‘This book is a guide to a number of major films that have memorably affected the ways in which reality is represented and invoked on the cinema screen.’
Understanding film genre is an essential part of any introduction to film studies curriculum – a way of showing students that film, like music, can be given a label that represents a particular theme, narrative element or style to the observer and provides an understanding of the film’s place within cinema history. Genre study is also a way of categorising films into neat little boxes. Kamera Books Movie Movements takes a different approach – it explores iconic films from around the world by looking at particular artistic movements that have shaped cinema. These include expressionism, Avant Garde, documentary, national cinema and surrealism, amongst others.
One of the key movements discussed is that of Realism, notably the French realism portrayed in Jean Renoir’s La Regle du Jeu (1939). It’s a worthwhile reference not only to realist film in general – and its longer term effect on, say, British Realism (an example of which, Plague Dogs, is discussed later) – but also how it was a direct influence on Satyajit Ray’s Apu films – films that in turn are noted to have inspired Akira Kurosawa. The fascination of the book lies with this combination of looking at essential films and film-makers, referencing others and exploring movements that developed from a base construct. No longer are movements seen simply as a selection of comparable movies but films developed by the imagination of pioneers, even as they themselves influence others. This removes the book from the common ‘list of films’ structure and provides defined historical movements shaped by important individual films.
And what films are chosen. Kamera Books Movie Movements appeals to a variety of audiences – those who appreciate established classics (the films covered may at times seem like a list of critics’ all time favourites), those who might be wishing to learn about early cinema and also those who might be seeking a few undiscovered gems. Clarke’s choices are informative useful primaries, classics and also favourites of the long-time movie obsessive – from a re-evaluation of Metropolis (a review confirming the final re-release of the original, lengthier, cut discovered in Argentina) and Seven Samurai to more perhaps specialist films in the Avant Garde section such as Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man and the films of Norman McClaren. Film studies favourites such as Man With a Movie Camera and the ever popular Battleship Potemkin are given useful evaluations. Although the articles are all informative and placed into perspective the reader might ask occasional questions, not about the quality or importance of the films, but perhaps why some were included over others.
Kamera Books Movie Movements is a splendid read for anyone who is interested in cinema. All the specialised entries are essential viewing and the way they are explored as evolving backdrops for wider movements is fascinating. This is a book that either introduces or revives a profound interest in those films that inspired or affected their audiences and even, in many respects, influence the styles of today. Interesting not only as an excellent read but as a wants list for your DVD collection or some ideas to put into the suggestions box at your local independent cinema.