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Celluloid and the City

Shohini Ghosh

Edited by Preben Kaarsholm
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2004, pp. 274, Rs. 300.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 2 February 2005

The cinematic city has emerged as an important space and protagonist in contemporary film studies. The cinematic city is no longer just a backdrop against which the narrative unfolds but as Ranjani Mazumdar writes, it is a “legitimate and powerful archive that provides us a range of urban subjectivities.” At a moment when both the ‘real’ and ‘represented’ city is under serious investigation, an anthology devoted to the city and cinema is particularly welcome. City Flicks is a collection of essays on cinema and the urban experience. The volume is an updated and revised version of Occasional Paper Number 22 published by International Development Studies, Roskilde University, 2002.   The twelve essays in this reasonably priced volume attempt to address a wide range of issues on the broad theme of “films and urban experience”. The “broadness” of the theme turns out to be a dubious advantage. On the one hand, it allows for a wide range of cinematic concerns to be addressed while, on the other, it so expands the frame that the central concerns around cinema and the city become muddy. For instance, ‘A Close-up on Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children’ by Martin Zerlang is a discussion of the cinematic techniques and devices used in the novel that allows the for the “visualization of internal and abstract things”.   Unfortunately, the essay has little to do with either “city” or “cinema”. Zerlang’s clearly inadequate knowledge of Indian popular cinema combined with his oversimplified discussion of the narrative strategies of Rushdie’s complex novel makes this essay an unfortunate addition to this anthology. Then there is the essay titled ‘Urban Legends: Notes on a Theme in Early Film Theory’ by Peter Larsen. Placed right after the introduction, it appears as a highly generalized and loosely strung discussion of Balaz, Kracauer and Benjamin’s reflections on film viewing and visual literacy. (It is useful to bear in mind here that the pedagogical antecedents of studies in film spectatorship and much of visual literacy is very different if not politically opposed.) So how do these essays contribute to a book that promises to explore the complex relationship between “cinema and modernity in the Indian context?” Perhaps, there is a connection but editor Preben Kaarsholm’s introduction does little to suggest the links.   Another set of essays in the book discusses film viewing cultures outside of India. For example, Brian Larkin’s well written essay ...

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