Book Review – Troubled Everyday: The Aesthetics of Violence and the Everyday in European Art Cinema

Review of Troubled Everyday: The Aesthetics of Violence and the Everyday in European Art Cinema by Alison Taylor. Edinburgh University Press, 2017. Review by Alice Haylett Bryan, King's College London, UK. So often European extreme cinema is spoken about in terms of shock, spectacle and provocation that we forget that the narratives of many of these films are grounded in the everyday, and even the banal. In her book Troubled Everyday, Alison Taylor addresses this oversight, carrying out a formal analysis of a range of films such as Michael (Markus Schleinzer and Kathrin Resetarits 2011), Twentynine Palms (Bruno Dumont 2003) and I Stand Alone/Seul contre tous (Gaspar Noé 1998) in order to reframe the extreme through its relationship with the quotidian. Taylor argues that it is the tension between extremity and the ordinary that gives these films their affective power, a tension that refuses clear-cut meaning and hermeneutic closure, and spills out beyond the screen as part of their intrusive viewing experience. 

Book Review – Gay Pornography: Representations of Sexuality and Masculinity

Review of Gay Pornography: Representations of Sexuality and Masculinity by John Mercer. I. B. Tauris. 2017. Review by Brandon Arroyo, Concordia University, Canada. The title of John Mercer’s book certainly intends to make an impression. With an assertive, commanding, and all-encompassing title like Gay Pornography, one eagerly wonders if this might be the contemporary sequel to Thomas Waugh’s foundational Hard to Imagine (1996). However, Mercer’s aims are far more modest - yet no less essential - than Waugh’s. I bring this up to suggest that the over-reaching title ultimately overshadows the sensible and focused line of thought maintained throughout. A more accurate title might have been: Gay Pornography’s Keywords, because of its success in articulating a vocabulary describing the role of gay pornographic culture within masculinist society. This is the book’s primary contribution: to provide readers with a unifying discursive framework through which to understand gay pornography’s contemporary mediascape. Mercer’s keywords are the linguistic tools essential to producing dynamic pornographic studies in the future.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Sex and Grief on Screen

by Katie Barnett, University of Worcester, UK. John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole (2010), an adaptation of David Lindsay Abaire’s 2006 stage play, deals with the aftermath of a family tragedy as Becca and Howie Corbett (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) struggle to come to terms with the death of their four-year-old son Danny. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that Becca and Howie are dealing with their grief in very different ways. They circle around each other in their large, empty house. As Howie endlessly tries to remember Danny, watching old videos on his phone, Becca desperately tries to forget, stripping his drawings from the refrigerator. Their grief separates and isolates them. This emotional estrangement extends to a physical estrangement that makes Becca flinch whenever Howie touches her.

Book Review – Beyond Speech: Pornography and Analytic Feminist Philosophy

review by Martin Fradley, University of Brighton. In their introduction to Beyond Speech, Hilkje Charlotte Hänel and Mari Mikkola state that this new collection of essays has two core aims: firstly, to take stock of extant feminist debates on pornography and, secondly, to ‘examine some newer lines of inquiry and investigate what they can tell us about still-unsettled conceptual and political questions’ (11). The ‘speech’ of the book’s title refers to Catherine MacKinnon’s (1987) famous legal argument that pornography should be understood as a series of violent ‘speech acts’, which ultimately serve to silence, subordinate and harm all women. Tellingly, the writers here almost all begin with the premise that pornography can be ‘harmful’, and Beyond Speech contains a dozen original essays that subsequently defend, challenge and re-evaluate some of the most important feminist interventions in what was once (rather quaintly) referred to as ‘the pornography debate’.

Retrosexual: The Notorious Work of Bettie Page and Irving and Paula Klaw 

by Ellen Wright of De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Model Bettie Page and filmmaker/photographers Irving and Paula Klaw have left a curious cultural legacy. Their work together, between 1952 and 1957, often filmed in a studio above the Klaw’s photo and bookshop, resulted in a catalogue of pin-up and fetish photographs, a clutch of burlesque revue B-movies and a number of short, silent 8mm and 16mm, mail order fetish ‘specialty’ films, intended for home exhibition. In these films Page, clad in lingerie, stockings and vertiginously high heels, would enact requested fetish and BDSM scenarios, either alone or with other young women.