Voices on indie exhibition

Interesting round-table of voices on Indiewire in response to one of the latest expressions of doom-and-gloom about demand for theatrical exhibition, particularly of indie and art films.

This is a seemingly endless debate, often circling around the same issues, but there are some usefully calm and pragmatic voices here. We do need to remember that most indie films have never gained theatrical release, even in the ‘golden age’ of the late 1980s and 1990s, so panic responses are often overstated. And, as suggested here, there remains a particular space for the theatrical experience for non-mainstream films, even if it is limited.

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Positioning Art Cinema, cover and blurbs

Very pleased with the finished cover design for my new book, Positioning Art Cinema: Film and Cultural Value, now due out at the end of this month. A copy of the descriptive blurb is included below. I’m also very grateful to those who provided wonderfully supportive quotations for the cover or inside, also copied below as they might not be legible in the image.

Art cinema occupies a space in the film landscape that is accorded a particular kind of value. From films that claim the status of harsh realism to others which embody aspects of the tradition of modernism or the poetic, art cinema encompasses a variety of work from across the globe.

But how is art cinema positioned in the film marketplace, or by critics and in academic analysis? Exactly what kinds of cultural value are attributed to films of this type and how can this be explained? This book offers a unique analysis of how such processes work, including the broader cultural basis of the appeal of art cinema to particular audiences.

Geoff King argues that there is no single definition of art cinema, but a number of distinct and recurrent tendencies are identified. At one end of the spectrum are films accorded the most ‘heavyweight’ status, offering the greatest challenges to viewers. Others mix aspects of art cinema with more accessible dimensions such as uses of popular genre frameworks and ‘exploitation’ elements involving explicit sex and violence. Including case studies of key figures such as Michael Haneke, PedroAlmodóvar and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, this is a crucial contribution to understanding both art cinema itself and the discourses through which its value is established.

‘For too long, the term “art cinema” has suffered from slippery, I-knowit-when-I-see-it usage. Incisively and intrepidly, Geoff King dissects thiscontested category, deliberating on the diverse, yet codified ways ofattributing cultural value to film drama.’
Mattias Frey, Professor of Film and Media, University of Kent, UK‘

Here’s a book film studies has long needed. Geoff King is sensitive tonuances of both text and context and he introduces fruitful terms like the“heavyweight” film. Essential reading for anyone interested in art cinema!’
Michael Z. Newman, Associate Professor and Chair,Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies,University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA

‘With Positioning Art Cinema, Geoff King deftly executes a delicateintellectual maneuver: writing nonjudgmentally about critical judgments.The book navigates the subjective and contradictory terminology thatsurrounds a range of films, filmmakers and modalities framed as distinctfrom perceived mainstream entertainments. Never drifting into schematictaxonomy, King shrewdly unpacks the proliferating categories thatscholars, critics and filmmakers themselves have used to assign culturalvalue to cinema.’
Mark Gallagher, Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies,University of Nottingham, UK‘

‘Following his leading work in the fields of Hollywood blockbusters,American independent cinema and quality Hollywood films, Geoff Kinghere shifts his attention to the often vaguely defined and understood fieldof art cinema. Through questioning established critical orthodoxies andwith the help of his trademark close textual analysis of key recent titles,Positioning Art Cinema does a great job in laying bare the complex,culturally determined and often unspoken assumptions that help elevatethis type of cinema to the top of cultural hierarchies. Superbly researchedand utterly readable, the book will appeal to both experts in the field andart film novices.’
Yannis Tzioumakis, Reader in Film and Media Industries,University of Liverpool, UK

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Positioning Art Cinema

I’m delighted to be able to report that I’ve managed to get the original title restored for my forthcoming book on art cinema, which will now be called Positioning Art Cinema: Film and Cultural Value, which represents the focus of the book much better than the bland ‘Art Cinema’ main title that was previously insisted on the publisher. This was the rather fortunate fall-out, for me, of the recent take-over of I B. Tauris by Bloomsbury.

What follows is a draft cover blurb for the book, which is due out at the end of October. Should be able to post a cover image soon.

Positioning Art Cinema: Film and Cultural Value offers a unique examination of the way art cinema is positioned in the film landscape and how its cultural value is established. It explores a range of types of art cinema and its framing within critical and academic discourse, seeking to explain the broader socio-cultural basis of its appeal to particular audiences.

Geoff King argues that there is no single definition of art cinema, but a number of distinct and recurrent tendencies are identified. At one end of the spectrum are films accorded the most ‘heavyweight’ status, offering the greatest challenges to viewers. Others mix aspects of art cinema with more accessible dimensions such as uses of popular genre frameworks and ‘exploitation’ elements involving explicit sex and violence. Including case studies of films such as Michael Haneke’s Hidden, Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse and PedroAlmodóvar’s All About My Mother, this is a crucial contribution to understanding both art cinema itself and the usually taken-for-granted bases on which it is accorded cultural value.

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New book on art cinema

I’ve recently signed a contract for my next book, Art Cinema: Positioning Films and the Construction of Cultural Value. I’m quite excited about this project, which is already at an advanced stage, due for submission late summer for publication by I.B. Tauris in 2018. It’s a expansion of some of the key issues I’ve been exploring in recent work, focusing on the ways certain kinds of cultural value and status are accorded to art cinema – and so widening the scope of my focus beyond the American contexts (indie, Indiewood and the studio ‘quality’ film) that have been my main objects of study in recent years. In its focus on the bases on which notions of cultural value are attributed (or otherwise) to certain kinds of film, it builds particularly on some approaches central to my recent Quality Hollywood: Markers of Distinction in Contemporary Studio Film (2016).

I haven’t been posting much here of late, mostly because I’ve been working on this book without having a publisher in place, and so have been a bit reticent (I’ve previously usually got publishers lined up at an earlier stage in the writing process, so this is an unusual situation for me). One thing of which I’ve become increasingly aware over the last year or more is how contentious a field the study of art cinema can be, from some responses I’ve had to my initial proposal. If the American indie sector is an area in which plenty of strongly held investments exist, including on the part of those who study the subject, this seems to be all the more so for art film, a category that remains highly contested.

My book on this subject includes a focus on academic ways of positioning art cinema and attributing to it certain kinds of higher worth, and some of the usually unspoken assumptions (and often excessive claims) on which these sometimes rest, which makes it likely to be more contentious that my previous work.

Will be posting some more details about aspects of the book here in the future.

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Companion to American Indie Film out soon; plus Indie Reframed

A new collection I’ve edited, A Companion to American Indie Film is out soon from Wiley Blackwell (due 6 December). I’m really pleased with the way this has worked out. You can read the intro and find a full list of chapters and contributors on this site here.

final cover

The aim of this collection, for me, was to offer a more concerted approach to the territory than is the norm for many edited collections. That’s always quite hard to pull off, given the various different orientations and interests of any group of contributors, but I think it does generally succeed in this (it starts with an emphasis on broader aspects of indie culture before examining various individual manifestations that can be situated within these kinds of frameworks). I am, of course, hugely grateful to all of those who have contributed. Editing any collection can be quite a slog, and this one is larger than usual (more than 500 pages), but it went really smoothly and has been more of a pleasure than I’d expected.

The only downside is that the book’s eye-wateringly expensive: just under £125 in the UK for the Kindle edition ($152 in the US), with the hardback going to be even more. So looks like a library-only prospect for now.

It’s clearly the season for indie collections, as my book is joined by the excellent Indie Reframed: Women’s Filmmaking and Contemporary American Independent Cinema, edited by Linda Badley, Claire Perkins and Michele Schreiber (Edinburgh University Press). This is the first volume to address the specific role of women in the indie sector in a sustained manner. I’m delighted to be one of the contributors, details of all of which are available here.

cover from amazon

Nice to see also that this one is immediately available in paperback at an affordable price (not exactly cheap at £25), something that seems ever-rarer these days. I haven’t had the chance to read all the chapters yet but this looks like a really useful addition to the field (and I love the cover image).

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Interview – in Portuguese

There’s a quite lengthy interview about indie film I’ve done for a Portuguese film website available below – although it’s in Portuguese, so might not be accessible to many!

Geoff King: “o interesse da noção de independência resulta de ser algo sempre contestável”

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Quality Hollywood cover

The final cover has now been agreed for my new book, Quality Hollywood: Markers of Distinction in Contemporary Studio Film, which of course necessitates a plug! Will update when it hits the shops, which shouldn’t be too far away.

Quality Hollywood

Below is the cover blurb. A slightly longer and more personal description of the book is available on its new entry in the list of my works in these pages, here.

What defines ‘quality’ in contemporary Hollywood film? Although often seen as inhospitable to such work, the studios of the blockbuster-franchise era continue to produce features that make claims to higher status. Films such as The Social Network, The Assassination of Jesse James and Mystic River are marked as distinctive from the mainstream norm. But how exactly, and how are such qualities mixed with more familiar Hollywood ingredients, as found in larger doses in other examples such as Blood Diamond and the blockbuster-scale Inception?
Quality Hollywood is the first book to address these issues, featuring close analysis of case study films, critical responses and the wider notions of cultural value on which these draw. Geoff King argues that such films retain a presence as a minority strand of studio output. The reasons for this combine factors relating to economics, the power of certain filmmakers and Hollywood’s investment in its own prestige.

I’m grateful for Prof. Tom Schatz for providing a kind endorsement for the cover, as follows:

With Quality Hollywood, Geoff King provides yet another astute assessment of contemporary cinema and contemporary culture. In incisive case studies of films such as Inception and The Social Network, King demonstrates how issues of authorship, style and storytelling still matter – and how quality filmmaking has somehow persisted – in the current age of formulaic blockbusters and dumbed-down billion-dollar franchises.
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Chantal Akerman

Sad to hear of the death of Chantal Akerman. Her films constitute a major contribution to and influence on international art cinema, particularly in its minimalist realist strands. They’re also an obvious reference point for some types of indie films that lean in such a direction. I can’t do better than to offer a link to a tribute on the excellent Film Studies for Free website.

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A balanced account of ‘quality’ in Hollywood – and a shameless plug!

Here’s something of a novelty, a journalistic piece about contemporary Hollywood that for once adopts a balanced approach to the subject of whether or not the studios still make any of the kinds of films that are still critically lauded for broad notions of ‘quality’ status. I’m referring to a ‘state of the industry’ piece in The New York Times by its two main critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O.Scott, one which expresses plenty of personal reservations about the nature of many Hollywood films but that combines this with a more than usually level-headed approach to the picture overall.

Normal journalistic practice is to exaggerate this kind of ‘trend-spotting’ – either to proclaim the death of such films, or to express wonder when a few seem to come along at the same time. The truth is, indeed, that there’s very much more continuity than is suggested in that kind of reporting.

Which, of course, brings me on to the subject of my new book (surely not a plug?), which is due out soon, Quality Hollywood: Markers of Distinction in Contemporary Studio Film. The argument about the continuity of production of what are defined as ‘quality’ films is something I make here, along with digging down quite a lot into what exactly is meant by a term such as ‘quality’, one that, in this use, entails a particular kind of position in a prevailing hierarchy of value, and how exactly this tends to be manifested in studio features. More news on this soon, including the cover, once the text on the back page has been finalised.

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marketing departments in film and academic publishing

I’m working on a new book project that’s an analysis of the various ways in which art cinema is positioned as something of special cultural value. Among various other perspectives, I’m considering the marketing of such films. While marketing devices – posters, trailers, etc. – often include elements designed to highlight the particular quality of such films, they also have a habit of being, well, less than entirely honest. A common tendency is to ‘bend’ the way a film is presented towards the commercial mainstream. That is, to single out components that are most commercial in nature, to obscure ones that aren’t, and so on. This happens to various degrees, some subtle some very misleading.

the-man-from-london-poster

An example that leans more towards the the latter is one trailer for Bela Tarr’s The Man from London (A londoni férfi, 2007) for the English-language market (see below) which cunningly included only English-language dialogue from the film – which is a tiny proportion of the whole. Surely not a deliberate intention to mislead? Er, yes, it seems so, although other aspects of the trailer do emphasise the more distinctive qualities of Tarr’s work.

 

It came as something of a heavy irony to me, then, when one publisher I’d approached with this project was unprepared to take it on with my original title – because their marketing department didn’t like it (and it’s not something wildly obscure). The title made this clearly primarily academic book seem ‘too academic’, I was told. That is, it accurately reflected the nature of the book. Sort of like accurately reflecting the nature of one of the films it’s about. Rather than trying to grab a wider audience by being a little bit misleading. So, yes, very ironic, I thought (and I’ll be taking it elsewhere as a result).

Further irony – and another link between film marketing and this kind of publication – is something else I’ve encountered in my work on this project so far. One book that I’m looking at as an example of a particular academic way of positioning such films has endorsements on the back cover filled with the kind of hype usually associated with Hollywood trailers: the ‘in a world where…’ variety that could be imagined being voiced in familiar trailer intonation. So, there seem to be some interesting parallels here, which suggest that we’re all part of the same broader world of media-cultural production of one kind or another, governed to varying degrees by bottom-line commercial considerations. Maybe this is inevitable but it’s never quite been driven home so clearly to me as in these instances.

In cases such as my book title and trailers such as that for The Man from London, there seems to be an attempt to reach a wider audience than that for which the product is designed. This seems somewhat pointless, to me. I’m not convinced that burying the real focus in a subtitle is going to make any great difference to who is going to buy one of my books, any more than playing games with which aspects of a film to foreground in a trailer is really going to fool anyone – and if it does, it’s likely only to cause poor word-of-mouth reception from those who feel tricked.

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