Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective is a welcome read for both newcomers and seasoned cinephiles alike. This book actually started life as a university course and your lecturer is, of course, Alex Cox, who you’ll remember from such films as Repo Man (1984), Sid & Nancy (1986), Walker (1987),El Patrullero (Highway Patrolman) (1992) and Death and the Compass (1996), as well as his enthusiastic and knowledgeable introductions to the TV series Moviedrome which, for film buffs of a certain age, offered a magical insight into a world of cinema that reached far beyond the mainstream fare on offer in the usual outlets at the time.
Like that series, this book offers plenty of introductions to renowned films and the auteurs who made them, in a style that is both entertaining and edifying. Because it is an introduction to cinema by a film-maker, it is very practical in its exploration of process for the creation of a film as both art and entertainment, using key works as examples to explore film history and the background. Cox recommends that you might want to watch the films/clips that are being discussed as you read each chapter but, while it would enhance the experience, it’s not absolutely necessary, especially if you are familiar with the film in question. The cover – an evocative still of Terence Stamp in Fellini’s section of the portmanteau classic Spirits of the Dead (1968) – reflects the fact that not only classic mainstream movies are under discussion but also art cinema and cult films. In an inspired opening we have the introduction to The Wild Bunch (1969) before launching the first feature,The Wizard of Oz (1939), offering perspectives of audience appreciation, commercial issues and auteur theory along with those of the film-maker.
Methods of production and the roles of the crew members, combined with the various formats and shooting styles, are examined so that aspect ratios, lenses and editing techniques are linked to the way in which film as popular art has developed. Chapters on copyright and self-censorship/product placement, topics which would rarely form a significant component of a film theory course, are also included, providing interesting viewpoints on why particular films are green-lit and how they are made in a particular way, notably in the context of world events. And in this current age of superhero movies and endless remakes the book’s final chapter provides an interesting consideration of the future of the medium, where Peter Greenaway’s discourse on cinematic elitism complements a discussion about the Dogme 95 movement’s attempt to redefine cinema.
Emphasis is also given to films that are not in the English language. The section on the European film is a fine exploration of key films and film-makers but a really welcome addition is the commentary on the evolution of Latin American film with the narrative on funding, script editing and distribution of product. As with much of the book, this later section demonstrates a great deal of personal attachment for Cox, who made a number of his films in Mexico. Indeed some of Cox’s own films feature in this chapter – ‘We screen my film Walker’ – and include his commentary on how the catalyst for making this film in Nicaragua came about: a conversation with two young men who would not take no for an answer: ‘If you are intelligent, you can come back here and make a film.’
Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film: A Director’s Perspective is precisely that, a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable read. You will find new perspectives, presented enthusiastically and with a clear passion for the cinema but, beyond theory, the text also provides inspiration for would-be film-makers. Highly recommended for both entertainment and education… and to highlight any gaps in your DVD collection.