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Film

STUDYING FILM. By Nathan Abrams, Ian Bell and Jan Udris. Arnold pound;16.99. INTRODUCING FILM. By Graham Roberts and Heather Wallis. Arnold pound;9.99.

Teachers of new subjects invariably come in for a bit of a ribbing but, given their subject material, film studies teachers are especially vulnerable. "Terminator today, is it?" ask colleagues, with more than a hint of scorn; and no amount of defensive reference to deconstruction or diegesis will convince them that your discipline is no more an indulgence than theirs.

Such doubters should in future be handed Studying Film, a textbook that is, even at a glance, indisputably one of substance. A few slips aside, this is a work of impressive range and authority, one certain to be welcomed as much by teachers as by students. Always emphasising the fact that film-making generally is and always has been a profit-seeking enterprise, the authors cover such standard topics as the Hollywood studio system, globalisation, film authorship and the origins and meaning of genre.

Each chapter contains numerous exercises and cross-references and ends with a useful summary of main points. The ideas of theorists such as Propp and Todorov are covered clearly and succinctly, as are the basics of actual film-making. Much good work from the authors, but rather less praise for the proofreaders. Mrs Thatcher, it seems, governed from 1979 to 1994, while Tony Curtis rather than Robert Walker is held to have played Bruno in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. While several other such errors do the book no great damage, they do rather spoil what is otherwise an award-winning performance.

More panning than praise for Graham Roberts and Heather Wallis's Introducing Film, with the proofreaders not the only guilty ones. While they can be faulted for howlers such as "Betty Davis" and "Don Siegal", only the authors should be held responsible for slips and style shortcomings that devalue even useful sections such as those on the Hollywood studio system and several specific film texts. Is the long opening take in The Player really a parody of the same in Touch of Evil? Curiously, the authors think so.

The section on genre refers to Borges, but without saying who he was. By no means the only lazy sentence has it that "Marxist or Marxian and feminist critics would argue that the Western has (a mythology) of an imperialist teleology and patriarchy" with scarcely any explanation. And while a textbook is no place to expect elegant variation, to resort to "e.g." as often as is here, is, like too much of the rest, egregious.

Laurence Alster

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