French Costume Drama of the 1950s: Fashioning Politics in Film

French Costume Drama of the 1950s: Fashioning Politics in Film

Author: Susan Hayword

Reviewer: Ciara Lianne O’Brien

The study of media and film is an area in which theories can swamp their master and swamp them until their original intent appears almost lost. As such, theorists are consistently trying to untangle themselves from the seaweed grip of other theories and narrow theories down as much as humanly possible. Even with this in mind, Susan Hayward’s newest book French Costume Drama of the 1950s: Fashioning Politics in Film seems oddly specific. That is until you separate theories of French film from all others, and realise that what Hayward has done here is entirely necessary.

French cinema as a whole is under-theorised, there have been only a couple of pockets of anomalies in film theory which have included, but rarely focused on French cinema itself, rather the focus has been on auteurs and the stars of French cinema. Upon opening the book, we realise that the 1950s was, without doubt, one of the most prolific period in French cinema, with a variety of genres that wasn’t seen anywhere else.

As we have all seen, any political unrest tends to be mirrored in cinema, as no film is created in a vacuum, and here we see that cinema became escapism from troubled times in France and Hayward points out that the most expository escapism came in the form of costume dramas during this period as there appeared to be an evident lament of a lost past and a denial of modernisation in film. These dramas are generally set in the age of Napoleon, which has become the most famous period of cultural paradox, a fact which Hayward continually exposes as she journeys through diverse generic territory.

It isn’t until we are mid-way through the book that something becomes clear to the reader that prior to this volume; there has been no theory on costume drama, a fact which seems almost unbelievable as we navigate through this in-depth exploration of the French model. Hayward has clearly seen a need to investigate this period thoroughly and the manner in which she does so is effortless and without wavering. The more I read, the more I discovered, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that I was eagerly awaiting a theory half-finished, or any manner of insecurity within the text. I’m happy to report that there was none.
My own highlight is a section entitled ‘Fairytales, Foxy Women and Swashbuckling Heroes’, which adds a splash of humour in what is undoubtedly a heavy volume of theory. In the age of film recycling we have found ourselves in, Hayward’s theories in this section are interesting as we can now apply them to our modern fairytales and our countless encounters with heroes, whether they are swashbuckling or fumbling. This section as a whole is indicative of the diversity of film which Hayward has chosen to explore. To a lesser theorist this would be a daunting task, but here it is effortless.

This book is a rarity in film theory and a must for the shelves of any self-respecting film buff, student or budding theorist. The narrow nature of Hayward’s subject has not come at the expense of any cultural exploration as she includes a wide variety of films from Vernay to Le Chanois, masterfully blending modern cultural theories with cultural fact of the period the film mirrors as well as that in which it was created. There is much to adore about this volume, but its true genius lies in the manner in which Hayward has created her own theories here. These theories are so solid and cemented in fact that Hayward has succeeded in bypassing the infancy period which film theories pass through and has created a theory on costume drama which almost seems to have always existed.

Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Intellect
Publishing Date:15th August 2010
Language English
ISBN-10: 1841503185
ISBN-13: 978-1841503189

Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 17.4 x 2.8 cm


The Reality of Film: Theories of Filmic Reality

The Reality of Film: Theories of Filmic Reality

Author: Richard Rushton

Reviewed by: Sarah Griffin

Rainforests have disappeared under the weight of film theory books, but it is still unusual, in the midst of this sea of paper, to find something new – an idea that hasn’t been fully tested before. Richard Rushton, a Film Studies lecturer in Lancaster University, takes the suggestion of filmic reality to an extreme not often seen, claiming that film is not merely a representational art, passively holding a mirror to our reality, but is, in fact, a reality in and of itself.

Rushton maintains that film study thus far has relied heavily on seeing ‘a logic of representation’, and doing so has bracketed film off as a secondary mode of reality rather than, as he maintains, filmic reality. He takes issue with the need to see film as ‘re-presenting’ anything, and rather sees cinema as creation itself: forming realities, possibilities and events that have not had existence previous to the screen. Some of the questions he poses – and mostly answers – are in relation to what film does in our lives, how it features in our structuring of reality, as well as the influence it has on our thought processes and how we filter the world.

Undoubtedly many filmmakers would agree with this summation – the lengths to which directors go to instil their film with reality substantiates Rushton’s belief that filmic reality is a requirement. Film can thus enable us to experience a reality that would have been outside the realm of our normal understanding. Whether that be Stanley Kubrick’s determined use of candlelight in a period piece (Barry Lyndon), or Spielberg’s gritty determination to show every fallen limb (Saving Private Ryan), the creation of a filmic reality that doesn’t just show us a different world, but makes it real for us is the cinematic Holy Grail.

Rushton denounces the opposition between ‘filmic fantasy’ and ‘real world reality’, feeling that to separate the two is to belie the importance and possibilities of both. Citing the eminent David Bordwell, he goes on to bemoan film studies’ preoccupation in what social issues or ideas the film represents, rather than making the film itself of essential importance. Rushton’s central conceit is that the film is enough: filmic reality is film as it is, and there is no need to search beyond for study.

Though occasionally over-complicated, the book nonetheless manages to engage and consume attention in its affirmation of the reality of film. It contains a series of essays ranging from the state of film studies today to how the writings of André Bazin support his theory, taking in some of the major theorists of cinema along the way. The pages overflow with theoretical arguments and scholarly expositions, from Laura Mulvey’s textual analysis, to Stanley Cavell’s theory of film as exhibitions of the world, and on to Jacques Rancière’s aesthetic categorisation of cinema. A well-written and detailed account of some novel ideas in film theory, Rushton’s essays open up a new world of conceptual understanding in the face of an often stale abundance in academic writings.

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Manchester University Press (11 Nov 2010)
Publishing Date: 11th November, 2010
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0719082684
ISBN-13: 978-0719082689
Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.5 x 2.5 cm
Number of Pages: 218


Movie Moments


Movie Moments: Films That Changed the World of Cinema

Author: James Clarke

Reviewer: Charlene Lydon

James Clarke’s Movie Moments is part of the Kamera book series, which are helpful guides to random cinema-related phenomena, from Blaxploitation to Samurai films to individuals such as David Lynch, this series offers a simple, basic outline of the main element of note in the chosen topic. Movie Moments explores some of the important moments that have shaped film history. The book explores different movements from Soviet Montage to Surrealism and beyond. With an intelligent but very readable writing style, this is a quick, pleasurable read and not only explains the concepts very well but also points to plenty of good cinematic examples to encourage the reader to seek out for a more rounded understanding.

The book is divided into chapters (not necessarily chronological), each dealing with a particular filmmaking movement. The book keeps it simple but explains the roots of the movement, the people involved and the films that defined them, not only explaining the movement but giving historical context and social background. The chapters dealing with smaller movements such as Neo-realism or Surrealism are definitely more aptly covered than the bigger movements, such as Documentary which really is far too big a subject to be covered in one tiny chapter. However, the information contained is still valid and it gives a decent, if extremely broad, overview of the genre.

Towards the end of the book, each chapter is dedicated to a national cinema. Again it could be said that an entire national cinema cannot be categorised in such a way that you could give such a broad overview. Cleverly, the book chooses only a key moment from each country’s rich cinematic history and highlighting the films that provoked the movement.

The book takes a film (or more than one) in each chapter and goes through each one in terms of its concept, its success/failure at the time of release and why it was important at the time it was made. Clarke doesn’t always go for the most obvious choice, which is a good thing because it is more likely that the reader will make some new and interesting discoveries in the book. However it does list the most notable films in the movement and encourages reader to view them.

This is a good coffee table book for any film buff and particularly for film students. If you are looking to enhance your understanding of film history then it is basic enough to get you going. If you are a seasoned film scholar, it is intelligent enough to be a handy reference book for your shelf. You’re probably not going to read this cover to cover, but it is a good one to flick through every now and then.

release date: 18 January 2011
price: £12.99
ISBN13: 9781842433058
binding: paperback
format: 194 x 135mm with flaps
extent: 160
images: 8pp Colour
rights: world
BIC code: APF


Basics Film-Making: The Language of Film

Basics Film-Making:The Language of Film

AUTHORS: Robert Edgar-Hunt, John Marland and Steven Rawle

REVIEWER: Steven Galvin

Film is a language of its own. It is a language we all understand and one we take for granted. As with every language, it has its own grammar and employs a system of signs and symbols in order to carry information and communicate. Basics Film-Making: The Language of Film sets out to explore exactly how film communicates to its audience. It does this by clearly laying out chapter by chapter the structures that allow film to be understood.

Chapter 1 focuses on semiotics and explores the system of signs employed by film in order to communicate meaning. Chapter 2 tackles narrative and considers how an audience is able to comprehend meaning from a film through its precise structure. Chapter 3 explores intertextuality and explains how films relate to each other and gain meaning through their relationship with other films. Chapter 4 turns its attention to ideology and investigates the question of what films mean and how they can be interpreted. Chapter 5 examines frames and images and has a look at the vocabulary of the moving image and how the camera shapes meaning. Chapter 6 explores the techniques employed beyond the image that construct meaning and analyses such crafts as editing and the use of sound.

Illustrative examples are used throughout the book and fulfil the dual function of visualising ideas while also providing some beautiful images. A useful case study is introduced at the end of each chapter, which contextualises the specific ideas presented beforehand within a selected film or a particular scene.

Aimed primarily at students, Basics Film-Making: The Language of Film is a more than useful introduction to the fundamentals of film grammar and its use in constructing meaning. Its appealing visual style, accurate descriptions and impressive lay-out will ensure that this becomes a well-thumbed textbook, and the writers are to be commended in the book’s employment of methods to encourage its reader to become an active interpreter of the material presented. And in doing so, the book achieves its goal of presenting complex ideas in a clear and concise fashion that engage the reader in both theory and practice.

ISBN: 978-2-940411-27-6
Binding: Paperback
Publishing Date: May 2010
Publisher: Ava Publishing
Number of Pages: 192