Ashish RAJADHYAKSHA and KIM Soyoung
With this issue, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies presents a debate on the discipline of Comparative Film Studies, which has been growing in importance in Asian contexts. With this, we also present recent work of its leading pioneer, Paul Willemen.
Paul Willemen passed away on May 13, 2012. He was a good friend of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies collective, and a frequent contributor to the journal, and so both the term Comparative Film Studies and some of its concerns may be already familiar to IACS readers through his seminal essays “Detouring Through Korean Cinema” (published in Vol. 3, no. 2, 2002), “For a Comparative Film Studies” (Vol. 6, no. 1, 2005), and the special issue on Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Vol. 9, no. 2, 2008) which he co-edited with Chen Kuan-Hsing and Ti Wei, and for which he contributed the essay “The Times of Subjectivity and Social Reproduction.”
In this issue, in which we publish essays by film theorists who were intellectually close to Willemen, we attempt both to comment on his most recent writing and to continue the discussion on how a comparative film project could be sustained in a way that he might have found productive. Six authors, Madhava Prasad, Chris Berry, Laleen Jayamanne, Kim Soyoung, Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto and Ashish Rajadhyaksha, engage with Willemen’s writings and teachings. All the authors knew Willemen well in his lifetime, and all reproduce both their own excitement and their concerns and, wherever these existed, their differences with the project. The authors additionally attempt their own explorations with the concept, with textual analysis of specific films, and attempts to historically embed the concept to their own situation.
Alongside these writings, we also present five of Willemen essays and notes, many of which have been referenced by the critical essays mentioned above. These essays have been prefaced by an overview of Willemen’s career by Valentina Vitali. Four of them are previously unpublished, and none of them are likely to be known to Inter-Asia and other readers. Some audiences have had a chance to hear Willemen speak on a few occasions, at conferences and festivals in Korea, India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Only one is an old text, the “Historical Memorandum: Notions of Third Cinema” (1986), which is really a set of notes he had used for his opening speech at the Third Cinema conference in Edinburgh in 1986. That conference also formally inaugurated Willemen’s intervention in debates on and within “non-Western” cinemas (that is, cinemas other than European and North American), and several concerns from the Memorandum were later developed into his well known introduction to the book Questions of Third Cinema (1989). The remaining four essays are very recent, and form part of an unpublished manuscript that he left behind and which he had provisionally titled Subjectivity and Fantasy in Action: for a Comparative Film Studies. We include here excerpts from the introduction to that unpublished book because it offers the most succinct summary available for his conceptualisation of a Comparative Film Studies. The second, “The Zoom in Popular Cinema: a Question of Performance,” was originally presented at a workshop on Turkish cinema accompanying the Thinking across Cultures: New Turkish Cinema in Europe event at the National Film Theatre (London, November-December 2000). The third essay is perhaps the most significant: “Indexicality, Fantasy and the Digital” constitutes a radical repositioning of the category of cinematic indexicality and rehearses key aspects of Willemen’s work on digital technology. Finally, the forth essay included here, “Preliminary Conclusions: Cultural Labour - Cultural Value in a Comparative Frame,” was intended as a larger discussion on action cinema and the notion of mental or cultural labour. Parts of it Willemen originally presented as a paper entitled “Action Cinema: Labour Power and the Video Shop” at the Transnational Cinema conference at Lingnan University (Hong Kong, January 2003).
We hope this special issue will contribute not only to expand a scope of film studies but to provide a new and challenging framework to understand working of value and logic of capitalism via cinema.
The editors express our gratitude to Roma Gibson, Anik Willemen and Valentina Vitali, without whose support and help, this issue would never have been possible.
Ashish Rajadhyaksha is Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Culture & Society, Bangalore. He is the co-editor of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema (2001) with Paul Willemen, and author of Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency (2009).
Kim Soyoung is Professor of Cinema Studies at Korean National University of Arts, and Director of Trans Asian Screen Culture Institute. She is the author of several books on cinema, modernity and gender including The Primal Scenes of Modern (Korean, 2010) and co -editor of Electronic Elsewhere with Chris Berry and Lynn Spiegel (University of Minnesota Press). She is the filmmaker of Viewfinder (a feature length fiction, 2010) and Women's History Trilogy (2006) which was released in theaters and screened at International film festivals and universities.