“Great trilogies come in threes” says the apparently tautological tagline for Scary Movie 3 (David Zucker 2003). One of the key strengths of Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis’ Film Trilogies is the way it productively explores the boundaries of the film trilogy, thereby moving beyond facile definitions and commentary about empty commercialism and tired repetition.
Although the commercialism of Hollywood trilogies such as The Godfather (Coppola 1972-1990) and Scream (Craven 1996-2011) leap to mind, and this book addresses such examples, it also shows how the film trilogy is as broad as cinema itself, encompassing art cinemas, indies, auteurs and new waves. In the introduction, editors Perkins and Verevis articulate an interest, “In the trilogy as chameleon form that is utterly determined in some contexts, but malleable, transformative and evocative in others” (p. 17). It quickly becomes clear that three films can readily and productively be thought of through similarities beyond a single, advancing plotline, by focusing on repeated themes, imagery, character types, fables, personnel and processes. Verevis and Perkins argue that trilogies are established through processes of production, consumption and criticism. This is a broad approach, but not a concept so watered down as to become meaningless. The editors continually emphasize the constant tension between limitation and expansion essential to the film trilogy: impulses of proliferation are balanced by a desire for unity. This means that the generally fluid approach to defining the boundaries of a trilogy and a text retains both abstract integrity and usefulness for application.
As the examples already mentioned suggest, the discussion explores key ideas and abstractions, always tying them to analysis of interesting filmic examples: Adrian Martin writes engagingly (as ever) on Jacques Rivette’s Scènes de la vie parallèle/Scenes of a Parallel Life (1976-2003); Verevis analyses The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold 1953) and its sequels; Philippe Met explores the work of Michael Haneke; and Susan Felleman examines the experimental reworkings of Wago Kreider. Indeed, the variety of films analysed here is remarkable: from B-grade creature features to French auteurs and indie favourites, from Korean revenge fantasies to postmodern horror comedies and observational documentaries. This variety is thought provoking for the reader, and like all good film analysis, it inspired me to watch and re-watch many of the films discussed. Such diversity of subject matter implicitly calls for a range of relevant ideas and approaches to be fruitfully explored, alongside the intellectual continuities.
An unexpected gem is Lucy Mazdon’s chapter on the trilogy of documentaries on rural France, Profils Paysans, by photographer Raymond Depardon (L’Approche 2001, Le Quotidien 2005, La Vie Moderne 2008). Mazdon situates this analysis well, by reminding the reader that the prevalence of Hollywood sequels, franchises and remakes means that we most readily think of film trilogies in terms of repetition, reproduction and financial imperatives, but this example shows the difference within the broader category (p. 199). Mazdon connects the enduring nature of the documentary subjects’ lives, the filmmakers’ process of longitudinal shooting, and the effects of the tripartite text for the audience, since all share an enduring commitment. Further, she underscores the subtle political dimension of presenting time, history and change in this way.
Like Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train (1989), this volume might be understood as an internal trilogy of its own, as it is structured in three parts. The introduction offers a loose taxonomy of three broad categories for usefully thinking about trilogies: Industry, Auteurs and Critics. The essays are arranged in three sections roughly along these lines, though their groupings are as much about the critical approaches employed here as they are about the trilogies, which they address. As the editors note self-reflexively, there is a neat symmetry to exploring a field in a grouping of three.
The ‘Industry’ section focuses on those films, which were explicitly created and promoted as parts of a trilogy. Like The Godfather, these are the trilogies, which leap to mind, but Perkins and Verevis remind us that as well as being the most visible, they can also be the most volatile (p. 4). Critically, they are often referred to as “organic” trilogies and sometimes correspond to similar forms in other media, as in the case of Harry Potter. Within this section, R. Barton Palmer draws parallels and distinctions between the production contexts, genealogies and textual forms of Sofia Coppola’s “Young Girls” trilogy (The Virgin Suicides 1999, Lost in Translation 2003 and Marie Antoinette 2006) and her father Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy. Like many a sequel, Palmer effectively reprises and updates an argument he made in an earlier book chapter (1). Claire Perkins analyses how the four features in the Scream trilogy self-reflexively explore the tensions between multiplication and limitation, especially in the fourth installment.
The ‘Auteurs’ section concentrates a broader sense of textual intertextuality, less concerned with authorial or industrial acknowledgement. The critical approach of this section is neatly summarized by Adrian Martin: “Auteurism – and [I] here I invoke this critical method at the height of its intellectual inventiveness, not the diminished caricature of dime-store Romantic ideology that so often makes the rounds as a straw man these days in theoretical commentary – is fascinated by the many ways in which a director’s works can be seen to speak to each other and form diverse networks” (p. 115). Indeed, the thoughtful reappraisal and application of auteurism is one of the strongest and most rewarding threads throughout this collection.
In the ‘Critics’ section, these trilogies are discursively constructed through practices of film criticism, and are therefore especially unstable. I was impressed here by Daniel Herbert’s analysis of Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance trilogy” (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance 2002, Old Boy 2003 and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance 2005). Herbert’s complex and compelling argument explores continuities both within and beyond the films, to suggest a dialogic relationship between text and context, through a strategy of “historical narration” which addresses recent social changes in South Korea within the context of globalization.
A number of rich veins run throughout the book. Thematic analysis seems to be a form of criticism which is not widely practiced and praised in contemporary academic film studies – perhaps it is seen as simplistic, or aligned with the field’s roots in other humanities. Nevertheless, this collection abounds with excellent analyses, which subtly trace themes across multiple films and thereby seem to revitalize this approach. Film historical context is important and persistent throughout this book, as contributors carefully trace relationships between various films and their industrial, artistic, and consumption contexts. The book also engages regularly with critical work on intertextuality, critiquing and expanding it along the way. Naturally, an explicit intervention in the field is signaled in the introduction, but significance is added by the variety of examples, which demonstrate and complicate this approach.
Serendipitously, this book is itself part of a trilogy of critical anthologies. Constantine Verevis is the auteur/editor of note in this field of filmic intertextuality. With Carolyn Jess-Cook he edited Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel (2). With Kathleen Loock, he edited Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel (3). So this book might be seen as the third installment, one which both advances and brings a sense of symmetry to the previous collections. Like many of the production lineages sketched within its pages, this trilogy might be thought of as expanded or broken by the inclusion of Verevis’ related monograph, Film Remakes (4). Indeed, the taxonomy for trilogies outlined in this introduction draws its conceptual basis from Film Remakes. Like any good trilogy, there are continuities and innovations in each that contributes towards a larger picture.
For many of the chapters in this collection, the underlying argument is similar: the film trilogy amounts to more than the sum of its parts. This argument is articulated powerfully by cumulative effect, and indeed the collection itself builds a richness and complexity greater than any of the individual contributions. What is at stake in broadly defining the trilogy and considering various kinds of trilogies together in one volume? This anthology reveals a wealth of compelling similarities, differences, intricacies and nuances about the trilogy.
Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis (Eds). Film Trilogies: New Critical Approaches. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
- Palmer, R. Barton. “Before and After, Before Before and After: The Godfather: I, II and III.” In Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel. Ed. Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Constantine Verevis, (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), 65-85.
- Jess-Cooke, Carolyn and Constantine Verevis (Eds). Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010).
- Loock, Kathleen and Constantine Verevis (Eds). Film Remakes, Adaptations and Fan Productions: Remake/Remodel. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
- Verevis, Constantine, Film Remakes. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).