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

Goodbye to Hong Kong for another year

Tuesday | April 15, 2008   open printable version open printable version

My Heart Is That Eternal Rose.

DB here, yet again:

Back nearly a week from Hong Kong, I’ve been swamped by backlog and made logy by jetlag. But I wanted to offer last-minute notes from this year’s film festival. I won’t comment on the films that disappointed me or that weren’t in finished form. Instead, upbeat reports, some pictures, and a trio of DVD delights.

On the big screen

Little Cop (1989) starring and directed by Eric Tsang, was part of the festival’s tribute to him. It’s a silly but ingratiating item that anticipates Stephen Chiau’s mo lei tau nonsense comedy. The opening credits are burned onto Tsang’s pudgy body, and thereafter a series of episodes takes him to the anti-prostitution squad (cue the condom jokes) and then the drugs detail. There are engaging gags around a funeral, with a song in praise of death set to the Colonel Bogey march, and lots of intrigue with a master criminal who can steal other people’s faces. Needless to say, since this is Hong Kong, we get many food gags too. Eric called in his bets and got a flurry of walk-ons from top stars like Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung. The only tedious stretch is the last scene, an uninspired clone of Steve Martin’s Absent-Minded Waiter routine. Otherwise, good dirty fun.

Paranoid Park (2007) seemed to me Gus van Sant’s best film in a long time, after the somewhat arid exercises of Gerry and Last Days. Here he’s got a genuine, gripping story that he can render in his detached but lyrical style. The shot of Alex in the shower is particularly gorgeous, and the tracking shot of his tormented walk through town is enhanced by swarms of subvocal recriminations that spurt out from all three channels. My friend J. J. Murphy has provided further commentary on his blog here and here.

If movies about moviemaking risk narcissism, movies about film school must be narcissism squared. The Early Years: Erik Nietzsche Part 1 (2007) centers on a young filmmaker who is transparently Lars von Trier. In-jokes about Danish film culture pile up, and the plot takes almost every easy way out, but Jakob Thuesen keeps the proceedings moving briskly enough. The caricatures are fun, although I think the all-night frenzy of film school life is better captured in Yanagimachi Mitsuo’s Who’s Camus Anyway?

A real revelation: And the Spring Comes (2007, above), by Gu Changwei. A somewhat homely woman with a crystalline singing voice imagines herself headed straight for the Beijing opera. Instead, broken love affairs and unwillingness to lower her ambitions keep her sequestered teaching music in a small town. A tough but touching melodrama rendered in a tactful style, with female lead Jiang Wenlei willing to be unsympathetic.

Many art movies can seem inert in their storytelling—over-under-dramatized, we might say. Carlos Reygados’s Silent Light (2007) escapes this trap. Slow and static, it is suffused with a stark calm that gives gravity to a love affair between a stolid farmer and a woman who runs a café. Planimetric compositions are used imaginatively, and the soundtrack makes daring use of offscreen noises. As an old Dreyer fan, however, I have to worry about the film’s relation to Ordet. Dreyer’s film isn’t exactly ripped off or cited, but it floats behind this one like a spectre before materializing at the climax, perhaps in overbearing fashion. Ordet, suffused with religious debate, earns its miraculous finale, while Silent Light, for all its austerity, is a film of the flesh, and its spiritual coda seems to me somewhat forced. But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

Because another guest didn’t appear, I was asked to introduce programs of films by or related to Maya Deren. I enjoyed the chance to see them again, and to reread her writings in the excellent collection Essential Deren. Her work remains stimulating—especially Meshes of the Afternoon and Ritual in Transfigured Time. Her writings blend a stringent formalism, echoing Rudolf Arnheim‘s views of cinematic specificity, and a fascination with myth and non-Western cultures. The boys’ Trance movies (Fragment of Seeking, The Cage, The Potted Psalm) are of historical interest, but hers remain lively. I was happy to see how many young people stayed after the screenings to discuss films that are sixty years old.

On the small screen

In my shopping, I discovered three fine movies on DVD.

*Do Over, a Taiwanese network narrative I liked in Vancouver back in 2006, now available with English subtitles in a so-so transfer (good color and contrast, blurry frame-by-frame pickup). A strong debut film from Cheng Yu-chieh.

*My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, an important 1989 Hong Kong film by New-Wave talent Patrick Tam. This mix of romance and crime stars Kenny Bee, Joey Wang, and a shockingly young Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and Christopher Doyle is listed as one of two cinematographers. The film’s daring stylization marks it as belonging to Hong Kong’s late-80s burst of creativity, and many moments look forward to the luxuriant melancholy of Wong Kar-wai. Clearly Tam (who edited Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time) was an important influence on Wong. For a long time, I had access to My Heart only on an ugly pan-and-scan laserdisc, but now a widescreen transfer of a worn but bright print offers a considerable improvement. It’s far from perfect, with somewhat slurred movement, but better than nothing.

*Play while You Play, usually known as Cheerful Wind (1981), is Hou Hsiao-hsien’s second film, a romantic drama about a blind man and a somewhat self-indulgent television producer. It’s one of his three commercial “musicals,” and seldom seen, let alone discussed. I think that stylistically these films lay the groundwork for his Taiwanese New Wave films from The Sandwich Man onward. (Go here for more.)

I don’t enjoy this quite as much as his first film, Cute Girl, or his third, The Green, Green Grass of Home, which seems to me nearly a masterpiece. Still, there are lovely moments in Cheerful Wind, including the music montages and a surprisingly offhand ending. Hou films almost casually in the open air, letting passersby drift in and out of the frame (above). The disc, from something called Hoker Records, claims on its package to be 4:3, but it actually preserves the 2.35 format. Unfortunately, it does so through letterboxing, yielding only so-so resolution. No English subtitles. Rumor has it that the irresistable Cute Girl is available in a similar package.

In the point-and-shoot LCD

Four of the brains behind the festival: Ivy Ho, Bede Chang, Li Cheuk-to, and Albert Lee.

Shan Ding, man of all work at Milkyway Image, and the magisterial Peter Greenaway.

Mrs. Johnnie To, Johnnie To, Amy Lau, and Lau Ching-wan, who normally eats nicely.

Joanna Lee, translator extraordinaire and music facilitator to the world.

Jupiter Wong, ace photographer, and Bela Tarr after the enthusiastic reception of The Man from London. My takes on Tarr are here and here and here.

Peter Chan, whose Warlords just won a slew of prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Jacob Wong, Festival programmer, and Raymond Phathanavirangoon, lately of Fortissimo. I praised Raymond’s presskits last year.

Shu Kei and Michael Campi, just before the premiere of Coffee or Tea, which Shu Kei directed with Kwan Man-hin.

Tourist snap no. 1: Wherever you turn in Wanchai, there’s something interesting to see. Even air conditioners start to look like public sculpture.

Tourist snaps 2 and 3: I often took the Wanchai ferry to screenings on Kowloon.

Tourist snap 4: Coming back late from a screening on the Kowloon side, I would walk past the old clock tower.

. . . A walk fortified by a late-night sample of the Sweet Dynasty’s almond and walnut soup.

In all, as I said at the start of my 3 1/2 weeks here: This will always be the place.

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