OATs 2020: Cinema Studies

This week's sneak peek from our 202 Outstanding Academic Titles list: Books about film and cinema studies

Enjoy this week’s select snippet from the Choice 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list.

1. The looking machine: essays on cinema, anthropology and documentary filmaking
MacDougall, David. Manchester University Press, 2019

Filmmaker and scholar David MacDougall (Australian National Univ., Canberra) has gathered essays about cinema, anthropology, and documentary filmmaking that speak to the sensory relationship between viewers and filmmaker, and the difficulty viewers have finding ways to become independent of the movies they are experiencing. The author divides the 12 essays into three parts: “Filmmaking as Practice,” “Film and the Senses,” and “Film, Anthropology and the Documentary Tradition.” These deal with, respectively, the filmmaker’s eye and mind and their connection to the life experience of the general public; the “ways that images and sounds evoke emotions and physical sensations”; and the power of documentary in representing public and academic life. The essays concern dislocation, the art of looking, the importance of color, the need for observation, and so on, as connected to anthropology and the cinema. Though slightly disjointed, the work is easy to follow, and MacDougall’s thesis—watching movies is an overtly created human experience—easy to see. MacDougall is masterful in writing succinctly about how audiences and their bodies connect to the films that they are watching.
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2. The movie musical!
Basinger, Jeanine. Knopf, 2019

The movie musical has had a turbulent history of ups and downs in Hollywood, going from popular to unpopular to popular again in a recent resurgence. From the escapist films of the world war period to animated film to present-day originals (e.g., La La Land, 2016) and remakes of standards (e.g., Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake of A Star Is Born), musicals have permeated film culture and drawn audiences. In The Movie Musical! respected film scholar Jeanine Basinger (Wesleyan Univ.) defines and discusses the true musical film, which is not a film that includes music but a film that uses song and dance as part of the plot. Throughout this journey, Basinger discusses Hollywood’s evolving approach to the musical film, starting with early sound pictures and continuing through films of the present day. View on Amazon

3. The origins of the film star business: persona, publicity and economics in early cinema
Shail, Andrew. Bloomsbury Academic, 2019

Shail (Newcastle University, UK) has written a comprehensive analysis tracing the early days of the film industry and the development of the star system. Drawing on exhaustive archival research, Shail simultaneously builds on the scholarship of Richard deCordova (CH, Mar’91, 28-3794) and proposes new understandings of the early star systems of cinema in Europe. By detailing the emergence of the star system in Europe—and how its formative years differ from Richard deCordova’s account of the origins of the star system in North America—Shail corrects assumptions about the European star system while also expanding on deCordova’s pioneering work. The Origins of the Film Star System includes an impressive bibliography and reproductions of rarely seen publicity photographs and posters. Shail also presents his findings through diagrams and charts, transforming the data into an accessible, graphic form.
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4. Nightmares in the dream sanctuary: war and the animated film
Kornhaber, Donna. Chicago, 2020

In this substantial work, Kornhaber (English, Univ. of Texas, Austin) looks at how animated films, both feature length and short, have treated war—its causes and its consequences—revealing a shocking, poignant, and surprising history of inhumanity. Ranging across a century of films—from Winsor McCay’s silent Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) to Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008)—Kornhaber provides an insightful analysis of the invisible and unthinkable aspects of global warfare, from Czechoslovakia to China. Parodies of dictators, idiosyncratic parables of war, antiwar propaganda, and narratives on nuclear annihilation communicate the horrific lived experience of war by bearing unique witness through the animated film. The author shows the power of animation to reorder the world and expose human cruelty and idiocy. She is strategic in dividing her study into films of resistance, made obliquely under the tyrannies of Nazi Germany and Communist dictatorships; films of pacifism, such as Norman McLaren’s classic Neighbours (1952); and films of memory and memorial, piercing and heartbreaking works such as Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988).
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5. Documentary across platforms: reverse engineering media, place and politics
Zimmerman, Patricia Rodden. Indiana, 2019

This exciting volume, magnificently illustrated in color, cannot be adequately described in so brief a review. Seventh in a series produced by its distinguished editors (both, Virginia Commonwealth Univ.), the book is unlike its predecessors, which focused on medieval and early modern art in and from Islamic lands. Here the concentration is on the very recent past and the contemporary scene. The volume includes contributions by important collectors and patrons, interviews with several contemporary artists working in Islamic countries and in the diasporas of Europe and the US, and stimulating essays by important scholars. Topics include architecture, photography, cinema, and painting, and the geographic range is broad, including the Arab world from Morocco to Iraq, Iran, Australia, and Southeast Asia. One of many highlights for this reviewer was the conversation with Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander, who draws on historical styles and subjects of classical Islamic painting of the Indian subcontinent to produce phantasmagoric images presenting a transnational feminist perspective.
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