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

I Wrote a Book, But…; or, What Did the Professor Forget?

Thursday | November 9, 2006   open printable version open printable version


My 1988 book, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, is available again, I’m happy to report. There’s a little backstory, probably of interest only to those who follow the zigzags of academic publishing.

Around 1990 the British Film Institute declared the book out of print. The US copublisher, Princeton University Press, agreed to keep it in print under two conditions.

First, I would have to pay for the cleaning of the preprint material (the sheets of plastic on which the master copies of the pages were printed). Cost: $1000. Second, I would receive no royalties. I agreed to the terms, since I wanted to have this book, for all its faults, available.

So for about a decade, the book was still out there. I enjoyed the anecdotal value of getting royalty statements reading: Your royalty payment is $000.00. Still, all those decimal places sort of rubbed it in. Wouldn’t $0 have been enough?

As Ozu’s centenary approached in 2003, I contacted Princeton to alert them. Maybe there’d be a bump of interest in Ozu, and they might want to do another printing. But the Press replied that, um, they had some months before declared their edition out of print.

Publishers have a habit of not telling authors about decisions like this. There’s no fun way to announce that a book is orphaned, or maybe slain. Then too there’s the somewhat awkward matter of returning a piece of intellectual property that might become an asset some day. Anyhow, Jerry Bruckheimer wasn’t likely to pick up the movie rights to Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, and so after regaining copyright control, I took the book on the road.

No surprise: Other publishers were not crazy about reprinting a big fat book with lots of pictures, published fifteen years before and probably bought by every soul who might ever want a copy. I’d hoped that a book on very likely the greatest film director who ever lived might be worth keeping around. But no, alas.

Every month or so, as the Ozu touring program roamed greater North America in 2003 and 2004, a fan would email asking me to sell a copy of the book. Web booksellers were demanding up to $600. The thought of selling one to a book dealer at a jacked-up price, perhaps with a signature affixed, did cross my mind, but I had only two copies of my own.

Eventually I learned of the publishing program launched by the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies. The Center had begun posting out-of-print books on Japanese cinema online. I contacted Markus Nornes, who generously sponsored and oversaw the project.

I learn from a correspondent that the book is now available in pdf form online.

Now you can read the book, and can even buy a print-on-demand copy if you want. (I look forward to the $000.00 checks from Ann Arbor.) The downside: The 500-plus pictures range from tolerable to terrible. I also planned to write an introduction with updates and corrections, and I still hope to do that. There’s even talk about replacing some stills, perhaps with color frames.


So if you’re interested in Ozu, Japanese film history, or the poetics of cinema, you might want to check this out. Of course you can instead crack your piggy bank and order the single copy of the original I’ve found on what our President calls the Internets.

If I were in an Ozu film, I’d probably now emit a sigh mixing satisfaction and resignation. Then I’d reach for a beer. Or at least an orange drink. No, a beer.

Update, November 10: I’d thought that print-on-demand copies would be available, but Carsten Czarnecki points out that the Center site doesn’t seem to indicate that. I’ll check further.

Update #2, same day: Our keen-eyed web tsarina Meg has found still other copies of the original book available, at prices starting at $118.95, here. Please remit 10 % finder’s fee to her.

Update #3, November 11: Markus tells me that we hope eventually to offer print-on-demand copies, but the technology doesn’t yet meet the Center’s standards. Good! We want nice-looking images, when we can finally get ’em.

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David Bordwell
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