Movies 8 October 2018 | 15:05

The Movieverse and the dictionary

08 October 2018 15:05

Sometimes, The Movieverse works in mysterious ways. There you are, writing an article about the ways in which cinema is changing, and thinking about the inadequate vocabulary we have to describe those changes, when up pops a story about the film-related terms that have been added to the latest iteration of the Oxford English Dictionary. Or at least that’s what happened to me over the weekend.

The short version of the story, for those who may have missed it, is this: the fine folk at the OED have this year worked with the film critic Mark Kermode to add 100 film terms to their official lexicon. They’ve put the full list on their own blogsans definitions; you’ll need to pay for those – and the first thing that stands out is the belatedness of many of the entries. It’s not just ‘Tarantinoesque’ that has had to wait until now for an OED entry, but also, in reverse chronology, ‘Spielbergian’, ‘Kubrickian’, ‘Sirkian’ and ‘Keatonesque’.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m delighted that ‘Tarkovskian’ now has a place in our nation’s most esteemed reference book; so much so, in fact, that I paid the subscription fee in order to share it with you:

‘Of or relating to Andrei Tarkovsky; resembling or characteristic of his films. Tarkovsky’s films are characterized by a poetic and impressionistic style, typically featuring non-linear narratives, long takes, and striking dreamlike imagery.’

But, even apart from the time-lag, there is a strangeness to this whole exercise; a why-this-and-why-not-the-other? For example, the Brazilian musical-comedies known as ‘chanchadas’ now have a definition, whereas the Japanese Samurai films that go by the similar name of ‘chanbara’ do not. This isn’t to rank one national cinema against another – but some of the cut-offs do seem as unforgiving as a Hattori Hanzō blade.

And what about the more modern terms that either found their way into, or could have found their way into, my Movieverse article? I was surprised and pleased to discover that ‘binge-watch’ was in the OED even before this latest revision. ‘Streaming’, in the media sense, was added in 2008. Perhaps the OED is is better on cinema’s present than it has been about its past.