The persistence of the political: films, festivals and looking back.
We always aimed to have a wider, popular engagement than the academy, although clearly our writers contributed to film scholarship, and many articles over the years were reprinted or revised for collections and books. We began with the proud subtitle A Magazine of Radical Criticism and the proclamation of varied commitments, across what was always a diverse collective, to socialism, feminism, gay liberation--as was then said--and Marxism. For me, my Marxist commitments remain the same. But clearly, the magazine moderated its presentation, became more respectable and academic. Despite our editorial injunctions about style and avoiding footnotes, our contents adapted to the institutionalization of film studies that deepened over those years.
Over thirty, years, changes and developments in the world of film and media have been constant and complex. This issue features several discussions that rise to the challenge of assessment and contextualization of both continuity and rupture. Some things don't seem to have changed all that much however. CineAction always placed a strong emphasis on the political and aesthetic analysis of Hollywood classic and contemporary--and our first few issues had several considerations of formal and ideological features of the Hollywood of the eighties. Robin Wood outlined key reactionary trends in what he called Dominant Tendencies. That influential assessment is updated in this issue. I contributed a discussion of Hollywood's ideological contradictions and persistent liberalism and briefly considered the formal features of what was clearly becoming the prevailing commodity form of corporate Hollywood--the blockbuster. None of these analyses seem out of place in the High Concept Hollywood of the twenty-first century as we watch another Rocky or Red Dawn, wait for the female Ghostbusters or line up for the latest superhero franchise installment. Indeed, a book shelf of recent studies of the formal and ideological features of global and industrial Hollywood seem to be consistent with those thirty- year- old discussions.
It is also striking how persistently our writers and editors have maintained a dedication to the political in our themes and criticism. The voice may be moderated but over the years, and over several waves of critics and scholars, we have constantly returned to the politics of film. Issues on feminism, sexual politics, queer cinema, imperialism and globalization, race and racism, documentary and social movements have consistently focused on radical critique. Indeed, we have repeated our focus on the politics of criticism in multiple issues. As well, our many issues on diverse genres always emphasized the political possibilities and complexities of popular film, while attendant to changes in performance, style and conventions too. Looking at several issues on genre I edited--Horror, Global Apocalypse, Science Fiction, Fantasy and CGI--clearly showed how critics like Robin Wood had politicized a generation of genre criticism.
We also consistently highlighted Canadian films in regular issues, helping development of a cohort of young Canadian critics and scholars. Writers and articles from CineAction are prominent in many of the books and collections that have marked a boom in Canadian film studies in recent years.
One important change in film culture that developed over the years was the importance of the Toronto International Film Festival. Essays on premiering films at the Festival became an annual feature of the magazine's organization and were one of our most enjoyable editorial tasks. The Festival gave us access to films we might never have seen. Partly, this reflects the significant growth of the role and profile of festivals around the world. Festivals are part of the vast corporate organization of production, promotion and distribution. But they still function in the tradition of cinematheques--allowing the latest obscure art film or documentary or newest film from Burkina Faso to be discovered and savoured. For the collective, it allowed us to follow particular interests and critically update them--Asian action, French auteurs, whatever chance spectatorship provided. For me, while the Festival was always immersed in the Global Hollywood behemoth, it was simultaneously dedicated to bringing me the political films I craved. I was stunned by Paul Leduc's beautiful Frida naturaleza viva in 1984, one of the great later films of Third Cinema. A few years later, Roger & Me introduced me to Michael Moore. The Festival was where I discovered the Dardenne brothers, saw Ken Loach's Szveet Sixteen and all his latest films. I saw Tomas Gutierrez Alea's last film, Guantanamera, and interviewed Juan Carlos Tabio, his co-director. I could keep up with %bio's later films, like So Far Away and could follow independent Cuban films in recent years. The Festival was an inspiration to write about many of these films and incorporate them into teaching about film and radicalism.
In recent years, the Festival premiered films that looked back at earlier moments of radicalization to celebrate and to question. Olivier Assayas's harsh judgment on his revolutionary youth, Something in the Air, documentaries on the Black Panthers and Angela Davis--these films are targeted at both today's young radicals and old sixties and seventies revolutionaries like me. Last year, Mina Shum's Ninth Floor movingly recalled the Sir George Williams occupation of 1969, one of the high points of Canada's sixties radicalization. The protest against racism by a handful of Caribbean students became a confrontation with the university authorities, a mass occupation, with a dangerous fire and a police riot. The young radicals are now sombre, dignified elders. The film places the events in the context of sixties mass movements and revolutions, with striking newsreel footage. Images of Montreal police brutality and thousands denouncing Canadian imperialism outside a Canadian bank in Trinidad are unforgettable. This may be radical nostalgia, but it functions not only as remembrance but as part of re-imagining the possibilities of the present.
Finally, what kept us political was the influence of two great political film critics, Andrew Britton and Robin Wood. Their work remains important to any serious political discussion of film and they were always inspirational for my work. They are still missed. I am sure Robin meant that the last issue he edited a few years ago, on Protest and Revolution, was a reminder to the rest of us.
Looking back at CineAction, we have made a serious contribution to the culture of film criticism and to the politics of film. That is what we set out to do.
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|Title Annotation:||END(ING) NOTES|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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