British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Screening Twilight

Screening Twilight: Critical Approaches to a Cinematic Phenomenon Edited by Wickham Clayton and Sarah Harman (I.B. Tauris, May 2014), 240 pages ISBN: 978-1780766669 (paperback) £14.99; ISBN: 978-1780766652 (hardback) £56.00

rwilliams-avatars1441About the reviewer:  Rebecca Williams is Lecturer in Communication, Culture and Media Studies at the University of South Wales. She completed her PhD, a comparative study of online TV fans and their use of fandom to perform identity work, at Cardiff University and also has a Masters in Critical and Cultural Theory from the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. She is the author of Post-Object Fandom: Television, Identity and Self-narrative (forthcoming) and editor of Torchwood Declassified (2013).

Wickham Clayton and Sarah Harman’s edited collection Screening Twilight: Critical Approaches to a Cinematic Phenomenon joins an already heaving bookshelf of academic studies of the Twilight phenomenon; what Natalie Wilson (author of one such study Seduced By Twilight) calls ‘Twi-scholarship’ in her introduction here. However, this collection adds to understanding of this already well-researched text with a resolute focus on the cinematic versions of The Twilight Saga, placing debates over its adaptation alongside discussion of cinematic audience reception and interpretation, screen aesthetics, and generic expectation. Whilst acknowledging Twilight’s literary origin, the collection offers a new take on the saga through its focus on the visual rendering of its narratives and characters.

Screening-Twilight-coverThe book also interestingly begins from the acknowledgement that, for many critics and audience members, Twilight is a resolutely devalued text. Associated with female fans who are hysterical, rabid, and silly, the saga is ‘often criticised, derided and dismissed’ (1). Rather than arguing unproblematically for the value of Twilight, however, the collection unpacks the often lazy stereotypes about its narrative, characters and fans by focusing on the multiple discourses at work in the denigration of the series. Chapters from Mark Jancovich and Francesca Haig focus on the work of critics and academics in such devaluation while Nia Edwards-Behi explores how the film’s complex interaction with the horror genre is rejected as inauthentic; and Sarah Harman links the film’s dismissal to its association with female consumption. Other chapters reposition the films as more ideologically complex than typical critique has suggested; much mainstream commentary has dismissed Twilight for having a weak lead female character and depicting a problematically abusive relationship between the lead characters Bella and Edward. However, chapters by Caroline Ruddell on Twilight’s borrowing from the fairytale, Marion Rana’s discussion of sexual awakening, and Mark Richard Adams’ use of psychoanalytic discussion of the films’ representations of non-normative romance challenge this, arguing that the series actually depicts more progressive notions of gender and sexuality than has been previously acknowledged. Similarly, two chapters on the fandom surrounding the series – Bethan Jones’ discussion of slash fiction focusing on Bella/Alice and Jacob/Edward and how it deconstructs the films’ depictions of ‘masculinity, patriarchy and religion’ (188), and Brigid Cherry’s chapter on ‘all human’ fanfiction (175) – further complicate the established critical view of Twilight’s themes and its audience.

… the collection unpacks the often lazy stereotypes about its narrative, characters and fans

The only criticism one could make is that the relatively high number of chapters (fifteen) means that some of the discussion is necessarily brief. However, this is a minor issue and the collection should be applauded for its breadth; each of the chapters tackles an original argument in relation to Twilight; no mean feat amongst the current crop of existing studies. It also has potential as a useful tool for teaching students about certain key theories and approaches in media and cultural studies through the analysis of a text that they are likely very familiar with (even if they do not all like it). For example it offers an introduction to psychoanalysis (in chapters by Mark Richard Adams and Ruth O’Donnell), queer theory (in R. Justin Hunt’s analysis of kinship) and post-colonial theory (in Simon Bacon’s discussion of the Cullens’ construction of the white American family). Engaging with some of these often complex ideas via a well-known cultural object offers an introduction to such approaches, as do chapters on concepts such as genre (by Jancovich and Edwards-Behi) or the concept of the sequel (in Wickham Clayton’s fascinating chapter on the first Twilight sequel New Moon as a failure). There is also potential for students to learn about debates they may not normally encounter within media studies textbooks, as in Kohlenberger’s discussion of the literary tradition of the sympathetic vampire or Ruddell’s use of work on fairytale, folklore and mythology.

Given that The Twilight Saga is now concluded, on the big screen at least, we may wonder how much more study it can endure. If rumours of an online resurrection of the series are true, and as its often maligned and belittled fandom endures, there is much in Clayton and Harman’s collection to indicate however, that there remains a great deal of potential in exploring the series from new angles.

Rebecca Williams

Delicious Save this on Delicious |