) and hints about important new relations of production, including the collaboration between Nigerians and South Africans on the latter film, Tomaselli returns to anti-apartheid films that he has discussed elsewhere. Chapter five, on orality in African cinema, is more substantial, adding to the original article published in RAL an application of Walter Ong’s concept of “secondary orality” (87) not only to film but other media such as radio’s mediation of “pre-radio patterns of speech” (89). Despite these insights, the juxtaposition of films from quite different locations and modes of production and of theories likewise hailing from different discursive contexts tends to distract even the insider reader and will unfortunately baffle newcomers to the field.
In contrast, Maingard’s book addresses both the expert and the student of film. Published in Routledge’s National Cinema series, it takes a chronological approach, beginning with De Voortrekkers (1916) and...