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Books

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

Chapter 3 | Three Dimensions of Film Narrative 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

Video

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay

Essays

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History added September 2014

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

Articles

Book Reports

Observations on film art

The AMBERSONS Poster Mystery: The clincher

Wednesday | August 20, 2014

     

DB here:

Bingo! Crowdsourcing pays off. Alert blogger Ivan Paio found the original poster that’s tucked into the Magnificent Ambersons frame! It confirms that Welles used not a film poster but one advertising a stage show…that could have played the Bijou in 1912.

If you’re not familiar with our quest, you can go here and here and here. Be sure to visit Ivan’s site for details, and give him a big hand.

Breaking AMBERSONS news: Did you say Buried?

Monday | August 18, 2014

DB here, again and still:

Still, until somebody comes along with a better account, I’m ready to believe that we’ve found the film. 

That’s me, just two days ago. I suggested that the mystery poster tucked into the corner of one shot in The Magnificent Ambersons is the Pathé release of 1912, The Cow-Boy Girls. Readers with long memories and no life of their own will recall that this question has bugged me since my earlier post in May. Last week my colleague Eric Hoyt suggested what the title might be, and some rummaging in various sources, particularly the invaluable Lantern database, seemed to confirm it.

To recap: Here are two blow-ups from a 35mm print, showing the two angles from which Welles’ camera captures the poster. The text is clearer in the half-size one, but the more distant one yields a fuller view. The poster seems to depict a man thrashing an American Indian, with a young woman, arm outstretched, in the rear. Note also the shield-like triangular shape underneath the title on the first image.

     

Last night came word from two more vigilant correspondents, each with new evidence–again, unearthed by the light of Lantern.

My first correspondent was Luke McKernan, early film specialist and master builder of the vastly informative website The Bioscope. Luke has stopped posting there, but he continues to write keenly on cinema at lukemckernan.com. His message to me runs as follows:

Dear David,

I have struggled and struggled with this one til I’m at the point of worrying about my eyesight. I don’t think it can be The Cowboy Girls, but searching for the keyword Cowgirl might be productive. I found this in the Lantern site, searching for ‘cowgirl’ and 1912:

http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/movingpicturenew05unse_0122

It’s not the right film, but the still is quite close to that in the Ambersons poster, which at least gives encouragement.

 Luke

The entry Luke refers to is this one, from The Moving Picture News of 1912.

The picture shows the situation we find in the Ambersons poster. But as Luke says, our poster’s title clearly is not Staking the Claim. More research, as we academics say, is needed.

Just a few hours later came this from another colleague here at Madison, Ph.D. candidate Eric Dienstfrey.

Hi David,

Reading your post on Ambersons now, I remember coming across the title The Cow-Boy Girl while researching stage musicals that were contemporary to Gottschalk’s The Tik-Tok Man From Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz.  You are absolutely correct, the poster does say “The Cow-Boy Girl” but it was for a theatrical musical, not a film… at least I don’t think so. (But many films were probably called Cowboy Girl too.)  I’ve attached two different posters from the musical that I found online.  The triangle shield is not the Pathé rooster after all!

I hope you find this interesting/useful… or better yet, I hope this brings you a little closure.

Cheers,
Eric

     

I had mentioned on Saturday that there was a stage show called The Cow-Boy Girl, and I wondered whether the poster was promoting not a film but the theatre piece. In the end, I went with a film title. But Eric D’s visual evidence of the title font and the triangular motif (not a shield but a swag curtain, I think) strongly suggests that we’re dealing with a play. It would be characteristic of a theatre in 1912 to include vaudeville, stage shows, and other live entertainment alongside movies.

The Cow Boy Girl (no hyphen), a thirty-minute playlet including songs, was reviewed, unfavorably, by Variety (29 October 1910). The review doesn’t mention a scene like that depicted on the poster.

Other sources lists touring shows of The Cow-Boy Girl (with and without hyphen) from 1910 onward, so it might well have been playing the Bijou in the Ambersons’ town in 1912. Actually, Eric D. has found that it did play another Bijou. The Billboard of 18 February 1911 lists the following:

How can you argue with something that played the home of thrillers?

Are we there yet? Until we find a copy of the poster itself, I’m inclined to think so. But as Luke’s discovery indicates, we’re dealing with a period in which imagery, titles, and situations were copied and circulated in great profusion. In 1912 plenty of cowgirls and cowboys and cowboy girls and cow-boy girls were swarming over American entertainment. More or less like superheroes today.

No research project is finished, only abandoned. Thanks to the Fussbudget Team for playing!

The Fussbudget Report: An AMBERSONS solution

Saturday | August 16, 2014

DB here:

Some readers may recall my post on The Magnificent Ambersons back in May. I argued that Welles built a sense of the irretrievable past into many aspects of the film’s narration. He used the voice-over commentary to evoke times gone by, but also ellipsis, offscreen action, constant recitation of memories, and other strategies. In addition, there were moments of cinephile nostalgia, including the iris shot at the end of the snow scene and the concluding credits of the actors slowly turning to face the audience, as in the manner of films of the 1910s.

Then there were the movie posters. George and Lucy are walking through the town. He’s about to leave for Europe, and she feigns a polite lack of concern. They pass the Bijou movie house, which flaunts several posters. I managed to identify all but one, the one tucked in the lower right of the frame above. I just couldn’t properly read the title, even on a good 35mm print.

Blown up from 35, the clearest view we get of it looks like this.

I thought it might be The Coin-Box Girl, but no such film title existed. Some readers– Jacopo Pes, Ivo Blom, and Paolo Cherchi Usai (thanks to all)–proposed some possibilities. Alas, none of their suggestions seemed to fit. Even running through the Library of Congress copyright listings for films didn’t yield a plausible candidate.

Over a lunch with colleague Eric Hoyt last week (Eric is one of the geniuses behind Lantern), we talked about this. Eric had access to a bigger list of titles than that of the LoC, and he suggested that the first words might be cow-boy. Checking his list, we find that there was indeed a May 1912 Pathé release called The Cowboy Girls. It’s also listed in Lauritzen and Lundquist’s American Film-Index 1908-1915 under that name. It might well have been postered as The Cow-Boy Girls. (We now assume that the squiggly line after “Cow” is a hyphen. It might be just a really curly w.) An April 1913 ad from the Carbondale Daily Free Press lists a film called The Cow Boy Girls, so if it’s the same movie, there was some freedom of punctuation around it.

I left the second ad underneath so you can appreciate having electricity.

It would be very nice to check a poster of the film, but I haven’t found one. Here, though, is a synopsis from Moving Picture World of 1912. (Again, thanks to Lantern.)

This doesn’t quite match the image on the poster, which shows a man apparently about to strike a Native American kneeling before him. But in the background, more visible in the half-framed poster, there seems to be a young woman coming out of a cabin protesting, and perhaps brandishing a pistol. (Open Carry applies here.)

There are other anomalies. If this is indeed The Cowboy Girls from Pathé, does the triangular shield logo in the northwest corner boast a rooster? Some Pathé titles did, as for this 1908 French release (one of the most important films ever made). On the four shields, the rooster (also to be seen as decor in Pathé interiors) is joined by the eternal symbol of the theatre, the comic and tragic masks.

And if The Cowboy Girls is a Pathé title, did the Carbondale ad list it as “Essany” (Essanay) by mistake? Or is that a different cowgirls movie? It may be relevant that there was a vaudeville play called The Cow Boy Girl, which was touring at the same period. Filmmakers may have tried to cash in on that. Or maybe the Ambersons Bijou was presenting that stage show rather than a film?

Still, until somebody comes along with a better account, I’m ready to believe that we’ve found the film. The clincher for me is the Cowboy Girls’ date: 1912. Except for the fake lobby card promoting a nonexistent Jack Holt movie, all the discernible film posters in the Ambersons scene are from 1912 releases.

This obsessive synchronization is surely the work of a film nerd, either Welles or a staff member. Geek calls out to geek, from 1912 to 1942 to 2014. See? I’m not the only fussbudget here.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).

Is there a blog in this class? 2014

Sunday | August 10, 2014

 

Kristin here:

Once again the fall semester approaches, and educators are pondering their film-class syllabi. As always, we have prepared a guide to our blog entries from the past year, with suggestions about how some of them might usefully be assigned alongside chapters of Film Art: An Introduction. Readers who aren’t teaching could use this guide to alert them to entries they may have missed.

For the entries from past years, see 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and  2013.

David is at work on a book on 1940s Hollywood cinema, which he finds a strange and innovative era. Several of his entries for this past year reflect that focus.

 

Chapter by chapter

Chapter 1:  Film as Art: Creativity, Technology, and Business

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/Cinema-theatre-with-graphic-600.jpg

Last year several of our entries dealt with the conversion of exhibition from film to digital copies. That conversion has progressed until 35mm houses are now relatively rare. We take a look at a theater still showing movies on film in “Dispatch from another 35mm outpost. With cats.”

 

Chapter 3:  Narrative Form

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Sometimes producers force scriptwriters to change their scripts. These changes aren’t always bad. They can lead filmmakers to find ingenious solutions that actually enhance the result. We look at some examples from the 1940s in “Innovation by accident.” (As in Kitty Foyle, above.)

Two professors have already told me they were going to teach Gravity this coming semester, assigning our two entries on the film. These could be used for a variety of chapters: the first one, “GRAVITY, Part 1: Two characters adrift in an experimental film” is on the narrative of the film and could most obviously assist in teaching Chapter 3. It might also be a helpful reference, however, for Chapter 10, in discussing the boundaries between experimental and mainstream cinema.

The differences between suspense and surprise is a common topic in discussing narratives. We look at Hitchcock’s famous distinction between them and where he got it in “Hitchcock, Lessing, and the bomb under the table” and “Hitchcock Again: 3.9 Steps to Suspense.”

For advanced students, you might consider assigning an essay David has posted on his website proper, “Three Dimensions of Film Narrative.” He elaborates on this essay with examples from Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in “Understanding film narrative: The trailer.”

Modernism involves playing with plots, sometimes in challenging ways. In another entry for advanced students, we examine such playfulness: “Pulverizing plots: Into the woods with Sondheim, Shklovsky, and David O. Russell.”

During the 1940s, filmmakers sometimes explicitly broke their films down into chapters. That tradition has not disappeared–especially in the films of Quentin Tarantino. We explore some connections in “The 1940s are over, and Tarantino’s still playing with blocks.”

 

Chapter 4: The Shot: Mise-en-scene

Staging is an important aspect of acting. We give some historical notes about how characters have been set up to face each other in a two-shot composition in “Where did the two-shot go? Here.”

Few directors combine staging, setting, composition and actings as brilliantly as Kenji Mizoguchi. We explore his extraordinary mise-en-scene in “Mizoguchi: Secrets of the exquisite image.” (Above)

 

Chapter 5  The Shot: Cinematography

In anticipation of Gravity‘s release, we wrote about long takes in Alfonso Cuarón’s earlier films and in particular Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in “Harry Potter treated with gravity.”

Our second entry on Gravity, “GRAVITY, Part 2: Thinking inside the Box,” could be taught in connection with the entry on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in discussing long takes. It also, however, exemplifies cutting-edge techniques in digital cinematography, special effects, and 3D.

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel wonderfully exemplifies variations on aspect ratios. Its style is also based on framing perpendicularly to the backs of sets (earlier explored in “Shot-consciousness”). See “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: West Anderson takes the 4:3 challenge.” (Above)

 

Chapter 6: The Relation of Shot to Shot: “Editing”

At the Vancouver International Film Festival, we caught Walter Murch’s lecture on the industry’s transition to digital editing. Here’s our write-up:  “Film-industry pros share secrets in Vancouver.”

Our two Wes Anderson blogs (here and here) discuss his customized variant of classical continuity editing.

 

Chapter 8: Summary: Style as a Formal System

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Nebraska

Teaching about auteurism and style? Kristin met Alexander Payne last year at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Then he came and visited Madison this past spring. We blogged about that visit and his films in “Alexander Payne’s vividly shot reality.” He was still talking to us at Il Cinema Ritrovato this year, so he must have liked the entry!

 

Chapter 10: Documentary, Experimental, and Animated Films

We wrote an entry on a major recent documentary film, “I am a camera, sometimes: Tim’s Vermeer.” Also quite teachable.

 

Chapter 11: Film Criticism: Sample Analyses

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If you show Tokyo Story, or any other Ozu film, your students might be interested in Ozu’s influence up to the present day. Our entry “Look well! Look again! Look! (For Ozu)” explores this subject.

Apart from the entry on The Grand Budapest Hotel linked above, we’ve written an analysis of his previous film in Moonrise Kingdom: Wes in Wonderland.” His recent films, starting with Fantastic Mr. Fox, strike us as very teachable.

David has written several entries on some major American critics of the 1930s and 1940s–Otis Ferguson, James Agee, Parker Tyler, and Manny Farber–and their approaches to analysis and evaluation. These would be suitable for students interested in writing film criticism themselves.

“Otis Ferguson and the Way of the Camera”

“The Rhapsodes: Agee, Farber, Tyler, and Us”

“Agee & Co.: A Newer Criticism”

“James Agee: All there and primed to go off”

“Manner Farber 1: Color commentary”

“Manny Farber 2: Space man”

“Parker Tyler: A suave and wary guest”

and finally “The Rhapsodes: Afterlives”

 

Chapter 12  Historical Changes in Film Art: Conventions and Choices, Traditions and Trends

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If you are looking for silent films to show as illustrations of German Expressionism, French Impressionism, silent classical Hollywood, or very early experimental cinema, try the latest entry in our surprisingly popular annual summary, “The ten best films of …1923.” Not all the films are available on DVD at this point, but the ones that are are well worth seeking out.

Examples of early film and the transition to more classical storytelling can be found in our summer entry, “What’s Left to Discover Today? Plenty.”

An update to the Hong Kong section of the chapter can be found in our entry on Wong Kar-wai’s latest film:  “THE GRANDMASTER: Moving forward, turning back.”

 

Further resources

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For information on some recent DVD and Blu-ray releases, see “Recovered, discovered, and restored DVDs, Blu-rays, and a book.”

We’ve put up an ebook on Christopher Nolan, based on updated versions of our blog entries, for $1.99. It includes some brief extracts from Nolan films, though you can opt for a version without the clips. For a description, see “Our new e-book on Christopher Nolan!

Don’t forget that we also have videos available for you to show or assign. For Chapter 3, on narrative, there’s “Twice Told Tales: Mildred Pierce,” including an imbedded Vimeo comparison of scenes repeating a crucial action. Chapter 6′s discussion of editing is supplemented by our most popular video, “Constructive Editing: Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959).”

For the history chapter (Chapter 12), there are two video lectures: an entry on “How Motion Pictures Became the Movies 1908-1920″  and one on “CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses” (which could also be used in connection with the Cinematography chapter).

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Gravity, production photograph

David Bordwell
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comments about the state of this website go to Meg Hamel.