Blogcritics book review: Taking Place
The emerging interdisciplinary field of Place Studies concerns itself with the ways in which people across locations and cultures connect and interact. This goes beyond geography to consider how the natural, built, social, and cultural environments that house us shape our notions of the world and influence our understanding of history, art, economics, politics, etc. In short, our place in the world can completely determine our reality. The essays collected by John David Rhodes and Elena Gorfinkel in Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image (2011, University of Minnesota Press), cover new ground by turning the critical lens of place studies on to the art of the moving image. Collectively, these essays make a compelling case that understanding location, (including the story location, the actual place of filming, as well as the location of the viewer while watching) is crucial in critically examining television, film, and installation art in order to situate these documents in the greater cultural landscape.
Divided into four sections ("Cinematic Style and the Places of Modernity," "Place as Index of Cinema," "Geopolitical Displacements," and "(Not) Being There"), the fifteen original essays contained herein are historical portraits of locations no longer in existence, illuminations of fraught political relationships, and examples of real municipalities making policy and development decisions based on Hollywood's demands, to name a few in the wide range of topics covered. The span of time and geography is broad: from Venice, CA to Mason City, IA to Rome, Italy and from silent films to twenty-first century television.
The two stand-out essays, in my opinion, are Ara Osterweil's deconstruction of Dennis Hopper's second film, The Last Movie and Linda A. Robinson's look at how a small city in Iowa remade its image in an attempt to recapture the nostalgic hype experienced when The Music Man debuted there decades before.