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

Projections on glass

Tuesday | December 22, 2009   open printable version open printable version

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Christa Bothwell, While You Are Sleeping (2007).

Db here:

I must be obsessive. Whenever I get into a museum, I see movies hovering over the exhibits. You want proof? Go here or here or here. Kristin has dabbled in such speculation too, here.

The most recent example came last week. My sister Darlene is recovering from surgery, and as an excursion she, Kristin, and I visited the magnificent Corning Glass Museum in the southeastern tier of New York state. I hadn’t been there since the 1950s, when I was a kid. The museum was flooded in 1972, but after successive, ever more ambitious restorations, it is now a landmark. Its dignified modernist façade houses a sensory extravaganza.

Glass as an artistic medium is usually associated with either well-designed practical objects, like bottles and glassware, or sculpture, as in the Studio Glass movement founded by Harvey Littleton, who worked right here at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Beyond that, what I know about glass you can put in—well, a shot glass. So I was pleased to learn how glass art connects to some issues that interest me about the visual arts generally and film in particular.

Take illusionism. We’re familiar with the ways that the paintings of Dalí and Magritte use the rules of perspective to create hallucinatory landscapes. And we know about classic trompe l’oeil pictures like this seventeenth-century painted letterboard by Cornelis Gijbrechts.

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But I didn’t expect to find trompe l’oeil in glass.

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This is Cup in Cup (1986) by Ann (Wärff) Wolff . The spectral little cup is inscribed in the surface. Like all good trompe l’oeil, this is best seen from a single standpoint.

Glass is literally all around us, as the stuff of our windows. In a 1976 image, Richard Posner (no, not the judge) creates a film-like scene by leaving crucial information out of frame. Another Look at My Beef with the Government, from the “Picture Window” series, shows him in traction while cattle, and the artist himself outside the window, look on.

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This is part of a series called “Picture Window.” The image pictures a window, and it gives us a window onto the scene, but the phrase also suggests that a window can itself be a picture. In this case, it’s Posner’s comment on serving as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether to consider glass a solid or a very viscous liquid, sort of the ultimate maple syrup. Its fluid qualities make it ideal for evoking movement. Swirls, waves, bursts, and sprouting capillaries are everywhere in the Corning collections. One of the best examples is Littleton’s now-classic Red/Amber Sliced Descending Form (1984).


The slickness of the surfaces lends a palpable wriggling to the snakelike forms of Dale Chihuly’s Cadmium Yellow-Orange Venetian #398 (1990).

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Glass makes these coils glisten.

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Chihuly was another Madisonian; a more cheerful twisty work graces our campus’s Kohl Center.

Another sort of movement: Silvia Levinson’s It’s Raining Knives (1996-2004) shows stalactite-like daggers bearing down on a suburban landscape. The slender wires suggest danger hanging by a thread, but they also evoke speed lines, as if the knives are caught in mid-flight.

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Levinson is Argentine, and the piece responds to the dictatorship that displaced Juan Perón—during which many of her family vanished or were imprisoned. You can read more about the background to the piece here.

Finally, probably the most filmlike thing I saw: An impression of interrupted movement is combined with an old-fashioned superimposition in Christina Bothwell’s While You Are Sleeping, which surmounts this entry.

After four hours of dazzlement, I was re-persuaded that Eisenstein was right: All the arts are connected, in devious ways, to film.

The Museum has listed many of the items on exhibit, including illustrations, in various pages and pdf files here. Most of the shots here were taken by me, but the Littleton and the Levinson images come from the Museum website.

Coming soon: Our list of the best films of 1919.

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Judith Schaechter, Jazz Funeral for Didi (1994). Not in the Corning collection, but proto-cinematic in a Marey-and-Muybridge way. (And, I admit, reminiscent of Chris Ware.) See other lively Schaechter stained-glass work here and in her book Extra Virgin.

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