Points of view
By Kate Gamm. BFI Publications pound;19.99
Studying The Matrix
By Anna Dawson, pound;14.99
Studying Blade Runner
By Sean Redmond, pound;14.99
Studying The Wicker Man
By Andy Murray and Lorraine Ralston, pound;12.99
Tel: 01525 373896
A-level film and media studies offer teachers an abundance of exciting opportunities, perhaps the best of which is the chance to assess films from countries other than Britain and America. The main problem with the option has been the absence of a truly first-class teaching guide, but Kate Gamm's Teaching World Cinema fills the gap magnificently.
Always with an eye on the specification and exam requirements of the relevant boards, Kate Gamm succinctly explores such areas and issues as auteur and genre theory, film grammar and style, spectatorship and cinematography. Equally impressive are her concise but instructive surveys of the Danish, Swedish, French and Hong Kong film industries, and her analyses of films such as The Idiots, La Haine, Show Me Love and Chungking Express are models of insight and economy.
Added attractions are some excellent schemes of work (if a little optimistic about time), several very useful student worksheets downloadable from the British Film Institute website and a brief, but helpful glossary.
Enough, in short, to make this the outstanding title from an impressive series. Special praise goes to Kate Gamm for her insistence that students follow established academic conventions (attribution of quotes and ideas, for example) when writing essays, her denunciation of name-dropping as a substitute for understanding, and her insistence on analysis rather than mere description of film narrative in student essays. "Examiners are looking for a critical personal engagement with the topics and independent thinking," she writes.
Demanding yet accessible, serious yet stimulating, Teaching World Cinema will be a boon for anyone seeking to establish or improve their skills in these areas. Among the many searching questions Kate Gamm suggests teachers put to students is whether, like the mostly art-house films dealt with in her book, "more mainstream Hollywood films are ... also open to a multiple range of viewpoints."
A proposition most students would query perhaps, but only before reading Anna Dawson, Sean Redmond, Andy Murray and Lorraine Ralston. As the authors of, respectively, Studying The Matrix, Studying Blade Runner and (jointly) Studying The Wicker Man, all four believe these and assorted other mass market films are as meaningful and multi-layered as anything more obviously highbrow. In the main, their supporting arguments are systematic, well-informed and absorbing. Rather less impressive are some perfunctory-looking tasks on photocopiable student worksheets.
Like the philosopher AC Grayling, Anna Dawson feels that The Matrix is far more substantial than it first looks, and her enthusiasm for the film and its more abstruse undertones - Plato, Nietzsche and Descartes are only three of several thinkers whose ideas she detects in the film's narrative - is not only valuable, but also ultimately infectious.
Evaluating Blade Runner, Sean Redmond observes rather different, but equally weighty matters which, like Anna Dawson, he skilfully sets beside such staples as genre, narrative and the institutional context. Good as they are, one still wonders why essays that are little more than 40 pages long, plus some moderate photocopiable tasks, cost quite so much.
Yet more questionable in this respect is Andy Murray and Lorraine Ralston's Studying the Wicker Man. Though cheaper than its two companion pieces, its insistence on praising a film more for its intentions than for its eventual quality makes it poorer value. Sure enough, The Wicker Man has become a cult movie, but this is no more a guarantee of the film's intellectual merit than is the cult status of say, The Rocky Horror Show. As Andy Murray and Lorraine Rolston acknowledge, some see the film as risibly clumsy in part, if not as a whole. Alas for them, this assessment carries the day against their own sincere, but still unconvincing, efforts to argue otherwise.