Capital and popular cinema

The dollars are coming!

Valentina Vitali
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While post-war popular cinema has traditionally been excluded from accounts of national cinemas, the last fifteen years have seen the academy’s gradual rediscovery of cult and, more, generally, popular films. Why, many years after their release, do we now deem these films worthy of study? The book situates ‘low’ film genres in their economic and culturally specific contexts (a period of unstable ‘economic miracles’ in different countries and regions) and explores the interconnections between those contexts, the immediate industrial-financial interests sustaining the films, and the films’ aesthetics. It argues that the visibility (or not) of popular genres in a nation’s account of its cinema is an indirect but demonstrable effect of the centrality (or not) of a particular kind of capital in that country’s economy. Through in-depth examination of what may at first appear as different cycles in film production and history – the Italian giallo, the Mexican horror film and Hindi horror cinema – Capital and popular cinema lays the foundations of a comparative approach to film; one capable of accounting for the whole of a national film industry’s production (‘popular’ and ‘canonic’) and applicable to the study of film genres globally.

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‘Capital and Popular Cinema … makes a convincing case for a more politically engaged form of film studies: For the study of films cannot be reduced to the chronicling of films and cinema. It emerged as a radical, intellectual endeavour to figure out how, precisely, industrial cultural artefacts condition our everyday lives, and, with that aesthetic understanding, to arrive at a clearer sense of where we may want to be heading. (p. 167) The comparative model at the heart of the book also responds to the acknowledged need to reshape national film historiography in order to interrogate the impact of transnational flows and exchanges. Given the importance of the distinct national contexts of Italy, Mexico and India within Vitali's model, however, this is not an approach to the transnational that downplays the importance of the nation state but rather positions the national within a comparative framework. Indeed, the book concludes with a discussion of possible future case studies on Spain, Germany, Turkey and Nigeria so it is clear that this is a project that takes seriously Paul Willemen's call for a truly comparative film studies, and has considerable potential for further development beyond this initial monograph.'
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