- Cinemas of the World: Film and Society from 1895 to the Present Day (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 82-83
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature Mr. Blue's book illuminates every aspect of that Golden Age, bringing to life those turbulent moments where celebrities were always heard, but rarely seen. Robert Fyne Kean University RJFyne@aol.com James Chapman. Cinemas of the World: Film and Society from 1895 to the Present Day. Reaktion Books, 2003. 480 pages; $29.95, £19.95. Back into the Picture One way of looking at the relationship between the film industry of the United States and those of other nations is to see Hollywood as an occidental Godzilla rampaging across the globe and eating up the national cinemas in its path, while those cinemas fight back, like pygmies, with futile, home crafted weapons . These consist of alternative styles, such as German Expressionism, or Italian Neo-Realism, or they are forged by great auteurs, like Ozu, Satyajit Ray and Jean Renoir. The assumption is that Godzilla is a monster of mass produced rubbish, while the trampled lands are home to a contrasting innovation and art. Not so, says James Chapman, a senior lecturer in Film and Television at the Open University in the United Kingdom; this view overemphasizes the importance of the art house in the history of international films: "Popular genres, such as musicals, comedies, romances and thrillers have been staples of most national cinemas, produced in the local idiom for domestic consumption . Yet these indigenous traditions ofpopular cinemahave been written out offilm history due to the continuing prevalence ofaesthetic assumptions about 'art' and 'quality' andculturalprejudices against the 'popular'." One of the aims of this bulky comparative analysis ofworldcinemais toputcommercialfilmmaking back into the picture, to present a nation's output not only as a cultural, social, orpolitical enterprise, but also as aproduct working within the market place. In doing this, Chapman brings to light some stimulating perspectives, especiallyforthose ofus who still labour under the delusion that non-American film is automatically a more highbrow exercise. The most important point to emerge is the extraordinary diversity of entertainment films worldwide. The Hindi cinema of India is one example. Chapman shows how, despite an uncertain financial base, and a chaos of production companies, this branch ofthe industry has sustained a large and varied output; India, as a whole, can sometimes rival the Hollywood giants in terms of the number of films it turns out a year. The difference is, however, that many of these shows do not make it into mainstream international distribution, although they do a lively trade on DVD and VHS with Indian communities in other countries. Most intriguingly, the Hindi genres - "mythologicals", "devotionals ," "historicals," and "socials"—work on entirely different principles from the film currently playing at your local multiplex. This is a cinema, Chapman notes, "of excess, a cinema of stylization:" music is a crucial component (if a film is in trouble, producers think about changing the songs rather than the script), and the industry's stars have a heightened, aristocratic quality not seen in America since the lost days of the studio system . Above all, the work is rooted in specifically Indian traditions of storytelling and popular communal entertainment, styles that are now seeping into, and giving extra life to, Hollywood products like Moulin Rouge! Only now, Chapman argues, is this aspect of Indian cinema being studied with the seriousness that has been granted to more western-friendly figures like Ray. The irony is that, though filmmakers outside Europe may hit the big time by winning prizes on the international festival circuit, or tickle the fancy of the art house crowd, they have not always been successful in their country oforigin. The irony deepens when state subsidy is involved, particularly when it's supplied by authoritarian regimes. For instance, Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1993, but was twice banned and twice unbanned by the Chinese censors before it was finally shown to the home audience four years later. These absurdities, Chapman points out, are rooted in the fact that governments are happy to back films that might garner critical prestige overseas, but they are less keen if that prestige puts ideas into the minds of the local population. In her heyday, Baroness Thatcher might...