Introduction: Rethinking Genre Beyond Hollywood

By Elena Caoduro and Beth Carroll

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From the exoticisation of Japanese samurai films to the development of Latin American science-fiction film culture, genre cinema takes a multitude of forms. In fact, every film is generic in the sense that genre encompasses different productions: documentary and fiction films, animation, pornography, experimental and non-narrative films.[1] Yet academic studies on film genres heavily draw on Hollywood cinema,[2] neglecting the many titillations offered by popular global cinema. Popular genres in the context of global cinema require further critical analysis and the sixth issue of Frames Cinema Journal attempts to reposition genre theory in a more inclusive and international space.

The chosen title, ‘MondoPop: Rethinking Genre Beyond Hollywood’, obviously winks at the global phenomenon of exploitation shockumentaries initiated by Mondo cane / A Dog’s World (Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti, 1962).[3] However, it also draws attention to the necessity of engaging with the theorisation of genre that includes productions outside mainstream American cinema. While previous studies on genre have illustrated global general patterns, the ramifications that go beyond Hollywood have been little explored.[4] In this respect we follow Barry Langford’s effort to integrate non-Hollywood case studies to discuss tendencies of popular film genres.[5] Generally speaking, genre productions beyond Hollywood have been at the centre of scholarly interest in those few circumstances where specific genres managed to successfully travel beyond the national borders, receiving critical and financial acknowledgment. We are thinking of genre cycles such as the Italian giallos in the 1970s, French heritage cinema and the more recent wave of J-horror films. As far as popular European cinema is concerned, Ginette Vincendeau has outlined some of the reasons for this absence; first of all she maintains that these attempts “simply do not correspond to the international idea of European cinema. In addition, national agencies promote art cinema and are somehow embarrassed by their popular films”.[6]

Similar concerns could be applied to the category of world cinema more in general. The critical and theoretical engagement with genre “beyond Hollywood” led us, therefore, to a reassessment of world cinema. In fact, film production “beyond Hollywood” has often been intertwined with the very own definition of World Cinema.[7] Nonetheless, the theorisation of world cinema has often privileged the realist tradition and expressions of art cinema, building a canon of world cinema auteurs and mapping styles of filmmaking from different corners of the globe, often overlooking the role of genres, the popular and the vernacular.[8] Readers, textbooks and module outlines on world cinema, or genre, try to reflect the diversity of world cinema, but non-Hollywood genre films often remain an isolated presence. Questions should be asked as how genre theory “translates” and is negotiated across borders, and whether new theoretical paradigms are required.

The articles published here explore transnational exchanges, national peculiarities and the manifestations of cinematic genres in different production contexts in order to reflect on the heterogeneity of world cinema and whether existing theoretical approaches do justice to their complexity. It goes beyond the scope of the “MondoPop” issue to formulate a new theorisation of world cinema in light of popular genres, nonetheless we want to draw more attention to this category and its relationship with art cinema in order to celebrate global filmmaking and its travelling stories.

This issue presents six feature articles connected by themes and six point-of-view contributions which aim to investigate genre criticism from different methodological approaches.[9] These interventions analyse hybridity and contaminations, controversies and success stories from a variety of international contexts: Eastern Europe, Mexico, Nigeria, and India to cite a few. Whilst it would be impossible to cover all corners of the world within a single special issue, nonetheless we hope to have provided a varied sense of the plethora of genre films and thematic concerns in global cinema. By rethinking genre beyond Hollywood we do not want to reaffirm the false dichotomy between the paradigmatic American canon and world cinema, rather we propose to refocus the study of film genres towards a more global approach, towards diverse film practices, illustrating the mutual borrowings between American cinema and other national or transnational productions, including other Anglophone cinemas. International co-productions and the global consumption patterns demanded by new forms of circulation necessitate a rethink of the adoption of Hollywood case studies in academic works on genre in order to reflect cinema’s global articulations and new industrial terms.

Following the format of the first issue of Frames, this “MondoPop” issue is divided in two parts. The first comprises feature articles mapping genre films across different world cinema cultures in terms of their historical development. Some of the articles published here originate from a selection of papers given at the international symposium, “Genre Beyond Hollywood”, which was held at the University of Southampton in July 2012 with the support of the Faculty of Humanities, the Film Department and BAFTSS, the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies.[10] The event set out to bring postgraduate students and early-career scholars working on world cinema together in order to discuss a variety of different genres: production categories, such as “horror” and “comedy”, but also new generic labels, fruits of critical intervention, for instance “the fronterizo genre” (films concerned with the Mexican borderland and its social, political and economic encodings).

The six articles within this journal have been split into three broad thematic sections. The first explores the topic of “travelling” genres, how they can circulate beyond their national context and the effect this has on genre and reception. Alexandra Kapka’s article “Understanding A Serbian Film: The Effects of Censorship and File-sharing on Critical Reception and Perceptions of Serbian National Identity in the UK” argues that the genres do not always permit meaning to be transferred unaltered across cultural and geographical boundaries. In this case, the shock value of A Serbian Film gets in the way of its allegorical meaning. Similarly, Andrew Dorman’s article “A Return to Japan? Restaging the Cinematic Past in Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins”, discusses the ways in which the Japanese samurai genre is both a commodified spectacle (both in Japan and abroad), and an appeal to the culturally encoded jidaigeki genre.

The second category investigates the relationship between genre and other traditional concepts in Film Studies, such as issues of performance or auteur theory, within the context of national cinema. Natalie Fullwood’s article “Commedia all’italiana: Rethinking Comedian Comedy Beyond Hollywood” seeks to explore the ways in which Italian comedy, with a particular focus on the comedian, can make theorists rethink both Hollywood and Italian comedy. Daniel O’Brien’s article “Like a Child Playing Dress-up? Genre, Authorship and Pastiche in Doomsday” analyses the ways in which issues of authorship and genre can intersect with one another, culminating in a reading of Doomsday that is resistant to both.

The final section considers issues of space in non-Hollywood genre films. Francisco R. Monar’s “Sin nombre, Norteado, and the Contours of Genre and La Frontera” examines the implications that political and formal conventions of genre can have on highly charged political spaces such as the borderlands between Mexico and the United States. Nikolaus Perneczky’s “Continual Re-enchantment: Tunde Kelani’s Village Films and the Spectres of Early African Cinema” examines the issues inherent to Tundi Kelani’s village films and the spatial tension typified in these films between African modernity and traditional forms.

The second part of “MondoPop: Reframing Genre in World Cinema” provides “Point-of-View” interventions, in which invited scholars map the current state of studies on film genre in light of globalisation forces. As well as tracing the genealogy of specific genres, these short essays aim to lay the foundation for new research in this field, as well as sketching the kaleidoscopic landscape of genre films in global cinema. The POV articles promote a reconsideration of previous studies on film genres and draw attention to new approaches that the discipline might take in future. Yvonne Tasker leads off the discussion exploring the global dimension of the action and adventure genre, focusing in particular on three iconic British franchises: James Bond, Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes. The recent cycles of films centred around these male figures underline the tension between Britishness and global ambitions of attracting international audiences. In “British Action and Adventure: A National Take on a Global Genre”, Tasker invites to reconsider distinctive national traditions, but also to be aware of transnational exchanges and Hollywood’s continuing influence.

The second POV intervention considers Latin American science-fiction and fantasy films. Alfredo Suppia provides an overview of the fragmentary history of these often-connected genres, focusing in particular on the Brazilian tradition. Drawing on Dudley Andrew’s metaphors of the waves and the topographical map in order to trace different popular film productions in world cinema, Suppia argues that Latin American SF&F cinema ought to be understood along two axes. Given the multiple contaminations between filmographies, he maintains that one must consider a horizontal axis which accounts for the overlaps between national cinemas and authors and a vertical one which instead considers the dialogue within the audiovisual industry (between film and television, but also different modes of production). In “Notes on Nordic Noir as European Popular Culture” Olof Hedling draws attention to the many audio-visual incarnations of the Scandinavian crime as a successful transnational genre. By tracing the history and the difficulties of the circulation of European popular culture, Hedling concludes that the increased distribution and reception of Nordic thrillers and crime series represent an undeniable success. Nonetheless, traditional impediments, language foremost, restraint the efforts for the creation of a transnational European audiovisual culture.

The last three POVs continue the investigation into the reception, distribution and exhibition of genre films. Iain Robert Smith considers Bollywood B-movies and their reception among non-diasporic Western audiences. In his article, Smith acknowledges the marginal role of Indian cinema within existing scholarship on cult cinema, and the failure of Hindi genre cinema to become “an object of cult interest” despite the extensive tradition of international distribution. He develops the notion of “cult cosmopolitanism” to describe the recent phenomenon of discovery and celebration of neglected foreign film genres and cycles, emphasising both its risks of exoticisation and the value of drawing attention to understudied areas. Stefano Baschiera instead shifts the focus to the online film circuit and specifically analyse the online distribution sector and the emergence of video-on-demand services. He questions the new opportunities offered by online platforms in providing new visibility to world cinema and argues that the categorisation of streaming platforms constitutes a form of gatekeeping between the ultimate film product and the audience. Baschiera maintains that the new market forces, such as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, are relying more and more on the niche, and hence also international genre cinema, to fill their catalogue providing new suggestions to their users.

Finally, Phoenix Fry discusses his first-hand experience as a film programmer in the London area on the basis of his film seasons and festivals on popular global cinema. He describes the challenges of exhibiting and promoting niche products, but also the excitement of discovering vernacular adventures that offer a valid alternative to the catalogue of art-house cinema. In an age of globalisation and new economic powers Fry concludes that the interest in popular global cinema is growing within Western audiences and new solutions has to be thought regarding how to bring these genre films to the masses. It is with all this in mind that we wish that this “MondoPop” issue opens up further discussion about genre criticism within film studies and beyond.

 


 

[1] Our understanding of ‘genre’ derives from Rick Altman and Steve Neale’s seminal works on theories of film genre. They both argue that genres function as labels applied by producers, critics, audiences and marketing departments to identify cycles of productions. See Rick Altman, Film / Genre (London: BFI, 1998) and Steve Neale, Genre and Hollywood (London and New York: Routledge, 1999). In this issue the contributions develop upon their framework, expanding their remit through an analysis of diverse socio-cultural contexts.

[2] A recent textbook compensates this imbalance and combines a framework of film genre theory with case studies from world cinema, see William V. Costanzo, World Cinema through Global Genres (Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2014).

[3] We borrowed the idiom from the title of a series of screenings and events organised by Phoenix Fry in Deptford, London in 2013. See his contribution “MondoPop: The Challenges of Popular World Cinema” in this issue.

[4] For example, Barry Keith Grant acknowledges the necessity to explore non-English genres and how popular culture is becoming ‘increasingly globalised’ in his Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology (London: Wallflower, 2007), pp.107-08. The latest version of his edited collection, Film Genre Reader IV (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2012), however, includes a limited number of chapters dedicated to the international dimension of commercial filmmaking: Andrew Higson’s “Re-Presenting the National Past: Nostalgia and Pastiche in the Heritage Film”(pp. 602-27) and David Desser’s “Global Noir: Genre Film in the Age of Transnationalism” (pp. 628-48).

[5] Barry Langford, Film Genre. Hollywood and Beyond (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2006).

[6] Ginette Vincendeau, “Issues in European Cinema,” in World Cinema: Critical Approaches, eds. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 62.

[7] In the past ten years the literature on world cinema has been steadily growing. A short list includes: Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim, eds. Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film (London: Wallflower Press, 2006); Linda Badlet, R. Barton Palmer and Steven Jay Schneider, eds. Traditions in World Cinema (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006), and Lúcia Nagib, World Cinema and the Ethics of Realism (London and New York: Continuum, 2011).

[8] See for instance Rosalind Galt and Karl Schoonover, eds. Global Art Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) and Lúcia Nagib, Chris Perriam and Rajinder Dudrah, eds. Theorizing World Cinema (London: IB Tauris, 2012).

[9] The feature articles have been edited through a double blind peer review process. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and the Frames team, in particular Heath Iverson, Eileen Rositzka and Amber Shields for their enthusiasm and feedback on the original proposal.

[10] We are also indebted to the staff of the Film department at the University of Southampton for guiding us through this process. A special thank-you to Zubair Shafiq Jatoi who organised with us the symposium “Genre Beyond Hollywood” and was instrumental at the beginning of this issue.

 

Notes on Contributors

Elena Caoduro is completing a PhD in Film at the University of Southampton. Her thesis focuses on the representation of left-wing terrorism in postmillennial Italian and German cinema. She has published on multiculturalism, political cinema, cultural memory and nostalgia in edited collections and journals, such as Alphaville Journal of Film and Screen Media and Networking Knowledge.

Beth Carroll has completed her PhD in Film at the University of Southampton. Her research focuses on the spatial relations between sounds and images, particularly in the musical genre. She is also working on the development of animated virtual reconstructions to aid in reading films in haptic and multisensory ways. Beth is teaching at the University of Southampton and has publications pending on the musical genre as well as multisensory approaches to cinema.