This article provides an introduction to this special section of James Baldwin Review 7 devoted to Baldwin and film. Jackson considers Baldwin’s distinct approach to film criticism by pairing him with James Agee, another writer who wrote fiction as well as nonfiction in several genres, and who produced a large body of film criticism, especially during the 1940s. While Agee, a white southerner born almost a generation before Baldwin, might seem an unlikely figure to place alongside Baldwin, the two shared a great deal in terms of temperament and vision, and their film writings reveal a great deal of consensus in their diagnoses of American pathologies. Another important context for Baldwin’s complex relationship to film is television, which became a dominant media form during the 1950s and exerted a great influence upon both the mainstream reception of the civil rights movement and Baldwin’s reception as a public intellectual from the early 1960s to the end of his life. Finally, the introduction briefly discusses the articles that constitute this special section.
The Position of Women in Post-War Japanese Cinema (Kinema Junpō,
Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernández and Irene González-López
In contrast to the canonical history of cinema and film theory, often dominated by
academic texts and Western and/or male voices, this article presents a casual
conversation held in 1961 between four of the most influential women in the post-war
Japanese film industry: Kawakita Kashiko,,Yamamoto Kyōko, Tanaka Kinuyo and Takamine
Hideko. As they openly discuss their gendered experience in production, promotion,
distribution and criticism, their thoughts shed light on the wide range of
opportunities available to women in filmmaking, but also on the professional
constraints,and concerns which they felt came along with their gender. Their
conversation reveals how they measured themselves and their national industry in
relation to the West; at times unaware of their pioneer role in world cinema. This
piece of self-reflexive criticism contributes to existing research on both womens
filmmaking and the industry of Japanese cinema, and invites us to reconsider
non-hegemonic film thinking practices and voices.
A Hollywood Love Story (as Written by James Baldwin)
D. Quentin Miller
Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work (1976) has proven challenging since its publication because readers and critics have trouble classifying it. The challenge may be related to a common feature of Baldwin criticism, namely a tendency to compare late career works to early ones and to find them lacking: the experimental nature of later works of nonfiction like No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) does not square easily with the more conventional essays that made Baldwin famous in his early years. I attempt to reframe The Devil Finds Work not through a comparison to other Baldwin essays, but rather through a comparison to his fiction, specifically the novel Giovanni’s Room. I posit that a greater appreciation for Devil can result from thinking of it as a story, specifically the story of a failed love affair.
Critics and Critical Practice at the Monthly Film Bulletin
Richard Lowell MacDonald
This article focuses on the Monthly Film Bulletin, a magazine devoted to what is
often regarded as the lowliest and most ephemeral form of film criticism: the film
review. Studying the Bulletins publication history, with a particular emphasis on the
1970s, the article challenges the dismissal of journalistically motivated film
criticism in academic discourse. It argues that the historical interest of the
Bulletins late period lies in its hybrid identity, a journal of record in which both
accurate information and personal evaluation coexisted as values, and in which a
polyphony of individual critical voices creatively worked through a routinised
reviewing practice and a generic discursive format.
Film theorists and philosophers have both contended that narrative fiction films
cannot present philosophical arguments. After canvassing a range of objections to
this claim, this article defends the view that films are able to present
philosophical thought experiments that can function as enthymemic arguments. An
interpretation of Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is
given in which the films criticism of the technology of memory erasure is just such a
thought experiment, one that functions as a counter-example to utilitarianism as a
theory for the justification of social practices.
This book aims to provoke increased interest in the work of the four directors:
Dominique Cabrera, Noémie Lvovsky, Laetitia Masson and Marion Vernoux, although
some of their early works have become more difficult to access, most of their
films remain commercially available through French distributors. The four
directors are not new arrivals and began making films in the early 1990s, yet
they have received scant critical attention in both popular and academic film
criticism. They share similar profiles in terms of box office success, number of
films made and generational affinities and, shorts and feature films in France.
They make films that straddle boundaries of categorisation and therefore escape
the quickly established and self-perpetuating groupings that serve as powerful
frameworks for popular access via DVD distribution, critical canonisation and
academic curricula. Whilst Cabrera attests her sanguine awareness of the
discriminatory treatment of women in all areas of the film industry she rejects
the suggestion that the process of her filmmaking is determined by sexual
difference or a gendered creative identity, asserting provocatively. The book
discusses Masson's use of romance and detective narratives to debunk the
former and subvert the later. The career path of Lvovsky remains distinctive
from that of other directors. Vernoux's oeuvre maintains a coherent focus
on the modes of transgression present within the generic conventions of comedy
and romance in films which exploit the common narrative device of the encounter
to propel narratives and characters across social boundaries within a dominant
generic focus on romantic comedy.
This book explores the role of mise-en-scene in melodrama criticism, and considers what happened to detailed criticism as major theoretical movements emerged in the 1970s. Mise-en-scene, and other ways of conceiving visual style, has been central to so many important debates that the writing examined in the book shaped the field in enduring ways. The book provides a cross-section of the British culture and its attitudes to film. It also considers a range of important contexts, from material conditions of film viewing (and therefore criticism) to the cultural and political shifts of 1956. The book further investigates the frequently asserted connection between literary criticism and the approaches developed in Movie. It identifies the range of different approaches to interpreting mise-en-scene advanced in Movie, drawing out sections on action, camera movement and placing, connections between different parts of the film, and a range of further debates. 'Tales of Sound and Fury' is an extraordinary article, and Elsaesser's appreciation of the plastic and expressive qualities of domestic melodrama and the broader melodramatic tradition is exemplary. In the early 1970s, writing on melodrama provided some of the richest expressions of mise-en-scene criticism. The book embodies a number of approaches which were to undermine the emergent interest in the interpretation of the film style. Melodrama criticism is a crucial focus for shifts in film criticism and theory, and for this history.
This book explores why Jack Clayton had made so few films and why most of them
failed to find a large audience. It examines the kind of criticism they
generated, sometimes adulatory but sometimes dismissive and even condescending.
The book hopes to throw light on certain tendencies and developments within the
film industry and of film criticism, the British film industry and film
criticism in particular. The fact that Clayton's films fit David
Bordwell's paradigm of the art film is one explanation why producers had
difficulty with him and why mainstream cinema found his work hard to place and
assimilate. Clayton's pictorial eye has sometimes antagonised critics: they
often take exception to some aspect of his mise-en-scene. Clayton had come to
prominence with Room at the Top, around the time of the British 'Free
Cinema' movement and immediately prior to the so-called British
'new-wave' films of the early 1960s from directors such as Tony
Richardson and John Schlesinger. Thorold Dickinson's evocation of the
Russian atmosphere and, in particular, his use of suspenseful soundtrack to
suggest ghostly visitation undoubtedly had an influence on Jack Clayton's
style in both The Bespoke Overcoat and The Innocents. The critical
controversy concerning the status of Jack Clayton as director and artist is
probably at its most intense over The Pumpkin Eater. Clayton stressed the
importance of an opening that established right away the situation of 'a
woman in crisis' but wanted to delay the Harrods scene so as to build up an
atmosphere of suspense.
This book offers an opportunity to reconsider the films of the British New Wave in the light of forty years of heated debate. By eschewing the usual tendency to view films such as A Kind of Loving and The Entertainer collectively and include them in broader debates about class, gender and ideology, it presents a new look at this famous cycle of British films. Refuting the long-standing view that films such as Billy Liar and Look Back in Anger are flawed and therefore indicative of an under-achieving national cinema, the book also challenges the widely held belief in the continued importance of the relationship between the British New Wave and questions of realism. Drawing upon existing sources and returning to unchallenged assumptions about British cinema, this book allows the reader to return to the films and consider them anew. In order to achieve this, the book also offers a practical demonstration of the activity of film interpretation. This is essential, because the usual tendency is to consider such a process unnecessary when it comes to writing about British films. The book demonstrates that close readings of films need not be reserved for films from other cinemas.
This book on Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman contains eighteen new scholarly chapters on the director’s work, mainly in the cinema. Most of the contributors—some Swedish, others American or British—have written extensively on Bergman before, some for decades. Bergman is one of the most written-about artists in film history and his fame still lingers all over the world, as was seen in the celebrations of his centenary in 2018. The book was specifically conceived at that time with the aim of presenting fresh angles on his work, although several chapters also focus on traditional aspects of Bergman’s art, such as philosophy and psychology. Ingmar Bergman: An Enduring Legacy thus addresses a number of essential topics which have not featured in Bergman studies before, such as the director’s relations with Hollywood and transnational film production. It also deals at length with Bergman’s highly sophisticated use of film music and with his prominence as a writer of autobiographical literature, as well as with the intermedial relations to his films that this perspective inevitably entails. Finally, the book addresses Bergman’s complex relations to Swedish politics. Many different approaches and methods are employed in the book in order to show that Bergman remains a relevant and important artist. The analyses generally focus on some of his most memorable films, like Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Persona, and Fanny and Alexander; but some rarer material, including Hour of the Wolf, The Lie, and Autumn Sonata, is discussed as well.