by John Hess and Chuck Kleinhans
Cut, no. 38, June 1993, pp. 105-122
The following article surveys the state of film criticism as represented by film periodicals in three parts. In the first we give a very brief overview of the history and place of film magazines in the United States and then discuss the current film culture situation. In the second part we discuss individually a selected number of the more important, representative, and/or popular film publications. In the final part we give basic information about these magazines and few others that are mentioned in the first part but which we do not discuss in detail in the second part. We have arranged the last two parts in alphabetical order. This overview can only be a snapshot of a changing scene. It was originally written for a special of CineAction (France) on film periodicals around the world, and it was based on research done in 1990-91. We invite additions and corrections and will add updates in future issues of JUMP CUT. We also plan updates on film periodicals in English from other countries and publications on cultural studies.
The vast majority of film magazines published in the United States today are less than 20 years old. While a lively discussion of film took place before WW2, none of the critical magazines — often associated with the left in the 1930s — survived the War. A very few early magazines — all of them attached to the film industry in Hollywood — continue to publish today. The technical magazines, SMPTE Journal (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, 1916) and American Cinematographer (1919), along with the business magazines, Variety (1905), Box Office (1920), Hollywood Reporter (1930), and Film Journal (1934) continue today.
While almost from its origins cinema has attracted the critical attention of intellectuals in the United States, critical writing on film for a long time tended to be occasional, often either the review or the article dealing with a topical issue, such as a case of censorship. This allowed individuals to develop a perspective, but either their writing was scattered over various publications or put into the regularity of a review column. Places for the sustained discussion of film as an art and social phenomenon which brought together diverse and specialist voices existed only sporadically before World War 2. The film magazine forms an essential institution for the critical analysis of cinema and the existence of a film culture that allows and encourages its development.
A new intellectual, cultural, and social discussion of cinema begins with the founding in 1945 of the Hollywood Quarterly, associated with the prestigious University of California at Los Angeles, one of the first schools to have a department of film, and the founding two years later of the University Film Association's journal. This latter organization was and remains a professional association primarily of film production teachers in universities. The most important film journalistic event in the 1950s and the real beginning of an intellectual film culture in the United States was the founding in 1955 of Film Culture by Jonas Mekas, recently arrived from his native Europe. It was the first postwar magazine to aggressively promote cinema as an art form and to become a transmission belt for European ideas about the cinema into the United States. This lively magazine originally validated cinema classics of the past, European art films, and important work in U.S. commercial cinema. After a few years, however, it became the house organ for the New American Cinema, originally a mix of the U.S. version of cinema verité and the burgeoning avant-garde or underground cinema. Maya Deren and Hans Richter wrote about
The foundation of three new magazines in the 1960s continued this process of absorbing ideas on the cinema from Europe. The Society for Cinematologists Journal (1961, now called Cinema Journal), Film Comment (1962), Cineaste (1967), along with Film Culture each came out of very different milieux and developed quite separate sets of ideas which continue to mark serious writing about film in the United States. In fact, we could probably quite easily place most subsequent film critical magazines into the traditions founded by Film Culture (avant-garde, independent filmmaking), The Society for Cinematologists Journal (academic), Film Comment (conventional aesthetic approach to commercial film, after an earlier stage similar to Film Culture), and Cineaste (social, political approach). The fact that such a loose categorization so easily suggests itself points to the narrowness and specialization of U.S. magazines in general and the kinds of artificial divisions which exist in funding, making, screening, teaching, and discussing cinema.
The 1970s saw a virtual explosion of new magazines about film and associated forms of mechanical and electronic reproduction of images (video, TV, photography, advertising, etc.), an expansion that has not abated — media magazines continue to arise like mushrooms after a heavy rain. And these magazines are increasingly specialized. Some of these magazines, of course, fall by the wayside — most unfortunately in the early 1970s the groundbreaking feminist publication Women and Film (1970-75).
While some charge that serious film criticism in the United States has become academicized and then dismiss it as an ivory tower pursuit (a frequent theme in Cineaste, for example), this simplification actually obscures the larger situation. We need to understand that for a significant number of intellectuals in the post-WW2 era, film became a significant area of concern. Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael quarreled in print, but both thought the movies an important concern of "public intellectuals" (those members of the intelligentsia who take up the task of affecting public opinion, taste, and social and political policy). Susan Sontag's famous essay on the "two cultures" (high culture and mass culture) was a high point in the early 60's marking (as did Pop Art as a movement) the ability of a new generation of intellectuals to embrace both high art and popular art at the same time, as opposed to an earlier generation's denunciation of commercial art (as in Dwight MacDonald's critique of "middlebrow" culture, and Clement Greenburg's essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch"). For the generation of the 60s film was an important art form, one which gave them British realism, Bergman, the French New Wave, Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti, as well as access to Buñuel and the classics of the past. It also gave them, through the U.S. version of authorship and genre analysis, ways of understanding and appreciating the Hollywood films they grew up on and the new films and filmmakers which fascinated them, from BONNIE AND CLYDE to EASY RIDER, Peckinpah to Woody Allen.
This provided an abundant harvest to feed hungry growing minds and spirits, and it shaped a generation, the Baby Boomers, born in expanding affluence and raised with tv sets. Film could speak directly to the vital interests of young adults: love, ethics, politics, moral choice, how to live one's life. That many of those people who loved the movies passionately, and who cut their teeth on them, then went on to write about them and use criticism as a tool for their own understanding and development is hardly surprising, though it marks the first time in the United States that large numbers of people passionately became involved in the ongoing discussion of an aspect of mass culture (popular and folk forms had been discussed earlier, especially with folk music and jazz, but not always in theft most commercial aspects). This was the (middle class, college-educated) demographic and social base for an expanding film culture. Such an environment, set in the period of the Vietnam War, the Black Power movement, the birth of a new feminist movement, and other signs of social and political upheaval sparked the optimism that fueled establishing new publications explicitly setting forth an agenda for criticism.
The Cold War and McCarthyism had silenced many intellectuals in the postwar era Suddenly a new generation openly took up the idea of cultural and intellectual work that was not divorced from politics and social change. Cineaste championed Third World Film and militant documentary, Women & Film began the feminist critique of media also then taken up by Camera Obscura, Jump Cut presented an openly marxist and feminist stance. As specialized publications, these magazines went beyond the belles lettres writing common to left-liberal criticism typified at that time by say, Stanley Kauffman, reviewer for The New Republic. They expected an audience knowledgeable about and even passionately committed to cinema, and they occupied an orbit much like the post-68 active political debate on film in France by Cahiers du cinéma, Cinéthique, and Positif. In England Screen actively promoted the Soviet 20s, Brecht, and Godard, along with Barthes, Metz, Lacan, and Althusser. An important film studies program for U.S. students in Paris increased the interest in semiotics, psychoanalysis, and poststructuralist thought as graduate students learned about new film theories first hand. And by the later 1970s, U.S. film culture was influenced by Screen and by similar publications such as Framework and Afterimage from the U.K., and Cine-Tracts from Canada.
But that generation got older, a movie star became President, reaction had the top hand, and for many of the Baby Boomers going to the movies now meant getting a baby sitter and driving to the mall. Seeing movies was mostly done on the small tv screen with video rentals and cable tv features. Film no longer had the same intensity as part of a process of discovery and maturation as it had before. Criticism changed as well. The Hollywood auteurs of the 1970s grew older without a new generation with Something Important To Say replacing their youthful spirit. (Indeed, much of the attention that Spike Lee gets seems to come from exactly the fact that he's about the only young director with a commercial track record who wants to make a significant statement.) And today, for the most pan new talents and fascinated audiences cluster not at the big urban festivals like New York or Chicago, but at locally and regionally organized festivals of gay and lesbian, feminist, African American, Latino, Asian-Pacific American, and other "minority" interest. And most of the intense, active, and concerned discussion of film and video takes place in these settings today.
The ongoing merging of film with video and television in terms of production at times, but especially in distribution and exhibition, also changes the situation. The preposterous howls of outrage which greeted the re-release of films in "colorized" versions, particularly by Ted Turner on his cable network, were the cries of an older generation of purists. Few younger people saw any problem, especially when this gave then access to films they would otherwise never see. Similarly, the cable network American Movie Classics provides 24-hour a day reruns of Hollywood films without commercials, and various extra fee cable networks regularly carry releases only a few months after release. This and video rental allow for inexpensive repeated viewing of favorites. Clearly "movie going" means something very different in the 1990s than it did in the 1950s.
All of this has been fueled as well by changes in print journalism, the usual starting point for a body of criticism. The newspapers and general circulation magazines have declined in the United States while the special interest magazine has increased in significance. Entertainment and celebrities have become recognizable special subjects for print and broadcast journalism: thus the weekly People magazine, one of the highest circulation U.S. publications, features some human interest stories on unusual people, but concentrates its cover and most of its editorial space on individuals and trends in the entertainment business. ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT is one of the most popular nightly prime time tv shows, giving "news" updates on show business and celebrities, new releases, etc. Most cable tv offers one of several 24-hour news and feature entertainment business channels. Newspaper critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert not only appear on Chicago news television with recommendations and mini-reviews (most urban tv stations have such features in their news shows), but have a highly successful nationally syndicated program in which they both appear and debate the merits of the week's new releases.
Film reviewing itself has changed. Most people now get information and evaluation of new films from tv, not from print. Thus the role of the print journalism reviewer who was a paid professional writer addressing a fairly clearly defined audience in an essayistic form which allowed for the development of argumentation and examples has changed. There are fewer of them and they have less influence, while the broadcast personality who can give a short snappy summary with a few action clips occupies central position. And those who have no problem with "blurb mongering" actually produce model ad copy snippets virtually on demand of the studio publicity departments.
The growth of film courses in colleges and universities in the 1960s and 70s had the net effect of making this popular undergraduate offering part of the formal college experience for many graduates. Thus there is presumably a larger
However, it is hard to find the same passion for film as an area of personal and intellectual concern today as 20-30 years ago. Manhattan still has a diverse and substantial film audience. And one can still find eager crowds of young people at opening screenings in Westwood (Los Angeles) but much of the energy comes from the hopes they have of breaking into the industry as writers, directors, actors, or other talent. For many young people film is part of their career interests in the communications and entertainment industries, one of the very few areas of the U.S. economy which is still growing and which nets a favorable balance of trade abroad.
The development of academic film studies encouraged increased publication of longer, more serious, and more analytic criticism. At its worst, this considerable body of work has all the marks of all academic writing: formulaic thinking, pedantry, and massive irrelevance. But as a newer and emerging area within higher education, film studies have by and large been intellectually significant and opened up new areas of consideration, particularly television and the analysis of mass culture. Having developed largely within literature departments, much of the work remains ignorant of the most elementary social science perspectives and issues, but this is gradually changing with a younger generation who accept analysis of institutions and reception as equally valid as close textual and aesthetic analysis. Equally important is the recent expansion of historical studies often carefully researched and argued and based on rediscovered films and archival research. This type of traditional scholarly activity lays the groundwork for important theoretical and critical revision, while itself being guided by changes in thinking about the field that developed in recent criticism. For example, many historians now assume that it is important to investigate exhibition and audience reception as well as production and films as texts.
Film, as a canon-challenging area of studies in the 1960s and 70s university, tended to attract more liberal and adventurous students who maintained much of this perspective into the 1980s and 90s. Thus for the past few years the Society for Cinema Studies annual meeting has emphasized themes of minority perspectives and cinemas, gender politics, and third world film. Although it is easy to fault academics for not being political activists, film studies remains one of the most politically progressive areas of the U.S. university.
Against this backdrop, the critical "map" today looks something like this:
a. Intelligent and informed mass market critics in print and tv such as Siskel and Ebert who provide consumer reviews and address some aesthetic and social issues in film, often when provoked by ignorant and obnoxious critics in the same market. For example, denunciations of DO THE RIGHT THING by white critics who predicted it would cause race riots, or sexist men who thought THELMA AND LOUISE encouraged and celebrated violence against men. Some writers and intellectuals outside of film may join in these public discussions: for example, African American feminists Michelle Wallace and bell hooks (Gloria Watkins) have significant chapters on films in their recent anthologies.
b. Critics for the weekly urban hip tabloids such as the Village Voice (J. Hoberman, Georgia Brown) or Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) who have the time, space, and intelligent readership to give a detailed discussion to a film they consider important, to an issue they care about, or to express their own analysis or enthusiasm for a director or direction.
c. Critics for other weekly/monthly publications ranging from the weekend editions of major metropolitan newspapers where daily reviewers may have time for a "think piece" or readers of market niche (New Yorker) or attitude/ lifestyle (Newsweek, Time) or political sympathy (The Nation) may find an essayistic discussion of new releases. While close to group b above, we've separated the two because this category seems in definite decline: the recent retirement of Pauline Kael from the New Yorker perhaps marks the considerable impoverishment of this part of the critical terrain. It seldom generates a discussion that seems passionate or important.
d. Journalists and writers who write about film largely for the love of it. Publications like Cinefantastique and Psychotronic are filled with dilettante love of cinema written by buffs and enthusiasts who don't have a journalist's deadline or an academic's career to worry about
e. Academic writers who are expected to do research and write about film for free as part of their job as teachers, curators, archivists, etc.. Some of these people do fundamental scholarship such as archival historical research or interviews with filmmakers, some write critical essays or theoretical pieces.
Some additional points are worth making about the "critical terrain." In the United States at present film studies has expanded to include television and video, and most of the people concerned with it intellectually also take up issues of mass culture. The term Cultural Studies is often invoked now to cover this broader range in the academic arena. It emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach often drawing on both social science and aesthetic methods. Thus, although we've listed only strictly film magazines and journals here, critical discussion of film also takes place in publications such as Discourse, Cultural Studies, Cultural Critique, Representations, Genders, Artforum, and so forth.
In addition, it needs to be noted that although the U.S. left in the past was almost obstinately blind to the area of culture other than politically militant work in a realist mode, most of the major left periodicals carry extensive cultural reviews. Elayne Rapping's analyses of popular culture in the recently defunct Guardian were especially fine, and Pat Aufderheide's coverage of Latin American and European cinema in In These Times sets a high standard. In addition left oriented publications varying from the activist-intellectual Radical America to Socialist Review and the more academic Social Text or the art-world-oriented October carry significant film articles from a progressive political perspective. Most gay and lesbian publications carry significant criticism, especially around controversial films such as BASIC INSTINCT or PARIS IS BURNING.
Finally, we must note here the importance in the United States of the technical and entertainment business press. From the very beginning technological change and innovation have played a major role in the development of cinema in the United States, affecting not just the technology, but the economics and aesthetics of Hollywood films, as well as that of documentary and independent filmmaking. One could, for example, refer to the development of soft focus photography after WW1, the coming of sound, the achievement of a practical deep-focus photography in the late 1930s, and wide screen and cinema verité in the 1950s. Informed critics should want to keep abreast of publications such as American Cinematographer and Cinemeditor, which carry detailed articles on new techniques and processes in film production which are often premiered in new releases. Cinefex contains detailed discussions of special effects technology and processes.
Probably the best known film publication in the world is the business publication Variety — both the daily and the weekly versions. There are a great number of other entertainment business publications that concentrate on different aspects of the industry. They are invaluable sources of economic information and statistics about the latest trends. Back issues are important sources for those looking into the economic history of the industry. Though perhaps not central to the critical discussion of film, these magazines devoted nearly exclusively to technology and business are very important to filmmakers, critics and scholars. We also want to mention here the important periodical bibliography, Film/Literature Index.
The economic basis of these various publications is important to understand because in the last case economics is usually the most important factor in the history of and actual editorial production of film criticism. Publications such as Premiere are clear-cut capitalist enterprises: run for a profit, making most of their money from advertising. Premiere sells cigarettes, alcohol, and now perfume — issues really do smell thanks to scratch-and-sniff ads). They can afford to pay writers and staff professional wages, travel expenses to do interviews, and so forth. Some publications such as Cineaste and Film Quarterly offer very modest payment to their writers, acknowledging their labor and sometimes recruiting from professional writers. At the other end are labors of love such as the fanzines.
Academic criticism falls in between. Professors are expected to write as part of their work, but not to get paid for it directly. Thus they tend to publish in nonprofit, often subsidized publications. For example, Cinema Journal is a benefit of membership in the Society for Cinema Studies, although non-members can subscribe. So all the members of SCS automatically get it. In contrast, Screen (U.K.) must compete in the U.S. market without an automatic base membership subsidy. While academic journals have traditionally charged more for institutional subscriptions to college and university libraries, they have also been secure in knowing that once carried, they would always be renewed by such libraries.
However the severe retrenchment in high education in the past few years has forced many libraries to actually cut back on subscriptions. The first to go tend to be the least-read and those less useful to undergraduates writing papers. As a result, faculty at such institutions must either carry their own personal subscription or visit a larger university library from time to time to catch up on publication in the field. Of course this slows down the topicality of research and the currentness of the exchange of ideas. So even with many more outlets for serious film writing today, the actual circulation of information and ideas may well be less. Relatively few academic periodicals are ever sold as individual copies in bookstores or newstands. Thus relatively few potential readers will ever become aware of a new article in Quarterly Review of Film and Video compared with the membership-based Cinema Journal. And both of those publications will never begin to touch the relatively large circulation of Film Quarterly or Film Comment, which have signficant newsstand and bookstore sales.
The cost of individual subscriptions is also a factor in the diffusion of knowledge. Most people can't subscribe to every film periodical they might like to read and must pick and choose. But the cost of a sub is not always comparable. Camera Obscura with 6-10 articles per issue offers three issues for $18.50, while Screen (U.K.) with about 4-6 articles per issue plus reports, debates, and book reviews, charges $50.00 for four issues in the U.S.. CineAction (Canada) offers an individual sub in N. America for $18 for 3 issues or $30 for 6 issues, with about 10-12 articles per issue. Film Quarterly offers 4 issues for $19.00 for individuals, while Quarterly Review of Film and Video charges $63.00 for 4 issues. The British cultural studies journal New Formations sells for $26.00 a single issue in the U.S. Jump Cut is an incredible bargain at $14.00 for 4 issues with each issue running about 20 reviews and lengthy articles.
Finally, we must point out the extent to which the current deep recession in the United States coupled with the ongoing rightwing attack on almost all forms of culture have severely hindered the ability of U.S. intellectuals to both produce and discuss our culture. In the time that it has taken us to write this article, three noteworthy film magazines have ceased publication: (1) American Film, a general interest publication much like Premiere, (2) Film History, a scholarly journal, and (3) International Documentary, the only publication exclusively devoted to the documentary mode. And Millimeter, an important magazine covering technology and the film business, has not appeared in a long time and is believed to be defunct. It seems very likely that they will not be the last.
Some cause for optimism might be found in the new world of "zines," inexpensively produced and self-distributed occasional publications filled with youthful angst and attitude, idiosyncratic and often anarchist views. While they usually don't deal with films per se, but swim within and against media culture, they offer a site for a new critical practice and bear watching for that alone.
ANNOTATED LIST OF SOME U. S. FILM MAGAZINES
Afterimage: Afterimage, published by the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York, is a tabloid covering independent film and video as well as photography and visual books. It is probably the best single source for information on new experimental films and videos as well as the festivals and institutions concerned with media arts. The publication ranges over the history of photography, computer images, new books and works, AIDS media, censorship controversies, and contains an ample listing of classifieds for events, solicitations for festivals and shows, etc. A good amount of attention is paid to feminist and gay/lesbian work and more recently youth culture and a more extended consideration of multiculturalism and minority critiques have appeared. While covering new thought particularly as it impacts upon the media art world, Afterimage often seems timid about offering a thorough critique or even a controversy of opinions on subjects it favors such as gay politics, feminist theory, and postmodern representation. Essential reading for the independent sector.
American Cinematographer: Covering the field of film production, American Cinematographer covers the craft and people who work in studios and on location, especially in feature dramatic film. Lots of ads for production equipment and rental houses and a certain amount of celebrating famous and not so famous directors of photography here (all-male world). The particular usefulness of the publication is its frequent detailed explanations of new production techniques and processes, particularly as they are found in newly released films. (for example, how they shot all that historical re-creation stuff for JFK).
American Cinemeditor: This publication is like American Cinematographer but for postproduction workers, especially film editors in Hollywood. Some interesting details of shooting special effects and computer composites on new films and some occasional career bios. Although many women have worked as film editors historically, the pictures of new members of the professional organization shows only men in the Summer '91 issue. Most curious: a photo of Oscar award winner William Reynolds (SOUND OF MUSIC, THE STING, THE GODFATHER), reveals a guy with a dinky 19" portable TV and a shelf of banal books. Not the glamour world often attributed to Hollywood pros. At the moment it seems that AC has ceased publication. The former editor and staff of AC have begun a new publication called On Production. American Cinema Editors seems prepared to begin another publication to represent the views its members. One can easily imagine that the drastic changes in postproduction technology in the last decade have led to this split in the ACE.
Asian Cinema: Reflecting the increasing interest in both East Asian and South Asian cinemas in the U.S., Asian Cinema is evolving into an academic journal from its beginnings as the newsletter of the Asian Cinema Studies Society. These early newsletters were designed to help academics do research on Asian cinema by alerting them to future conferences, new books, and recent articles. They contained information about the scholarly activities of Society members and contributed to building the Society. The newsletter soon developed into a magazine in which the Society's members and others could publish short articles and substantive reports on a great variety of activities of interest to scholars. The magazine's approach is very broad as befits a new area of research. As was stated in the first newsletter, they "are especially interested in focusing attention on cinemas which are considered marginal in the West and have therefore received only limited scholarly attention." The semi-annual publication ranges from carefully researched articles on regional and little known cinemas (e.g., Carol Slingo on Malayan cinema), discussions of specific films and directors, interviews, and other critical work to conference and festival reports, an ongoing bibliography, announcements of events, newly available films and videos. Essential reading for anyone with a critical interest in Asian film.
Black Film Review: The Black Film Review began humbly in 1985 as a xeroxed newsletter under the editorship of David Nicholson. It soon picked up the support of many critics and filmmakers. By the end of the first year it had expanded to a 24-page magazine with an editorial board. The magazine has continued to grow in size, quality, and importance ever since. Nicholson stepped down in 1989 to return to creative writing, the magazine moved out of his house, and Jacquie Jones became the editor. The Black Film Review has become a very important forum for the discussion of African American independent film and, to a lesser extent, the discussion of African American participation and treatment in Hollywood film. Beyond this, however, the magazine has always had a more broadly multicultural approach. From the very beginning its editors and writers reached beyond the African American experience to see the commonalities in the experience of other disenfranchised people.
The magazine has always been open and pluralist in its approach and addressed the general reader rather than the specialist. The editors have dealt with several potentially antagonistic contradictions in very creative ways. David Nicholson announced in the very first issue his intent to deal primarily with the portrayals of African Americans in [Hollywood] film — how the characters function in the film and how realistic that is. In the very next issue a reader challenged this concentration on character (i.e. extra cinematic codes) and, quoting from Christine Gledhill, calls for a consideration of how films are actually constructed (i.e., cinematic codes).
In like fashion the magazine moved quickly to include women's voices and discussions of women's filmmaking. In the second year the magazine took up the debate around THE COLOR PURPLE, printing a number of differing opinions. This was soon followed by a number of articles on women filmmakers, an interest that has not abated. In fact, the first issue of 1990 has an excellent special section on African-American women filmmakers. This openness can also be seen in the magazine's willingness to deal positively with homosexuality in spite of the considerable resistance to such an approach in the African American community to this day. In the third issue of 1987 there is a special section on gay male film, centering around LOOKING FOR LANGSTON.
With its appeal to the general reader, Black Film Review tends to fall on the side of celebrating rather than thoroughly analyzing its chosen subject matter, and its format of short articles tends to leave weightier issues absent from discussion. Much more substantial and controversial discussions of issues and specific African American films have appeared in other publications. Even when a tough issue is taken on, as in Kalamu ya Salaam's essay on Black Macho in recent films, it is given only two and one-half pages of text with the promise of being continued in the next issue.
Box Office: Box Office is a major monthly magazine directed to the film industry. It includes lots of information about directors and their projects, actors and actresses and their careers, the concessions business, marketing and advertising. There is also specific entertainment data about films and videos. There are also short reviews of recent films as well. A special feature is their chart showing the release of feature films, organized by company.
Camera Obscura: Always intellectually rigorous, Camera Obscura: A Journal of Feminism and Film Theory began in the mid-1970s with particular attention to the avant-garde countercinema (Godard, Duras, Rainer) and a semiotic-psychoanalytic critique of Hollywood with translations from Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour and Thierry Kuntzel. Over time the range of interests has expanded to encompass television, popular culture, and historical analysis. The writing tends to be academic and theoretical, but within that context is clear and well-written.
Recent issues, under the editorship of Janet Bergstrom, Elisabeth Lyon, Constance Penley, Lynn Spigel, and Sharon Willis, have provided a major assessment and re-evaluation of theoretical and practical studies of female spectatorship, studies of the representation of men and male hysteria, and historical studies of early cinema. While continuing to develop its core interests while adding new ones, CO has been extremely slow in considering work by women of color (other than the most experimental/rarified as with Trinh), or to consider the cinemas of Africa, Latin America, or Asia (except for a few pieces on China). Until fairly recently the publication exuded a relentless heterosexuality, studiously avoided considering lesbian perspectives or films, and it has never given much consideration to the history and current work of women documentarists or women working in the avant-garde. While these are faults shared with much of U.S. academic feminism, an editorial in issue 25-26 indicates a desire to open up the publication to more views and debate.
Cineaste: Cineaste began at New York University in 1967 as a magazine for students interested in producing film criticism. Early issues covered the activities at the few university film departments that existed then-especially NYU and UCLA. However, in the heat of the radical 1960s and especially the student movement building takeovers at Columbia University and the subsequent fight, the magazine quickly became radicalized. Soon the magazine set out the topics that it would continue to cover to this day-independent political U.S. and world cinema, third world film, and "progressive" Hollywood cinema. They also began interviewing filmmakers. When we founded JUMP CUT in 1974, immediately after leaving Indiana University, Cineaste, as well as Women and Film, were our models and inspiration.
Cineaste also played an important role in connecting the 1960s radicalism to past radical filmmaking and cultural theory. For example, they published T.W. Adonto's views on the culture industry by printing a translation of an Adorno article that appeared in Germany in 1966. They also ran interviews with Leo Hurwitz about his involvement in the Film and Photo League and his own subsequent filmmaking. Cineaste editor Gary Crowdus worked with Tricontinental Films, the major distributor of Latin American and Third World films in the U.S. at the time and the magazine benefited with frequent articles and interviews on Third World cinema.
However, in the mid-1970s Cineaste backed away from the key issues in film culture at the time — film theory, feminism, and gay liberation. In fact, it might be possible to place the shift or retreat in the fourth issue of volume 4 in 1975. In that issue they interview Jane Fonda to find out to what extent she believed she could "implement her political beliefs in her film work within the industry." In the same issue Ruth McCormick reviews Christian Metz's A Semiotics of the Cinema. While she raises some very valid criticisms of Metz and cine-structuralism — its ahistoricism and its denial of conscious human political practice — she also sounds what will become Cineaste's approach to film theory in the years to come: If the theorists cannot "make this kind of work accessible to large numbers of people," it will be "eventually relegated to the dustbin of history."
In this same issue, as well, Cineaste raised the issue of pornography from a libertarian perspective, warning against a "puritanism which could blind us to the free, creative and even healthy use of explicit sex in films with social value." In their approach to pornography here and in subsequent issues Cineaste placed itself outside the critiques of feminists, and gay male and lesbian activists. As Ronald Reagan entered the White House, Cineaste's drift continued. Now they were interviewing Vincent Canby, the powerful N.Y. Times reviewer, and expressing fawning agreement with him and Andrew Sarris, a longstanding political and aesthetic conservative as well as publishing ignorant and ad hominum attacks on film theory and theorists by Raymond Durgnat and Kevin Brownlow. Similarly, the publication has steadfastly ignored (though on occasion ignorantly attacked) the avant-garde movement.
Today Cineaste continues its original interest in politically inflected cinema and Third World film publishing important information not usually accessible elsewhere, for example on Arab cinema The interviews remain a strong point, and sometimes include genuine surprises such a wonderful one with Dolly Parton revealing her to be a shrewd businesswoman. Occasionally opposing views on the same film brings issues into sharper relief, as with symposia on THELMA AND LOUISE, DO THE RIGHT THING, and MALCOLM X. The coverage of books, new independent releases and home video adds to the mix. Cineaste remains at its best when its writers lead from their strongest suits: Dan Georgakas providing an astute negative assessment of DANCES WITH WOLVES based on his longstanding interest in Native American history and Gary Crowdus offering skepticism on ROGER AND ME based on his autoworker family background. More perspectives by feminists, gays, and people of color have appeared in recent issues.
From the start Cineaste has set its style at the level of intelligent journalism making it clear and accessible, if sometimes rather bland. Its concentration on current cinema makes it always timely, but sometimes marks an ignorance of history. Its emphasis on commercial cinema is not matched by serious exploration of the economic and institutional nature of production and diffusion of that sector. Cineaste often seems predictable in its politics and aesthetics: nothing too extreme in either category. One senses its writers are looking for a well-made feature dramatic film that they can enjoy while feeling good politically.
Cinefantastique: The most substantial general audience publication on science fiction, fantasy, and horror, Cinefantastique adopts a tone of avid seriousness in covering its terrain. Heavily illustrated, the magazine emphasizes new films and TV shows in feature articles and evaluative short reviews. Some historical articles appear, often in relation to a new remake or thematic continuation. Informative and well-written, the articles often feature behind the scenes views and interviews on special effects, cinematography, and scripting.
Cinema Journal: The publication of the Society for Cinema Studies, which has about 1000 members who teach in colleges and universities, primarily in literature and other humanities based departments, Cinema Journal is a major and prestigious outlet for academic scholarship and criticism in the U.S. In the 1960s and 70s, edited by Richard Dyer MacCann and later Jack C. Ellis, Cinema Journal almost exclusively featured historical research pieces. In part, this reflected a concern by the founders of academic film studies for recognition as a legitimate field in the university. (At that time serious writing by professors using an aesthetic/ critical approach was more likely to be found in Film Quarterly or Film Comment.)
The expansion of cinema studies in higher education and the subsequent growth of the membership brought about changes in the 1980s. Virginia Wright Wexman became editor and turned Cinema Journal into a traditionally run, blind refereed publication. Under this system a decision to accept or reject is based on a reading by two members of the society who do not know who wrote the article. The editor's job is largely secretarial since issues reflect the presumed best of the submissions and are not arranged by announced topic as is often the case with Wide Angle, Quarterly Review of Film Studies, and Journal of Film and Video. The effect was an immediate change in which critical and aesthetic based work appeared as well as articles using feminism, psychoanalysis, and semiotics. Work by junior faculty and graduate students appeared more frequently.
For a while Cinema Journal had a lively critical reply section in which writers responded to each other's work, however this feature disappeared under editor Dana Polan. Reflecting its membership's expertise, the publication tends to concentrate on Hollywood and west European dramatic narrative film, and more recently some U.S. television. Documentary and experimental work is sometimes considered. Social science methods remain foreign to its range of humanities based approaches. Close visual analysis is rare. A typical issue has three or four substantial articles and announcements of conferences, calls for papers, and listings of scholarly articles on film in non-film publications. A membership list and resources such as fellowship listings also appear occasionally.
Cinematograph: An occasional publication of the San Francisco Cinematheque which appears every two years or so, Cinematograph changes with the guest editor's focus but concentrates on the experimental side of the independent sector. Past issues have included interesting interviews with emerging filmmakers, substantial critical essays, and various documents about past and present films. Writings by both artists and critics are included, and the works and makers covered often get beyond the old guard canon and New York centered perspectives of much U.S. writing on experimental film. Cinematograph, No. 4 took up the topic "Non-Fiction Film? Is There Such a Thing?" and brought together a stimulating mix of different perspectives.
East-West Film Journal: East-West Film Journal is a relatively new publication published by the East-West Center, a U.S. government project run out of the U.S. Information Agency, a branch of the State Department. Located in Hawaii, the Center functions as a study, training, and research site for politically conservative projects and individuals which fit into government policy. The film publication claims to offer a place where "filmmakers, critics, and scholars from East and West meet as partners in a common quest to gain cultural insights from cinema." Clearly questions of economic or cultural imperialism, the unequal power of the "partners," and the possibility that non-U.S. people might have different ideas are not on the agenda. The publication has recruited scholarly and critical articles from films studies figures such as Dudley Andrew, Nick Browne, Dana Polan, Bill Nichols, Patricia Mellencamp, Vivian Sobchak, and Paul Willemen. Just the sort of thing the ambassador or trade delegate can hand out to show the U.S. is interested in the Asian-Pacific area for more than military or economic reasons.
Film Comment: Gordon Hitchens founded Film Comment in 1962. At first he called it Vision, A Journal of Film Comment, but soon Film Comment became the name. During the 1960s under Hitchens' editorship the magazine was wild and eclectic, looking and sounding a lot like Film Culture. The magazine dealt with the avant-garde, featuring many articles by Gregory Markopoulos, documentary, animation and ethnographic films. It took strong political positions dealing with both the black list and with documentary films about the Vietnam War. It also covered many films festivals and tried to be very up-to-date about current trends in filmmaking.
Unfortunately, the magazine, also like Film Culture, had a great deal of difficulty raising enough money to continue publishing. Finally, in 1969 Hitchens was forced to
Thereafter the magazine became distinctly auteurist, concentrating primarily on the latest filmmaking in Europe, but also highlighting recent fllmmaking in Eastern Europe, Latin American and Japan. In the early 1970s, influenced by the growing interest in European theories other than auteurism, the magazine published articles by Brian Henderson and Charles Eckert. But this flurry of excitement soon passed and the magazine returned to its auteurist approach. The focus on Hollywood in the past produced some memorable issues such as one devoted to Film Noir, but currently the policy is for a mix in each issue. Typical issues focus on new feature films of note, predominantly Hollywood but also some European art film, as well as genre studies, grouping a series together or retrospecting a director or screenwriter. There's always a sentimental look back at Hollywood such as an uncritical obituary on Frank Capra by current editor Richard T. Jameson. The publication's basic approach to cinema is conventional aesthetic appreciation with some gossip and such thrown in. Sarris still writes here occasionally, more turgid and sentimental now. Some younger critics offer a contrast, such as Jonathan Rosenbaum with forays into the Hollywood past or European cinemas. Its extensive coverage of film festivals is of some interest as well as its highlighting of emerging commercial talents.
Film Criticism: Film Criticism is a little magazine which prints rather mediocre essays. The publication seems to have little direction or vision of where it is going or why. Occasionally an interesting or useful piece can be found in it, but it's hard to imagine why anyone would subscribe. One of those academic publications that can be examined every few years in some extra hours at the library to see if anything of interest made it in.
Film Journal: Directed at producers, distributors and theater owners, Film Journal is filled with trade news, covering the financial and commercial side of the industry. Along with the usual articles on marketing and advertising, the magazine also contains rather critical reviews of recent film releases. A special January supplement, called the Blue Sheets, gives detailed information on the up-coming studio releases planned for the year.
Film Quarterly: Film Quarterly began at the end of WW2 as the Hollywood Quarterly, concentrating on the social and cultural aspects of film and also of radio. In the 1940s various people, such as Abraham Polonsky and Sylvia Jarrico, who were blacklisted in the early 1950s, are associated with the magazine. These people disappear in the early 1950s and the journal changed its name to the Quarterly Review of Film, Television, Radio. An editorial explains that the editors wanted to distance themselves from the industry and become a nationally important journal. Under neither title does the journal ever mention, much less discuss, the witch-hunt against Hollywood leftists then going on. These first two incarnations were published by the University of California Press and housed on the UCLA campus. But in 1958 it dropped the interest in broadcasting and moved to Berkeley, taking its current name, Film Quarterly, concentrating thereafter on film criticism. Chick Callenbach, who has recently retired (succeeded by Ann Martin), became the journal's new editor in 1958. Ever since then, Film Quarterly has occupied a position between film criticism and film scholarship and between a progressive approach to film and society and a more narrow impressionistic and aesthetic approach.
Pushed to the left by the politics and activism of the 1960s and early 1970s, the magazine became an important early contributor to the developing radical film theory and criticism. It published important work on structuralism and semiology by Brian Henderson, Charles Eckert, and Bill Nichols. One inherent weakness in the magazine, however, and one that thwarted its development, was its near-total disregard of a feminist approach. As women became more and more central to the development of film theory and criticism, the magazine's editors retreated to a less politicized film criticism while continuing to publish useful and often important reviews of individual films and an always useful critical roundup of recent film books The publication tended to avoid theory while, however, occasionally publishing truly weird pieces such as cranky attacks by Barry K. Salt on the work of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson.
Articles in Film Quarterly are usually written in a clear and convincing style with little of the jargon of poststructuralist discourse. Major critical analyses of recent U.S. and foreign features are the norm with some occasional attention to documentary and experimental scenes. Historical analysis and detailed analytic pieces are rare.
Film Threat: This former fanzine specialty magazine, previously printed on newsprint and specializing in adolescent male fantasies and poses, has evolved into a glossier format and bills itself as "the other movie magazine." While sarcastically mocking the dominant cinema, from which its critics and the films they promote are excluded (but dying to get in on), the previous editorial direction concentrated on grossout and shock productions, sadism and ultraviolence, splatter films and punk media The new editorial style, upgraded in layout as well, now imitates Spy, the au-attitude review of life seen from a heartless and overprivileged twenty-something perspective. The Nov. 1991 issue features major fluff such as the 50 emotionally coldest actors in Hollywood and a long set of articles on child stars (mostly how bad it is to be or have been one).
In terms of actually developing a critical perspective, the magazine fails, but it does have a definite politique des auteurs in long favorable piece on THE DARK BACKWARD, a sick comedy aimed at the cult market, directed for $1.2 million by Adam Rifkin who dropped out of the University of Southern California film school after a year, wrote the script and spent five years trying to peddle it before getting his break. Film Threat editor Christian Gore claims, "Not since David Lynch's ERASERHEAD has a director created such a dark, depressing and mood-heavy movie…I'd rather see a bad Adam Rifkin film than a good Blake Edwards movie."
Films in Review: Sponsored by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Films in Review includes a great number of rather short film reviews in each issue along with several longer articles which usually highlight the work of lesser known professionals in the industry: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Joel McCrea, Franz Waxman, John Turturro, Phyllis Thaxter. These latter articles usually include useful filmographies. There are also extensive obituaries and information about who is visiting or working in New York at the moment. Though clearly a film buffs magazine, it is is filled with valuable information.
The Independent: The Independent began in the mid-1970s as a modest newsletter for members of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) in New York. Though still published by that organization, the newsletter, under the editorship of Martha Gever, blossomed into a very important magazine for and about independent film and video in the United States. It still performs its organizational function — providing support to producers — by printing lots of information, news, and opportunities. It it one of the best sources in the U.S. for information about the funding (or lack thereof), production, and distribution of independent work. It has been a partisan participant in the struggle for more funding from and more access to public television. And it has steadfastly defended film and video artists against government censorship. The Independent also prints substantial reports on film festivals around the world.
The magazine's feature articles have become increasingly important. Each issue has one to three feature articles. They include articles about or interviews with independent film and videomakers (e.g., Jon Jost and Trinh T. Minh-ha), articles about important film festivals (e.g., Berlin, Oberhausen, Leipzig, and FESPACO). On the other hand, information about and coverage of local and regional work is pretty skimpy. While its institutional analysis is outstanding, when it comes to actual criticism and analysis of specific works, The Independent does not print such material. Given that it is finally accountable to its membership, it would be too difficult and divisive to actually provide evaluative and analytic commentary on the work made by members of the organization. Thus what appears on specific films tends to be about the production process or the filmmaker's own reflections on their work. At their best these are informative; at their worst they are puff pieces.
The Journal of Film and Video: The Journal of Film and Video is the official journal of the University Film and Video Association. It was founded shortly after WW2 by the earliest film (mostly production) teachers in the USA. Many of the founders had learned film production in the military during the war. Unlike the more academic Society for Cinema Studies, UFVA has always stressed, but by no means exclusively, film production, the film industry and also sociological approaches to film. Under editor Patricia Erens in the 1980s, the publication was substantially upgraded in intellectual rigor and featured thematic issues often on unusual topics such as amateur and home movie making. Issues of pedagogy and course plans are a useful staple of the journal. It continues to publish the College Course File series begun years ago by the American Film Institute. A Course File is an annotated outline for a university course on a given subject. This series is very useful to all university teachers, but especially to newcomers, because it gives a good sense of what people are doing and what can be done. Articles on screenwriting and production process find theft home here along with academic studies representing the current range of interests of the members. Recent editor Michael Selig organized both general issues and thematic ones.
The Journal of Popular Film and Television: The Journal of Popular Film and Television was founded as the Journal of Popular Film in 1972 as a spin-off from the Journal of Popular Culture. It was then and remains today a publication of the Popular Culture Center at Bowling Green University in Ohio. The Center and its journals were the product of and the organizing center of a large and broad movement in U.S. academic life to take all forms of popular culture seriously. They founded a national and regional organizations with annual meetings. Because no subject was beneath theft interest and concern, their meetings were lively and interesting. The main strength of this movement was the way in which people meticulously gathered great amounts of data about their subjects. Thus their back issues are filled with a wealth of interesting and often hard to get information about a great range of subjects having to do with popular culture and the media. Its weakness has always been that their ignorance of or opposition to any form of theory left them nearly helpless in the face of the facts and material evidence they had gathered.
In the early issues of the journal can be found important early work on genre films by academics such as Stuart Kaminsky and Jack Nachbar. Most of the early contributors are men and the journal seemed unaffected by the many theoretical currents that became important in the mid-1970s, including feminism or the culture of Third World people here and abroad. In 1979 the journal changed its name to indicate their interest in television and in the 1980s some of the theoretical concerns of the 1970s began to find their way into the journal. Recent issues have dealt with feminist views of sexuality, the commodification of perception and psychoanalysis and cinema.
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