Although a good deal of contemporary theoretical work has questioned hegemonic concepts of the nation, and hence of the idea of national cinema, the genre approach is useful for approaching the idea of national cinema generally as well as for conceptualizing the contours of specific national cinemas. As Ella Shohat and Robert Stam point out, the movie audience is a "provisional 'nation' forged by spectatorship" (p. 155), and genre audiences form what Altman describes as "constellated" communities—groups of individuals who "cohere only through repeated acts of imagination"—in the context of cinema, an imagined connection among geographically dispersed viewers who share similar spectatorial pleasures and generic knowledge ( Altman , pp. 161–162).
In developing a distinctive and vital national cinema, most countries have been forced to confront the global cultural domination of American film in some way. Hollywood, especially since the end of World War II, has successfully dominated numerous foreign film markets on every continent. Inevitably, then, national cinemas must find space in the market, both at the local and international level, in the context of Hollywood. Because Hollywood cinema is overwhelmingly a cinema of genre films, this means, in effect, working within the genre system. The frame of genre allows filmmakers the multiple benefits of working in forms familiar to audiences both at home and abroad, and thus it offers more lucrative potential to producers for foreign distribution. Distribution in other countries is particularly important in nations where the population is insufficient to sustain an indigenous film industry, for it provides the only hope for films to return a profit. At the same time, however, accepting generic forms from Hollywood also suggests the loss of any distinctive national features that might be expressed in cinema. This dilemma has informed the discourse of national cinema in many countries, especially Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand, all of which share the English language with Hollywood.
Filmmakers from around the world have responded to the domination of American film by adopting Hollywood genres and "indigenizing" or reworking them according to their own cultural sensibility. Examples are the Italian "spaghetti western" or Hong Kong martial arts films. Other national cinemas have created their own genres. For example, German cinema in the 1920s and 1930s developed a distinctive genre of the mountain film, involving a character or group of characters striving to climb or conquer a mountain. The Heimatfilm, or Homeland film, is another genre of sentimental, romanticized movies about rural Germany and its inhabitants. In Indian cinema, masala (or mixed spice) films combine a variety of heterogenous generic elements, as by inserting musical sequences in a dramatic film in a way uncharacteristic of Hollywood.
In turn, Hollywood genre filmmaking has been influenced by some of these non-American genres. For example, Japanese samurai films gained popularity in Japan after World War II and became known in the West primarily through the films of Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) starring Toshiro Mifune (1920–1997), including Rashomon (1950), Shichinin no samurai ( The Seven Samurai , 1954), Yojimbo ( Yojimbo the Bodyguard , 1961), and Tsubaki Sanjûrô ( Sanjuro , 1961). Red Sun (1971) paired Charles Bronson (1921–2003) and Mifune in a buddy film in the American West, and several American genre movies have been remakes of these samurai films: The Magnificent Seven (1960) was based (as was the science fiction film Battle Beyond the Stars , 1980) on The Seven Samurai ; The Outrage (1964) was based on Rashomon ; and both the spaghetti western, Per un pugno di dollari ( A Fistful of Dollars , 1964), and the action film, Last Man Standing (1996), with Bruce Willis, were based on Yojimbo . Although many international genre movies remain largely unknown to western audiences, as the film industry and popular culture generally become increasingly globalized and populations become more multicultural, inevitably genres will interact more intensively across national boundaries.
SEE ALSO Studio System
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——, ed. Film Genre Reader III . Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.
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——, ed. Genre and Contemporary Hollywood . London: British Film Institute, 2002.
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Barry Keith Grant