Author: David Parkinson
Thames and Hudson are usually publishers of books dealing with the history of art. Therefore, there should be little surprise that this concise book tells the story of the history of cinema (the simple book title says it all) and through that story justifies cinema as the neglected art. Thames and Hudson’s ‘World of Art’ series covers all aspects of art history from Renaissance through to primitive art, modern art, sculpture, performance art and photography. To anyone vaguely interested in art the small black spine with the dolphin logo will be familiar. Considering that this is such a large topic to deal with it does do a champion job, even if some of the book resembles more a list than a serious study. However, once you get beyond the beginning part of the book that covers pre and developing cinema from shadow play, Thomas Edison, Panopticons, Zoetropes, Praxiscopes and the Lumiere brothers towards narrative cinema then the differences between world cinema and Hollywood become apparent. It tends to fall like this: innovative developments in technique, technological advances and cinema as big business come from Hollywood, whereas cinema as art, studies of the human condition or national cinema style is in the realms of a world cinema. How conscious Parkinson was of this when he wrote the original book is not altogether clear. Each major movement and director is mentioned from D.W. Griffith through to the stars of silent cinema, the Hollywood studio system and the Hays Code, Italian neo-realism, the auteurs of new French cinema such as Godard, Truffaut and Varda as well as the movie brats of the counter revolution: Coppola, Spielberg and Scorsese.
It is well illustrated throughout and I would have to be picking bones if I was to list what was left out. If anything there is little scope for the thing that interests me in cinema history the most and that is how cinema speaks about society and historical events; although of course this is covered the book itself doesn’t go into this in any detail, rather ensuring that it doesn’t miss out any of the great names. But Parkinson’s book is very different from Mark Cousin’s recent epic study, ‘The Story of Film: An Odyssey’ in which Cousins begins with film development through narrative cinema and cinema as art with a philosophical reflection, but instead of the norm he challenges the canon of cinema with a whole new, perhaps previously unheard of cinema to establish a new canon. For the large part Parkinson does not do this and goes with the established canon, yet still there enough films here that have either been forgotten or deserve re-evaluation. The new canon is always being challenged in such publications as Sight and Sound when the films they review and cover attempt to re-address films that have either been forgotten or neglected or at the very least deserve re-appraisal. However, this is not the purpose of the Thames and Hudson book which updates the 1995 edition and re-enforces the canon and in the updating establishes a new canon.
As already mentioned, Parkinson has updated his previous book which had originally been published in 1995 and has an extensive new chapter covering world cinema since 1995 to 2011 with the marked difference allowing discussion of animation and the developments of CGI in mass entertainment cinema going right up to the overrated Avatar. It’s good and important that the author spends a good part of the book focusing on the developments which took place long before cinema became big business or even artistic medium but does mean that it rockets and rollercoasters through the next 100 plus years in rollicking style.