Mammoth productions

28th October 2005 at 01:00
A LEVEL FILM STUDIES FOR WJEC. By Tanya Jones. Hodder Arnold pound;19.99

A LEVEL FILM STUDIES TEACHER'S RESOURCE DVDCD-Rom. By Tanya Jones. Hodder Arnold pound;79.99

INTRODUCTION TO FILM. By Nick Lacey. Palgrave Macmillan pound;15.99

In terms of its target medium, Tanya Jones's A Level Film Studies Teacher's Resource Pack is best described as a mammoth production.

Companion to the author's A Level Film Studies for WJEC, the pack consists of a CD-Rom with teacher's notes and student worksheets, as well as a DVD with examples of students' work. At just under pound;100 for all three parts, this is premium pricing, so buyers are entitled to a product of corresponding quality.

What they get, though, is something akin to so many big-budget movies: some impressive set pieces among a generally underwhelming whole. On the plus side, the textbook offers helpful guidance to the synoptic nature of the WJEC film studies syllabus and there are instructive passages on, for example, representation, Hollywood and British cinema, ideology, representation and film journalism. Equally useful is an analysis of the editing of American Beauty and some exemplar auteur projects give good value. However, other sections lack depth and insight, with some set texts deserving of far more than the coverage afforded them.

The chapter on censorship, quite apart from its strange observation that A Clockwork Orange "forces the viewer to identify with the lead Droog Alex,"

is characterised more by what it tells readers might be the demands of the exam than by useful ideas on how to cope with them.

Explanation, too, is sometimes less than satisfactory, not least in Jones's repeated use of "incredibly" (as in "the incredibly (rather than "unprecedentedly," say) shocking imagery of Un Chien Andalou") to stress a point. At the opposite extreme, she sometimes lurches into language dense enough to confound the brightest A-level student.

The teacher's notes, all on CD-Rom, are similarly mixed. Thoughtful worksheets on shocking cinema and documentary film are outweighed by too many others that require students simply to "research" or "discuss" issues without adequate guidance. And while the DVD does offer some witty and original examples of student film-making, the price asked is simply insupportable.

At first sight, Nick Lacey's Introduction to Film seems a more sensible buy. However, close inspection reveals critical flaws. While several sections - on Todorov and Propp, synergy and narrative - impress with their economy and clarity, others frequently resort to the most impenetrable sociologese punctuated by a fanzine facetiousness that has no place in a student's essay, let alone a textbook. What is the point of describing Steven Seagal as "one of the meatiest meathead movie stars"? or of asking "whether the (sic) Lara Croft is a feminist icon or 'a het male's' (sic) 'wet dream'"?

And is the "hard boiled (sic) bastard" of film noir a recognised stereotype or just another Lacey lazy description? Add to these an infuriatingly indiscriminate use of speech marks alongside some slapdash proofreading (the above examples are by no means the worst) and the result is a book of severely limited worth.

At one point, Lacey writes of "the time when (film studies) had to be taken seriously in academia." Introduction to Film belies the idea that the subject can now take its place among more established others.

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