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

PERPLEXING PLOTS now available!

Thursday | November 17, 2022   open printable version open printable version

Gone Girl (2014).

DB here:

Like a movie rolling out on a platform release, Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder, has several “publication dates.” The official pub date is 17 January of next year, and that’s when I expected to see it. Now Amazon lists a shipping date of 1 December. But I just got my author’s copies, and I learn that the book can be bought from Columbia University Press now–at a 20% discount! (As of this writing, Amazon offers no discount.) If you’re interested, go here. To get the discount, enter CUP20 in the promo code box.

As I indicated in an earlier entry, the book is an attempt to trace how mainstream audiences learned to understand and enjoy stories that play with linearity and viewpoint–what we now call the “New Narrative Complexity.” Except that it’s not so new. If we look at fiction, theatre, and film (even a little radio) from the nineteenth century to the present, and are willing to go beyond the canon in search of oddball experiments, we find that many of the subterfuges we associate with narrative innovation today were attempted earlier–sometimes achieving great popularity.

I go on to argue that an important training ground for narrative gamesmanship was the realm of mystery, especially detective stories and suspense thrillers. I trace important developments in this domain and then analyze several of my favorite mystery-mongers, from Rex Stout and Donald Westlake to Patricia Highsmith and Laura Lippman. Yes, Griffith, Hitchcock, Tarantino, and other filmmakers are involved too.

I hope to devote some future blogs to filling out gaps in the book, such as discussing G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, considering Nero Wolfe’s relation to the FBI, and examining a now-nearly-forgotten mystery series that in its day sold millions of copies. And, given how Knives Out chimes with PP, I expect to have something to say about Glass Onion. In the meantime, you can check the Table of Contents and read early reactions from readers on the CUP website. Encouragingly, the book is now number 1 in Amazon’s list of new books on mysteries.

Thanks to the readers who have already expressed interest in the book!

The Great Piggy Bank Mystery (1946).

Comments are closed.

David Bordwell
top of page

have comments about the state of this website? go here