While many studies have been written on national cinemas, Early Cinema and the "National" is the first anthology to focus on the concept of national film culture from a wide methodological spectrum of interests, including not only visual and narrative forms, but also international geopolitics, exhibition and marketing practices, and pressing linkages to national imageries. The essays in this richly illustrated, landmark anthology are devoted to reconsidering the nation as a framing category for writing cinema history. Many of the 34 contributors show that concepts of a national identity played a role in establishing the parameters of cinema's early development, from technological change to discourses of stardom, from emerging genres to intertitling practices. Yet, as others attest, national meanings could often become knotty in other contexts, when concepts of nationhood were contested in relation to colonial/imperial histories and regional configurations. Early Cinema and the "National" takes stock of a formative moment in cinema history, tracing the beginnings of the process whereby nations learned to imagine themselves through moving images.
Abel (Univ. of Michigan), Bertellini (Univ. of Michigan), and King (Univ. of Toronto) are all specialists in the field of early cinema. Here they bring together 34 essays by as many historians to tackle a big subject, namely, how motion pictures in the first two decades of the 20th century constructed 'communities of nationality.' As historian Tom Gunning suggests in his essay, cinema was international before it was national, and 'cinema's relation to both global and national discourses arose in the first decades of the twentieth century.' The sheer scope and variety of subject matter (not to mention the microscopic size of the text font) is daunting. Technological change, geopolitical contexts, exhibition and marketing practices, inter-titling, and colonial/imperialistic considerations are only a few ingredients in this Dagwood sandwich of a book. Best begun with modest nibbles, it eventually proves to be a bountiful repast of meditations on what Abel calls 'national imaginaries' as overlapping components: geographical origin, the imagined sense of belonging, cultural clichés, and/or constructed images. The editors declare the 'rethinkings' in this book are 'profoundly relevant [in this] era of newly globalized capitalism, mass migrations of peoples across borders, and deceptive imperialist adventures.' Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty. — Choice~J. C. Tibbetts
. . . has 34 authors of as many chapters that consider the nation state as a framing category for writing cinema history.Vol. 40.3 July-Sept. 2009~Bruce A. Austin, COMMUNICATION BOOKNOTES Q