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

Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging

In the early 1990s I became keenly interested in cinematic staging, the ways directors arrange and move their actors within the frame. Staging is a powerful part of filmmaking, but there is very little written about it, even by practitioners. Andrè Bazin gave us many powerful indicators of what to look for, and Sergei Eisenstein, in his concept of mise-en-shot, also offered intriguing suggestions. In the last chapter of On the History of Film Style, I sought to develop these theorists’ ideas and to trace some major norms of depth staging across the history of cinema.

This account remained rather general, so I wanted to refine my analysis of those norms and to explore how particular directors had innovated or consolidated particular usage of them. The result was this book, Figures Traced in Light: On Cinematic Staging, published in early 2005 by the University of California Press.

What artistic resources does cinematic staging afford? The first chapter is an introduction to the problem, reviewing efforts to think about staging as an integral part of the director’s craft. The technique is at once theatrical (involving acting and ensemble-performance factors) and pictorial (demanding an effective two-dimensional composition). Here I propose a systematic way to think about style in cinema, arguing that in narrative filmmaking, the directing of attention to key information in the frame is a crucial concern (although not the only one). My effort is to trace out some primary functions which style performs in cinema. I conclude by examining staging in contemporary U.S. cinema, both Hollywood and off-Hollywood, as constrained by what I’ve called “intensified continuity” style.

The central chapters examine four filmmakers, considered in chronological order: Louis Feuillade, master of the French silent serial; Kenji Mizoguchi, the great Japanese director; Theo Angelopoulos, the Greek filmmaker who rose to prominence in the 1970s; and Hou Hsiao‑Hsien, the distinguished Taiwanese director. Each chapter analyzes the director’s principal staging strategies, situated in relation to the norms of his time, both national and international.

The book is mostly an effort in theoretically guided film criticism, but a final chapter broadens out to ask how analyzing cinematic staging can contribute to the theory of style in film. Once more, this project is part of my ongoing effort to explore how a “poetics of cinema”—one attentive to craft practice, design principles, and aimed-for effects—can enlighten us about movies.

While writing the book, I made notes on issues which might be of interest to readers but which would break the flow of the argument on the page. It occurred to me that a website would be an ideal vehicle for these supplementary ideas. Thanks to the Internet, I can expand the book in what I hope will be fruitful ways.

David Bordwell
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