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

Is there a blog in this class? 2008

Saturday | September 6, 2008   open printable version open printable version

Kristin here—

One year ago today, I wrote the first “Is There a Blog in This Class?” entry. The idea was to point Film Art: An Introduction users toward past entries that might prove useful in relation to various topics in the textbook. The beginning of the autumn semester seemed a good time to survey what has been posted here. We plan to make such surveys an annual feature of the blog. [For the 2009 entry, go here.]  After all, there are over 200 items by now, and that number increases by about one per week. We also use the “Film Art: The Book” tag for entries that we think might be pedagogically useful, so you can always check there for updates.

From its first appearance in 1979, Film Art has offered a large and broad selection of examples illustrated by frame enlargements. Space considerations, however, always limit us to a few images from all but our most important examples. One enormous advantage of the blog is that we can use as many illustrations as we need. Some of the entries listed below can be useful as supplementary examples that go into more precise detail than we can in the textbook.

Some general entries

DVD supplements can be very useful for teaching, but many of them are lightweight fare, with actors and major crew members talking about how wonderful their colleagues are. Film Art suggests some more substantive supplements. More recent recommendations appear in “Beyond praise: DVD supplements that really tell you something.”

These days students are likely to encounter filmmakers talking about their own work, whether on talk shows, in DVD supplements, or in scholarly collections of interviews. In studying films, we need to examine their statements, which sometimes can be misleading. David ponders the question, “Do filmmakers deserve the last word?”

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

If you have aspiring filmmakers in your class, you might want to direct them to David’s “The magic number 30, give or take 4,” on the age at which most directors get started.

Chapter 2 The Significance of Film Form

During the spring of 2008, there was a lot of talk concerning the supposed decline of film criticism. In response, “In critical condition” elaborates on the four activities laid out in Chapter 2: Description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation.

Chapter 3 Narrative as a Formal System

“A behemoth from the Dead Zone,” on the monster movie Cloverfield, discusses the concept of restricted narration in detail, touching on other Hollywood examples as well.

Virtually all the films used in Film Art are good examples of whatever technique or formal property we’re discussing. For Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we pick apart the problems with motivation, progression, and character. We end with some comments on Steven Spielberg’s directorial style.

Two essays on David’s website deal with narrative issues. “The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema” examines how classical Hollywood films use small-scale patterns to guide the spectator from one scene to the next. “Anatomy of the Action Film” analyzes the plot structure in Mission: Impossible: III using a number of concepts discussed in Film Art.

Chapter 4 The Shot: Mise-en-Scene

In “Hands (and faces) across the table,” analyses of three long takes from films made decades apart—Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), Akira Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful (1944), and Cecil B. De Mille’s Kindling (1915)—demonstrate the use of staging to subtly direct the viewer’s attention within the frame. This entry could be equally useful in exploring the long take in Chapter 5.

Chapter 5 The Shot: Cinematography

Aspect ratios may seem a narrow, esoteric subject—especially to students! But “Godard comes in many shapes and sizes” uses many pretty pictures to demonstrate just how important framings are and how they can be distorted in DVDs. Students may be less resistant to letter-boxing after reading this.

Our discussion of 3D technology in Beowulf, “Bwana Beowulf,” also considers film style and how filmmakers so far have failed to find new ways of adjusting classical Hollywood style to 3D. People tend to have strong feelings one way or the other on the introduction of 3D, so this issue would probably generate a lively discussion.

The “Sleeves” entry compares framing techniques in William Wyler’s The Little Foxes and Kenji Mizoguchi’s A Woman of Rumor (an analysis which could be equally useful in discussing editing).

Chapter 6 The Relation of Shot to Shot: Editing

While at the Hong Kong Film Festival in April, 2008, David interviewed Johnny To’s editor, Tina Baz, on dealing with the complexities of shifting point-of-view in Mad Detective. Unfortunately at this point the film hasn’t been released in the U.S., either theatrically or on DVD; it is, however, available in the U.K. The interview contains massive spoilers that students shouldn’t encounter before they’ve seen the film. If Mad Detective does become available, however, it would be a challenging film to show in a unit on editing. If you’re teaching an upper-level analysis course or an introductory one to film majors, this one will get them talking. It also provides vivid examples of rapid shifts in point of view.

In “Some cuts I have known and loved,” David analyzes brief segments from five films, each centering on a particularly ingenious, striking, or flagrant cut. These are not the familiar examples usually summoned to demonstrate editing.

Chapter 7 Sound in the Cinema

My “What does a Water Horse sound like?” covers a session of final sound mixing for Walden Films’ The Water Horse, with flashbacks to watching sound sessions for The Return of the King. David got another insight into the complexities of sound mixing in an interview with Martin Chappell, sound editor of several Johnny To films and Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide. He wrote it up as “The boy in the Black Hole.”

Chapter 9 Film Genres

In “Your trash, my treasure,” David reflects on the children’s action genre as revived by the National Treasure films.

Chapter 10 Documentary, Experimental, and Animated Films

“Manhattan: Symphony of a great city” analyses Amos Poe’s epic, mesmeric Empire II, a structural film based on a complex rendering of imagery recorded from a single window. The gorgeous frames will make both you and your students (at least the curious, perceptive ones among them) want to see the film. At three hours, it’s difficult to squeeze into a class screening, but even a generous excerpt would convey something of its fascination.

“Lines of sight and light” describes some recent experimental films, including Ken Jacobs’ Capitalism: Child Labor (2006).

In “Tracking Aardman creatures,” we presented a brief history and chronology of the great Bristol-based animation firm, responsible for Creature Comforts and the Wallace and Gromit series. If you’re showing an Aardman film in class, this will give you plenty of information on the company and on DVD availability as of January, 2008.

If you’re showing your students Warner Bros. cartoons, “Pausing and chortling: A tribute to Bob Clampett” might be useful. It gives some additional information about animation techniques and incidentally points to a teaching technique you might want to use in class.

Pixar consistently creates some of the best films (not just animated films, but films) coming out of Hollywood. It’s good news that the company is increasing its rate of release. By next spring, WALL-E, Bolt, and Up will have appeared in less than a twelve-month period. We got a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes when Bill Kinder, Director of Editorial and Post-Production, visited Madison. Some of what he said is summarized in “A glimpse into the Pixar kitchen.”

Chapter 11 Film Criticism: Critical Analyses

Few of our entries offer in-depth analyses of single films, but “Cavalcanti + Ealing = a little-known gem” examines the narrative of Went the Day Well? and puts it into historical context. “Cronenberg’s Violent Reversals” compares the narrative structures of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, while “Three Nights of a Dreamer” goes shot by shot through a sequence from In the City of Sylvia.

Chapter 12 Film Art and Film History

Film Art’s final chapter includes a section “The Development of the Classical Hollywood Cinema (1908-1927),” which outlines the early formulation of continuity editing. In “Happy birthday, classical cinema!,” posted December 28, 2007, we celebrating the 90th anniversary of the crucial year, 1917, when classical editing patterns crystallized into a system that has endured, with variations, ever since. We discuss some of the subtleties of the continuity guidelines of the time, with plenty of examples.

A related entry, “Rio Jim, in discrete fragments,” examines shifts in technique during the development of continuity editing, concentrating on several William S. Hart westerns of the mid-1910s. Another entry, “Lucky ‘13,” discusses the transitional year 1913 through two masterpieces that represent quite different styles.

“All singing! All dancing! All teaching!” is aimed primarily at teachers using Film History: An Introduction, who would be likely to devote a lecture and screening to the subject. Still, Film Art users might find it useful, either in relation to Chapter 9 or for the brief section on the coming of sound in Chapter 12. It assesses several documentaries on the coming of sound that had recently come out on DVD. Even for those who don’t want to show them in class, they yield considerable information. (One of the DVDs also deals with color technology up to the introduction of three-strip Technicolor in the 1930s.)

“Superheroes for sale” deals with recent trends in the American film industry.

Other entries

Although most of our entries could be read by an undergraduate, we don’t make a point of writing them for students. “Observations on Film Art and film art” has a wide readership, including other cinephiles, journalists, industry people, bloggers, filmmakers, and scholars in the other arts. A few of our entries go beyond the level of an introductory class. If you teach graduate students or have bright and enthusiastic undergraduates looking to learn more, you might, for example, steer them to this item: “Minding movies,” a brief summary of cognitive film theory, with lots of links for those who want to go further in this direction.

When we go to film festivals, we post reports on the movies we see, the old friends we re-connect with, and the new ones we meet. On a regular basis, we visit the Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Wisconsin festivals, as well as Roger Ebert’s “Ebertfest.” These entries are chatty and sometimes specific to films that students may never get a chance to see. They would be difficult to link up with Film Art. Still, they give a sense of one major aspect of film culture and show part what their textbook authors do when they’re not preparing new editions. We haven’t listed those entries here, but you can find them by clicking here or on the Festivals category on the blog. If you’re interested in a particular film or filmmaker, try a search. Perhaps we’ve said something on the subject.

When we launched “Observations on Film Art and film art,” we tended to post every few days. This year we have tried to settle into a steady, once-a-week rhythm, with new entries typically going online between Thursday and Saturday. For those teachers who might want to assign their students to read the blog regularly, we hope this schedule makes that easier.

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David Bordwell
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