Introduction to the Dossier: Paul Willemen (1944 –2012)
Valentina VITALI and Ashish RAJADHYAKSHA
In assembling this special issue, as a tribute to the writings of Paul Willemen, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies focuses Willemen’s most recent work and on his project of a Comparative Film Studies. While this was a concern that Willemen built on through the 1990s, and while this concern constitutes his most engaged interaction with Asian cinemas, it is also possible to find resonances in this work with Willemen’s earlier writing, as well as with his work of curation and programming of film events over nearly four decades.
Between 1966 and 2012, Paul Willemen contributed to the activities of organizations in Belgium, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, the US, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and Mexico. The organisation and events he was involved with ranged from cinémathèques and film archives, film cooperatives, collectives, film festivals, retrospectives and publishers, to courses in and outside universities, conferences and editorial boards of magazines and journals. In our necessarily schematic overview, we propose a first stage in his work, primarily situated in the UK and Europe, which coincided with his editorial position at the British journal Screen. The second stage corresponds with Willemen’s role as editor of the journal Framework and with the landmark conference on Third Cinema. During this period he extended his work to “non-Western” cinemas and began to reconsider the parameters on the basis of which aesthetic practices can be thought of as “national” practices. His book Looks and Frictions (1994) covers both these periods: the first is represented by the Screen essays “Notes on Subjectivity” (1978), “Letter to John” (1980) and “Cinematic Discourse: the Problem of Inner Speech” (1981), as well as by “The Sirkean System” (1981), which he elaborated in the context of the Edinburgh International Film Festival; the second stage by “The Third Cinema Question” and “The National,” essays that had been or were subsequently published in anthologies in which Willemen was a key presence: Questions of Third Cinema (co-ed with Jim Pines, 1989) and Theorizing National Cinema (co-ed with Valentina Vitali, 2006).
In this introductory presentation the authors rely as far as possible on Willemen’s own extended commentary on each of these phases of his work. We note from the outset that all such demarcations are at best arbitrary and that there are overlaps between the later writings and some of his earlier publications in both Screen and Framework. These are simply symptoms of Willemen’s resilience—indications that his earliest writing anticipated problems and methodologies which he would elaborate only later in his life.
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).
Valentina Vitali is Reader in Film Studies at the University of East London. She is the author of Hindi Action Cinema: Industries, Narratives, Bodies (OUP 2008, Indiana 2010) and the co-editor, with Paul Willemen, of Theorising National Cinema (BFI 2006). Her work has appeared in a number of journals and in the anthologies Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema (Duke University Press and Hong Kong University Press 2005), Narratives of Indian Cinema (Primus Books 2009), Beyond the Boundaries of Bollywood (OUP 2011) and Genre in Asian Film and Television (MacMillan 2011).