The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

because their personal tastes took them in bizarre and definitely non-canonical directions, sometimes because they argued that the idea of a canon was by definition dangerously élitist.

This creates severe difficulties for a proper understanding of cinema. First, a canon continues to exist -- but by default and determined more by the vagaries of fashion and the accidents of availability than by any form of reasoned argument. Secondly, in default of such argument the idea of the importance of cinema itself is undermined. If any film can be as important as any other, and if quasihistorical or idiosyncratically personal judgements take the place of aesthetic reasoning, it is open to anyone to challenge the purpose of taking films seriously in the first place. There has to be a sense of what the cinema has achieved over the past hundred years, and where to look to find the evidence of its achievement. This achievement takes the form of works which can endure, and which, having spoken in one way to audiences at one time, can pose new challenges to judgement now and in the future.

No canon, however, can be eternally fixed, nor should a film canon be allowed to degenerate, as the literary canon has tended to do, into an invocation of lists of authors -- generally dead, white, and male -- whose works are supposedly beyond challenge. Fortunately in the case of cinema this is unlikely to happen. For a start film studies has convincingly established the argument that cinema's achievement is not, or not solely, a matter of authors and that many key works, particularly in the classic Hollywood cinema, are as much a product of the system as of any individual (both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz experienced changes of directors in mid-stream)., Secondly the film-critical apparatus has always been internationalist, and critics have always striven-and hopefully always will -- to promote the values of the alternative against the mainstream and the Third World against the industrial and cultural domination of the First.

The question of women's cinema is more problematic. Women's power in the cinema has always been more as consumers than as producers and establishing that women film-makers have had an important, if neglected, part to play in creating cinema has to a certain extent been an anti-canonical (or counter-canonical) exercise, in opposition to dominant values. But the argument put forward here in favour of canons is not an argument in favour of closing ranks around the status quo. Rather it is an argument in favour of argument, in favour of declaring and defending reasons for aesthetic and other choices.


Andrew, J. Dudley ( 1976), The Major Film Theories.

Barthes, Roland ( 1967), Elements of Semiology.

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

Elsaesser, Thomas ( 1972), "Tales of Sound and Fury".

Metz, Christian ( 1971), Language and Cinema.

Mulvey, Laura ( 1975), "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema".

Wollen, Peter ( 1972), "Counter-cinema: Vent d'est".

---- ( 1972), Signs and Meaning in the Cinema.

The Resurgence of Cinema


At various times and in various parts of the world since the 1960s it has often seemed as if the cinema was in a state of irreversible decline. The evidence was there in the form of dwindling attendances, less variety of films to be seen, and-most visibly -- in the sad sight of former picture palaces boarded up, demolished to make way for parking lots, or converted to use as bingo halls, bowling alleys, or warehouses, Less visible, but equally disturbing, has been a sense that cinema has lost its centrality, particularly in Europe, yielding ground to other media and cultural forms.

Yet closer examination suggests that the decline is only apparent, both in quantity and in quality. The cinema has changed. It has changed character, and it has changed location. But having just completed its first century of existence, it is entering the second very much alive.

During this second century it will undoubtedly be very different, if only because its environment -- that of television, video, and emerging forms of multimedia -- is also changing. But certainly for the foreseeable future it will continue to survive and to develop as a distinct artistic and entertainment medium, offering irreplaceable forms of experience to audiences whether numbered in their thousands or in their millions.


To start with the most obvious signs of the cinema's reputed decline: it is certainly true that the number of theatres has been dwindling, particularly in the inner cities and (most sadly) in many small and even mediumsized towns which now have no cinemas at all. But the larger theatres that have survived have in many cases


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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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