01 September 2011

Cinema: The Whole Story

Cinema: The Whole Story
Cinema: The Whole Story, edited by Philip Kemp, is a decade-by-decade survey of international film. Like Film Factfinder, Film, and The Virgin Encyclopedia Of The Movies, it summarises a wide range of film genres and styles accessibly for a general audience. Kemp's book is especially valuable because, with a team of contributing writers including Sight & Sound editor Nick James and Nightmare Movies author Kim Newman, it's more authoritative than most of its predecessors.

Though broadly chronological, the book organises its discussion of each decade thematically, with chapters on cinematic genres, movements, and regions. Each chapter is followed by double-page spreads profiling key films, together with brief biographies of significant directors. There are multiple colour stills on almost every page, though the book's thick-but-narrow format precludes full-page images.

The content is pleasingly comprehensive, though there are a couple of surprising omissions: there is no discussion of documentary films, and little coverage of technological development. The coverage is admirably international in scope, though some countries inevitably receive more space than others: Japanese silent cinema and Italian exploitation films are both neglected. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography, so anyone seeking recommendations for further reading will be disappointed.

Navigating through the book's impressive content can be confusing. The contents page is extremely minimalist: individual chapter titles are listed only at the start of each section, rather than all together at the front of the book. Expanding the contents page to list every chapter would substantially improve the book's organisation; alternatively, the text could be restructured into three distinct sections - chronology, film profiles, and director biographies - instead of mixing them all together.

The Oxford History Of World Cinema remains the gold standard for single-volume cinema histories, though it's less profusely illustrated than Kemp's book. Cinema: The Whole Story can't quite replace The Oxford History, though it will hopefully revive interest in classic and international films for a mainstream audience. Its awful American title is Movies: From The Silent Classics Of The Silver Screen To The Digital & 3D Era.