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

A is for Amsterdam

Thursday | July 3, 2008   open printable version open printable version

DB from the road:

The first leg of our summer trip was a brief stopover in Amsterdam. It’s a city of canals and bicycles, some of them parked in patterns recalling a scrimmage. (See end of blog.) We visited the excellent comics shop Lambiek, strolled around, and tried to get over jet lag. Kristin did. Always does. I didn’t. Never do.

Our reason for coming was the series of events surrounding the official retirement of Thomas Elsaesser from the University of Amsterdam. Thomas is renowned for several accomplishments—his remarkable essays on Hollywood melodrama and 1970s cinema, the major books on New German Cinema and Fassbinder, his enormously wide-ranging comparative study of European and American cinema, his reflections on cinema’s ties to nineteenth-century media. He also established an excellent book series at the University Press.

Thomas is also an old friend, a big influence on our work ever since his days at Brighton Film Review and Monogram, and a generous host when we were visiting London in the 1970s and early 1980s to work on our book, The Classical Hollywood Cinema. He kindly published Kristin’s Lubitsch book in the Amsterdam series. I wrote a little tribute essay for his sixtieth birthday festschrift, available in English here.

In 1991 Thomas left the University of East Anglia to form a film department at the University of Amsterdam. Many members of the university looked askance at the study of cinema, but he grew his program spectacularly. A department with scarcely half a dozen faculty members expanded to sixty staff members and 1400 students. The range of study is now immense, from classical cinema and Dutch moviegoing in the silent era to theorizing about contemporary digital media.

During our visit there were three main events. On Thursday 26 June a large and warm symposium featured brief papers from 21 of his students, many of them known to English-language readers—Ginette Vincendeau, Peter Krämer, and Warren Buckland. The topics included cultural history of media (even advertising movies), gender and melodrama, the relation of European cinema to US cinema, and “mind-game films.” We had to miss the final sessions in order to check into our hotel, but what we heard was stimulating. One session was graced by an image that metamorphosed from Elsaesser to Hitchcock and back again. You can see it here.

The following day was the formal ceremony: Thomas’ farewell speech in the University Auditorium, a converted chapel. Thomas and other professors, garbed in robes and caps, filed in and Thomas took the floor to present his talk, “Of Feedback and Phasmids: A Farewell to Film Studies.” He offered both an oblique account of his institutional political battles and a broader account of trends in film theory across the last three decades. He wove clips from Master and Commander into his talk, which sometimes bolstered a comparison between his tough-minded handling of the program and Captain Jack’s nautical tactics.

Other colleagues paid glowing tribute, and there followed a reception, where Thomas received people’s formal congratulations. We also had a chance to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances. We saw Noll Brinckmann and Peter Krämer.

Kristin caught up with Karel Dybbets, historian of Dutch cinema and a pioneer in the study of local movie theatres.

And though we met John Ellis and Roz Coward back in the 1970s, we hadn’t seen them since. They were great company.

The final event was held that evening, in a reception room looking onto the Amsterdam Zoo. The department holds an end-of-year party, and this one had special meaning as Thomas’ last official one. He’ll continue to supervise dissertations, and he intends to keep living in Amsterdam—when he’s not doing guest teaching in other places (at the moment, Yale).

It was a terrific two days for us, not least for witnessing the great admiration and devotion that his colleagues and students displayed. They even edited, in secret, a book in homage to him (left). Thomas has not only reshaped our sense of how film works, but his dedication to media education has created a generation of lively and original young scholars.

Next up: B is for Bologna, a report from Il Cinema Ritrovato.

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David Bordwell
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