The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview


New Concepts of Cinema


As the cinema has changed, so have the ideas in terms of which it was discussed and written about. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a revolution in film criticism and theory. Starting in the world of specialist magazines, it went on to affect both journalistic and academic writing on the cinema and to influence many aspects of filmmaking, not only at the margins but also in the mainstream.

Like any such revolution, its effects were only partially irreversible. The bolder insights of the new writing failed to find general acceptance, while many originally radical ideas became routinized and academicized with the spread of film studies in the universities and the dwindling interaction between academic study and world outside.

To make sense of the revolution it is perhaps convenient to divide it into a number of distinct but overlapping stages. As each stage was consolidated so it became possible either to build on its achievements or to reject its limitations and head off a new direction. Events did not always precisely follow the order suggested here, and there were other tendencies at work, but a division into three or four stages demonstrates a certain logic in what, at the time, seemed a very confusing set of developments.

The first stage, beginning in the early 1960s, involved a general revaluation of the artistic values of mainstream cinema, and Hollywood in particular, stressing the contribution of individual auteurs and greatly extending the boundaries of what could be regarded as film art. This was followed, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by a Marxistinfluenced critique of that same cinema, downplaying the role of individual artists and seeing the cinema as a cracked ideological monolith, in which the cracks, interesting though they were, never seemed sufficient to challenge the general ideological character of cinema as a whole. Analysis of the ideological operations of cinema then in turn produced two contrasting developments. Acceptance of the ideological critique led to ideas of a 'counter-cinema', and of subversive practices within the mainstream, as a way of escaping the ' Hollywood-Mosfilm' monolith. Another school of thought, however, increasingly came to assert that the fissures were after all more important than the monolith and that the reception of films was a more complex and open-ended process than the ideological critics maintained.


Much of what passed for film theory in the 1940s and 1950s consisted of barely re-examined assumptions about film art inherited from the aesthetics of the silent period. The core of this theory was a notion of filmic specificity as located in the image, either singly or in juxtaposition through montage. The main difference of opinion concerned the status given to the photographic image. Some writers (and film-makers) saw it as inherently manipulable, so that the art of film consisted in the degree to which it could be transformed to produce new meanings and effects, while others located the specific difference of film in its subordination to the demands of reality as captured by the camera. Sound was seen as having added additional possibilities of counterpoint to basic imagistic values, but also, on the alternative view, as helping the cinema fulfil its inherent vocation for realism. Film theory was also very much oriented towards art practice, and to the idea of making films, in some nebulous way, more artistic. Emphasis was put on the effects the film-maker wanted to produce, rather than on the spectator's reading of them.


Film theory as it existed in the 1950s tended to privilege films which were either self-consciously artistic or which used the supposed realism of the photographic image to psychological or social effect. It had relatively little to say about the great majority of mainstream films which were neither conspicuously arty nor systematically realistic. Critics admired Welles and Ford, but not Hawks or Preminger. Since individuality was prized, and the studio system was thought to value repetition and formula over originality, the qualities of genre films were often overlooked. A first stage in the critical and theoretical revolution, therefore, consisted in the affirmation of genre films in general and of directors working within a genre framework which disciplined and channelled their individuality. With this came a recognition of on the one hand the thematic richness of the Hollywood movie in general


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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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