European Cinema

Thomas Elsaesser, European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005) 566 pp.

book coverIn most countries of Western Europe, and especially in Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Italy, the 1990s have seen a lively debate about the future of national cinema traditions. No longer can one assume the existence of distinct national styles, as they were once confidently identified with Italian neo-realism, with France's nouvelle vague, the New German Cinema, or with internationally famous art-cinema directors like Antonioni, Bergman, Losey, Fassbinder and Greenaway.

In the face of renewed competition from Hollywood since the early 1980s and the challenges posed to the idea of national identity by the end of the Cold War in 1989, film-making in Europe has become an anxious art.

Has European cinema, in the age of globalisation, lost contact with the world at large, as well as with its own audiences? Between the thriving festival circuit and the obligatory late-night television slot, is there still an audience and a public sphere for European films? Can the cinema be the appropriate medium for a multicultural Europe and its migrating Multitudes? Is there a division of representational labour, with Hollywood providing stars and spectacle, the Asian countries exotic colour and choreographed action, and Europe a sense of history, place and memory?

The essays brought together in European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood present a broader understanding and give a more nuanced picture of the forces at work. They re-examine the conflicting terminologies that have to dominated (or troubled) the discussion, include the notion of 'the nation', as in 'national cinema', and the idea of the artist as creator of a unique vision, at the core of 'auteur-cinema'. They also take a fresh look at the ideological agendas, extending from politically and formally oppositional practices, such as 'avant-garde cinema', to the high/low culture debate, as in 'art cinema' vs 'Hollywood entertainment'. The book is also a reminder that Europeans have frequently had a shaping influence on the way Americans regard their own cinema and renew their own filmmaking.

Sections such as 'National Cinema; Definitions and New Directions', 'Europe Hollywood Europe', 'Border-Crossings: European Filmmaking without a Passport' and 'Europe Haunted by History and Empire' give a far-reaching, yet detailed insight into the changing configurations. What used to be mainly seen as an art form, perfected by individuals, has increasingly emerged as an important cultural practice for groups and communities to negotiate trans-national identities and inter-cultural narratives. A concluding chapter on 'European cinema as world cinema' puts these issues in a historical perspective, highlights key developments since 2000, while also suggesting some new theoretical departures.

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