«Book Reviews – February 2014 Table of Contents Watching the World: Screening Documentary and Audiences By Thomas Austin A Journey through ...»
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Book Reviews – February 2014
Table of Contents
Watching the World: Screening Documentary and Audiences
By Thomas Austin
A Journey through Documentary Film
By Luke Dormehl
American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation
By Jeffrey Geiger
A Review by Douglas C. MacLeod Jr
Performance in the Cinema of Hal Hartley
By Steven Rawle
By Mark L. Berrettini
A review by Jennifer O'Meara
Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman By Will Brooker The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader Edited by Christoph Lindner A Review by Matthew Freeman
Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women By Lucy Bolton Civilized Violence: Subjectivity, Gender and Popular Cinema.
By David Hansen-Miller A Review by Katherine Whitehurst
1 Book Reviews New Takes in Film-Philosophy Edited by Havi Carel and Greg Tuck Deleuze and Cinema: The Film Concepts By Felicity Colman Deleuze and World Cinemas By David Martin-Jones A Review by Sergey Toymentsev
The British Film Institute, the Government and Film Culture, 1933-2000 edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Christophe Dupin J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood’s Cold War by John Sbardellati The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television by Tricia Jenkins A Review by Elaine Lennon
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer By Shaun Kimber Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain By Julian Petley A review by Karen Oughton
Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen By Kathleen Rowe Karlyn African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900-1960 By Charlene Regester Unsettling Sights: The Fourth World on Film By Corinn Columpar A review by Mantra Roy
2 Issue 26, February 2014 Book Reviews Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film: Cultural Transformations in Europe, 1732-1933 By Erik Butler Stephen King on the Small Screen By Mark Browning John Carpenter By Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell A review by Alissa Burger
Bollywood: Gods, Glamour and Gossip By Kush Varia Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema By Tejaswini Gamti A Review by Laya Maheshwari
The Queer Art of Failure By Judith Halberstam InterMedia in South Asia: The Fourth Screen Edited by Rajinder Dudrah, Sangita Gopal, Amit S. Rai and Anustup Basu The New Media Nation: Indigenous Peoples and Global Communication By Valerie Alia A Review by Rohit K Dasgupta, University of the Arts London
Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies By William D. Romanowki Celluloid Sermons: The Emergence of the Christian Film Industry, 1930-1986 By Terry Lindvall and Andrew Quicke A review by Hannah Graves, University of Warwick
Shadow of a Mouse: Performance, Belief, and World-Making in Animation by Donald Crafton The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation.
by Thomas Lamarre A review by Daniel Knipe, University of the West of England
Issue 26, October 2013 3 Book Reviews Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento By Maitland McDonagh The New Neapolitan Cinema By Alex Marlow-Mann Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema By Austin Fisher A review by Joseph North
Mike Leigh By Sean O’Sullivan Discomfort and Joy: The Cinema of Bill Forsyth By Jonathan Murray A review by Marcus Smith
Lindsay Anderson: Cinema Authorship By John Izod, Karl Magee, Kathryn Hannan and Isabelle Gourdin-Sanguaord The Cinema of Michael Winterbottom By Deborah Allison A review by Martin Stollery
A Companion to Eastern European Cinemas Edited by Anikó Imre European Cinema and Intertextuality: History, Memory and Politics By Ewa Mazierska European Cinema in Motion: Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe Edited by Daniela Berghahn and Claudia Sternberg A review by Andrea Virginás
Existentialism and Social Engagement in the Films of Michael Mann By Vincent M. Gaine Maximum Movies–Pulp Fictions: Film Culture and the Worlds of Samuel Fuller, Mickey Spillane, and Jim Thompson By Peter Stanfield A review by Michael Ahmed
4 Issue 26, February 2014 Book Reviews Not Hollywood: Independent Film at the Twilight of the American Dream By Sherry B. Ortner Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s By Alisa Perren Hollywood’s Indies: Classics Divisions, Specialty Labels and the American Film Market By Yannis Tzioumakis A review by Steven Rawle
Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jetee, Sans Soleil and Hiroshima Mon Amour By Carol Mavor Temporality and Film Analysis By Matilda Mroz A review by John A. Riley
Scripting Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, and Marnie By Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick A Companion to Literature, Film and Adaptation Edited by Deborah Cartmell A review by J. E. Smyth
What Dreams Were Made Of: Movie Stars of the 1940s Edited by Sean Griffin Hollywood Reborn: Movie Stars of the 1970s Edited by James Morrison Shining in Shadows: Movie Stars of the 2000s Edited by Murray Pomerance A review by Jude Warne
Coming Soon to A Festival Near You: Programming Film Festivals Edited by Jeffrey Ruoff Film Festival Yearbook 4: Film Festivals and Activism Edited by Dina Iordanova and Leshu Torchin A review by Dorota Ostrowska
By Thomas Austin Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780719085581. 217 pp. £11.99 (pbk).
A Journey through Documentary Film By Luke Dormehl Harpenden: Kamera Books, 2012. ISBN 9781842435908. 31 illustrations. 189 pp. £12.99 (pbk).
American Documentary Film: Projecting the Nation By Jeffrey Geiger Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. ISBN 9780748621484. 22 illustrations. 288 pp. £24.99 (pbk).
A Review by Douglas C. MacLeod Jr, SUNY Cobleskill.
Documentaries seem to have become more marketable over the years, both in Hollywood and in academia. More and more directors, scholars, and university departments are delving into a cinematic (and televisual) world that has vastly changed due to a dynamic political climate, technological advances, and shifting ideas as to what constitutes reality and its viable representation. Because of this, a mass of work both within and about the documentary genre has been produced, with varying degrees of success. This review will examine three academic works found vying for attention as textbooks that help to navigate this unwieldy collection of primary and scholarly material in the classroom. Thomas Austin’s Watching the World, Luke Dormehl’s A Journey through Documentary Film and Jeffrey Geiger’s American Documentary Film each provides an interesting study on the subject matter, but only the last of these is altogether comprehensive and, in short, is one of the better books on documentary (and film studies discourse) that I have read in quite some time.
At the beginning of Watching the World Austin tells us that the book is meant as an exploration “not only of documentary texts, but also some of the commercial, discursive and social contexts in which they circulate and are watched, and the expectations and responses of some of their audiences” (1). Austin explores audience response by first starting with the “booming” importance of documentary filmmaking over the last twenty-or-so years, and then uses “case studies” (5) and empirical data 6 Issue 26, February 2014 Book Reviews (certain films, both cinematic and televised, and audience statistics) to prove his hypothesis. Text and context have been widely studied, but audience reaction to documentaries is generally not as well covered, as Austin dutifully points out: “Hopefully, this book will provide an example of some of the insights that can be achieved by turning attention to this unaccountably neglected object of study” (2).
Unfortunately, much of Austin’s text is written in this prescriptive fashion.
Another example comes in a chapter entitled “‘Suspense, fright, emotion, happy ending’: Documentary Form and Audience Response to Touching
Perhaps surprisingly, ethical issues were rarely raised in my audience research. Very few respondents voluntarily mentioned ethics—in terms of either film-making decisions or film form. And when presented with a deliberately open question—‘Do you think the film ran into any ethical or moral dilemmas or problems?’—most took this to be a reference to Yates’ difficult decision to cut the rope on his partner.
Austin proceeds to re-write the question, and provides the reader with
three responses similar to the introductory statements above; one states:
“Yes—obviously Simon cutting the rope knowing he was sending Joe to his death. A dilemma but justifiable in the circumstances “ (75). Austin’s repetition of points and choices of wording do not allow the reader the opportunity to think for him or herself; each point is given to the reader and then spelled out accordingly, which tends to get wearisome.
Another novel point of interest comes in his truncated, seemingly incomplete chapter entitled “Approaching the Invisible Centre: MiddleClass Identity and Documentary Film”, where the writer positions himself as an audience member. In trying to place himself as the subject, and after watching Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinosfsky, 2000), Austin begins to understand his place in the class structure, which allows him to understand how class structures can, indeed, affect how one views documentary films.
I should point out here that I think of myself as belonging to what might be loosely called the Guardian-reading English middle class.
(The Guardian is the British daily newspaper traditionally read by left/liberal middle classes, particularly public sector employees.) My mother grew up in a lower middle-class family, and my father in a rural working-class one. Both my parents worked in the public sector: she as a school secretary and then a social worker, he a teacher. (112) Issue 26, October 2013 7 Book Reviews In a footnote, he also makes sure to let us know that he is aware of the other facets of his “‘dominant’ identity”, his “maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, and able-bodiedness” (121). Although seemingly an aside, these moments of autobiography move the reader away from the clinical prose that introduces that same chapter (and most of his other
So far in this book I have considered various engagements with screen documentary made by viewers other than myself. In this chapter I turn attention to some of my own responses to documentary films, and explore how my identity, particularly its middle-class aspect, has shaped these reactions. (109) Much of the success of any book like Watching the World stems from how comprehensively the author defines and critically analyzes the terms with which he or she is concerned. Watching the World does an excellent job in unpacking why it is that particular audiences feel the way they do towards such films as Etre et avoir (Nicolas Philibert, 2002), Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald, 2003), Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003), and wildlife programmes. His extensive use of direct quotations from his interviewees does help Austin to combine “textual and contextual investigations of documentary forms with qualitative audience research” quite successfully (184), as well as in proving his thesis that “watching a documentary may contribute towards a shift in senses (both cognitive and emotional) of the world ‘out there’, and associated attitudes towards it”, and one’s self (181). The issue is in Austin’s belief that the data should spell that out for us, when more critical analysis and evaluation is needed.
Watching the World does have a small section on defining the term ‘documentary’, but because his focus is more on audience reaction towards the genre, most of the definition stems from the ideas of other critics and theorists and provides neither a comprehensive nor an original understanding of the term. Luke Dormehl, however, in his simple but effective book A Journey through Documentary Film provides the reader with a broad understanding of what documentary is, and a straightforward way of looking at these films, which would certainly be helpful for any undergraduate student interested in the subject matter; it may not, however, be as helpful for upper-level documentary film students looking for more in-depth commentary.
Posing his basic question, “So what is documentary?”(12), Dormehl claims we can look at the term in several different ways. One possible answer is that “documentaries deal with the truth. Documentaries present reality, populated by real people, real places and real events. When we, the audience, watch a documentary we are watching a film that addresses the world in which we live, as opposed to a world imagined by the filmmaker” (12). Although I am quite sure that this would not connect well with Austin’s definition, which is much more specific as to whom “the 8 Issue 26, February 2014 Book Reviews audience” is, Dormehl does go on to state that the dictionary definition he presents “carries intrinsic problems” (12). He starts by writing about the differences between reality and fiction, and that audience members have what he calls a belief matrix, which is “audience’s reading of the cinematic text based on their pre-determined expectations of where it should be critically situated” (15). He claims that, by and large, the audience understands that a certain amount of cinematically “fictional” manipulation is involved with documentary; techniques in cinematography, editing, musical scores, and so on, are incorporated into the reality of the situation for emotional effect, even when ‘truth’ (which is itself shaped by the culture it is produced in) remains a generic expectation.