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March 1995, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 10 Mar 1995 12:35:50 CST
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Gloria Monti writes:
"You mentioned India--the country that produces the largest number
of films in the world: 700 to 1,000 feature films a year.  Do we (who's we?)
see them?  No.  Therefore, it is not who makes the most films who gets
distributed, it is who has the economic and ideological power to impose
their cultural values throughout the world(s).
        I am teaching Close Analysis of Film this semester--a course
which is almost entirely predicated upon analyses of US films written by
European men (Bellour, Heath, Aumont, etc.).  I know, we also have the
wonderful work of Bergstrom on *The Birds* and Thompson's book *Breaking the
Glass Armor.*   I decided to diversify the curriculum by including  a
film such as Sembene's *La Noire de...* which I was able to find with
enormous difficulty.  I wanted to break that Euro-American tradition. "
You're quite right about availability--we have to run 90 miles up the road
to the Twin Cities even to see something like DEATH AND THE MAIDEN.
(Though great and obscure--to Americans--foreign films routinely run at
the University of Minnesota Film Society)
On the other hand, there is stuff that sneaks through on cable, pops up in
a dusty corner of the video store, or is available--for the really committed--
from various mail-order video outlets.  But it does take effort and some
knowledge of what you're looking for.
On the other hand, with that knowledge there is probably more availability
of 3rd (or 1st and 2nd) Cinemas than at any time in history--they aren't
just restricted to a handful of art houses any more.
Re: the African films on Cinemax (which is not available in much of the
world, yes).  I've taped them, but haven't gotten around to viewing most yet.
I had, though, already seen Sembene's CAMP AT THIAROYE, which concerns a
massacre of African World War II vets who bridle at the slow pace of
repatriation by their French commanders--the ironies pile up.  But the film
does suggest the difficulties that close analysis can run into with films
outside the Euro-American mainstreams.  CAMP seems somewhat slow-paced,
didactic in tone, which a number of American reviewers (or I should say the
few who bothered to cover it) found problematic.  One of the more perceptive
reviewers in a Twin Cities paper, though, did talk about the film as a
kind of Pan-African fable, suggesting the need for an African unity that
went beyond nation or tribe (the internees from the camp are from all over
French colonial Africa).  Perhaps the key scene is the one in which they
break into separate caucuses to debate their course of action, and in a
multitude of tongues come to a joint decision.  But then they're all killed.
I once suggested that Souleymane Cisse's BRIGHTNESS (YEELEN--better
translated in its French title, "The Light") plays off influences by and
allusions to African oral traditions and classical European mythology,
the characterizations of both European art cinema and the patterns and
traditions of tribal life.  One scene, depicting a ceremony in the tribal
cult of the "Komo," seems puzzling and too long to Western eyes, but
Cisse said it would have tremendous impact to a native Mali (Bambara)
viewer, connecting them to the roots of songs and ceremonies passed down
but repressed.  In other words, it points for the need for a prior knowledge
that pure formalism cannot acknowledge--a contextual formalism can give
access to some of these films, but we need to find the contexts first.
When an American viewer who even lacks much of the context of the classical
Western past encounters these works, there is little to anchor them.
(Which is perhaps why Kurosawa--who at least *seems* more Western than
other Japanese directors--has been the most accepted of Japanese directors
in America.  David Desser--Please correct me if I'm wrong about this!)
I'm afraid I'm starting to ramble, it being Friday (on this side of the
Date Line), but what do others think?  On the other hand, what's the
reception of THE LION KING in Africa?  How does ALADDIN play in the
Middle East (if at all)?
--Don Larsson, Mankato State U., MN