Meet me in the movie guides

25th October 1996 at 01:00
Film studies sounds like fun. Going to the movies and talking about what you've seen is one of the delights that 100 years of cinema has bequeathed to us. Even delving into semiotics and screenplays retains a certain glamour but surprisingly few good books are available to teachers of this subject.

Routledge publishes An Introduction to Film Studies (Pounds 16.99. Tel: 0171 583 9855) which thankfully avoids treating the subject like an extension of media studies. Film is not an exact science.

Given that schools cannot run to stocking libraries full of film videos or every screenplay in print, they should at least have an up-to-date film guide. Hamlyn Books offers the Variety Movie Guide (Pounds 16.99. Tel: 0171 581 9393) which is American in orientation but more likely to appeal to young people than the authoritative Halliwell published by HarperCollins (Pounds 16.99 tel. 0181 741 7070).

One good compromise has been developed by the British Film Institute (0171 505 8080) which recently issued a series of introductions to the 350 films that it is preserving in archive form. These paperbacks cost only Pounds 6.99 and boast such luminaries as Salman Rushdie (The Wizard of Oz), Melvyn Bragg (The Seventh Seal) and Gerald Kaufman (Meet Me In St Louis). In each case the author talks us through a film which he admires. The series avoids that flatness inherent in all screenplays, but schools will need to choose carefully and have access to the video. A book of the film can never be more than half the story.

Cassell (0171 420 5555) publishes two unusual and interesting books: Brewer's Cinema Dictionary (Pounds 12.99) which comes sideways at many subjects and Past Imperfect (Pounds 20) which entertainingly illustrates Darryl F Zanuck's maxim that "There's nothing duller on the screen than being accurate but not dramatic". Offered up in easily-accessed chunks, Past Imperfect will help students discover how outrageously Hollywood has misinterpreted the past. It's as instructive as many of the more political tomes on the media studies shelf - and considerably more fun.

It is worth avoiding "encyclopedias" of cinema, many of which are little more than a who's who of the stars, but Brewer's Cinema Dictionary also addresses the wider issues. An interested student can discover the difference between a re-establishing shot, an establishing shot and a reaction shot and also look up subjects like war, homosexuality and Robin Hood in order to discover how cinema has treated them over the years. This cross-referencing is not wide but it's intriguing.

What has to be on its way sooner or later is a film studies CD-Rom. Microsoft (0121 778 3333) markets Cinemania which is reissued annually and offers Internet access for those who are willing to pay for a daily update. Although this CD-Rom has useful video clips and some cross-referencing, at Pounds 39.99 it is more for the serious film buff than the student. Centresoft (0121 625 3818) markets the cheaper Blockbuster Video Guide (Pounds 19.99) but this is still a recreational device, useful for looking up the name of a film when all you can remember is that Michael Crawford played the delivery boy.

The market is crying out for a Dorling Kindersley-style film studies CD-Rom with clips, good cross-referencing and many subject tutorials which uses the visual potential of a screen to explain this most visual of art forms.

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