The Persistence of the Political: Films, Festivals and Looking Back

By Forsyth, Scott | CineAction, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

The Persistence of the Political: Films, Festivals and Looking Back


Forsyth, Scott, CineAction


Looking thirty, years back in the life of CineAction is daunting, if not aging. It is a record of significant accomplishment, contributions to scholarly discourse on virtually any film subject across those thirty years, an archive of critical debate and interpretation, always with an expansive sense of film's vast history.

We always aimed to have a wider, popular engagement than the academy, although clearly our writers contributed to film scholarship, and many articles over the years were reprinted or revised for collections and books. We began with the proud subtitle A Magazine of Radical Criticism and the proclamation of varied commitments, across what was always a diverse collective, to socialism, feminism, gay liberation--as was then said--and Marxism. For me, my Marxist commitments remain the same. But clearly, the magazine moderated its presentation, became more respectable and academic. Despite our editorial injunctions about style and avoiding footnotes, our contents adapted to the institutionalization of film studies that deepened over those years.

Over thirty, years, changes and developments in the world of film and media have been constant and complex. This issue features several discussions that rise to the challenge of assessment and contextualization of both continuity and rupture. Some things don't seem to have changed all that much however. CineAction always placed a strong emphasis on the political and aesthetic analysis of Hollywood classic and contemporary--and our first few issues had several considerations of formal and ideological features of the Hollywood of the eighties. Robin Wood outlined key reactionary trends in what he called Dominant Tendencies. That influential assessment is updated in this issue. I contributed a discussion of Hollywood's ideological contradictions and persistent liberalism and briefly considered the formal features of what was clearly becoming the prevailing commodity form of corporate Hollywood--the blockbuster. None of these analyses seem out of place in the High Concept Hollywood of the twenty-first century as we watch another Rocky or Red Dawn, wait for the female Ghostbusters or line up for the latest superhero franchise installment. Indeed, a book shelf of recent studies of the formal and ideological features of global and industrial Hollywood seem to be consistent with those thirty- year- old discussions.

It is also striking how persistently our writers and editors have maintained a dedication to the political in our themes and criticism. The voice may be moderated but over the years, and over several waves of critics and scholars, we have constantly returned to the politics of film. Issues on feminism, sexual politics, queer cinema, imperialism and globalization, race and racism, documentary and social movements have consistently focused on radical critique. Indeed, we have repeated our focus on the politics of criticism in multiple issues. As well, our many issues on diverse genres always emphasized the political possibilities and complexities of popular film, while attendant to changes in performance, style and conventions too. Looking at several issues on genre I edited--Horror, Global Apocalypse, Science Fiction, Fantasy and CGI--clearly showed how critics like Robin Wood had politicized a generation of genre criticism.

We also consistently highlighted Canadian films in regular issues, helping development of a cohort of young Canadian critics and scholars. Writers and articles from CineAction are prominent in many of the books and collections that have marked a boom in Canadian film studies in recent years. …

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