The Trouble with Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema strives to redress an oversight in contemporary film studies. As the editors succinctly state in the book’s introduction, the study of masculinity in film has often been afterthought of feminist and/or queer theory. Furthermore, few volumes touching upon this subject have widened their focus beyond the borders of Tinseltown.
While these assertions are undoubtedly true, The Trouble with Men suffers somewhat from its eclectic range of essays. Not surprisingly, most of the writings were culled from a 2001 conference on masculinity and film at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. The editors argue that studies of masculinity within Hollywood cinema should not be neglected entirely (despite the attention paid to it in other volumes), but in the end, a strict focus on Men in European Cinema might have made for a more satisfying and cohesive study. Instead, the collection offers up everything from an examination of Hugh Grant’s star text to an essay entitled "’They Look So Uncomplicated When They’re Dissected’: The Act of Seeing the Dead Penis with One’s Own Eyes."
This is not to suggest the essays are of low quality (in the vast majority of cases, it’s quite the opposite), but rather that they are so broad in range that one comes away from the book with a dozens of thoughts swimming around in his or her head, but without a coherent idea about this tricky subject.
The Trouble with Men is divided into four sections: Stars, Class & Race, Fathers, and Bodies. Each of these vague headings easily merits a book in their own right, but the essays presented here are as good a starting point as any. The ‘Stars’ section kicks off the book with an intriguing essay on Gene Kelly by Steve Cohan, where the actor’s culturally entrenched image of heterosexual athleticism is viewed in a different light. It is followed by a more traditional reading of Clark Gable’s star image, but the chapter also includes considerations of two actors who have received scant attention in English-language writings on film: Spain’s Paco Rabal and France’s Alain Delon.
The ‘Class & Race’ chapter is anchored by a strong essay by John Hill on the evolution of the working-class hero in British cinema, with emphasis placed on Ken Loach’s Kes (1969) and Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot (2000), a film that also crops up in the ‘Fathers’ section in an evaluation of the role of fathers in contemporary British social realist cinema. In ‘Bodies,’ Pamela Church Gibson traces the cycle of image and consumption within cinema and popular male fashion. Finally, the closing chapters of the section consider the abjection of the male body in Batman (1989) and Gaspar Noe’s Carne (1991) and Seul contre tous (1998).
Although the collection includes some standout essays, its main drawback remains the breadth of its focus. The writings on masculinity in Hollywood film don’t exactly re-invent the wheel, whereas the essays on European cinema appear fresh perhaps because of their scarcity within English-language volumes on the subject. One only hopes that this collection will pave the way for a more comprehensive volume on masculinity in European cinema.