March 1, 2019
When film professor David Cook joined the UNCG Media Studies Department in 2007, “A History of Narrative Film” was in its fourth and largest edition.
The textbook, which is used at the Beijing Film Academy, the Free University of Brussels and over 400 colleges and universities in North America is one of W.W. Norton & Company’s longest-running publications. It’s been translated into eight different languages and had grown into a thick volume of film history when Norton released the fifth edition in early March.
“Each edition got fatter and fatter,” said Cook. “The fourth edition had 1120 pages – it had grown 400 pages. The publisher and I realized we couldn’t keep going on like this, it was almost too big to carry to class.”
The newer, fifth edition is slimmer and more comprehensive than the last. Cook cut pages of film descriptions – items that were becoming “list-like” – to add more analysis and a chapter on global cinema. And so far it’s the only edition of “A History of Narrative Film” to have UNCG stamped on the first page.
Originally published in 1981 while Cook taught at Emory University, “A History of Narrative Film” was something of a risk for W.W. Norton & Company. Because of its many photographic illustrations and because its author was a relatively unknown scholar, Cook’s editors were uncertain of the book’s market. ‘It was a much welcomed but unexpected success,” said Cook.
Cook, who has a Ph.D in Victorian English Literature from the University of Virginia, had originally focused his analysis on the director. Now in its fifth edition, “A History of Narrative Film” acknowledges the economics of filmmaking more than it has in previous editions.
“I still believe the director is the author,” said Cook. “I believe that you can look at his/her canon or his/her works as the process of art. But I also realized that this was an industrial art. For example, you have to look at the economic mechanisms that let Orson Welles direct ‘Citizen Kane’ at 26.”
The textbook’s newest chapter, “A Global Cinema” explores the rise of independent film movements such as the Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood, a sort of thread-bare “people’s cinema.” Cook tracks the growing ability for “Hollywood mega-pictures” to skirt cultural divides, cashing in on a larger, global audience even as North American movie theater attendance is falling.
Cook said that the condensed material, larger scope and four-color format of the fifth edition should bring “A History of Narrative Film” to a larger audience. “It literally puts the name of UNCG around the world.”
By Daniel Wirtheim