The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

themes and motifs from that of the 1930s. In the 1930s it was the supply of liquor in Chicago's East Side that was at issue. In the 1950s the fate of a nation was under threat externally from the Russians, or internally from the Mafia in films whose stories were taken not from the front pages of the nation's newspapers but from the Kefauver Commission on Crime.

Meanwhile, in the American cinema generally, socially oriented films turned increasingly inwards, to courtship, marriage, the family, and domestic issues. Sexuality, too, in a variety of repressed yet explicit ways ( Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson) became the centre of attraction of a whole range of films. As a result of these shifts in concerns, the classic narrative strategies perfected by the gangster films of the 1930s and films noir of the 1940s no longer seemed to have an outlet. Instead, the shift to domesticity produced a new focus for the perennial interest in crime and criminality, in the form of films about teenagers and young delinquents and their relationships to authority and to their families. The underworld had found its way into the American home.


Cameron, Ian ( 1975), A Pictorial History of Crime Films.

Cook, Pam, and Johnston, Claire ( 1974), "The Place of Women in the Films of Raoul Walsh".

Denning, Michael ( 1987), Mechanic Accents.

Tyler, Parker ( 1947), Magic and Myth of the Movies.

Warshaw, Robert ( 1948), "The Gangster as Tragic Hero".

The Fantastic



According to French director François Truffaut, the history of the cinema follows two lines of descent, one deriving from Lumière and basically realistic, and the other deriving from Méliès and involving the creation of fantasy. Though the division is historically dubious, it is nevertheless possible to draw a broad distinction between films (and film genres) which operate generally within the confines of verisimilitude -- events which happen according to natural possibilities-and those which defy or extend verisimilitude by portraying events which fall outside natural confines.

The types of film which modern audiences would most readily identify as falling into the second category are, broadly, three: horror, science fiction (SF), and fantasy adventure. These are perceived as distinct genres which have in common the fact that each imaginatively constructs alternative -- 'fantastic' -- worlds and tells stories of impossible experiences that defy rational logic and currently known empirical laws. Furthermore, by exploiting the fantastic elements of their narratives and by utilizing and foregrounding a range of cinematic practices identified as 'special effects', all three genres tend to make these worlds and experiences ostentatiously concrete and visible. All three, quite literally, 'realize' the imagination. 'Horror,' writes Tom Hutchison ( 1974), 'is the appalling idea given sudden flesh; science fiction is the improbable made possible within the confines of a technological age.' And fantasy adventure and romance is the appealing and impossible personal wish concretely and objectively fulfilled.

More radically, however, it has been argued that most, if not all, films are in some respect fantasies, in that they produce illusions based on the manipulation of an original pro-filmic event by various forms of photographic and montage effect. Fantasy genres, therefore, represent a special case of what is, and always has been, a general characteristic of cinema as a whole. Certainly much early cinema was reflexively fascinated by its own 'fantastic' subversion of the physical laws of space-time and causality to which spectators were subjected. It recognized the medium's inherent illusionism and 'trickality', first in plotless displays of cinematic magic and then in narratives that foregrounded the cinema's ability to realize alternative spatio-temporal frameworks and 'impossible' experiences. A film like Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon ( 1902) enacts the transformation of the cinema as an impossible world constituted by special effects into a cinema about impossible worlds with special properties. It was only later that the cinema's ontological trickality was displaced into fantastic narratives and commercially exploited in the genres to which the name fantasy is attached. Meanwhile in the more ordinary run of films (which often employ many of the same artificial studio techniques as their fantasy counterparts), the trick element is suppressed and artifice is concealed as nature.

It is worth asking, in this context, why certain other types of film in which non-naturalistic elements are predominant -- avant-garde films, animation, musicals, and biblical epics for example -- are not generally included in the generic category of fantasy. An answer to this question is quite revealing about the way the cinema operates,


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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