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Posted March 3, 2012
Film is my favorite art form, and I consider myself somewhat of a cinephile. I have a wide range of tastes, and I can enjoy a variety of genres – from the blockbuster action flicks, to cerebral art-house works. I am not a snob when it comes to watching films, and can appreciate a good film no matter what its intended audience may be. I fully believe that true artists can make art with almost any kind of constraints on their work. Hence I was really pleased to read “Film – A Very Short Introduction.” Michael Wood seems to share my own enthusiasm for Film in all of its forms, and has managed to convey much of this enthusiasm in this small book.
The topic of Film is so vast and heterogeneous that it is almost impossible to do it justice in such a little volume. Any such book would require significant cuts and exclusions, and a very judicious choice of material for inclusion. In my opinion, Wood has largely succeeded in achieving the right balance of covering as wide a collection of material as possible with this format, while managing to go in depth with several important and intriguing topic. The book heavily emphasizes the American, European, and to some extent Japanese cinemas, which is understandable considering that these cinemas have traditionally had the widest cultural impact. However, it would be interested in reading more about the “world” film, and I hope that OUP comes out with one such VSI volume in the near future. Wood also emphasizes the “classic” films, especially in the period up to the 1960s. There is a good reason for this, as many of those films have defined genres and the film language for the rest of the film history, but again, would have liked to see more discussion of the “modern” film in an upcoming VSI volume. However, Wood is not a film snob, and he mentions several of the interesting and/or important films from the past few decades.
The book alerted me to some classic films that I had not heard of before, and I immediately added them to my online queue. I think that we are fortunate to live in the age when an increasing variety of films from all eras and provenances are ever more accessible for our viewing. As a commercial for an internet provider form a few years ago implied, the day is coming when anyone will be able to watch any film ever made, anytime, anywhere. It will be interesting to see how this technological development impacts film and our lives.
One slight issue that I have with this book has to do with its style and the manner of presentation. The book is very discursive and almost philosophical, with a very strong humanities flavor. Wood is very imaginative, and he likes to indulge in deep introspection about the meaning and the nature of film. A reader who expects to find a straightforward historical/technical narrative about the history of film may be slightly disappointed. For the most part, though, I found Wood’s musings interesting and intellectually stimulating, especially since he focused so diligently on film in its artistic dimension. Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for film criticism today is so tainted with the political and societal commentary that true beauty of films as art gets obscured.