David Bordwell's website on cinema   click for CV




Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

On the History of Film Style pdf online

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online


Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay


Rex Stout: Logomachizing

Lessons with Bazin: Six Paths to a Poetics

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema


Book Reports

Observations on film art

About Kristin Thompson

Tuesday | September 5, 2006   open printable version open printable version

Kristin Thompson[send email]

I am a full-time writer based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I got my master’s degree in film studies at the University of Iowa in 1973 and my Ph.D. in film studies here in Madison. I have occasionally had guest teaching positions in a number of places: here at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, Indiana University, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of Stockholm. In early 2001 I was the News International Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford University, which was a lecture series rather than a teaching position.

Ordinarily, though, I’m based in the Department of Communication Arts at the UW, as an Honorary Fellowship. That basically means that I agree not to teach and the Department agrees not to pay me, but I have a title, a campus address, University Internet access, and a library card—all very handy things in doing my work.

To make a living, I have collaborated with David on Film Art: An Introduction (first published in 1979 and now in its 8th edition) and Film History: An Introduction (first published in 1994, with plans for 3rd for late 2008).

In between revising these textbooks, I have the luxury of working on whatever research projects intrigue me. One of my main interests is close formal analysis of films. My dissertation was on Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, and that became my first scholarly book in 1981 when Princeton University Press brought it out as Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible: A Neoformalist Analysis. In 1988 Princeton also published my second book of analysis, this time of ten films, as Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis.

The history of film styles also fascinates me. For a long time I have been working on a study of what I call the “commercial avant-garde” movements of the post-World War I era in Europe: German Expressionism, French Impressionism, and Soviet Montage. Early on I realized, however, that we simply didn’t know enough about the norms of ordinary commercial cinema to provide a context for studying early avant-garde cinema. Investigating those norms has resulted in three books. In 1978, I undertook to trace the initial formulation of the guidelines of American filmmaking. That project resulted in a collaboration with David and with our colleague Janet Staiger on The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Technique to 1960, published by Columbia University Press in 1985.

I also needed to know more about how many American films would have been showing in Germany, France, and the Soviet Union at the time when their avant-garde movements arose. We all know that Hollywood films have long dominated world markets, but when and how did that start? I wrote a monograph, Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 (British Film Institute, 1985). More recently, I investigated the norms of German filmmaking practice in the post-World War I era by looking at the films of the great director Ernst Lubitsch in Herr Lubitsch Goes to Hollywood: German and American Film after World War I (University of Amsterdam Press, 2005). With all this historical background established, I’ll return to the avant-garde movements project.

Although The Classical Hollywood Cinema ended its coverage in 1960, David and I have both been concerned to demonstrate that the same basic guidelines that were formulated back in the silent era are still to a considerable degree underpinning the ways in which American films are being made now (something that not all historians agree on). Having focused largely on the silent cinema, I jumped forward to Hollywood filmmaking since the 1970s, looking at the narrative structure and tactics of ten modern classics in Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique, published by Harvard University Press in 1999. As a follow-up, I turned my Oxford lecture series, which dealt with the similarities and differences between film and television narrative structure, into Storytelling in Film and Television (also Harvard, 2003).

To a considerable extent, this interest in Hollywood norms also led to my forthcoming book, The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood (University of California Press, 2007). Here I cast my net wider and examine the larger phenomenon of this hugely successful franchise, examining the film’s making but also its marketing via the Internet, its merchandising (particularly DVDs and video games), and its impact on world cinema.

Alongside my film work, I have taken on some research projects in other fields—hobbies, as it were. During the 1980s I became interested in the writings of the comic genius P. G. Wodehouse and especially his Jeeves-Wooster series. I launched into a project to analyze the series and its historical background. In 1985, I was fortunate enough to become the Archivist of the P. G. Wodehouse Archive, and I have visited England at intervals ever since to update the inventory. My book, Wooster Proposes, Jeeves Disposes, or Le Mot Juste, appeared in 1992 from James Heineman.

Shortly after I finished that book, I took a tour of Egypt—expecting it to be my one and only visit there. Instead, I found another fascination: not just ancient Egyptian history, but the art of the Amarna period, the era when the pharaoh Akhenaten strove to impose the world’s first monotheistic religion on the country. I began studying the subject, attending Egyptological conventions, and eventually presenting papers at them. In 2000 I was invited to join the Egypt Exploration Society’s Expedition to Tell el-Amarna, where I have worked for three-week stretches during six seasons. My task is to inventory the many hundreds of statuary fragments found in the ancient city and to make matches between them where possible. During this work I have reconstructed surviving portions of a granodiorite statue of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. (For information on this work, see amarnaproject.com.) The inventory was completed in 2006, though I hope that more statuary fragments will be found. In the meantime, I am visiting museums around the world to examine their holdings from Amarna and am sifting through the accumulated data to write a study dealing with the kinds of statues that stood in the ancient city and where they were located.

I have also long been a fan of the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, and indeed, several years ago I began researching a book on his novels. That got set aside when I seized the chance to write a book on Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, interviewing many of the filmmakers and watching the late stages of post-production on The Return of the King. With that project safely in press, I hope eventually to be able to return to the book on Tolkien.

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