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European Cinema

European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood

Thomas Elsaesser
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 566
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  • Book Info
    European Cinema
    Book Description:

    In the face of renewed competition from Hollywood since the early 1980s and the challenges posed to Europe's national cinemas by the fall of the Wall in 1989, independent filmmaking in Europe has begun to re-invent itself. European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood re-assesses the different debates and presents a broader framework for understanding the forces at work since the 1960s. These include the interface of "world cinema" and the rise of Asian cinemas, the importance of the international film festival circuit, the role of television, as well as the changing aesthetics of auteur cinema. New audiences have different allegiances, and new technologies enable networks to reshape identities, but European cinema still has an important function in setting critical and creative agendas, even as its economic and institutional bases are in transition. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0517-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 9-10)
    Thomas Elsaesser
  4. Introduction

    • European Cinema: Conditions of Impossibility? [2005]
      (pp. 13-32)

      Any book about European cinema should start with the statement that there is no such thing as European cinema, and that yes, European cinema exists, and has existed since the beginning of cinema a little more than a hundred years ago. It depends on where one places oneself, both in time and in space. In time: for the first fifteen years, it was France that defined European cinema, with Pathé and Gaumont educating Europeʹs film-going tastes, inspiring filmmakers and keeping the Americans at bay. In the 1920s, the German film industry, under Erich Pommer, tried to create a ʺCinema Europe,ʺ...

  5. National Cinema:: Re-Definitions and New Directions

    • European Culture, National Cinema, the Auteur and Hollywood [1994]
      (pp. 35-56)

      From these two quotations one might derive a somewhat fanciful proposition. What if – at the end of the 19th century – Europe had been discovered by America rather than America being ʺdiscoveredʺ by the Europeans at the end of the 15th century? Counterfactual as this may seem, in a sense this is exactly what did happen, because with Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Gertrud Stein, Josephine Baker and so many other US American writers, musicians, and artists exiling themselves temporarily or permanently in ʺEurope,ʺ they gave a name to something that before was France, Britain, Germany, Spain, or...

    • ImpersoNations: National Cinema, Historical Imaginaries [2005]
      (pp. 57-81)

      As Hans Magnus Enzensberger suggests, it may be fruitless to rail against national stereotypes: they are absurd, unfair, pernicious, and nonetheless so persistent that they probably serve a purpose. When asking where they are most likely to thrive, one realizes that it is not politics. Set ideas about the national character or cultural stereotyping are especially vivid within popular culture and the media.² Often, they are diagnosed as potentially dangerous invitations to racism, or conversely, as accurate, if regrettable ʺreflectionsʺ of widely held views. But one could also argue that racist incidents in sports or tourism signify the opposite of...

    • Film Festival Networks: the New Topographies of Cinema in Europe [2005]
      (pp. 82-107)

      In the previous chapter, I argued that the ʺnationalʺ in European cinema has become a second-order concept (ʺpost-nationalʺ), in that it is now generally mediated through the legislative and economic measures taken by the European Union to stimulate the audiovisual industries and promote their role in the preservation of its heritage and patrimony. In the films themselves, references to the nation, the region and the local have also become second-order realities, whenever they function as self-advertisements for (the memorializable parts of) the past, for lifestyle choices or for (tourist) locations. Films made in Europe (and indeed in other smaller, film-producing...

    • Double Occupancy and Small Adjustments: Space, Place and Policy in the New European Cinema since the 1990s [2005]
      (pp. 108-130)

      The famous Strasbourg-born New York political cartoonist and writer of childrenʹs books, Tomi Ungerer was once asked what it was like to grow up in Alsace (he was born in 1931), and he replied: It was like living in the toilet of a rural railway station:toujours occupé(always occupied). He was, of course, referring to the fact that for more or less four hundred years, and certainly during the period of 1871 to 1945 Alsace changed nationality many times over, back and forth, between France and Germany, and for most of that time, either nation was felt to be...

  6. Auteurs and Art Cinemas:: Modernism and Self-Reference, Installation Art and Autobiography

    • Ingmar Bergman – Person and Persona: The Mountain of Modern Cinema on the Road to Morocco [1994]
      (pp. 133-154)

      On the night between March 25 and 26, 1983, having just finished After The Rehearsal, Ingmar Bergman wrote in his workbook-diary: ʺI donʹt want to make films again … This film was supposed to be small, fun, and unpretentious … Two mountainous shadows rise and loom over me. First: Who the hell is really interested in this kind of introverted mirror aria? Second: Does there exist a truth, in the very belly of this drama, that I canʹt put my finger on, and so remains inaccessible to my feelings and intuition? … We should have thrown ourselves directly into filming...

    • Late Losey: Time Lost and Time Found [1985]
      (pp. 155-164)

      A year after his death, a new Losey film opens in the cinemas. Steaming raises special expectations: Is it a sort of testament? Or did Losey, as a director, with more than 30 feature films to his credit, die – so to speak – intestate? Steaming, Loseyʹs only film after returning from French exile, is in some ways a work in the ʺminorʺ genre of the filmed play. One thinks of the American Film Theatre productions (for which Losey did Galileo), and Altmanʹs Secret Honor, or Come Back to the Five & Dime. It would have been more satisfying, if for...

    • Around Painting and the “End of Cinema”: A Propos Jacques Rivetteʹs La Belle Noiseuse [1992]
      (pp. 165-177)

      There are films about painters, films that feature paintings in the plot, and there are films about particular paintings. In the first category, the centenary has given us several van Gogh movies (directed by Paul Cox, Robert Altman, Maurice Pialat), and in Derek Jarmanʹs Caravaggio we had the anti-myth to the myth of the creative genius tormented by his Art. In all of them, what remains, one way or another, is the ʺagony and the ecstasy,ʺ whether embodied by Kirk Douglas, Tim Roth, or Nigel Terry.

      Paintings, and especially painted portraits abound in what has been called the womenʹs paranoia...

    • Spellbound by Peter Greenaway: In the Dark … and Into the Light [1996]
      (pp. 178-192)

      In his brief essay ʺPainting and Cinema,ʺ André Bazin, after sharing the general dissatisfaction with films about artists and paintings, nonetheless remarks that, ʺthe cinema, not only far from compromising or destroying the true nature of another art, is, on the contrary, in the process of saving it.ʺ¹ About half a century later, and a full century after the first presentation of the Cinématographe Lumière, it is tempting to read in Bazinʹs phrase a question that reverses the terms: is another art in the process of saving the cinema? This question makes sense, I believe, but only if one concedes...

    • The Body as Perceptual Surface: The Films of Johan van der Keuken [2004]
      (pp. 193-211)

      Of Dutch filmmakers whose works I have some acquaintance with, none has left me with more suspended emotions and unresolved moral chords than Johan van der Keuken. This has an autobiographical origin: Van der Keuken was the first director I met in person when I moved to the Netherlands from London in 1991. It was an instructive meeting, leaving me with the feeling that it would be good, one day, to reply to the questions that stayed unspoken in the air. This encounter or perhaps I should say, this near-miss collision with Van der Keuken happened in 1993. We had...

    • Television and the Author’s Cinema: ZDFʹs Das Kleine Fernsehspiel [1992]
      (pp. 212-218)

      As far as the European cinema goes, the 1970s belonged to Germany, or more exactly, to the ʺNew German Cinema.ʺ Breaking through the commercial and critical twilight of the post-war period, a handful of internationally well-exposed star directors – mainly Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders and Syberberg – briefly illuminated a notoriously bleak filmmaking landscape. Looking back, however, one realizes that this blaze of light left much territory underexposed, not least by obscuring the ground on which some of these talents grew. For besides the New German Cinema of auteurs and festivals, to which we owe The Marriage of Maria Braun, Aguirre,...

    • Touching Base: Some German Women Directors in the 1980s [1987]
      (pp. 219-230)

      A recent event at the ICA, featuring the work of a Berlin distribution and production company, the Basis Film Verleih, has again highlighted the current dilemmas of independent cinema on the Left, battling against an unfavorable cultural climate, increasing difficulties with funding, and the competition from denationalized and deregulated television markets. The history of Basis, however, also demonstrates, amidst an atmosphere of near-despondency, the position of (relative) strength from which women filmmakers in West Germany can take stock and address the changing situation. The audience at the ICA was on the whole skeptical about the lessons to be learnt, given...

  7. Europe-Hollywood-Europe

    • Two Decades in Another Country: Hollywood and the Cinephiles [1975]
      (pp. 233-250)

      In a ʺhistoryʺ of the impact on Europe of American popular culture, the systematic elevation of Hollywood movies to the ranks of great art would make an intriguing chapter. Legend has it that the feat was accomplished almost single-handed by motivated and volatile intellectuals from Paris sticking their heads together and pulling off a brilliant public relations stunt that came to be known asCahiers du cinémaandNouvelle Vague

      The legend bears some relation to the facts, but only insofar as it has allowed a very simple version of a very complicated cultural phenomenon to gain widespread or at...

    • Raoul Ruizʹs Hypothèse du Tableau Volé [1984]
      (pp. 251-254)

      Imagine Peter Greenaway, on leave from the Central Office of Information, accepting a commission from the Arts Council to do a documentary on Anthony Blunt, and turning in a filmed interview with John Gielgud (playing a collector) who sets out to prove that Landseerʹs paintings are full of scatological references to mid-Victorian society scandals. Translated into French terms, this would yield one – but only one – layer of Raúl Ruizʹs The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1978), the story of a collection of paintings by Tonnerre, a French academic painter of the mid-19th century, whose rather undistinguished works, with...

    • Images for Sale: The ʺNewʺ British Cinema [1984]
      (pp. 255-269)

      The British cinema industry during the 1980s – the Thatcher years – enjoyed a Renaissance. Indeed, early on in the decade even Hollywood helped to celebrate its rebirth: Oscars for Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson, 1981), the appointment of its producer, David Puttnam as Director of Production at Columbia Pictures, and more Oscars for Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1983). The 1980s also saw notable hits on the art cinema circuit with Letter to Breznev (Chris Bernard, 1985) and My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985), recognition for auteurs like Peter Greenaway, John Boorman, and Nicolas Roeg, plaudits in Berlin for heretic iconoclasts...

    • “If You Want a Life”: The Marathon Man [2003]
      (pp. 270-277)

      In 1962, a film appeared that left a permanent impression and may have changed my life. I saw Tony Richardsonʹs The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in a cinema in Brighton, shortly after moving to Britain in 1963. The lean and bony features of Tom Courtneyʹs face instilled in me an intense yearning of wanting to belong to the English working class, one of the true aristocracies of the human race, as it seemed to me: noble in spirit, brave in adversity, resolute in action. The feeling is long gone, but its memory returned when I saw a young...

    • British Television in the 1980s Through The Looking Glass [1990]
      (pp. 278-298)

      For the study of European cinema, the 1980s are a particularly significant decade, because they saw the final demise of the commercial film industry in all but one country, France. By contrast, Britain, Germany and Italy, each in very particular ways, found that it no longer had a domestic market that could sustain indigenous feature film production on the Hollywood model. Films continued to be made, but on a different economic basis, with different institutional partners or commercial participation, and for a different public. The 1980s signaled the fact that cinema in Europe could no longer be looked at or...

    • German Cinema Face to Face with Hollywood: Looking into a Two-Way Mirror [2003]
      (pp. 299-318)

      The patterns of competition, cooperation, and contestation that characterize the Hollywood presence in the German film business from 1945 to 2000 can be outlined, I think, across three different phases and three types of narrative. The first one is broadly economic-political, the second is governmental-institutional, and the third is cultural-authorial. Depending on which narrative one prefers, the periodization will also shift slightly. The cultural and legal models often prefer the phases 1945 to 1962, 1962 to 1982, and 1982 to 2000, while the economic periodization is somewhat simpler: it knows two cycles that run from 1945 to 1974, and from...

  8. Central Europe Looking West

    • Of Rats and Revolution: Dusan Makavejevʹs The Switchboard Operator [1968]
      (pp. 321-324)

      Many Western European tourists take the motorway through Zagreb and Belgrade to Greece, Turkey or holiday in Dubrovnik, but not many can claim more than a superficial knowledge of the actual social reality and the human conflicts of the country called Yugoslavia. Although we are familiar with the figure of Tito, with his part in post-war history, and know about the economyʹs acute problems and shortcomings, the human reality in which this defective system operates probably escapes us as much as it is ignored by most of those who know the country merely as tourists.

      Any opportunity to acquaint oneself...

    • Defining DEFA’s Historical Imaginary: The Films of Konrad Wolf [2001]
      (pp. 325-341)
      Michael Wedel

      Nearly a decade after the demise of DEFA (Deutsche Film A.G.), East Germanyʹs state-controlled film company, can we begin to think of an ʺintegrativeʺ history of GDR cinema, at once within German film history, and of German film history within the international debates around ʺnational cinemaʺ? After the fall of the wall, the task of ʺintegratingʺ not only territories and people, but also the arts and cultural life was evident. Equally evident was the danger of simply appropriating them or rewriting their differences. In the area of cinema, the GDR film culture posed special problems, since – compared to the...

    • Under Western Eyes: What Does Žižek Want? [1995]
      (pp. 342-355)

      It must be said straight away: Slavoj Žižek is no Lacanian. If he were, not only would he be furnishing the masterʹs text with the sort of commentaries scholars usually give to Biblical exegeses; he would also be unlikely to retain our attention for very long. Rather, Žižek is a Lacanian ʺsubject.ʺ The difference is not negligible. Having long ago activated within himself and then turned outward the peculiar structure of the Lacanian psyche, Žižek seems now in possession of a formidable instrument of cognition, a laser-like intelligence that cuts through layers of ideological tissue, revealing malignant growths, but also...

    • Our Balkanist Gaze: About Memoryʹs No Manʹs Land [2003]
      (pp. 356-370)

      Anyone addressing issues of representation in the ethnic and political conflicts of the Balkans cannot but be aware of the precarious position from which he or she is speaking and writing. The very title of this symposium – No Manʹs Land, Everybodyʹs Image – aptly reminds us of what is at stake. Images, especially media images of conflict, have a way of being appropriated. Possessing the image is to possess what it refers to. The primitive magic still seems to work in our high-tech world. Often enough, as competing claims for property, possession, and thus interpretation are being fought over,...

  9. Europe Haunted by History and Empire

    • Is History an Old Movie? [1986]
      (pp. 373-383)

      It all started with Cabaret … suddenly, the Third Reich had become a subject for feature films, in fact, for a while it seemed to be, especially for European filmmakers,thesubject. Luchino Viscontiʹs The Damned, Ingmar Bergmanʹs The Serpentʹs Egg, Bernardo Bertolucciʹs The Conformist, Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties, Louis Malleʹs Lacombe Lucien, Lilian Cavaniʹs The Night Porter, François Truffautʹs The Last Metro, Joseph Loseyʹs M. Klein: the 1970s were the decade of films exploring what Susan Sontag had termed ʺfascinating fascism.ʺ The combination of kitsch and camp, the cult of death and the ambiguous celebration of style which had...

    • Edgar Reitz’s Heimat: Memory, Home and Hollywood [1985]
      (pp. 384-394)

      When the NBC seriesHolocaustwas aired on German television early in 1979, it started a heated public discussion about the ethics of turning this episode of national disgrace into a family melodrama and thriller. But, so the verdict ran, if a tearjerker manages what no documentary film, no literary account, and not even a show trial like that of Adolf Eichmann had achieved, namely to bring home the horrors of Nazi rule and to open locked doors of memory, conscience and personal history – asHolocaustdid for millions of Germans – why quibble over points of detail or...

    • Discourse and History: One Manʹs War – An Interview with Edgardo Cozarinsky [1984]
      (pp. 395-406)
      Thomas Elsaesser and Edgardo Cozarinsky

      Thomas Elsaesser: You madeOne Manʹs Warin France at a time when there had already been an extensive public discussion about the French and their collective memory of the Second World War and German occupation,The Sorrow and the Pity, Lacombe LucienandThe Last Métroamong others had very much fixed the critical debate around the question of collaboration and resistance. Your film deliberately displaces these terms, and one could imagine an equally important debate around the use you make of documentary material – in your case, newsreels of the period – and the choice of a German...

    • Rendezvous with the French Revolution: Ettore Scolaʹs That Night in Varennes [1989]
      (pp. 407-411)

      Paris 1792, a Venetian troupe of actors performs on the banks of the Seine, enacting the Fall of the Bastille and other momentous events, thanks to a new technical gadget, the magic lantern. Elsewhere in the city, the notorious publisher, lecher, bon vivant and writer Restif de la Bretonne returns home from the brothel at dawn, to find his assets seized and his books confiscated. But instead of consoling his daughter with the more than fatherly attention she seems accustomed to, he heads for the coach station: Paris is rife with rumors of the King and Marie Antoinette having fled...

    • Joseph Loseyʹs The Go-Between [1972]
      (pp. 412-419)

      Losey, in a good many of his works, likes to draw the lesson that spontaneity is often not the exercise of freedom, but simply the sign of ignorance about the true emotional and social determinants of our lives. Films like M, Time Without Pity, Blind Date or King and Country are concerned with the way a man unwittingly, and yet in retrospect necessarily, entangles himself in different social and private worlds which seem at first to have nothing to do with him, but nonetheless fatally exhaust his strength or destroy his life. Throughout his work, furthermore, Losey has been interested...

    • Games of Love and Death: Peter Greenaway and Other Englishmen [1988]
      (pp. 420-430)

      Like all good readers of Borges and Calvino, Greenaway has a notion of the past that is more topographical than temporal, and so chronology need not dictate causality. Drowning By Numbers, it appears, was a script finished right after The Draughtsmanʹs Contract, but at the time the project ʺfailed to get off the ground.ʺ¹ Now that it follows A Zed and Two Noughts and The Belly of an Architect, any similarity with the film that made the director famous becomes vastly more suggestive with the hindsight of an intervening history. Is Drowning by Numbers a return to home ground –...

  10. Border-Crossings:: Filmmaking without a Passport

    • Peter Wollenʹs Friendshipʹs Death [1987]
      (pp. 433-435)

      Amman, Jordan, ʺBlack Septemberʺ 1970: the Jordanians are determined to dislodge the PLO from its city-center strongholds. Among the journalists caught in the crossfire is Sullivan (Bill Paterson). Sympathetic to the PLO cause, he is asked to identify a woman (Tilda Swinton) picked up without passport or papers. Sullivan pretends to know her, and takes her to his hotel, where she discloses that she is an extra-terrestrial, code-named Friendship, and sent from the galaxy of Procryon to make contact with advanced members of the human species. Due to a malfunction during atmospheric entry, she lost contact with her base, and...

    • Andy Engelʹs Melancholia [1989]
      (pp. 436-439)

      On a dull Friday afternoon, in a smart flat somewhere in London, the German art critic David Keller (Jeroen Krabbé), morose and slightly drunk, receives a mysterious phone call from a man claiming to be an old acquaintance. Intrigued, David calls back later that day from a public phone, to discover that ʺManfred,ʺ a fellow political activist from ʹ68, needs Davidʹs assistance in a political assassination. A Chilean military doctor and former torturer, Adolfo Vargas, is visiting London for a conference, and his death is meant to protest against the reprieves recently given to known torturers in Argentina and Chile....

    • On The High Seas: Edgardo Cozarinskyʹs Dutch Adventure [1983]
      (pp. 440-443)

      Search the mind regarding Rotterdam, and what do you find? The biggest port in Europe, the spot market in oil, once in a while news of a spectacular drug bust. And since 1972, it is the location of the annual Rotterdam festival, haven for avant-garde, independent, and Third World films.

      Rotterdam, 14 May 1940: The old town is practically wiped out by a German air attack. The fire is so fierce that even the canals are burning. Newsreel footage shows a lion calmly walking the streets, a refugee from the bombed-out zoo. Three years later, Allied bombers inflict more damage;...

    • Third Cinema/World Cinema: An Interview with Ruy Guerra [1972]
      (pp. 444-460)
      Thomas Elsaesser and Ruy Guerra

      Ruy Guerra was born in Mozambique and went to film school in Paris. He did much of his early film work in Brazil, becoming one of the founders of Cinema Novo. Even though his first film,Os Cafajestes(1962), a key document of Brazilʹs cinematic renewal and the manifestation of a major directorial talent, was never publicly shown in Britain, his second filmOs Fuzis(1963) was immediately recognized as a landmark and turning point. It succeeded in achieving the seemingly impossible: to present a fiction that is unambiguously political in its impact, articulated by means of a linear narrative...

    • Ruy Guerraʹs Erendira [1986]
      (pp. 461-463)

      In the desert, the tombstones of Amadis and Amadis Jr. Nearby, the mansion where orphaned Erendira is the domestic slave and companion to her tyrannical grandmother. The two women are the sole survivors of a once-powerful dynasty of robber barons and smugglers. A litany of daily chores comes to a sudden end the night Erendira leaves the candelabra too close by the open window and a desert storm sets the curtains on fire. The mansion burns to the ground. As she sells the remains to passing traders, the grandmother vows that Erendira will have to repay her every peso of...

    • Hyper-, Retro- or Counter-: European Cinema as Third Cinema between Hollywood and Art Cinema [1992]
      (pp. 464-482)

      Even before Jean-Luc Godard urged filmmakers in 1967 not to make political films but to make films politically, the question of an ʺalternative cinemaʺ was on the agenda of European directors. While some filmmakers were looking to formal, experimental, non-narrative traditions, Godardʹs notion was that of a counter-cinema, implying a film-politics that would challenge the economic supremacy of Hollywood, its monopolistic distribution and exhibition system in the countries of Europe, but also in the Third World.

      The moment for a radical break was opportune: renewed interest in avant-garde filmmaking during the 1960s and 1970s coincided with a period of stagnation...

  11. Conclusion

    • European Cinema as World Cinema: A New Beginning? [2005]
      (pp. 485-514)

      What is European cinema? We no longer seem to know. The very idea of it has slipped between the declining relevance of ʺnational cinemas,ʺ and the emerging importance of ʺworld cinema.ʺ A few decades ago, European cinema connoted films mainly made in Western Europe and based on its dominant postwar – national and transnational – traditions of neo-realism, politically or popart inspired new waves. It named an auteur cinema that drew on national (literary or theatrical) traditions, whose style was that of an art cinema, with psychologically complex protagonists, often the alter egos of the director, and thus inviting expressive-autobiographical...

  12. European Cinema: A Brief Bibliography
    (pp. 515-530)
  13. List of Sources and Places of First Publication
    (pp. 531-534)
  14. Index
    (pp. 535-564)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 565-567)