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

Annotated List of Principal Essays

“How to Watch a Martial Arts Movie.” Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film, ed. David Chute (Los Angeles: UCLA Film Archive, 2003), pp. 9–12.
Overall this is a superb volume, with fine essays by David Chute, Berenice Reynaud, Sam Ho, and others.

“The Silent Cinema.” Introduction and fifteen short essays. In Film: The Critics’ Choice, ed. Geoff Andrew. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2001, pp. 20–51.

“Hong Kong Martial Arts Cinema.” In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: A Portrait of the Ang Lee Film. New York: Newmarket Press, 2000, pp. 14–21.

“Who Blinked First? How Film Style Streamlines Nonverbal Interaction.” In Style and Story: Essays in Honor of Torben Grodal, ed. Lennard Hojbjerg and Peter Schepelern (Copenhagen: Museum Tusulanum Press, 2003), pp. 45–57.
A festschrift for Denmark’s most prominent film cognitivist, with many contributions by outstanding scholars. My essay expands on ideas in “Convention, Construction, and Cinematic Vision”.

“Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film.” Film Quarterly 55, 3 (Spring 2002): 16–28.
An effort to update some ideas from The Classical Hollywood Cinema.

“Film Futures.” Substance no. 97 (2002): 88–104.
How do films like Sliding Doors, Run Lola Run, Too Many Ways to Be No. 1, and Blind Chance represent alternative futures? I argue that these parallel-worlds narratives adhere to conventions which are best explained from a cognitivist standpoint.

“Transcultural Spaces: Toward a Poetics of Chinese Film.” Post Script 20, 2 (2001): 9–25; Chinese translation in Film Appreciation Journal no. 104 (Taipei, 2001): 15–25. Reprinted in Chinese-Language Film: Historiography, Poetics, Politics, ed. Sheldon Lu, Emily Yeh, and Gerald Duchovnay (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, forthcoming).
A comparison of stylistic strategies in films from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China, along the way arguing for a poetics of cinema.

Foreword to The Danish Directors: Dialogues on a Contemporary National Cinema, ed. Mette Hjort and Ib Bondebjerg. Bristol: Intellect Press, 2001, pp. 6–7.
Brief introduction to a stimulating anthology of interviews.

“Taking Things to Extremes: Hallucinations Courtesy of Robert Reinert.” Aura, 2000.
Edited by Kristin Thompson, this issue concentrates on cinema after World War I. My piece looks at how Reinert (director of Opium and Nerven, both 1919) would fit into the account of staging in depth offered in On the History of Film Style.

“Eisenstein, Socialist Realism, and the Charms of Misantsen.” In Eisenstein at 100: A Reconsideration, ed. Al LaValley and Barry P. Scherr (Rutgers: Rutgers University Press, 2001), pp. 13–37.
A discussion of Eisenstein’s relation to his peers, especially Pudovkin, and his alternative uses of staging in depth.

“Sarris and the Search for Style.” In Citizen Sarris, American Film Critic: A Tribute to Andrew Sarris, ed. Emmanuel Levy. (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 2001), pp. 165–173.
An appreciation of Sarris’ insights into film style. Unfortunately, footnotes were lopped off, and the published text swarms with misprints.

“Style in Cinema.” Style 32, 3 (Fall 1998): 381–384.
A journal issue I edited, with a very brief introduction (pp. 381–384) and some fine articles on film stylistics.

“Film Theory.” Entry for The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, ed. Michael Kelly (New York: Oxford University Press), vol. 2, pp. 197–201.
Want to get a history of film theory in five pages? This is for you.

“Modelle der Rauminszenierung im zeitgenössishen europäischen Kino.” Zeit, Schnitt, Raum, ed. Andreas Rost (Munich: Verlag der Autoren, 1997), pp. 17–42.
An essay on pictorial strategies in 1970s & 1980s European film.

“Postmoderne und Filmkritik: Bemekungen zu einigen endemischen Schiewigkeiten.” In Die Filmgespenster der Postmoderne, eds. Andreas Rost and Mike Sandbothe (Munich: Verlag der Autoren, 1998), pp. 29–39.
A brief critique of the idea of postmodernism.

“Aesthetics in Action: Kung Fu, Gunplay, and Cinematic Expressivity.” In Fifty Years of Electric Shadows, ed. Law Kar (Hong Kong: Urban Council/ Hong Kong International Film Festival, 1997), pp. 81–89. Reprinted in At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World, ed. Esther C. M. Yau (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), pp. 73–93.

“Richness through Imperfection: King Hu and the Glimpse.” In Transcending the Times: King Hu and Eileen Chan, ed. Law Kar (Hong Kong: Urban Council/ Hong Kong International Film Festival, 1998), pp. 19–24. Reprinted with revisions in The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity, ed. David Desser and Poshek Fu (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 113–136.
Two essays aiming to analyze characteristic features of Hong Kong film style—the first trying to outline some long-term norms of staging, shooting, and cutting; the second tracing the work of an outstanding director in relation to them. These essays supplement but don’t supplant my arguments in Planet Hong Kong.

“La Nouvelle Mission de Feuillade; or, What Was Mise-en-Scène? ” The Velvet Light Trap no. 37(Spring 1996): 10–29.
I’d been working on Feuillade (director of Les Vampires and the even better Fantômas) for some years when a conference on his work was held here at Madison. The papers presented, stimulating though they were, bypassed the stylistics of his films, so this is a stab at analyzing them. Expanded into Chapter 2 of Figures Traced in Light.

Foreword to Noël Carroll, Theorizing the Moving Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. ix–xii.
An excellent book which every man, woman, and child in the English-speaking world should purchase at least one copy of.

“Contemporary Film Studies and the Vicissitudes of Grand Theory.” Introduction to Post-Theory, pp. 1–36. Translated into Italian in Bianco e nero 58, 1–2 (1997): 20–67; into Portuguese, for an anthology Teoria Contemporãnea do Cinema (Sao Paulo: Senac, 2000); into Japanese for the journal FB no. 14 (2000).
An effort to trace long-term trends in theorizing, avoiding the usual breakdown by doctrines (postmodernism, Queer studies, ethnic-identity studies, etc.). I believe that certain patterns of theorizing—call them reasoning routines—cut across different theoretical schools, and these have proven limiting to the development of film theory as a self-critical activity. The polemical part argues against Grand Theory and for “middle-level” theorizing. A much funnier essay by Noël Carroll, “Prospects for Film Theory: A Personal View,” appears alongside this in Post-Theory.

“Convention, Construction, and Cinematic Vision.” Essay for Post-Theory, pp. 87–107. Translated into Polish in Kognitywana teoria filmu, ed. Jacka Ostaszewskiego (Kracow, 1999),pp. 65–88.
An alternative to the cultural relativism which lurks within much contemporary cultural studies, this asks the question: What theoretical grounds might we have for presupposing that pictures, in particular moving pictures, communicate across cultures?

Citizen Kane und die Künstlichkeit des classischen Studio-Systems”; “Die Hard und die Rückkehr des klassischen Hollywood-Kinos.” In Der schöne Schein der Künstlichkeit, ed. Andreas Rost (Frankfurt: Verlag der Autoren, 1995), pp. 117–149, 151–201.
Transcripts of two lectures, not available in English.

“Toto le Moderne: Narration dans le cinéma européen d’après 1970.” La Revue belge du cinéma no. 36–37 (April 1994): 33–39.
A brief study of Toto le héros and its art-cinema heritage, as per Narration in the Fiction Film.

“Film Interpretation Revisited.” Film Criticism 17, 2–3 (Winter/Spring 1993): 93–119.
Armed with a modest AFI grant (your tax dollars at work), the editor of Film Criticism asked several people to comment on Making Meaning. This is my reply.

“Technological Change and Classical Film Style in the 1930s.” Written with Kristin Thompson. In Tino Balio, Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930–1939, vol. 5 in The History of the American Cinema (New York: Scribners, 1993), pp. 109–141.
Some expansion and development of material touched on in The Classical Hollywood Cinema.

“A Cinema of Flourishes: Japanese Decorative Classicism of the Prewar Era.” In Directions in Japanese Cinema, ed. David Desser and Arthur Noletti (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,1992), pp. 327–345.

“Visual Style in Japanese Cinema, 1925–1945.” Film History 7, 1 (Spring 1995): 5–31.
Two accounts of stylistic trends in 1920s and 1930s Japanese movies. They complement and expand upon matters mentioned in Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. Japanese readers also have access to “From Flamboyance to Monumentality: Thoughts on the Jidai-geki.” What Is Jidai-Geki?: A New Film Study, ed. Tsutsui Kyotada and Kato Mikiro(Tokyo: Jimbun Shoin, 1997), pp. 141–161.

“A Case for Cognitivism.” Iris no. 9 (Spring 1989): 11–40.
An overview of cognitive film theory, from a psychological and anthropological viewpoint. Translated into Hungarian in Metropolis 2,4– 3,1 (1999): 4–33; into Polish in Kognitywna teoria filmu, ed. Jacka Ostaszewskiego (Krakow,1999), pp. 31–64. See also “A Case for Cognitivism: Further Reflections.” Iris no. 11 (Summer 1990): 107–112. For an application of cognitive film theory to the analysis of a single film, see “Cognition and Comprehension: Viewing and Forgetting in Mildred Pierce,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism VI, 2 (Spring 1992): 183–198. (But beware: the layout people made crucial errors on the table of differences between the two sequences.) Translated into German in Montage/ av: Zeitschrift für Theorie & Geschichte audiovisueller Kommunikation 1, 1 (1992): 5–24.

“Jacques Ledoux: 1921–88.” Written with Kristin Thompson. Cinema Journal 28, 3 (Spring 1989): 4–7.
Obituary for Belgian archivist and film lover Jacques Ledoux.

“Historical Poetics of Cinema.” In The Cinematic Text: Methods and Approaches, ed. R. Barton Palmer (New York: AMS Press, 1989), pp. 369–398.
A sketch of what a poetics of film might look like.

“To the Disengaged Observer: A Reply to Peter Lehman.” Written with Kristin Thompson. Journal of Film and Video 40, 1 (Winter 1988): 63–66.
This is a response to Peter Lehman, indefatigable critic.

“Adventures in the Highlands of Theory.” Screen 29, 1 (Winter 1988): 72–97.
Reply to two-part review of The Classical Hollywood Cinema and Narration in the Fiction Film.

“ApProppriations and ImPropprieties: Problems in the Morphology of Film Narrative.” Cinema Journal 27,3 (Spring 1988): 5–20.
Once upon a time Propp was the principal model for narrative analysis of cinema. It always seemed a weak theory to me, and its film avatars seemed to point those up dramatically. Now that Propp’s no longer fashionable, this piece serves as a case for a formalist poetics and a caution against applications of any Grande Theory.

“Glamour, Glimmer, and Uniqueness in Hollywood Portraiture.” Hollywood Glamour 1924–1956: Selected Portraits from the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Madison: Elvehjem Museum exhibit catalogue, 29 August–25 October 1987.
Art historians might be interested in my efforts to apply E. H. Gombrich’s essay on light in Italian painting to problems of star portraiture.

“Autorità narrativa e spazio cinematografico nel film di Dreyer.” In Il cinema di Dreyer, ed. Andrea Martini (Venice: Marsilio, 1987), pp. 63–71.
For Italian readers: A recasting of arguments from The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer.

“A Salt and Battery.” Written with Kristin Thompson. Film Quarterly 40, 2 (Winter 1986–87):59–62.
“Salt II.” Written with Kristin Thompson. Film Quarterly 40, 4 (Summer 1987): 61–63.
Pure polemic. For those who like these things, these are things they will like.

“Mise-en-Scène Criticism and Widescreen Aesthetics.” The Velvet Light Trap no. 21 (Summer1985):118–25.
A discussion of Bazin and the critics around the British journal Movie with respect to widescreen filmmaking. My examples concentrate on River of No Return and Carmen Jones. Some day I hope to write more on Preminger.

“Jump Cuts and Blind Spots.” Wide Angle 6, 1 (1984): 4–11. Translated into French in La Revue belge du cinéma no. 16 (Summer 1986): 85–90. Reprinted in La Revue belge du cinéma no. 22/23(1988) (expanded edition of no. 16).
Some ideas on jump-cutting, especially in Godard.

“Narration and Scenography in the Later Eisenstein.” Millennium Film Journal no. 13(Fall/Winter 1983–1984): 62–80.
Stylistics in Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible. Parts were cannibalized for The Cinema of Eisenstein, but there are bits left over.

“Mizoguchi and the Evolution of Film Language.” In Cinema and Language, eds. Stephen Heath and Patricia Mellencamp (Los Angeles: American Film Institute, 1983), pp. 107–117. Reprinted in Mizoguchi the Master, ed. Gerald O’Grady (Cinémathèque Ontario/ Japan Foundation, 1997), pp. 21–23.
A study of Mizoguchi’s staging, in comparison with that of Welles and Wyler.

“From Sennett to Stevens: An Interview with William Hornbeck.” Written in collaboration with Kristin Thompson. The Velvet Light Trap no. 20 (Summer 1983): 34–40.
While researching The Classical Hollywood Cinema, Kristin and I met William Hornbeck, one of the most articulate editors of the period. We wanted to preserve his words; he died a few years later.

“Lowering the Stakes: Prospects for a Historical Poetics of Cinema.” Iris 1,1 (1983): 5–18.
A first statement, available elsewhere on this site. Chinese translation in World Cinema 2 (1988):44–53.

“Happily Ever After, Part Two.” The Velvet Light Trap no. 19 (1982): 2–7.
An initial effort to tackle issues that would be developed in The Classical Hollywood Cinema.

“Neoformalist Criticism: A Reply.” Written in collaboration with Kristin Thompson. Journal of the University Film Association 34, 1 (Winter 1982): 65–68.
Response to critique by Jerry Salvaggio.

“Textual Analysis, Etc.” Enclitic 5, 2/6, 1 (Fall 1981/Spring 1982): 125–136.
A first effort to suggest the difference between a poetics of cinema and poststructuralist textual analysis as developed in France. In time, such analyses would virtually vanish; any kind of textual analysis would be welcome today.

“The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice.” Film Criticism 4, 1 (Fall 1979): 56–64.
This is still occasionally used in course packets; it became a chapter of Narration in the Fiction Film. See also my editor’s introduction to the issue, “Criticism, Theory, and the Particular”: 1–8.

“Our Dream-Cinema: Western Historiography of the Japanese Film.” Film Reader 4 (1979): 45–62. Translated with a 1980 addendum in Mizoguchi Kenji (Venice: Biennale, 1980), pp. 11–26.
Outdated but of some historical interest. A decent first paragraph.

“Space and Narrative in the Films of Ozu.” Written in collaboration with Kristin Thompson. Screen 17, 2 (Summer 1976): 41–73. Translated into Japanese in Eureka 13, 6 (1981): 140–153.
Again, a first approximation to what would become far more refined in a later book (Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema ). Much is correct here, but much is also naive.

“Eisenstein’s Epistemological Shift.” Screen 15, 4 (Winter 1974–75): 29–46.
“Eisenstein’s Epistemology: A Response.” Screen 16, 1 (Spring 1975): 142–143.
Deeply mistaken in many ways, but some writers think I still hold to views expressed here—neglecting my refinement of them in The Cinema of Eisenstein.

David Bordwell
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