© 2021, by M. Keith Booker
Given that Great Britain was on the cutting edge of modernity throughout the nineteenth century, it should come as no surprise that the British were, at least initially, very much at the forefront of the rise of a new, very modern, technology-dependent cultural medium that emerged in the last years of the nineteenth century. That medium, of course, was film, a medium that would, in many ways, become synonymous with modernity itself. While most film histories place French and American innovators at the center of the early development of technologies for making and displaying films, it should be remembered that the first ever moving picture was shot in Leeds, England, in 1888, though it was shot by a French artist, Louis Le Prince. Indeed, the British film industry was quickly eclipsed by the French. By 1898 the leading British studio, Gaumont British Picture Corp, was actually a subsidiary of the French Gaumont Film Company. On the other hand, the first color film was also shot in England, in 1902. That same year saw the founding of Ealing Studios, which is still in existence today, making it the world’s oldest film studio. Then, partly due to the damaging effects of World War I in Britain and France, and partly due to the especially dynamic nature of the emergent consumer capitalism of early-twentieth-century America, both the French and the British film industries were eclipsed by Hollywood in the 1920s. Meanwhile, in that same decade, German and Soviet filmmakers took the lead in developing the art of filmmaking, though American filmmakers such as Buster Keaton (1895–1966) and Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) took the lead in developing the art of entertainment in filmmaking.
Of course, Chaplin was English by birth, and his career indicates the way in which the film industry was highly international from its very beginnings. Based on his birthplace, one could argue that Chaplin was the greatest British filmmaker of all time, though Chaplin is known primarily for the silent films he made in America, where he began and spent most of his career—as well as for American sound films such as Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). Similarly, the first great director actually to make films in England, Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980), would also ultimately move to America and become more famous for the films he made there. Still, Hitchcock produced a formidable body of work before leaving England, including a number of silent films. His silent film The Lodger (1927), in fact, is widely considered to be among the greatest British silent films. Meanwhile, Hitchcock was a genuine pioneer of British sound film. His 1929 film Blackmail can be considered the first British sound film, and many of his films of the 1930s were similarly groundbreaking. His thrillers The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are among the most highly-respected British films of the 1930s and already show many of the elements of the Hitchcockian style that he would later perfect in America.
Despite Hitchcock’s departure—and despite the tremendously damaging impact of World War II on British society, the British film industry truly blossomed in the 1940s, as the trio of directors widely regarded as Britain’s finest—David Lean, Michael Powell, and Carol Reed—all hit their strides at about the same time, with Lean having an especially durable career. Going forward, the British film industry would remain vibrant. Other important directors would arise over time, such as Nicholas Roeg, who injected new, artful energies into horror film with Don’t Look Now (1973) and into science fiction film with The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). And, of course, British film made important contributions to horror cinema with the cycle of horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions beginning in the 1950s and largely based on resurrections of the monster film franchises originally created by Hollywood’s Universal Studios back in the 1930s.
Perhaps the biggest trend in British film in the past few decades has been its participation in the increasing globalization of the film industry, with writers, directors, actors, and money freely flowing across national boundaries and often making it difficult to associate particular films with any one national origin. Still, many films from 1980 onward have maintained a distinctively British feel. Some of these involved continuities from early years, such as the ongoing career of director Ken Loach (1936– ) or the increasing spread of the Monty Python group of television comedians into film. In addition, British films won the Academy Award for Best Picture in both 1981 (Chariots of Fire, directed by Hugh Hudson) and 1982 (Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough). This success spurred a string of commercially successful British films, some of them with unusually large budgets by British standards, such as Lean’s A Passage to India (1984).But directors such as Derek Jarman (1942–1994) and Peter Greenaway (1942– ) also broke new ground in experimental “arthouse” films, indicating the range and versatility of the British film industry as it approached the end of its first century. By the twenty-first century, though, the top talent in British film was freely floating back and forth between Britain and Hollywood.
Since Lean’s successful Dickens adaptations Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), British directors have had special success with literary adaptations. Perhaps the most successful British-directed film of the 1990s was the American-produced Shakespeare in Love (1998), directed by John Madden (1949– ) and co-written by Tom Stoppard. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and the BAFTA Award for Best Film, Shakespeare in Love is an original story, but grows out of the life and work of William Shakespeare. More direct adaptations, especially of novels, have also been central to British cinema in recent decades. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), directed by Karel Riesz (1926–2002) and scripted by Harold Pinter (1930–2008) based on John Fowles’ 1969 novel, is one of the most clever and complex of these adaptations. Meanwhile, in addition to A Passage to India, E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View and Howards End were adapted to film in 1986 and 1992, respectively. The first of these was a British-produced film, while the second was an international co-production. Both won Best Director Oscar nominations for their American director, James Ivory, whose films (made with his partner, the Indian-born Ismail Merchant) have often focused on British material.
In one of the more imaginative adaptations of British novels to film, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando was successfully filmed by Sally Potter in 1992. Film adaptations of nineteenth-century British novels have enjoyed a resurgence as well, including several based on the novels of Jane Austen. Slightly earlier, Roman Polanski (1933– ) demonstrated the considerable potential for film adaptations that still reside in nineteenth-century British novels when he made Tess (1979), a lavish British-French adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Other landmark adaptations include British film adaptations of novels that came from writers who hailed from outside of England. The Commitments (1991), directed by English director Alan Parker (1944– ), is based on the 1987 Irish novel by Roddy Doyle, who co-wrote the screenplay. Trainspotting (1996), directed by English director Danny Boyle (1956– ), is based on the 1993 novel by the Scottish writer Irvine Welsh. Both of these two films are discussed as exemplary texts at the end of this chapter.
Boyle, incidentally, would go on to become one of the most successful British directors of the years following Trainspotting, directing a wide variety of interesting films. The 2002 British zombie film 28 Days Later, for example, was a landmark in horror film that put a whole new twist on the zombie genre by introducing a new kind of fast-moving, ultra-violent zombies that differed substantially from the slow, shambling zombies that had previously dominated zombie films. Boyle’s 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire (a joint U.S.-U.K. production about a contestant on the Indian version of the global game-show franchise Who Want to be a Millionaire?) is arguably the most successful British film of the twenty-first century, winning the Oscar for both Best picture and Best Director, as well as six other categories. It also won seven BAFTA film awards, including those for Best Director and Best Film.
A number of important British directors have had great commercial success directing films that were primarily produced in America in the last few decades. Ridley Scott (1937– ), for example, burst on the scene with the science fiction-horror hybrid Alien (1979) the science fiction classic (inflected through both cyberpunk and film noir) Blade Runner (1982). In 1984, he directed the now-famous Apple commercial (based on the imagery of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four) that premiered during the Super Bowl to announce the debut of the Macintosh computer. Since that time, he has had a number of commercial successes in film Thelma & Louise (1991), an important milestone in American cinema, and Gladiator (2000), a joint British-American production that was a huge commercial hit that also won the Oscar for Best Picture and the BAFTA Award for Best Film.
British director Christopher Nolan (1970– ) has also had great international success, beginning especially with the American thriller Memento (2000), a key dramatization of postmodern psychic fragmentation. He then moved into top-level commercial success with a trilogy of films based on the DC Comics character Batman (aka “The Dark Knight”) Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), which also broke new technical ground in their use of special effects (and featured British actor Christian Bale as the ultra-American Batman). The 2010 science fiction mind-twister Inception (a British-American co-production) also uses state-of-the-art special effects in pursuing one of the most convoluted plots in film history. In 2017, Nolan wrote and directed the World War II epic Dunkirk (an international co-production involving several countries), which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Motion Picture and the BAFTA for Best Film, while Nolan himself was nominated for Best Director in both the Oscars and the BAFTAs. None of those nominations led to wins, but Nolan remains one of the most commercially and critically successful directors in world cinema.
In recent years, Hollywood films have continued to dominate even the BAFTA film awards, though a U.S.-U.K. co-production, 12 Years A Slave—about slavery in the American South, but directed by British director Steve McQueen (1969– )—did win the Best Film award in 2013. It also won the American Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. McQueen, a former video artist, made his feature-film debut with Hunger (2008), about the prison hunger strike of Irish political prisoner Bobby Sands that occurred in 1981; McQueen’s film Shame (2011) is a drama about sex addiction. A black British filmmaker of Trinidadian and Grenadian descent, McQueen has continued to be a particularly bright star in the British cinema world; his film Widows (2018), is an effective heist film that challenges conventional gender expectations of the genre. In addition, McQueen’s brilliant Small Axe (2020), an unusual anthology of five films made for the Amazon Prime Video streaming platform, provides a striking and innovative view of black British life, history, and culture.
McQueen’s ongoing work demonstrates both the continuing richness of British film and the continuing blurring of the boundary between British film and the films of other countries, especially the United States. New incentives in the 1990s, for example, enticed American producers to increase investment in big-budget films made in England, including films such as Interview with the Vampire (1994), which was directed by the Irish director Neil Jordan (1950– ). Jordan has also had considerable success (more in the U.S. than in the U.K.) with Irish-themed films such as The Crying Game (1992) and The Butcher Boy (1997). Other U.S.-backed films made in the U.K. in the 1990s include Mission: Impossible (1996), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace (1999) and The Mummy (1999).
British film—like all of British culture—has continued to become more and more multicultural as well. Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach (1993) gives much-needed attention to the lives of British women of Asian descent, and was directed by a woman who was born in the British colony of Kenya to a family of Asian descent. Women remain, however, underrepresented in the director’s chairs of British film, though Carine Adler’s Under the Skin (1997) is well worth a look. The Scottish woman director Lynne Ramsay (1969– ) has also gained considerable attention for psychological horror dramas such as Morvern Callar (2002, British), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, a British-American co-production), and You Were Never Really Here (2017, a British-French co-production). Finally, Andrea Arnold has continued the Loach tradition of social realist dramas with women-oriented films such as Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009), while contributing to the rich legacy of British novel adaptations with her version of Wuthering Heights in 2011.
Finally, no survey of recent British film (or of recent British culture in general) would be complete without a mention of the Harry Potter franchise, based on the series of seven Young Adult fantasy novels by J. K. Rowling that became one of the biggest commercial successes in publishing history. The film adaptations of the novels have been hugely successful as well, beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001, released in the U.S. as Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone). The series altogether consists of eight films (the adaptation of the seventh novel—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—was released in two separate parts), all of which were British-American co-productions, produced and distributed by the American Warner Brothers Studio, but filmed in the U.K. The success of these films was a boost to the entire British film industry; for example, several companies involved in generating the special effects for the series are now much in demand to provide effects for studios around the world.
FRENCH AND OTHER CONTINENTAL EUROPEAN FILM
Despite its early start in the film industry, French film suffered greatly from the impact of World War I, much of which was fought on French soil. At the same time, two countries that suffered even more from World War I, Russia and Germany, actually moved to the forefront of innovation in the film industry in the years after World War I. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the new Soviet regime sought ways to communicate with a far-flung populace that was largely illiterate, which made film a natural emphasis of early Soviet culture. Indeed, early Soviet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948) made important contributions to both the art and theory of film, though the spectacular success of the Soviet literacy programs of the 1920s made film less important by the 1930s, when Stalinist censorship also greatly limited the ongoing development of the Soviet film industry, though directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986) continued to make strong contributions through the Soviet years.
Meanwhile, Weimar Germany (the German regime between the end of World War I in 1918 and the rise of Hitler in 1933) was riddled with political and economic instabilities, but it was also at the very forefront of innovations in silent film during that period. In particular, German film came to be dominated by a modernist style known as German Expressionism, marked by distorted images with lots of sharp angles and dramatic contrasts between light and dark, including a creative use of exaggerated shadows. This style would later exercise a strong influence on American film noir, as well as in the genre of horror, where Expressionist imagery was particularly effective. Indeed, some of the most important German Expressionist films of the 1920s were pioneering horror films that still influence the horror today including Robert Wiene’s (1873–1938) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), sometimes considered the first true horror film, and F. W. Murnau’s (1888–1931) Nosferatu (1922), the first great vampire film. Murnau, incidentally, was recruited to move to Hollywood in 1926, subsequently making three films there before his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1931. Of these, his 1927 film Sunrise is widely considered to be the greatest of all American silent films.
The 1927 German Expressionist silent film Metropolis, directed by the Austrian-born Fritz Lang (1890–1976), is often considered to be the first great science fiction film. Lang then moved into sound film in 1931 with the dark crime thriller M, which would later exercise an important influence on American film noir. Lang would exercise an even more direct influence on American film after he fled the new German Nazi regime in 1933 and subsequently became one of the most important American film directors of his generation, directing a number of important films, including the classic noir films The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945).
The rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany in fact led to a large-scale exodus of German artists and intellectuals, including over 1,500 directors, actors, and other film industry professionals. A number of these exiled German filmmakers later made important contributions to American film, perhaps most prominently in film noir. Former directors from the German film industry such as Robert Siodmak (1900–1973), Edgar Ulmer (1904–1972), and Douglas Sirk (1897–1987) had successful careers in America, though Ulmer was limited to low-budget films, where he directed classics such as the horror film The Black Cat (1934) and the noir film Detour (1945). Perhaps the most successful of these German emigré filmmakers was the Austrian-born director and screenwriter Billy Wilder (1906–2002), who made some of the greatest American films of the next three decades, including Double Indemnity (1944), perhaps the quintessential noir film, and Sunset Bouelvard (1950), a noir film that is also one of the greatest films about the Hollywood film industry.
For its part, the French industry would not begin to recover fully until the 1930s. In 1931, for example, Marcel Pagnol (1895–1974) filmed the first of his great trilogy Marius, Fanny, and César. He followed this with other films including The Baker’s Wife (1938). Other important French films of the 1930s included René Clair’s (1898–1981) Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Jean Vigo’s (1905–1934) L’Atalante (1934), and Jacques Feyder’s (1885–1948) Carnival in Flanders (1935). Ultimately, Jean Renoir (1894–1979), the son of the important painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, would emerge as the most important French director of the 1930s. Renoir’s The Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) are both considered to be among the greatest French films of all time, and the second has often been cited as one of the greatest films of world cinema. We will view that film in our class. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II interrupted Renoir’s career at this point, and the German invasion of France in 1940 forced him to flee to America, where he continued his career, but without reaching the heights he had already achieved in France, though Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) is an interesting drama and The Woman on the Beach (1947) is a noir film that has developed something of a cult following.
The German invasion and subsequent occupation of France greatly curtailed the development of the French film industry in the first half of the 1940s, though Marcel Carné’s (1906–1996) highly respected Children of Paradise was filmed under the difficult circumstances of the German occupation during World War II and released in 1945, after the end of the war. This epic three-hour film (sometimes thought of as the Gone with the Wind of France), set in the theatrical world of Paris in 1830s and is considered one of the greatest French films of all time.
After World War II, a number of European countries began to develop vital film industries. The German industry slowly recovered from the Nazi era, though the period from 1960 to 1980 would eventually produce a particularly innovative movement known as New German Cinema, featuring such directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–1982), Volker Schlöndorff (1939– ), Werner Herzog (1942– ), Jean-Marie Straub (1933– ), and Wim Wenders (1945– ). The Italian film industry also reached new importance in its own post-fascist years. Having pioneered in the making of “art” films even before World War I, Italian film returned to prominence with the “neo-realism” of such films as Roberto Rosselini’s (1906 –1977) Rome, Open City (1945) and Vittorio De Sica’s (1901–1974) The Bicycle Thief (1948). Italy then returned to the pinnacle of art film with the work of Federico Fellini (1920–1993), whose films—such as La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 ½ (1963)—are among the greatest and most influential of all time.
At the same time, Italian film also produced important works of popular cinema, such as the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns,” which were often low-budget, over-the-top efforts, but which brought important new energy into the Western genre, especially in the hands of directors such as Sergio Leone (1929–1989), whose Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is widely considered to be one of the greatest Westerns of all time. Italian film also produced important works of horror, as in the ultra-violent giallo film (something like a combination of the slasher film and the murder mystery, with a liberal dash of freely-flowing, bright-red fake blood). Such films can be dated back to Mario Bava’s (1914–1980) Hitchcock-inflected The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). But giallo film reached its peak in the 1970s, especially in the work of Dario Argento (1940– ), beginning with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Argento’s Deep Red (1975) is also particularly notable and might be his finest giallo film. Argento also made influential supernatural horror films, most notably in the “Three Mothers” trilogy, which began in 1977 with Suspiria, still his best-known horror film. Argento’s films were greatly influenced by American horror, but also influenced American horror in turn.
The French film industry recovered slowly after World War II, with some of France’s greatest contributions during the postwar period being in film criticism, as when the French critic Nino Frank (previously best known for being an early champion of the work of James Joyce) coined the term “film noir” in 1946 to describe the cycle of World War II-era American films that finally came to Paris that year, after American films had been banned during the German occupation. Film noir would go on to become one of the richest phenomena in American film through the 1950s, while the French director Jacques Tourneur (1904–1977), who worked much of his career in Hollywood, became one of the most important directors of film noir. Film noir would also exercise a strong influence on French film, especially after noir and other American films were given positive critical attention in the tremendously influential French film journal Cahiers du cinema, co-founded in 1951 by the critic André Bazin (1918–1958), one of the most important film theorists of all time. Several critics who gained prominence in the pages of Cahiers, including Jean-Luc Godard (1930– ), François Truffaut (1932–1984), Claude Chabrol (1930–2010), Jacques Rivette (1928–2016), and Éric Rohmer (1920–2010), would go on to become important filmmakers themselves, especially as driving forces behind the French New Wave, a phenomenon that dominated French film from the late 1950s through the 1960s, also exercising a powerful international influence, including on American filmmakers. Agnés Varda (1928–2019), a Belgian-born director, became the most important woman director of the French New Wave. We will view her film Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) in our class.
French film has remained a highly prominent part of international film since the days of the New Wave, while the Cannes Film Festival, since rising to prominence in the 1950s, has become the world’s most prestigious film festival. Among other things, the New Wave directors have remained important, as when Godard (whose 1960 film Breathless was probably the single most influential work of the New Wave) has continued making innovative and experimental films to this day, with his latest release coming in 2018, when he was 87 years old. But many new directors have emerged as well, as the French film industry remains second only to the American film industry as an exporter of films to the rest of the world. The creative atmosphere of the French film industry has also attracted directors from around the world, who have come to Paris to do their work. Thus, directors such as Poland’s Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski (1941–1996), and Andrzej Żuławski (1940–2016), Argentina’s Edgardo Cozarinsky (1939– ) and Gaspar Noé (1963– ), Russia’s Alexandre Alexeieff (1901–1982) and Anatole Litvak (1902–1974), and Austria’s Michael Haneke (1942– ) have made important films in France.
While France has become known internationally for innovative and aesthetically complex “art” films, the French film industry has made important contributions in all sorts of genres. For example, the director Luc Besson (1959) has worked extensively in science fiction film, including extensive work in America. His The Fifth Element (1997) was one of the most interesting American science fiction films of the 1990s, while his Valerian and the City of Planets (2017) was the most expensive French (and European) film ever made. Meanwhile, some of the most innovative work in French film in recent years has been in the genre of horror. The “New French Extremity” movement within horror film, known for its shocking levels of graphic violence. One of the first such films to get international attention was Alexandre Aja’s (1978– ) Haute Tension (“High Tension,” 2003, aka Switchblade Romance), which extended the audience appeal of the earlier films in the New French Extremity movement by adding in important elements derived from American slasher films (though this film had to be edited extensively for U.S. distribution in order to avoid an NC-17 rating). With effects by Gianetto de Rossi (who had worked extensively with Italian horror directors such as Lucio Fulci), Haute Tension certainly earned its ranking by Time magazine as one of the ten most ridiculously violent films ever.)
Perhaps the most cringeworthy (and notorious) of the New French Extremity slasher films is Julien Maury (1978– ) and Alexandre Bustillo’s (1975– ) Inside (2007), which combines stomach-turning violence with artful filmmaking to produce an impressively original slasher film, even if it pretty unpleasant to watch. It’s a taut, frightening thriller, well made and well acted. In it a woman (played by Alysson Paradis), nine months pregnant, is threatened by an insane woman (Béatrice Dalle) who wants to remove the baby by whatever means necessary and keep it for her own, her own fetus having been destroyed in a car crash with the first woman a few months earlier. This basic premise leads to a bloody series of violent murders in which the maniac finally achieves her goal and removes the (apparently alive) infant (performing a C-section with a pair of scissors). As the film ends, she rocks the baby gently, though frankly it’s almost impossible to believe that the infant hasn’t been pretty seriously hurt by all that has gone before. Along the way, we see enough spurting blood, gouged-out eyes, and general graphic mayhem to have supplied a dozen American slasher films. And it all takes place on Christmas Eve night, no less, in this sense bringing the slasher film back to its roots in Black Christmas.
Perhaps the bloodiest of all New French Extremity films is Xavier Gens’s (1975– ) Frontière(s) (2007, “Frontier(s)”), in which Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets Hostel in a gruesome orgy of torture, death, cannibalism, and general mayhem. It’s also a film with an important political subtext that grows out of real recent developments in French politics. By making a group of French-Algerian criminals the victims of a crazed family of degenerate Nazis, it clearly warns the French public that they should probably be far less concerned about the threat of Muslim contamination and far more concerned with the lingering threat of neo-Nazism. Finally, Coralie Fargeat’s recent Revenge (2017) combines the slasher subgenre with the more obscure rape-revenge subgenre to produce what is essentially an anti-slasher film whose central character is both the Final Girl survivor and the slasher.
Asian film has received renewed popular attention in recent years, especially after Bong Joon-ho’s (1969– ) 2019 South Korean film Parasite became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in the 2020 award ceremony. Indeed, South Korean film has grown dramatically in international prominence in the past few years, with special success in crime dramas and horror films. Bong’s work has been particularly popular internationally. For example, the 2013 English-language dystopian action film Snowpiercer, a Czech-Korean co-production, was directed by Bong, who also directed the stylish crime thriller Memories of Murder (2003), the effective horror satire The Host (2006), and the critically-acclaimed Netflix film Okja (2017), which deals in a central way with genetic engineering, as well as satirizing the food industry and capitalism as a whole. The South Korean director Park Chan-wook (1963– ) has had similar international success. Among his Korean films, the unusual vampire film Thirst (2009) and the historical thriller The Handmaiden (2016) are particularly notable, though he has probably gotten the most attention from what has become known as “The Vengeance Trilogy,” consisting of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005). In 2013, Park successfully moved into English-language film as the director of Stoker, a stylish Hitchcockian thriller.
Despite this new prominence of Asian film, it is also worth noting that films have been made in places such as Japan and India as early as the 1890s. The Japanese film industry was, in fact, quite vital through the 1930s, though production during World War II tended toward a heavy emphasis on pro-war propaganda films. But Japanese film came back very strong after the war, beginning with such works as Akira Kurosawa’s (1910–1998) Drunken Angel (1948). In 1951, Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) won the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, launching Kurosawa on an impressive and prolific career that combined deft use of Western techniques with his own technical innovations to produce such classics as Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), and Ran (1985).
Yasujirō Ozu (1903–1963) was also at the forefront of postwar Japanese film, though it took him longer than Kurosawa to receive international recognition for his films, which included Late Spring (1949), Floating Weeds (1959), and An Autumn Afternoon (1962). Ozu’s most important film is Tokyo Story (1953), widely regarded as one of the greatest films in the history of world cinema. We will view and discuss that film in our class. Ozu developed his own unique editing style that eschewed most of the premises of the so-called Hollywood style of editing, which was designed to make audience not notice the editing at all. Ozu, instead, typically calls attention to the cuts in his films, foregrounding the editing, something he might have partly learned from his viewing of the American classic film Citizen Kane (1941).
In addition to the profound, artful films of directors such as Kurosawa and Ozu, Japanese film has made many important contributions to popular cinema, beginning with the 1954 giant-monster film Godzilla, which went on to global prominence, while inspiring an extensive series of giant-monster (or kaiju) films in Japan. Also notable are Japan’s many significant contributions to the development of animated film, both in the realm of manga-inspired “animé” films and in the realm of children’s animated films, where Studio Ghibli has become a world leader, largely thanks to the work of the esteemed director Hayao Miyazaki (1941– ), who has directed some of the most beloved animated films in the history of world cinema. Films such as Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001) are global classics on a par with the greatest Disney animated films.
Finally, it should be noted that South Korea and Japan are not the only important producers of Asian film. The Indian film industry (affectionately known as “Bollywood”) is, in fact, the largest in the world in terms of number of films produced, though Bollywood films have been less successful than Hollywood films worldwide. Nevertheless, such films are beginning to reach more of a global audience, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Global awareness of Bollywood films has also been buoyed by a significant presence of such films on the Netflix platform worldwide. Also rapidly growing in importance is the Chinese film industry, which has recently expanded from the well-known niche of Hong Kong martial arts films into a burgeoning industry producing films in a number of genres. This expansion, however, began with the Chinese martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which garnered massive international attention. The Chinese industry has also begun to move into co-productions with Hollywood, such as the 2015 children’s animated film Pixels. Most Chinese film, though, has remained primarily popular within China itself, a large market that allowed the recent science fiction hit The Wandering Earth (2019) to gross nearly $700 million in China; this film, though has also been widely viewed worldwide on Netflix, while receiving largely positive reviews, suggesting a significant global potential for Chinese film in the future.