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Introduction: dialogues with Hollywood

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Abstract:

The contributors to this special edition of Studies in European Cinema were all participants in the second annual meeting of the European Cinema Research Forum at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth in January 2002. The aim of the conference was to debate and analyse the tensions between European cinema and its ‘others’ both within the context of European culture and beyond. This has subsequently given rise to a British Academy Networks Project entitled ‘Screening Identities: Reconfiguring Identity Politics in Contemporary European Cinema’, which is currently investigating the relationship between film-makers within the European Union and those on its eastern and southern borders. However, in this present volume, we explore what transpired to be a main focus of the conference: namely European film culture’s parasitic, conflictive and at times romantic relationship with Hollywood.

Since the earliest days of the medium, Hollywood has had a profound effect on the history of European cinema, and vice versa. In the 1920s and 1930s, America was a magnet for the cream of Europe’s film industry and a refuge for many seeking exile, the immigration of European directors, cameramen and actors bringing with it new techniques and aesthetics. Since the end of the Second World War, however, the traffic of influence has been largely in the other direction. The domination of American film culture in Europe is unquestionable, not just in terms of audience demand for Hollywood films - as well as Hollywood-styled indigenous products - but also in the American influence on distribution, marketing and production. Nevertheless, while Hollywood might be the senior partner, Europe’s influence cannot, of course, be ignored. Stars have come and gone in both directions, while adaptations of literary works continue to travel back and forth across the Atlantic. In recent years, for example, it was quite an intriguing web in itself to trace Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley from Alain Delon to Dennis Hopper to Matt Damon to John Malkovich, and who knows where he will turn up next. In a similar vein, the transposition of genres such as melodrama (Sirk, Fassbinder, Almodovar, Haynes) and film noir (Hawks, Truffaut, Altman, Uribe) has provided further evidence of a thriving cross-pollination of film aesthetics and their subversion.

The essays collected in this volume look at the way European filmmakers and critics have productively explored their relationship with Hollywood. Fiona Handyside examines Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks, 1953) and Funny Face (Donen, 1957), investigating the manner in which these Hollywood musicals construct Europe, or more specifically France, as a Utopian space that is an extension of the fetishized object of desire embodied in the film’s female stars. This she then contrasts with the films’ reception in France itself, which saw critics deconstruct this Utopia in an attempt to reverse Hollywood’s gaze. John Davidson focuses on one of the clearest examples of film-making as a dialogue between the United States and Europe in his reading of the recent work of the German director Wim Wenders. These are films that see Wenders return to the United States for his setting, but which, at the same time, see him turn away from what Davidson identifies as the overtly American, ‘Turnerian aesthetic’ of his earlier work, towards a mode of film-making which recalls more strongly the work of the German theorist Siegfried Kracauer. In Owen Evans’s article we remain with German cinema to examine one of its most internationally successful films of recent years, Run Lola Run/Lola Rennt (Tykwer, 1998). For Evans this film marks the beginning of a new age of cinema in Germany, in which film-makers can escape both the overwhelming need to deal with the Nazi past and the banality of the ‘yuppie life-style comedies’ that have characterized recently the German domestic product. The transatlantic impact of this film is due, Evans argues, not to the postmodern games that other critics identify as its key feature, but to its manipulation of one of the most traditional of German art forms: the fairy tale. Alan O’Leary examines the appropriation of the ‘classical Hollywood history film’ by Neil Jordan and Shekhar Kapur, scrutinizing the intersection between the representations of gender, nation and cinematic space in Michael Collins (1996) and Elizabeth (1998) respectively. Specifically, he looks at how these films self-reflectively examine cinematic conventions, thus going beyond other readings that view both texts purely as examples of contemporary nation-building at work. In Isabel Santaolalla’s article we turn to Spanish cinema, and Iciar Bollain’s revisitation of William Wellman’s 1951 Westward the Women, the wild frontier country of this American classic being replaced by a heavily depopulated rural Spain. This she analyses by means of Freud’s notion of the ‘uncanny’, to reveal how the film subverts conventional Spanish understandings of the town-countryside dichotomy. In sum, this edition of Studies in European Cinema suggests that while the relationship between Europe and Hollywood may well continue to be asymmetrical, nonetheless it is still possible, and indeed productive, to talk of a dialogue between these two film cultures.

Keywords: Europe; France; Germany; Hollywood; Poland; Spain; musicals

Document Type: Editorial

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/seci.1.2.73/0

Affiliations: 1: University of Leeds, UK 2: University of Wales Swansea, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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  • Studies in European Cinema provides an outlet for research into any aspect of European cinema and is unique in its interdisciplinary nature, celebrating the rich and diverse cultural heritage across the continent. The journal is distinctive in bringing together a range of European cinemas in one volume and in its positioning of the discussions within a range of contexts - the cultural, historical, textual, and many others.
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