De-Westernising the Western: remapping genre and nation in World Cinema

Freijo Escudero, Luis ORCID: 0000-0003-2618-4779 (2023). De-Westernising the Western: remapping genre and nation in World Cinema. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The development of the school of thought of World Cinema in Anglophone academia has brought about an increasingly nuanced and ethical understanding of cinema as an artistic phenomenon that is not limited to the productions of Hollywood. Careful exploration over the last thirty years has led to the discarding of hierarchies of dominance topped by Hollywood and European cinemas and to the overthrowing of binaristic oppositions between the “West and the rest” (Dennison and Lim, 2006: 6), which have been replaced by an understanding of all cinemas of the world “on an equal footing” (Nagib, Perriam and Dudrah, 2012: xxii). However, World Cinema theory has not addressed the major field of genre theory in film studies, nor have genre studies gone beyond an exclusionary focus on Hollywood cinema that is unsuitable for reaching global conclusions about how genre should be conceived today. This thesis aims to constitute a decisive advance in the resolution of this double gap by recalibrating genre theory within World Cinema. Specifically, this study focuses on the Western film genre in World Cinema as the context of research, based on the proposition that if the Western, which has been associated with the colonial and imperialistic aspirations of the USA regarding its historical frontier, can be de-Westernised, any genre can. To achieve these objectives, the thesis first evaluates World Cinema scholarship published since Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media came out in 1994. On the basis of this review of outputs, the research proposes that World Cinema be considered as process rather than essence, as an umbrella of attitude under which both local concerns and global connections in all cinemas of the world can be evaluated without the presence of externally imposed relations of hierarchy. Secondly, this thesis builds on David Martin-Jones’ ideas of lost pasts of world history, and unknowability of the other and the other’s lost pasts, to propose an ethical endgame to the study of genre in World Cinema. Genre is devised in this research as a tool with the potential to break through such unknowability of the other and to provide an accurate map of a world of cinemas. To realise this, the thesis builds on theories of genre proposed by Rick Altman, Steve Neale, and Celestino Deleyto through the deployment of Jacques Derrida’s concepts of différance and sous rature. Différance, as the combination of the meanings of defer and differ, serves to bypass the unknowability of the other in order to turn it into an “as yet unknown” (Stone and Freijo, 2021), while placing genre sous rature serves to conceptualise how generic structures are repurposed in World Cinema. With these concepts in mind, two models for an ethical study of genre in World Cinema are proposed. The first is the Rosetta Stone, which suggests that the meaning of films to which we are the other can be achieved through linear triangulation, that is, a comparative analysis of three or more films. The second option is the tetrahedron model, a construction based on Narukawa Hajime’s cartographic AuthaGraph system, which consists of a 3-D abstraction of comparative analyses between four or more films, with the potential of providing a map of World Cinema through genre. Finally, this thesis proposes the category of World Cinema Westerns as a way to understand the Western beyond its supposed subscription to US idiosyncrasy. The Western no longer belongs to the USA, but turns rather into a global genre defined by the depiction of frontier spaces, understood as spaces where the institutional state does not hold the monopoly of violence. These critical frameworks are rehearsed through comparative analyses in two chapters, the first of which is dedicated to the devising of the Rosetta Stone model and entails linear analyses of The Rider (Chloé Zhao, 2017), Western (Valeska Grisebach, 2017) and Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014). The second of these chapters constructs the tetrahedron model through a discussion of how nation-building is articulated in Luz de domingo/Sunday Light (José Luis Garci, 2007), Dust (Milcho Manchevski, 2001), Yurusarezaru mono/Unforgiven (Sang-il Lee, 2013) and Five Fingers for Marseilles (Michael Matthews, 2017). This analysis of how the idea of nation is articulated in World Cinema Westerns serves as a demonstration of how the Rosetta Stone and tetrahedron frameworks can be applied to studying genre in World Cinema and, crucially, of how the study of genre can be not only an end in itself for the purposes of knowledge, but also a means towards the outline of an inclusive, cohesive and didactic map of the world through which to achieve an empathic understanding of the other.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of Film and Creative Writing
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures


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