May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
August 25, 2009
From among the most recent Cineaste offerings comes a review of a new collection of essays called Inventing Film Studies. In the review, Michael Sicinski loosely outlines debates about the history of film criticism as well as most of the essays in the collection.
One of the most notable seems to be an essay by Mark Betz on the movement of film criticism from publications targeted to non-academics to the lengthy, complicated theoretical tomes that define the guild today. I have written elsewhere about the need for more amateur film critics and reviewers in the lexical sense of the term – people who are involved with cinema as a sheer labor of love. Apparently, there may be historical merit to the idea:
But the strongest and most startling essay in the section (and in the entire collection, in fact) comes from Mark Betz. His piece is titled, innocuously enough, “Little Books.” What are “little books”? Well, as Betz explains, from 1965 through 1980, with a particular concentration between 1965 and ’71, Film Studies publishing mostly produced small, well-illustrated texts, “usually around 18 cm x 13.5 cm,” released in series and pitched to a readership comprised of academics but also cinephiles and the interested connoisseur. As Betz explains, the fact that these books could fit in the coat pocket, that they were easily perusable on the bus or the train, and could tackle a single topic such as “gays in film” or “the films of Raoul Walsh” in short order, all point to a distinct attitude toward film culture and preacademicized Film Studies. As he writes, “little’ here loosely designates not only a physical quality but also a disposition, a relationship to the formal constraints of university-based scholarship that is circumscribed by clear ideas and practices of disciplinarity.” By contrast, Betz cites the thudding tomes of the Bordwell school, whose very size “presuppose… a very different student of film than the little book, one less mobile and autodidactic, bound to a seat of higher learning, the university library, the college dorm room study desk—a student now, to put it plainly, ‘institutionalized.’” With historical acumen, dialectical rigor and sly humor, Betz produces an argument that places Film Studies, in space and with material bodies, in a concrete set of publishing practices and inside a shifting set of communities, ones increasingly closed. Betz’s essay deserves to be a new classic text within Film Studies.
Very interesting stuff.