Genre Film in Transnational Perspective

The western or the concept of westness has been closely linked to nation formation, and this link persists even when the uses of western tropes are aimed at undermining discourses of nation.  The western regains its momentum along with the increasing importance of global interdependence.  In an examination of the culture of Americanism, it is necessary to understand its ‘third meaning,’ that is, not as a signification of the geographic United States or Europe, but as a phenomenon that has existed since the turn of the century and that has undergone various permutations…Americanism was a force to be reckoned with in accounting for changes in European culture.  Americanism has been an integral part of Italian history (of national histories in the rest of the world).  The Italian westerns have assimilated and appropriated Americanism to their own ends.  There is a congenial union between the themes and styles attributed to the North American western and portrayals of Italian life.  The emphasis on landscape and on demographic mobility is deeply tied to the conditions that inhere in Italian folklore and can be grafted onto western tropes, no matter how distant they are from actual Italian history and culture (Landy 77-79).

The ununifiable heterogeneity and the fragmented multiplicity of intertextuality in the Asian westerns prompt us to reconfigure the historical and social contradictions that unitary readings tend to foreclose.

The increased internationalization of filmmaking goes beyond assembling cinematic traditions across national boundaries: the preoccupation with historical representation, the cultural merging of East and West on the level of cinematic forms, a greater recognition of cultural interdependency, and a recognition of mass powerlessness.  Before 1968, it is possible to see in the films a commonality of antagonisms toward prevailing power structures, a concern with militarism and its deleterious effects, and a mistrust of state structures (Landy 82).  In the post-World War II era, world cinema underwent a transformation because of economic, cultural and political conditions.  The old forms were being injected with more social (though not necessarily revolutionary) content.  Art forms were contesting with popular forms, and a new form—a hybrid—was emerging that drew upon both art and popular cinema.  Thus the filmmaking of this era reveals that the West is no longer the United States; rather Americanism is a phenomenon that is larger than the geographic and cultural boundaries of the United States and its Cold War domination, coming to represent worldwide transformation and conflicts.  The uses of history in that era signal the contest over domination (Landy 82).

The popularity of the Asian westerns proves that they are operating (produced and consumed) within a cultural climate congenial to the themes and styles of the western (Landy 82).

Hybridization in the Asian western

What interests a genealogist is “no longer the identification of our faint individuality with the solid identities of the past, but our ‘unrealization’ through the excessive choice of identities.”  He is strong enough to enjoy a dispossession of Identity and a carnival of masks rather than (Michel Foucault “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” 386)

  • For the unprivileged, would it be recommendable to be a Foucauldian?  How many people do you think can lead a happy Foucauldian life?  How many people in a privileged world can understand what it means to drift across national, cultural, language, ethnic, gender, and class boundaries without any privilege?  Can they push their will to multiplicity far enough to recognize and denounce in practice the privileged, superior standing of their nationality, culture, language, ethnicity, gender, and class?  For the unprivileged who still live with the overt struggle between master and slave or in an undeniably Fanonian world, the only way of understanding Foucault’s historical insights correctly is to know how to turn them against themselves, that is, how to be skeptical of Foucauldian thinking.

Nationalism has lost much of its validity as a problematic that allows us to gain a meaningful understanding of our society and develop an effective strategy of criticism for problems inherent to it.

The growing spectatorship of popular genres situated somewhere in between cosmopolitanism (universalism) and localism (particularism) prompts us to rethink the high/low distinction and the national/Hollywood opposition.

Generally speaking, popular genres have been reproached and/or ignored by both international and local film cultures. The pantheon of world cinema has been dominated by autuers of worldwide fame, while national cinemas, often led by elite filmmakers (whether modernist, realist, or nationalist), have been preoccupied with the imperative of nurturing and preserving their vernacular film traditions in competition with Hollywood. Under the constellation, popular genre films–which often crosses borders–has often been regarded as a primary instance where things like cultural imperialism and dominant ideologies are reconstructed.

Paul Smith: “critics found the spaghettis to be intolerable mutations of the real American thing and often resorted to the idea that these movies could only be parodies. However, while there may well be an element of parody in the spaghettis, it is perhaps just as important to grasp them as deliberate transformation–rather than inept mutations–of the Hollywood western.” Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993), 4.

E.g., Italian neorealists’ antipathy for the Spaghetti Westerns

Understanding international Westerns through such theories as imitation, parody, satire or pastiche is still anchored in the center/periphery binary that charts the American Western as the center or the origin and international Westerns as derivatives and variations in the periphery. The interest in the Western in non-American societies cannot be properly understood through the framework; the West in international Westerns, as Marcia Landy aptly points out in line with Gramsci’s understanding of Americanism, “is no the United States; rather Americanism is a phenomenon that is larger than the geographic and cultural boundaries of the United States and its Cold War domination, coming to represent worldwide transformations and conflicts” (Cinematic Uses of the Past, 83).


조혜정, 서편제 에세이에서

“서구 혹은 세계에 의해 인정받은 영화가 아니라 한국인들이 사랑하고 즐길 수 있는 영화가 훌륭한 영화다.” → 식민주의적 사고로부터 벗어나, Korean spectatorship의 차별성에 주목하는 것이 필요.

문제는, the discourse of difference가 ‘an elite discourse cut off from people on the ground’가 되고 있다는 점. 한국 대중 관객들은 하나의 단일하고 고정적인 집단이 아니다. 대중의 욕망과 기호는 지속적으로 분화되고 변한다. 따라서 Korean spectatorship의 본질적 차별성만을 강조할 경우, 문화적 혼종성, 역사성의 문제를 의식적이든 무의식적이든 간에 anomaly로 간주되기 십상이다.

여기에서 주목해 볼만한 것이 the Kimchi Western에 대한 반응들이다. 그것은 차이 담론에 기반한 Korean spectatorship의 근본적 차별성 논의들이 주목하지 못한 지점을 지시하고 있기 때문이다.


The Japanese Case

“That the Hollywood mode should have been adopted in the immediate postwar era [in Japan] is hardly cause for surprise…And it was precisely American ideology which was imposed on Japan by the U.S. Occupation forces following World War II. Necessary to the ‘democratization’ of Japan was a shift from feudal and transcendental values to a focus on the primacy and integrity of the individual…The paradigmatic director working in this mode is Kurosawa Akira [whose films has as distinctive characteristics from those of Ozu Yasujiro and Mizoguchi Kenji] a new emphasis on the freedom of the individual [even in the jidai-geki (historical drama/film) set in the feudal past such as Samurai films]…and ‘faster pacing and more action,’ which was also modeled on the Hollywood style” (David Desser, Eros Plus Massacre, 21). “Perhaps no film director embodies the tension between Japanese culture and the new American ways of the occupation better than Kurosawa” (David Desser, The Samurai Films of Akira Kurosawa, 4). Americanism, for Kurosawa, served as a criticism to Japanese society, which he put into practice through an invention of the myth of ronin, masterless warrior.

Akira Kurosawa stressed that the main inspiration came from Hollywood Westerns: Yojimbo was born out of a love for American Westerns, particularly, George Stevens’ Shane. On the other hand, he insisted that he had no intention of making a pastiche of the American Western. When asked about his take on Western adaptations of his films, he replied: “I’ve got nothing against adaptations of my films. But I do not think they can succeed. The basic context is so very different. And, whatever my views, pastiche films, of a premeditated kind, can never be good films…It is, for example, ridiculous to imagine me directing a Hollywood Western. For I am Japanese…”

Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), 150 and 152.

This entry was posted in Film History, Film Industry, Film Theory, Genre Hybridization, Genre Theory, The Western and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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