Media Nation State Another Look at the Discourses

Considered as a subject taught in academic film studies, European cinema is unproblematic: the "impossibility" which I mentioned in the introduction has

itself been "institutionalized" and become something of a fixed trope of discourse. As a consequence, despite or because of the difficulties of defining what European cinema is, a growing number of books are being edited and published on the topic since the early 1990s, servicing the needs of the curriculum. Many opt for a pragmatic approach; they either treat Europe as an accumulation of national cinemas, with each getting its turn, or they highlight outstanding authors standing in for the nation and sometimes even for the entirety of a country's film production and filmmaking. What is notable is that the majority of these books originate from Britain, a country whose relation to "Europe" in matters cinema at once reflects and contradicts its population's widely shared Euro-skeptic political stance. Often quick to draw a line between itself and the "isolated" continent, Britain has nonetheless been more successful than any other European country in penetrating this continent with its films. Titles like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, The Remains of the Day, the films of Ken Loach or Mike Leigh, not to mention the James Bond films, Mr. Bean or Monty Python are all familiar to audiences in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere. Peter Greenaway's work is more welcome in Germany or the Netherlands than he is appreciated in his own country, while Derek Jarman, Isaak Julien and Sally Potter have solid followings in European avant-garde and art worlds. Neither France nor Italy are Britain's competitors, but only Hollywood, where many of Britain's most gifted directors have indeed sought access and found success (Ridley and Tony Scott, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker and Mike Figgis, to name but the most obvious). The linguistic proximity helps, and British actors - often theatre-trained - have been among the export assets the country has invested in Hollywood (and therefore made internationally known) ever since the coming of sound. But producers, directors of photography, sound technicians and other film specialists have also made their way to Hollywood, increasingly so since the 1980s.11

British cinema thus has always been facing the United States, while its back, so to speak, was turned to Europe. So why this interest in European cinema? First of all, it responds to a dilemma, internal to universities, whose departments of modern languages have been under threat. From the mid-1980s onwards, their mainly literature-based language studies of French, Italian, Spanish or German failed to enroll students in sufficient numbers. In many universities the choice was a stark one: either close down departments altogether, or amalgamate them into European studies, and try to attract new students by drawing on cultural studies, media studies and film studies, rather than relying solely on literary authors and texts of similarly canonical authority. Yet the debate about national cinema, and therefore also the thinking behind the books on European cinema, continues a long tradition in Britain. Rather than originating only in the hard-pressed areas of the humanities, the European dimension has accompa nied the establishment of film studies in British universities since the 1970s. As a question about what is typical or specific about a nation's cinema, and its obverse: "what is the function of cinema in articulating nationhood and fostering the sense of belonging," the debate owes it productive vitality in Britain to a conjuncture that could be called the "interference history" between film studies, television studies and cultural studies. Several phases and stages can be identified in this history, and they need to be recapitulated, if one is to understand what is at stake also in any substantive move from national cinema to what I am calling "New Cinema Europe," and to appreciate what new knowledge this move can be expected to produce. Paradoxically, it may have been the very fact that by the mid-1990s the discussion around national cinema had - depending on one's view - hardened into dogma or reached a generally accepted consensus around a particular set of arguments that encouraged the desire to conceptualize the field differently, or at the very least to signal such a need.

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