‘The Wild Things of World Cinema’

Will postgrad film studies continue to thrive under the new dispensation being engineered for universities by the Tories (with Lib-Dem connivance)? What will have been destroyed if it doesn’t is in evidence at this time of year in postgrad events up and down the country. An impressive three-day conference was mounted last week at King’s College London under the title ‘The Wild Things of World Cinema’, where both MA and PhD students presented work-in-progress. Actually this was just a spirited title, since only some of the papers focussed on what the epithet ‘world cinema’ usually evokes, but never mind, the range was wide, and those I heard on the third day were all of them stimulating to hear—and watch, because they included a good many interesting clips. Topics ranged from Ingrid Bergman and Vivien Leigh as international stars to found footage films, Korean Cinema under Japanese Colonialism to Turkish Cinema. A good many of the MA students are international, and the cosmopolitanism of the student body is one of the great attractions for them of coming to study here. Will this continue, I wonder?

The paper I was invited to give on ‘world cinema’ reflected on the ambiguity and instability of the epithet ‘world cinema’ and its relation to otherness:

‘World Cinema’ is a highly ambiguous term which crept up on us on the model of ‘world music’—which in turn originated as a marketing label, devised by a bunch of music producers and their friends in a pub in North London in 1987:  a catch‑all to be used on shelf dividers in the record stores, devised to try and exploit the proliferation of ethnic and ‘other’ musics at the edges of the market. In the array of labels dividing up the displays in the DVD stores, world cinema means firstly the stuff that isn’t distributed by the majors (although they know there’s a niche market for such films, so they sometimes set up specialist distributors and labels)….

In the chain stores and franchises, if it’s there at all, ‘world cinema’ is an oddbin. In the field of film studies, it’s an equally unstable term, but in a different way. First, it’s much broader (evidence the range of the papers being presented here). It includes, for example, cinemas and films which never achieved conventional forms of international distribution, but also overlooked aspects of the mainstream, or unfamiliar angles on particular films or stars or directors. It is not so much a body of work, however, as a certain approach, which seeks to escape the bias of conventional scholarship against the marginal. It wishes to overcome the established model of centre and periphery in order to describe a multipolar and multicultural world of local and national cinemas, and to map their transnational articulations.

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