A century's images caught on celluloid

8th March 1996 at 00:00
One Hundred Years of Cinema. Kingfisher Kaleidoscopes Pounds 12.99. The Young Oxford Book of Cinema. By David Parkinson. Oxford University Press Pounds 12.99.

These two introductions to cinema seem to be designed for different, if overlapping, groups of young people. One Hundred Years of Cinema, an English edition of a book originally published in France in 1994, consists of some 50 superbly designed colour pages, with transparencies, fold-outs, cut-outs and stickers, exploring the history of cinema from the magic lantern onwards; at the end, it lists five great films, 15 film-makers and 30 useful words (including "director", "celluloid" and "soundtrack"). Irresistible to look at and leaf through, it manages to pack a fair amount of information into a cunningly displayed text, and should delight any child of around eight years and upwards.

The Young Oxford Book of Cinema is in appearance a far more substantial work, with a more conventional approach to the topic, which makes it feel like a first step in the direction of a course in film or media studies: a couple of chapters on cinema history, followed by one on genre ("Subjects and Stories") and another on the industry ("The Lifecycle of a Movie"), ending with a reference section. Also lavishly illustrated and attractively, though more conventionally designed, it is the sort of book one might give as a present to the young teenager eager to know more about films.

Given that, it is surprising that David Parkinson pays so much attention to films like Reservoir Dogs, which he chooses to highlight with a boxed review as well as listing it, together with The Silence of the Lambs, Shallow Grave, Pulp Fiction and others, among "Films to Watch". He is rather more circumspect about sexually explicit movies, however, relegating the whole subject of love and romance to a sub-genre of "Costume and Melodrama" - alongside "women's pictures". There are weaknesses and inconsistencies, too, in his final glossary: the definitions of "mise-en-sc ne", "pan" and "jump cut" are vague or misleading, and the entry on "film noir" is contradicted in the text. Despite appearances, The Young Oxford Book of Cinema is not as solid an edifice as it might appear.

Both books convey a lot of information about technical matters, including animation, and both will give young readers a better understanding of how the medium works. They should also help them to see new films in the context of a wider cinema history and to discover that there is more to making movies than a few star names, a load of special effects and a dash of Pulp Fiction.

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