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Author Q&A with Andrew Dix, Beginning Film Studies 2nd edition

Dix photo 1. What book in this field has inspired you the most?
Film studies is a many-stranded subject, with its objects of interest ranging from camera angles to box office returns and from stars to the architecture of cinemas; and so I think I’d want to pick a number of inspirational books from across the field. So: David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Film Art: An Introduction (1st edition 1979; 11th edition 2016) for its fine-grained sensitivity to film style; Richard Dyer’s Stars (1980) for its uncovering of film stars as figures to interest the scholar as well as the gossip columnist; and Annette Kuhn’s An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory (2002), one of the very best contributions to a recent turn in film studies away from what we watch and towards where we watch and the rituals that mark our film spectatorship. From more recent work I’d pick out Michael Wood’s Film: A Very Short Introduction (2012)- succinct, as the subtitle says, but beautifully written, evocative and fully attentive to both the art and the economics of cinema.

2. Did your research take you to any unexpected places?
One of the good things about film studies is that watching films themselves often contributes to research; and so I could plausibly say I was researching when seated in the multiplex to see Avengers Assemble (for Chapter 5’s study of the superhero genre) or Joy (for Chapter 7’s study of Jennifer Lawrence as a star). Even an Indian restaurant in Derby that projects Bollywood films on one of its walls counted as a research site, given that I discuss Bollywood, including its exporting of its movies outside India, in Chapter 9 of the book.

3. What did you enjoy the most about writing your book?
I enjoyed above all the chance to add to, update, revise and sometimes reject entirely what I had said about film studies in the first edition of this book, published in 2008 but completed a year or so earlier. Film studies is an open, fluid field of inquiry; and so, while I’d like to think that the first edition retains its value, I’d been wanting for a while to revisit it critically in the light of what has happened in the discipline, and indeed in film itself, during the past decade. One of the particular pleasures was writing an almost entirely new set of case studies for the various chapters, allowing me to spend time thinking about, for example, the subtleties of sound design in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby or the political implications of shot composition in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.

4. What did you find hardest about writing your book?
While any book could be much longer than its published version, I was especially conscious of constraints of space in the present instance. To offer readers a reasonably economical introduction to a field as diverse as film studies – an introduction that also preserves a critical and evaluative edge – is not an easy undertaking. Admittedly not as difficult as the task faced by contestants in a Monty Python sketch who had to sum up Marcel Proust’s multi-volume novel Remembrance of Things Past in fifteen seconds – but a challenge nevertheless.

5. Is this your first published book, or have you had others published?
As well as the first edition of Beginning Film Studies, I have published two other books (besides essays and articles). Both of those are on literature, rather than cinema: The Contemporary American Novel in Context (2011), co-written with two Loughborough University colleagues, Brian Jarvis and Paul Jenner – and, going a bit further back and on rather different territory, Figures of Heresy: Radical Theology in English and American Writing, 1800-2000 (2005), a collection of essays co-edited with Jonathan Taylor.

6. How did you feel when you saw your first published book?
Seeing for the first time a copy of Figures of Heresy with its striking cover image, and smelling the freshly minted book, was exciting. It also came as a pleasant surprise, a nostalgic reminder of previous times: the time-lag involved in academic publishing is such that a book arrives with you in its finished form at a moment when you’re liable to be engaged on a new research project.

7. Why did you choose to publish with MUP?
I had felt for a long time that the space existed for an introduction to film studies that combined economy with rigour, and comprehensiveness with a critical sensibility; and MUP’s Beginnings series struck me as a very good fit, if they would have me (I was familiar with other volumes in this strand, especially Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory and Tim Woods’s Beginning Postmodernism). In the work on the first edition of Beginning Film Studies, right from reviewing my proposal for the book through to copy-editing and publication, everyone I came into contact with at MUP was warm and supportive and full of good advice. The experience was so positive that I was very happy when the Press asked if I would be interested in preparing a second edition of this title.

8. Did you approach writing this book differently to any of your previous work?
Not really. I am unhappy with a distinction that is often, but rather lazily, drawn between student-oriented ‘textbooks’ and academics’-oriented ‘monographs’. Each of these genres of academic writing strikes me as a challenging research task, and so I approached Beginning Film Studies exactly as I would a project destined for far fewer readers. Whatever the audience, I also always aim – or hope – to write lucidly.

9. Have you had time to think about your next research project yet? What are you working on now?
Yes, at the moment I’m working on a book entitled Stardom in Contemporary Global Hollywood. Hollywood, of course, has always been a global filmmaking culture, not least in how it has refreshed its star system by appropriating figures from non-American cinema and theatre (Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, and so on). In this book, however, I want to explore the ways in which the Hollywood star system has been reconfigured during globalisation’s current, radically intensified phase. The aim is to consider six stars from both inside and outside the United States who, between them, represent different global trajectories: Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Yeoh. I hope that the book will live up to the multi-dimensional aspect of film studies mentioned earlier, in being concerned as much with art as with commerce, as much with balance sheets as with stars’ bodies.

Beginning Film Studies, 2nd edition  released May 2016

Tuesday, 14 June 2016
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