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

Creating suspense through film form

Tuesday | September 26, 2006   open printable version open printable version

In Film Art: An Introduction (Chapters 1-3) we argue that a movie’s form engages the viewer actively. As a result, we try to show how formal choices can shape the viewer’s response. For instance, a filmmaker who wants to tell a story tries to arouse curiosity, suspense, and surprise (along with other emotions, of course), and narration–the flow of story information–helps him or her do this (Chapter 3). A nice confirmation of this point is offered in Christine Vachon’s new book, A Killer Life: How an Independent Film Producer Survives Deals and Disasters in Hollywood and Beyond (Simon and Schuster).

In the script of One Hour Photo, director Mark Romanek carefully set up an opening stretch that slowly built suspense about Sy, the photo clerk who will take an unhealthy interest in his customers. But then came the studio marketers, who hinted at the film’s premise in advertising. As a result, preview audiences knew a little more than they were supposed to about where the story was going. In test screenings, the first act (the first 25-30 minutes) seemed to drag.

After consulting with Francis Ford Coppola, Romanek decided to begin the film late in the story, with Sy being arrested as a criminal. But the audience isn’t told exactly what he’s done. Then the plot flashes back to the original opening material. “This one change,” says Romanek, “rendered the first act more compelling. The first act played out almost exactly as before, but now the audience is paying closer attention. They’re now put in the position of trying to discover clues as to what Sy might’ve done. They’ve gone from passive viewers to detectives of a sort. And the first act came alive again” (p. 232).

Vachon’s book offers other intriguing examples of how filmmakers try to shape viewers’ responses through choices about form and style. It’s also a fascinating survey of the daily life of an independent producer. Vachon produced Safe, Boys Don’t Cry, Far from Heaven, and other widely admired films. And she never lets the reader forget that financing and ticket sales drive even the low-budget sector.

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