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Masculinity in Film: The Emergence of a New Literature (February 2014): Masculinity and National Identity

By Gerald Butters Jr.

Masculinity and National Identity

The past decade has seen an outpouring of work on national constructions of cinematic masculinity.  In Contemporary Hollywood Masculinities, Susanne Kord and Elisabeth Krimmer consider a large body of work from the Clinton-Bush years (1992-2008).  The authors look at the intersection of genre and masculinity in modern American film, focusing on the nexus of the political and the cinematic, “because there is an inextricable link between the fate of masculinity and that of the nation.”  Though most scholars consider the familiar body of turn-of-the-century work, Kord and Krimmer consider films that have been outside that core group.  These include huge blockbusters and franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and Spiderman.  The authors demonstrate the importance of such iconic films in negotiating the terrain of masculinity.  The authors emphasize “destabilized masculinity” in their analysis of late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century films, and they illustrate how this body of movies differs from the hard-body action films of the Reagan 1980s.

Ewa Mazierska fills in a gap in cultural analysis of national cinemas with her study Masculinities in Polish, Czech and Slovak Cinema.  She offers an excellent overview of masculinity in relationship to war, fatherhood, love, and homosexuality in the films of these nations.  This is a highly interpretive yet readily accessible book.  One of its greatest strengths is its historical grounding.  The author places films within the political and social movements occurring at the time of their production and release, and argues that the majority of portrayals of men in her study were “products of history and ideology.”  Mazierska’s subtle understanding of larger psychological forces at work within Polish, Czech, and Slovak cultures and the impact that those forces had on cinema make this a dynamic, engaging study.  She clearly demonstrates how masculinity studies can be comparative, historical, and theoretical at the same time.  This book serves as a model for future national studies.

Other recent successful works on nationalized masculinity include Santiago Fouz-Hernández and Alfredo Martínez-Expósito’s Live Flesh: The Male Body in Contemporary Spanish Cinema, which delivers a remarkably well-researched scholarly study of the representation of male bodies in contemporary Spanish cinema.  Chris Perriam also focuses on recent Spanish cinema in Stars and Masculinities in Spanish Cinema.  Perriam examines the careers and performances of well-known contemporary male stars such as Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas.  Geneviève Sellier’s Masculine Singular delivers a gender-studies approach to the formidable and groundbreaking body of films deemed the “French new wave.”

In her ingenious Men and Masculinities in Irish Cinema, Debbie Ging brings to the table a host of topics, including gender theory, national cinema, and masculinity in film culture.  Joseph Paul Moser’s Irish Masculinity on Screen: The Pugilists and Peacemakers of John Ford, Jim Sheridan, and Paul Greengrass explores fundamental questions about violence, identity, and patriarchy within Irish and Irish American contexts.  In New Soviet Man: Gender and Masculinity in Stalinist Soviet Cinema, John Haynes explores the “imagined relationship” between the dictator Josef Stalin and his “sons” throughout his empire.  Haynes demonstrates how the film industry of the period could both have wide appeal yet be subversive within the confines of state censorship.  Finally, Carolina Rocha explores a wide body of Argentine film in Masculinities in Contemporary Argentine Popular Cinema.  Rocha, a scholar of Argentine culture, discusses the critical reaction to a wide range of films and uses gender theory to approach each text.

Works Cited