By Tim Oliver
The turn of the 20th century saw the development of cinema as a technology. It was a technology that continued to develop and, along with it, a desire surfaced to sell and consume it as a means of entertainment. Enter stage left Hollywood with its classical studio system, its stars and its directors all of whom contributed to the construction of cinema as a product. As with any product there is a need for formula which Hollywood offered in its use of narrative structure. The 1930s and 40s saw the ascendancy of narrative cinema and in particular a set of cinematic codes through which a film’s narrative was articulated. Noel Burch (1981) termed this the Institutional Mode of Representation (IMR). The IMR covers everything from cause and effect narrative, to continuity editing to Mise-en-scène.
Hollywood’s IMR offered a platform from which world cinema could be constructed. Whilst I am by no means ignoring the existence of any world cinema before or during Hollywood’s rise to formal dominance, I am suggested that IMR provided a mainstream starting point. For instance Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu would have been aware of the conventions of Hollywood during his film production from the late 1940’s onwards. It is recognised that Ozu produced films that could easily be labelled as Hollywood alternatives; take for example his ‘misuse’ of the 180 degree rule in Tokyo Story (1953) in favour of a 360 degree approach – a move that affected the continuity of his films. Although Ozu’s films were not in line with prevailing Hollywood conventions, one can suggest that an alternate only arises through digestion and comprehension of the dominant; that the former cannot exist without the latter.
Of course to suggest that Ozu’s filmmaking was nothing more than reactionary is very reductive; importance must also be placed on the cultural context of Ozu’s work. Whilst cross-cultural analysis can be insightful one must be careful with it. Hollywood’s influence on world cinema may predominantly be that it encouraged counter cinema, the alternative, its influence is not necessarily forced to be a formal or stylistic one which is sometimes, given its all-consuming emphasis in the modern-day film society, easy to forget.
Moving on through film history, however, examples emerge of stylistic influences that are perhaps more fashioned out of New Hollywood and the concept of MTV visuals, the music video style. Wong Kar Wai’s Chunkking Express (1994), has many instances of fast editing, uses western music and feels, at points, very Hollywood in its stylistic approach. Similar ideas can be seen in City of God (2002), its borrowing from gangster film conventions and its pulp fiction, portmanteau narrative produce a decidedly western cinematic style.
Naturally this is not a one way process, filmmakers do not live in a cultural vacuum; the boundaries of the modern world are blurred and the concepts surrounding culture are now much more fluid. What then, does world cinema offer Hollywood? If we consider the past decade it would seem that Hollywood’s incessant remakes of Japanese Horror (not to mention the current trend of remaking European art house pictures) would be a good place to start. Hollywood, arguably, currently lacks originality; many of this years blockbusters have been remakes or part of a franchise. It’s even worse when you look at the likes of The Amazing Spider Man scheduled for summer 2012, another reboot, where is the new material? And, furthermore, is a system that is so lacking in new ideas really a formidable influence at an artistic level?
By constantly remaking foreign films for the western market Hollywood seemingly gets the best of both worlds: all the revenue without any of the donkey work. This said, if Hollywood can only source original material from world cinema will Hollywood ever wane in its influence? Probably not given the amount of cold, hard cash they seem to have just lying around in comparison to other countries.
With this in mind it is seemingly more important, and more poignant, than ever for film fans to vote carefully with their pocket. If people keep throwing money at the box offices every time they churn out yet another a remake the everlasting cycle of reheating old material is highly unlikely to stop. Similarly if world cinema doesn’t start to draw bigger audiences it will be forever limited in how far it can develop. To use an oft-recalled quote from a soon-to-be-rebooted franchise: with great power comes great responsibility. How will you use yours?