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World Filmmakers: A Critical List of Books (February 2013): Cultural Film Theory

By Mark Emmons and Audra Bellmore

Cultural Film Theory

Cultural film theory focuses on how films reflect the culture in which they are made with a goal of understanding how meaning is constructed in a society’s social, historical, political, economic, and religious context.  Alexander García Düttman argues in Visconti: Insights into Flesh and Blood that Luchino Visconti’s films support Theodor Adorno’s theory that utopia emerges from potential.

In The Cinema of Satyajit Ray, Chidananda Das Gupta analyzes that filmmaker through an Indian aesthetic, exploring issues of identity and culture.  Darius Cooper also examines Ray’s films through an Indian cultural context; in The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between Tradition and Modernity, he uses the idea of “rasa,” or aesthetic perception, to claim that Ray’s blending of Indian and Western culture to explore Indian society reveals new themes and uncovers powerful meanings.  In Satyajit Ray: A Study of His Films, Ben Nyce concludes, in a mix of an auteur and cultural approach, that all of Ray’s great works are about change from the old to the new.

Two critics explore existential themes in Ingmar Bergman’s films.  In The Influence of Existentialism on Ingmar Bergman: An Analysis of the Theological Ideas Shaping a Filmmaker’s Art, Charles Ketcham engages in a philosophical discussion focusing on existential themes such as abandonment, judgment, and shame.  In The Films of Ingmar Bergman, Jesse Kalin explores those themes as well as those of suffering, a visionary picture, and turning toward (or away) from others.  Marc Gervais takes a different approach to Bergman, noting in Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet how he structures his films in order to comment on postwar Western culture.  In François Truffaut, Diana Holmes and Robert Ingram look at Truffaut’s construction of masculinity from a sociopolitical perspective.

Two works cover Jean-Luc Godard: David Sterritt claims in The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible that the theme of the “invisible” reveals cultural critical themes in his work; Douglas Morrey in Jean-Luc Godard makes a cultural criticism, using film in context and as context.

Both James Goodwin in Eisenstein, Cinema, and History and Anne Nesbet in Savage Junctures: Sergei Eisenstein and the Shape of Thinking argue that Sergei Eisenstein’s films can be read only in the historical, political, and intellectual context of Soviet Russia and Marxism and Stalinism.  Garry Watson takes a political approach in The Cinema of Mike Leigh: A Sense of the Real, arguing that Leigh’s films produce a sense of the real and a feeling of reality by their grounding in social class and authentic-looking people.  In Buñuel and Mexico: The Crisis of National Cinema, Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz explores Luis Buñuel’s Mexican films, arguing that they reflect the transitional nature of nationalism of the 1930s through the 1960s.

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto analyzes the films of Akira Kurosawa in the context of the Japanese film industry in Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema.  Tadao Satō, Aruna Vasudev, and Latika Padgaonkar take a similar approach in Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema, studying Mizoguchi’s films in the context of his life and Japanese culture.

Joseph Cunneen focuses on how faith and religion are presented in Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film; Brian Price, on the other hand, argues in Neither God nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics that Bresson is not a spiritual filmmaker, but that his films instead reflect his radical politics.

Most monographs use a single theoretical approach—though several described earlier meld multiple approaches.  One monograph that uses multiple approaches is The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World, in which Raymond Carney and Leonard Quart uncover themes that run across all of Leigh’s films.  And some filmmakers, such as Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray, Luchino Visconti, and Jean-Luc Godard, attract every sort of analysis.

Works Cited