Literature Review Chapter: Concept of National Cinema

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National Cinema

The cinema and film is an art form that has existed since the first silent films saw the light. Today's manifestation of this type of entertainment takes many different forms. In the main stream of society, any person asked what type of film he or she prefers to see will focus on some sort of genre, such as romance or horror. Far less recognized is the fact that film is also connected to nationality. This fact is related to the growth and dominance of Hollywood many decades of the existence of the film industry. There has been, however, also a rise in the film industries of smaller nations, and especially those in Europe. Although a large number of these are highly dependent upon financial and loyalty endorsements from governments that are often concerned with matters other than their nations' filmmaking equipment, there has been a rise in the success and prowess of films coming from non-American states.

Hence, it has become necessary to distinguish what is meant by the concept of "national cinema." Questions of concern include whether a nation that has indulged in the art of filmmaking in any capacity can be said to have a sense of national cinema. Where are the boundaries when defining the concept of national cinema? If a nation, such as the United States, has indulged in many different film genres with many different subject matters, can this still be referred to as a sense of national cinema? Does this type of cinema have to focus on purely indigenous, national concerns, or can it also be used as a platform for displaying the technological skill and filmmaking prowess of national professionals, including actors, filmmakers, and other technical filmmaking personnel?

These Questions can be difficult to answer. However, a review of the existing literature on national cinema and what this does or does not entail could shed some light on some of the concerns when identifying what national cinema is and who can be said to have such a sense of an art form that is increasingly complicated, technical, and entertaining in nature.

The Origin and Growth of Cinema

Williams (2002) connects cinema with the ancient art of story telling. In ancient tribes, story telling has been used as a form of unifying the tribe and/or nation. As the world grew and developed, early nations used literature in the same way. According to Williams (2002, p. 3), the written word was an important component in developing nationalism in early, pre-industrial times. Specific forms of literature included not only story telling, in terms of novels, short stories, or poetry, but also disseminations of languages within a specific country. These might have included dictionaries and grammars, for example, to unify the nation by means of its linguistics as well as its ideas. Williams' premise is that the film industry, once this art form started developing on an international platform, was a continuation of the national tendency to use language and story telling in combination as a means of sculpting a unique identity within country borders. Williams uses this to emphasize the importance of recognizing the ongoing nature of the development of that nationalist ideal, not only by means of the written word, but also by means of cinema. He describes it as a dynamic process, which makes it rather difficult to pin down the nature of the ideal of a national cinema. However, before national cinema can be pinned down, it is useful to consider the concept of genre and how this influences the concept of nationality within the film industry.

Genre and National Cinema

Complicating the issue of national cinema is the concept of genre, which at first glance appear to be international. Certainly, a comedy is a comedy, or a horror includes several bloody, gory scenes. However, the way in which comedy, gore, or romance is presented must certainly be influenced by cultural ideals and values. Hence, while genre does indeed complicate the idea of national cinema, it in no way does away with the concept. What it does is add several dimensions to an existing and already complicated mode of understanding cinema and how it relates to nationality.

Altman (2012, p. 16), for example, explains that film genre is, in practice, dependent on the specific inter-action between the audience seeing a film and the studio that created it. The author follows this statement by emphasizing that film genres have not been created by any critical or historical organization, many of which so often claim to hold the almost holy scripts of history, written in stone and unchanging. Genre, on the other hand, is a fluid and dynamic component of film, created for audiences by studios catering for the changing needs and tastes of audiences over time. Hence, as the tastes and dynamic of nationalities change, so will film genres. Genres, having grown from this interaction, adhere not to national boundaries but rather to boundaries regarding their nature as a Western, horror, romance, drama, science fiction, or any of a myriad genres that exist today.

Altman (2012, p. 86) draws a close parallel between this idea of genre and the ideal of nationhood. The American nation, for example, is bound together not so much by its physical boundaries as by its system of values or ideals. It is a number of concepts that make a nation what it is. Hence, an American moving to Russia does not automatically change into a Russian as a result of being within a different set of physical boundaries. In the same way, a genre adheres to a set of principles rather than to any physical boundaries or historical occurrences. Both nationhood, values, and genres tend to be dynamic, influenced as they are by relationships and other external forces.

Taking this a step further, one might then consider the parallels between the values that bind a nation and those that bind a genre. They may be considered as similar in nature, being dynamic and independent of physical boundaries. Even further, one might consider the influence of genre and the national identity upon each other. Unique genres and sub-genres may, for example emerge from different nations, where a horror film in Italy may not mean exactly the same as a film of the same genre in China, for example. National audiences and tastes dictate the exact nature and principle of the same thing in different nationalities. It is therefore a very complex dynamic that changes both rapidly and frequently.

The Challenge Presented by Hollywood

Crofts (2008, p. 44) considers the challenge for national cinema as presented by Hollywood. This filmmaking city has dominated the industry worldwide since early in the 20th century. Hence, most Western films have been offset against the trend set by Hollywood. Indeed, between the years 1914 and 1945, Hollywood has grown to displace French filmmaking and dominate the industry worldwide. This creates an interesting conundrum for the United States and its national filmmaking identity. Can a country that houses a transnational film industry be said to have a sense of national identity in filmmaking? In early films, one might identify "American" values such as the white male as action or romantic hero. In more recent films, the anti-hero has become popular, while inclusiveness has created an industry where females and males of all colors, orientations, and creeds can be seen as acting as either hero or anti-hero. In this way, boundaries have blurred to include a myriad way of telling endlessly complicated stories, which has similarly blurred the boundaries of national identity when it comes to Hollywood, the film industry and a national identity constructed in this way for the United States.

However, Crofts (2008, p. 45) also points out that the growth and dominance of Hollywood has impacted other national cinemas as well. Indeed, the United States and Hollywood have created what Crofts refers to as an "unequal cultural and economic exchange." This means that, in many cases, Hollywood dictates the shape of not only its own country's filmmaking but also those stories told by foreign films. Some nationalities, such as many in Asia, have however maintained their own identity and agenda when creating films. In the context of Hollywood, then, Crofts (2008, p. 45) has identified different modes of existing within the film industry, creating a sense of national cinema despite or even because of the largest cinematic endeavor in the world.

First, some national cinemas differ from Hollywood, while also not competing directly. An example is Asian films, which target a specialist market sector that is distinct from those catered for by Hollywood. Another type of national cinema does differ from Hollywood while not directly competing with it, but does deliver direct critique. A third type of national cinema is the Third World or European cinema that does compete directly with Hollywood, but achieve little or no success, mainly because of Hollywood's superior economic, technological and social power. Few cinemas, on the other hand, manage to ignore Hollywood, but there are a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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