What is this ‘World Cinema’?

What is this ‘World Cinema’ that I see before me as I walk into my nearest HMV? What does it mean? What issues arise? Or is it just another phrase that has entered into our sphere of cinema lexicon? I wonder.

‘World Cinema’ is rather broad and an all-encompassing term, which, from a Eurocentric perspective, includes non-mainstream or alternative approaches to film content and style. It can be used in order to express non-westernized and non-Americanized film cultural products.

The American film industry, in particular Hollywood, retains a dominant presence in the UK market, as well as in the global marketplace. This serves to highlight that film is, without any question, a global medium and highlights that cinema is a truly global institution. The domination of Hollywood in the UK market has a direct relation on how British people classify the term ‘World Cinema’.

From a British perspective, ‘World cinema’ is considered to be a non-Anglophone and non-English language selection of films. To initiate this polemical debate with a rather primitive point of view, when one walks into Video and DVD stores, the World cinema section encompasses all non-English language film titles, ranging from mainstream films in the country of origin to auteur and experimental films. On average, Europe produces double the amount of films that are produced by Hollywood, yet the cinemas and stores are only inundated with Hollywood products. It is to say that the foreign language films pass under the radar and are alienated and reduced to unfavourable timeslots on unfashionable channels on television. The term ‘World cinema’ thus replaces the ‘foreign art film’ from a British perspective and is reserved for the non-dominant cinemas in the Anglophone world. The foreign art film is hence regarded and perceived as a break from the mainstream, instead of an entity in its own right.

Culture within the UK has become more and more Americanized and the success of the Hollywood system in Britain can largely be attributed to the familiarity of language. The aspect of language is an important feature in determining ‘World Cinema’, since the use of subtitles for films can alienate large sectors of the audience and prevents the films from reaching a mass audience in the UK. The foreign language films constitute an alternative model to that of the dominant Hollywood model.

These cinemas and films seek to address themes and issues which are omitted from the monolithic Hollywood, for example issues concerning race, gender, nationality, age and sexuality. The inclusion of the socio-political elements of ‘World Cinema’, which are absent in a cleansed Hollywood, are not necessarily anti-Hollywood in their construction, but are more hegemonic of the homeland. There is also a more dominant role afforded to female characters and women within ‘World Cinema’, and is thus more reflective of society as a whole, rather than a patriarchal Hollywood. 

The success of these ‘World Cinema’ films in Britain lies in their distinctiveness in terms of style and theme, since each country which constitutes a ‘World Cinema’ has their own unique set of historical, ideological, social, cultural, industrial and economic circumstances and determinants. Ginette Vincendeau, in World cinema: critical approaches, advances the idea that aesthetically innovative, socially committed aspects, the auteurist notions of originality and personal vision in European Cinema are ‘characteristics which define, and promote, European art cinema as fundamentally different from the industrially based and generically coded Hollywood’ cinema. This privileges the notion of the new waves and film movements as crucial constructs of ‘World Cinema’. In relation to the French auteur Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Wollen enhances this argument by advancing the notion of a ‘counter cinema’, which is the polar opposite of the classical Hollywood style. This counter cinema privileges narrative intransitivity, estrangement and unpleasure. These ideas hence suggest that from a Western perspective and a perspective that favours western aesthetics, World Cinema can be addressed through binary readings with Hollywood and thus be regarded as its direct antithesis.

The cinemas, which have been brought to the attention of Western audiences in the guise of national cinemas or new waves, seek to differentiate themselves from Hollywood and have thus been privileged, while those films, which modelled themselves on Hollywood have been marginalized. It is to say that the national cinemas gain currency as the antithesis to Hollywood in Britain. 

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