Defining Moments in Movies: The Greatest Films, Stars, Scenes and Events that Made Movie Magic

May 21, 2008 at 12:29 am

I was pleased to be part of this project, like the other fifty or so film critics and historians from around the world (from Argentina through India and The Philippines to Australia), who contributed to it. Chris Fujiwara, the Japan-based editor, approached us with the idea to put together a book that would highlight film history as a series of important ‘moments’ taking place around the world. We were to either pick topics from a tentative list he was working from, or propose our own and send in short contributions on what we thought of as such defining building blocks. Then he compiled them in chronological order. The resulting record, highlighting important films and events that were made or had taken place within the same year but across a variety of geographical locations, presents a uniquely ample and radically new take on film history. It is probably the first attempt in film scholarship to map the chronology of world cinema in a comparative and comprehensive manner that keeps in view the global dynamics of the medium.

Usually, the story of world cinema is told by placing Hollywood in the center of attention, which, in an effort to keep the narrative focused, inevitably leads to highlighting other developments as secondary or as having come about as a reaction to developments in American film. This approach leads to biased understanding of the dynamics of world cinema which is not only inaccurate and incomplete. With our increasing knowledge of the history of various film traditions, with the improved availability of classical international cinematic texts on DVD in the Long Tail, and with the growing number of articulate authors who are closely familiar with and conscious of the importance and the influence of non-Western cultural outputs, it is more than ever seen as politically incorrect. In essence, Fujiwara’s project was inviting for a specific and subtle revision of official film historiography, an opportunity that the community of knowledgeable film scholars and writers immediately embraced. For example I was able to write on themes close to my heart, ranging from the hugely successful Indian classic Awara (1951) to the hugely influential speech from Dusan Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), as well as on important books that have shaped our thinking on film and have widened our horizons in recent years, such as Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s Unthinking Eurocentrismand Hamid Naficy’s An Accented Cinema.

When I received the book (published in two versions, both shown below) I was truly impressed with the result. At last we have a piece of thorough historiography that covers a huge range of lesser-known aspects of world cinema and thus opens up the way to gradually setting the record straight. The book is published by Cassell Illustrated; I hope to see more projects of this sort to come about soon, both from popular trade publishers and academic ones.

© Dina Iordanova
21 May 2008