[21 November 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Directory of World Cinema series focuses each of its gorgeous printed volumes on a particular area of the global film industry. Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood is the latest and it features a number of expert contributors exploring a wide range of films in critical essay form.
Edited by Lincoln Geraghty, who is principal lecturer at the School of Creative Arts, Film and Media at the University of Portsmouth, UK, Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood begins with Geraghty’s own essay on the history of Hollywood, which acts as an introduction. The following piece discusses the iconic Hollywood sign and all that it has come to symbolize, from the glamor of the classic stars of the studio system to today’s increasingly outsourced productions.
Next are a few essays on specific directors: Clint Eastwood, John Ford, DW Griffith and Steven Spielberg. These read more like biographical overviews than critical examinations of the careers and influential impact of these men, especially the DW Griffith piece. That doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining and informative, but those with even a cursory familiarity with the directors won’t find that much new insight here. It’s a little surprising that the Directors’ section only features these four, but that simply may be the series format for its print editions.
The next part of the book, the bulk of it in fact, is devoted to various genres in American cinema. Westerns, Crime Films, Science Fiction, Horror, Comedy, Historical Films, Musicals, War Films, Drama, Romance, Animation and Blockbusters are each introduced with an essay and then followed with reviews of some of those genres’ most notable productions, both classic and contemporary.
The majority of the films discussed are mainstream and well-known (Independent Films are highlighted in their own The Directory of World Cinema volume). Box office winners like Superman, Jaws, ET and Titanic are put in cultural and historical perspective next to critically-acclaimed milestone movies such as Kramer vs Kramer or Platoon. Landmark innovations in storytelling and technology like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story are lauded alongside those films that received poor or mixed reviews upon release, but which are now seen as important commentary on the times in which they were made (1993’s Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas, is a good example of this, so is 1991’s Thelma & Louise).
Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood is an attractive collection beyond the critical dissection of many of American cinema’s best-loved films. A coffee-table paperback, it includes a wealth of gorgeous production stills and other photographs, in both glossy color and black and white. It’s possible that there was a mistake in the printing process, because some of the headings seem to be cut off at the top of the pages, however, the photos and graphics aren’t adversely affected.
The back of the book contains recommended reading on Hollywood and the American film industry, and online resources. Also included is a “Test your knowledge” section, a list of the contributors, and a detailed filmography. Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood is a fine addition to the series, and would be a fun read for casual film fans, and more serious students of American cinema might find it useful as a reference.