Edward Ross’ Filmish is a surprisingly engaging, and pleasantly accessible introduction to film theory, history, and the sociology that surrounds it. Ross presents his “graphic journey through film” in easily-digestible thematic sections ranging from the expected, such as “the eye” and “sets and architecture; to the more outlandish, such as “technology and technophobia”.
It’s also incredibly well researched, with each page featuring a good number of quotes or references from a massive list of movie-makers, theorists, and philosophers – all presented with a smile from our friendly comic narrator who walks us through the movies, their plots, and their place in the study of cinema. The novel also implores you to watch an extended list of films to properly appreciate Ross’ aims. His seamless linking of duller subjects such as specific camera lenses, and more interesting things, link sociological ideas of reality leaves the reader more curious about cinema, and knowledgeable enough to give some classically challenging movies a shot.
However, this novel is not for those averse to spoilers. In explicating each chosen film in terms of the role it plays for cinema or society he often has to summarise the entire plot. That said, if you haven’t already seen something like 2001: Space Odyssey perhaps this isn’t the novel for you.
Overall, the narrator seems to be the only part of the graphic stylisation that aids the overall tone of the book. Filmish is a wordy graphic novel – and, though the depictions of famous film stars and movie plots are charming, they seem superfluous. At times, they even detract from Ross’ message. At many points in the novel, he eloquently and knowledgably criticises the film industry for its harmful and under-representative portrayal of women, ethnic minorities, disabled, and LGBT+ groups. However, the black-and-white style of illustration undermines his on point politics – making every character look roughly the same, and giving them all white skin.
This shouldn’t detract from how impressively detailed and extensive Ross’ exploration of cinema is. The whole book follows a logical progression through each chapter – we start by looking at the camera itself, then the actors, the sets and landscapes, the role time plays, the scripts and delivery, the ideology behind films, and finally the technology that connects it all. Each section links well to the next, but they also work standing alone as they have their own strong introductions and conclusions. Filmish would work wonderfully as a fun coffee table book to dip in and out of – it’s also got enough general movie trivia to secure a pub quiz team’s success for life.