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Reviewed by:
  • Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies by Annette Kuhn & Guy Westwell
  • Sylvie Magerstädt
Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies Annette Kuhn & Guy Westwell. Oxford University Press, 2012. 516 pages; $18.99 paperback

While browsing through this handy little volume I found myself reflecting on the difficulty of reviewing a dictionary. The reason is not so much that there is naturally no consistent narrative or [End Page 111] argument to comment on but rather that in my view the usefulness of this work will only really be evident over time. It is a book to be dipped in and out off rather than read in a continuous fashion and it remains to be seen how often I will come back to it when reading and writing about film.

That said, there are a number of arguments that can be made in favour of this new Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies. I actually did put it to the test and used it for a range of different tasks that I frequently set for my students in film classes, such as finding definitions for a range of film styles and genres, which they can then apply to their analysis. In addition, I also used it for some of my own current research projects to see how useful it could be. For example, I am currently completing a monograph on contemporary Science Fiction cinema. Here, the dictionary enabled me to quickly confirm background information and details on digital technologies, such as up-to-date terminology and ideas for further fields of investigation. In both cases the dictionary proved a helpful and informative source.

What makes this book different from other dictionaries on film is that it is a dictionary of film studies and thus includes the historical, technical as well as theoretical dimension of cinema. It covers standard industry terms and aspects as well as key concepts in film theory and analysis, such as Apparatus Theory, Psychology and Structuralism to name a few. There are also a range of interesting features to this book, such as the recommendation of websites for further reading. At first, I was disappointed that the links were not directly given in the book, so that the reader first has to go to the publisher’s website, find the section and then click on the relevant link. However, I realised that this might be beneficial as it allows the publisher to update links regularly, for example when websites move, which I hope is the plan.

In terms of content, I did like the fact that the dictionary displays the international dimension of cinema prominently, with a wide range of national cinema covered, including such lesser-known, small film industries as those in Algeria, Bolivia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Ukraine. Some of the categories, however, are a bit incongruous. For example, there are two different sections for ‘Asian Epic Cinema’ and ‘Asian Cinema’, but the latter includes a number of different industries. Sometimes different national cinemas are simply linked. Thus, under ‘Bangladesh cinema’ you will only find the reference – ‘see Pakistan’ which might make cinematic sense but might also upset some filmmakers and scholars in the respective countries.

Special boxes on key themes are another interesting and innovative feature of the book, providing a little more in-depth information on certain topics. Examples include such diverse subjects as Auteur Theory, Digital Cinema, Philosophy and Film, Realism and Production. Again, the selection of what to place in focus seems a bit random at times and occasionally ordinary entries such as ‘The Studio System’ or ‘Music’ are just as long and in-depth as these ‘featurettes’. In general, while browsing through the book I got the impression that its authors remain somewhat undecided about whether to offer a short index of film studies themes or a more in-depth handbook. Naturally, this is always a challenge when compiling a dictionary like this, so it seems futile to criticise Kuhn and Westwell for minor shortcomings.

Overall, what impressed me about the work is how up-to-date it is, including at least brief references on the latest developments both in terms of technology and theory, such as providing information on media conversion...


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pp. 111-112
Launched on MUSE
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