Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 5 No. 29, September 2001

 

 

Katrina Daly Thompson

On _Framework_

 

 

 

_The Essential Framework: Classic Film and TV Essays_

Edited by Paul Willemen and Jim Pines

London: Epigraph Publications, 1998

ISBN 1902458001

258 + vi pp.

 

Paul Willemen and Jim Pines's latest collaboration is their selection of 36 essays previously published in _Framework_, the British film journal which appeared from 1974 to 1992, and for which both authors worked as editors in the 1980s. The journal was recently relaunched in 1999 after a seven-year hiatus, and has a website at <http://www.frameworkonline.com>. In this collection, Willemen (who writes the book's Introduction) attempts to highlight the journal's unique contributions to film studies and theory, in relation to other film journals published during the same time period. In contrast to _Screen_, which is criticized for its elitist and overly-academic emphasis on theory (4), and _Sight and Sound_, 'a journal fit only for the waiting rooms of Manhattan's dentists' (6), _Framework_ aimed to define film studies as broadly and diversely as possible. Willemen, in his Introduction, details four aspects of the journal's work that exemplify this policy: engagement with film festivals; opposition toward the existing forms of television (rather than to television as a medium); attention to 'independent' and international cinemas; and publication of historical film theory, especially that translated from languages other than English. It is these four elements that are represented -- haphazardly and with various degrees of success -- in this collection.

 

The book is divided into five parts: 'Towards an Archaeology of Film Theory'; 'Realisms'; 'Hollywood'; 'Television'; and 'Independent Production'. Each title refers to a subsection of the journal itself. Unfortunately, some of the more interesting subsections of _Framework_ are left out, including 'Womens [sic] and Cinema', 'Interviews', and the special reviews of various (inter)national cinemas. The lack of the latter is particularly felt -- while 'independent cinema' is dealt with in 11 articles, the coverage of 'international cinema' is restricted to Europe, the United States, and to a very limited degree, India and Israel. According to '_Framework_: Complete Backlist', included as an appendix to the book, the journal itself provided a much broader perspective offering examinations of Ghanaian, Senegalese, Chilean, Cuban, Bolivian, Argentine, Australian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Indian, Irish, Soviet, Polish, Chinese, and Sri Lankan film cultures (published in that order over eighteen years).

 

Unfortunately, Willemen neglects to explain why these particular essays were chosen for republication, except to say that they 'can be seen as still particularly or potentially productive in the present context of the late nineties' (8). In other words, they are essential. But we already knew that from the title! Even if each piece is essential within its own sub-field of film studies, as a whole the collection is just that: a collection. No common thread seems to unite its parts, other than Willemen and Pines's desire to give us a picture of what _Framework_ used to be. In fact, Willemen is at pains to characterize the journal as eclectic, as refusing to define film or film studies in an essentialist manner. Whereas British film culture, as depicted by Willemen, was in other respects insular, the staff of and contributors to _Framework_ sought an 'engagement with all aspects of cinema' (5). The motley collection presented here also attempts to do it all and as a result gives no aspect the full treatment it deserves.

 

That said, there are some very good essays included. Among the best is Colin McArthur's review of _Scotland's Story_ (first published in 1985), in which he explores the core/periphery relationship between England and Scotland as he criticizes the representation of the latter in a Scottish television series. In another strong essay, 'Striptease East and West: Sexual Representation in Documentary Film' (1992), Liz Kotz analyzes five films (from India, Israel, and the US) that document the lives of women strippers, using her analysis to problematize feminist theories of 'the look' and of the 'speaking subject' as represented through documentary interviews. Meaghan Morris, in 'Indigestion: The Practice of Reviewing', offers an analysis of how film reviewing works and a politics based on form and style.

 

What these articles have in common is, first, their length (6, 14 and 15 pages respectively). Many of the other essays in the collection are extremely short -- 3 to 5 pages -- a space that does not allow them to fully develop an argument. 'Star Wars: Some Notes' (1978/79) by the Manchester SEFT Film Discussion Group, for example, is so fragmented as to leave one wondering why it was published at all. Is this the kind of article that prevents _Framework_ from becoming an elitist academic journal? If so, is that something for which Willemen and Pines should be proud?

 

The second and more important commonality among the best essays of this collection is their emphasis on power relations. This weight is in line with what Willemen refers to as the journal's 'engagement with issues of cultural difference' and the editors' 'conviction that any variety of 'centric' (ethnocentric, Eurocentric) or 'essentialist' critical frames of reference were to be rejected' (10). Given this engagement, I would have liked to see more anti-essentialist essays included in this collection. Willemen promises, though, that these will appear in a second volume devoted to non-Euro-American cinemas (his and Pines's area of specialization). Unlike those of the current collection, the essays in the second volume will, he claims, 'have a coherence as well as a political constituency of their own' (10). If the editors can keep this promise, the second volume is something to which readers can look forward. The current one, unfortunately, will leave most disappointed.

 

University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

 

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2001

 

Katrina Daly Thompson, 'On _Framework_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 5 no. 29, September 2001 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol5-2001/n29thompson>.

 

 

 

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