- Globality without Totality in Art Cinema
It has been ten years since the publication of Global Hollywood, in which Toby Miller et al. characterize Hollywood not so much as a place but as a fundamentally international organization of cultural labor and resources. I mention this as a way of introducing Global Art Cinema: New Theories and Histories, edited by Rosalind Galt and Karl Schoonover, for two reasons. First, like many of the contributors to this collection, I take art cinema as purposefully differentiating itself from Hollywood cinema. Global Art Cinema takes a bold step toward understanding art cinema as having the same order of ambition and scope as does its commercial alternative. But in approaching the world's art cinemas globally, this collection faces different questions than concern Hollywood. Global Hollywood eschews formal analysis or textual interpretation in favor of critical political economy and cultural policy analysis. In claiming globality, Global Art Cinema is also forced to contend with the designation "art," which evokes a long history of ideas regarding cinema aesthetics. Even if we understand "art cinema" as produced by institutional arrangements and critical discourses, its claims to "art" status typically rely on some aesthetic criteria. Indeed, we might even understand art cinema's self-conscious formal deviations from Hollywood as part of its institutional differentiation from the mainstream.
"Difference," then, is key to Global Art Cinema, and this point is forcefully elaborated in the book's introduction, co-written by Galt and Schoonover. Drawing from the long and variable history of the type, it positions art cinema as an "elastically hybrid category" (3); the authors write that "the lack of strict parameters for art cinema is not just an ambiguity of its critical history, but a central part of its specificity, a positive way of delineating its discursive space" (6). Art cinema is thus a zone of cinematic alterity, which "always perverts the standard categories used to divide up institutions, locations, histories, or spectators" (6-7). Galt and Schoonover designate this internal difference as a productive "impurity" that destabilizes these zones.
This theoretical positioning could make the book appealing to scholars engaged in different kinds of cultural analysis, where there continue to be debates about "difference," alterity, and hybridity; more particularly, it will interest those who are concerned with cross-cultural exchange. Although the book is centrally about cinema, its terms of discussion are relevant to debates in literature and art history. In positioning global art cinema as internally different or impure, however, Galt and Schoonover also contend with other descriptions of the world's art cinemas; here I am thinking specifically of World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, edited by Nataša Ďurovičová and Kathleen Newman. In the preface to that volume, Ďurovičová singles out the rhetorical and political valences of the term "transnational," which she contrasts with the "global." She writes, "In contradistinction to 'global,' a concept bound up with the philosophical category of totality" (ix), the transnational facilitates analysis and understandings of "modalities of geopolitical forms, social relations and ... the variant scale on which relations in film history have occurred" (x). And it may be true that "transnational" has had more discursive purchase than "global" in recent scholarship, as scholars have looked for ways to describe the fluidity, mobility, and hybridity of contemporary culture in non-essentializing terms.
However, Galt and Schoonover's use of the term "global" does not obscure the highly varied terrain or ideological complexity of the world's art cinemas. Indeed, they make a compelling case for the geopolitical importance of art cinema. They assert that, along with their other impurities, art films are troubled and productively propelled by twin impulses to be different and yet also to be universally legible. Thus the punch line: "art cinema demands that we watch across cultures and see ourselves through foreign eyes" (11). In this formulation, art cinema does not make a claim of totality, but rather displaces us, dislocates us, and marks our lack of unification. Seen this way, global art cinema provides an exciting way to think through the heterogeneity of lived...