The International Journal of the Image offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the The Image Research Network.
This article begins by countering the standard critique that Edward Said’s “Orientalism” suffers from the same essentialist binarism that he identified in Orientalist discourse. It is argued instead that Said’s work is more nuanced than is often implied, while remaining a fairly clear paradigm that allows for a multi-dimensional study of filmic texts, including: 1) locating patterns within representations of the East; 2) evaluating degrees of conformance to orientalist stereotypes; 3) charting the evolution of orientalist discourse in film, noting both enduring themes as well as new variations such as techno-orientalism. The article then focuses on Euro-American representations of the island-city-state of Singapore as a case study, including textual analyses of a sample of narrative fiction films produced between World War II and the present. The method employed is statistical analyses of film style, inspired by the work of Barry Salt and Jeremy Butler. By identifying stylistic and image content parameters such as shot length, shot size, point-of-view editing, the presence/absence of Asian versus Caucasian characters and languages spoken, and correlating this data to Said’s dogmas of orientalism, it becomes possible to uncover information that had previously gone unnoticed, and can lead to new insights regarding orientalist discourse in the cinema.
While many film studies scholars are interested in issues of film style, there are few who adopt a statistical approach. Leading figures in this field are Barry Salt, Yuri Tsivian and Jeremy Butler. Even fewer combine statistics with content-based parameters, such as the depiction of race, class, and gender in narrative fiction. One exception is Hiroshi Kitamura’s 2009 analysis of the 1951 film Tokyo File 212, that includes a statistical comparison of five Hollywood films depicting Japan, broken down according to character ethnicity and languages spoken. My article “Orientalist Stylometry” was designed to supplement a larger project on the application of Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism to the representation of Singapore in Euro-American cinema. I believe that my use of statistics is straightforward enough to be of interest to academics who may otherwise feel that any attempt to quantify artistic expressions can only lead to an impoverished understanding. It should be clear that stylometry is not meant to be an alternative or a substitute to traditional analytical methods, but that it can provide empirical data to support impressionistic claims regarding a viewer’s experience of film style, as well as lead to unexpected insights regarding representational trends in film, in both synchronic and diachronic forms of analysis.
Jeroen Coppens, The International Journal of the Image, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.55-71
Gudrun Frommherz, The International Journal of the Image, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.1-19
Tara McLennan, The International Journal of the Image, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.33-43