Outstanding Academic Titles 2021: Film Studies

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight an array of titles about Film Studies.

1. Egypt 1919: the revolution in literature and film
Ḥishmat, Dīn​ā. Edinburgh University Press, 2020

This is a welcome addition to the “Edinburgh Studies in Modern Arabic Literature” series. Fundamental to the work are two questions: Who controls the narrative? What happens to subaltern voices in the big historical accounts of events? Ḥishmat (American Univ. of Cairo) investigates the 1919 Egyptian revolt against British rule and the emergence of the dominant image associated with the so-called revolutionary moment, an event that is located in history as the birth of national unity and that inspires comparison with the 2011 Arab Spring. The thorough introduction interrogates all the parties involved in the dominant historiography—including political entities, elite women at the forefront of the struggle, and Saad Zaghloul, leader of the nationalist Wafd delegation—and the erasure of the peasants’ actions and demonstrations against socioeconomic injustices. In the seven chapters, the author uses novels, short stories, memoirs, plays, films, and drama series to demonstrate the key roles peasants and urban underprivileged played in the revolution of 1919. She concludes that canonical novels and films played a dominant role in the creation of the narrative of Egyptian nationalism. View on Amazon

2. American blockbuster: movies, technology, and wonder
Acland,Charles R. Duke, 2020

A crucial addition to the burgeoning scholarship on contemporary Hollywood cinema, this deeply researched, densely reasoned book explodes a number of well-worn myths about the blockbuster film while advancing a provocative new thesis about its role in modern society. Drawing on a wealth of historical data, Acland (communication studies, Concordia Univ., Canada) demonstrates conclusively that the origins of blockbuster cinema lie not in the 1970s—as critics pointing to the mammoth success of movies like Jaws have often argued—but in the 1950s with the creation of such Hollywood super-productions as Ben-Hur. During that decade, the appellation “blockbuster,” a WW II term meaning high-capacity bombs, was first applied to epic films and runaway hits. Acland’s most original and important insight, however, is that blockbuster cinema has always sought to showcase the technologies that make it possible; in doing so, it has helped normalize and stabilize the ideologies of the present technocratic era. View on Amazon

3. Legacies of the Drunken master: politics of the body in Hong Kong kung fu comedy films
White, Luke. Hawai’i, 2020

In this fascinating and fun exploration of the kung fu comedic body in Hong Kong cinema, White (visual culture and fine art, Middlesex Univ., UK) uses the 1978 film Drunken Master as a locus to engage a number of lenses, contextualizations, and comparatives on the influence and legacy of kung fu comedy. His goal is to help readers understand films from pre-handover Hong Kong, what they meant in their historic moment, and how they continue to generate new meaning in recent contexts, pointing toward future Utopian and dystopian possibilities. In the book’s six chapters White considers the aesthetic of kung fu comedy; the kung fu comedic body “as open and in constant transformation,” and thus as a metaphor for Hong Kong identity itself; violence in comedy; kung fu comedy as “hysterical resistance”; gender and masculinity; Confucianism, legacy, and the notion of “passing down” the influence and legacy of Bruce Lee’s “heroic body”; and parallels between early Hollywood comedy and kung fu comedy. View on Amazon

4. When the world laughs: film comedy East and West
Costanzo, William V. Oxford, 2020

Hunting down universals in comedy and finding the peculiarities in regional cinemas, When the World Laughs breaks down the borders of the sense of the comic and expands horizons. Costanzo teaches the reader about laughter, about crossing ethnic and cultural boundaries to learn about what the neighbors find funny. Beginning with The Dove (1968), a hilarious parody of the films of Ingmar Bergman, Costanzo guides the reader through a historical geography of this most popular genre. In part 1, “Frameworks and Foundations,” he explores what makes one laugh (why, when, and how), examining theories from Aristotle to Bergson, comic forms from slapstick to satire, archetypes like tricksters, and various techniques and tricks of movie comedy. The second part, “Local and Global Contexts,” focuses on eight diverse sites of regional and national comedies, from the UK and Scandinavia cinemas to Africa and East Asia.
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5Stanley Kubrick: American filmmaker
Mikics, David. Yale, 2020

In this excellent book Mikics (Univ. of Houston) delivers an insightful exposition on the life and work of Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick was an autodidact in all aspects of filmmaking, most notable for adapting challenging works of literature, expert direction of actors, and cinematography. Mikics emphasizes the filmmaker’s meticulous attention to the important elements of filmmaking: source text, script, acting, casting, cinematography, lighting, set and production design, sound, and music. That he made just twelve wonderfully diverse and intensely personal feature films in a 44-year career attests to his celebrated perfectionism and tireless absorption in his work—which contributed to his decline in health and sudden death. All but the first of those twelve films have had a palpable impact on world culture, independent filmmaking, and film scholarship. Kubrick’s relocation to England after filming Spartacus derived more from his aversion to air travel than to his rejection of the Hollywood culture, with which he maintained close connections. He engaged close friends, associates, collaborators, and acquaintances in hours-long, probing telephone conversations.
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