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Reviewed by:
  • A Companion to the War Film ed. by Douglas Cunningham and John Nelson
  • J. Davis Winkie
Cunningham, Douglas and Nelson, John, eds. A Companion to the War Film. Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons, 2016.

Considered as a whole, editors Douglas A. Cunningham and John C. Nelson's A Companion to the War Film does not have the same coherence of preceding edited volumes on the genre, such as Peter Rollins and John O'Connor's Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History. But this book's lack of a constraining theme (beyond "war") is arguably what allowed the editors to collect and curate path-breaking essays that foreshadow new directions for the study of war films. To be fair, Cunningham informally organizes the book into "five areas of interest" in a short introduction: "the war film and history; the historiography of the war film as a genre; race and gender issues in the war film; the war film outside the Anglophonic imagination; and the war film as experienced through alternative media and/or genres" (3-4). But this volume's contribution rests in the chaos–twenty-five excellent essays offering new approaches and new topics in a genre "largely mired in examinations of Hollywood [combat] films on World War II and the Vietnam War" (3).

Some of the field's established scholars buttress the collection. Jeanine Basinger reexamines depictions of women in wartime WWII movies, arguing that the era's films "elevated women to the rank of 'female soldier'" and "showed them to behave in the new era," thus making them "equal to [men]" in the movies and real life on the home front (104). Robert Eberwein digs into the intertextuality presented by the use of classic war music with visual representations of war, describing the integrated experience as "the musical, auditory equivalent of a palimpsest" (6).

But some of A Companion to the War Film's best contributions come from a diverse set of authors whose home institutions span the globe. Tanine Allison explains how the military's contemporary collaboration with Hollywood producers has helped sci-fi and superhero films supplant traditional war films as the moral heirs to the "good war" tradition. Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet's essay, "Is There Such a Thing as an Anti-War Film?" deconstructs tropes of ostensibly anti-war films, concluding that even "the increased realism, cynicism, and critical dimension of recent war cinema has done little to disenchant and discredit war in our time" (418). Kaustav Bakshi and Ramit Samaddar demonstrate that "a blatant anti-Pakistan rhetoric started to infiltrate Bollywood dramas" following the 1999 Kargil War between the two nations (180), but only because of "the political environment and the demands of the market" (195).

Other scholars in the volume break free of the feature film as their subject of analysis. Deborah Jaramillo writes about the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, explaining that it brought the day-to-day struggles of USMC grunts into the intimate spaces of economically privileged HBO subscribers. The miniseries thus "challenged the theretofore [mutually] simplistic conceptualizations of the people who went to war and the people who watched it on television" (306). Leah Shafer uses a viral video of Israeli soldiers dancing to a Ke$ha song to consciously challenge the feature film paradigm of studying war movies. After a visual frame-by-frame analysis of the IDF squad's dance, Shafer declares, "[S]elf-reflexive intertextuality has become the lens through which we are fed images of war as well as the lens that soldiers are using to show us how they are consumed by war themselves" (335). Both Jaramillo and Shafer illuminate a new path forward for war film studies that integrates new considerations of time, place, space, and intertextuality. [End Page 68]

Thus this book has much to offer for scholars. As demonstrated, some of its essays offer new approaches for researchers. Others, such as John Garofolo's and John Nelson's respective contributions, would fit well on syllabi that explore the intersection of film and historical memory. Issues of organization notwithstanding, all scholars of war films & film history in general should consult its table of contents and consider...


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