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

Two talks

Friday | October 20, 2006   open printable version open printable version

For over twenty years, our Film Studies program here at the University of Wisconsin–Madison has held weekly colloquia. Faculty, grad students, and anyone else who’s interested gather on Thursday afternoon to hear lectures or participate in panel discussions or sometimes just watch a film together.

The colloquium speakers are often guests. They might be scholars from other campuses; Rick Altman from Iowa kicked off this semester with a fine talk on sound in the silent era. Sometimes we get visiting filmmakers with new work, or archivists showing a restoration. Mike Pogorzelski of the Academy and Schawn Belston of Fox are frequent visitors, bringing some of their wonderful discoveries. Often as well grad students present a talk based on a seminar paper or their dissertation work, and sometimes faculty try out a new paper. My ‘transitions’ talk last week was a colloq presentation.

This week our colleague Jeff Smith gave a very intriguing paper on new ways of thinking about movie soundtracks. Jeff is the author of a major study of film music in the 1960s, and how it relates to the record industry of the time.

Jeff talked about how film theorists of the 1910s and 1920s had tried to draw analogies between a film and a musical piece. For these thinkers, cinema was less tied to theatre and literature than to music. This allowed them to repudiate the photographic realism that seemed to limit the camera to reproducing what was put before it. Theorists like Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, and Dziga Vertov wanted to push film beyond realism and so looked to the abstract art of music.

Jeff suggested that this analogy failed because the theorists’ conception of music was too limited to art music and nineteenth-century models. He proposed that a better analogy would be the more expansive conception of music that many musicologists hold now. Music now commonly includes spoken language, sound effects, electronically generated material, and purely ambient passages….all of which are much closer to the sort of mixtures we get in a film soundtrack.

He played examples from Brian Eno, Stevie Wonder, and other artists to back up the idea, and he also suggested that now a lot of musical composition was becoming more and more like a movie track. (John Zorn and Steve Reich come to mind.) It was a provocative idea and stimulated a good discussion, including comments from PhD students in music theory. Then we went to our bar, the Red Shed, for more fun.

Following a quick dinner, Jeff and I attended a packed lecture given by Philip Kitcher, the distinguished philosopher of science. The talk was called “Science, Religion, and the Difficulties of Democracy.” It was a thorough and careful treatment of larger issues behind the evolution vs. creationism conflict.

Kitcher distinguished three sorts of religious belief (providentialism, supernaturalism, and spiritualism) and traced out the extent to which scientific inquiry challenged each one. He argued that if scientific inquiry was to become the gold standard for reasoning–a belief he holds–then democracies are faced with the possibility of narrowing the freedom that they traditionally grant to unscientific systems of belief. That is, if the theory of evolution meets the highest standards of scientific accuracy, as it does, then a local community doesn’t really have full power to curtail its teaching in the classroom.

It was a compelling lecture, but the question period was even more riveting. Kitcher is a master of thinking on his feet, and he gave courteous, clear, and subtle responses to objections from the floor.

Days like this make me glad, and proud, to be part of a university. Eloquent and smart speakers addressing alert audiences are an irreplaceable part of higher education. Now that I spend more time in front of a computer monitor, it’s good to be reminded that colloquia and public lectures yield a unique pleasure: People meeting face to face to think together.

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