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

Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

Perplexing Plots

by David Bordwell. New York: Columbia University Press, 2023.
512 pages, 6 × 9.25 inches.
[go to Amazon]

Narrative innovation is typically seen as the domain of the avant-garde. However, techniques such as nonlinear timelines, multiple points of view, and unreliable narration have long been part of American popular culture. How did forms and styles once regarded as “difficult” become familiar to audiences?

In Perplexing Plots, David Bordwell reveals how crime fiction, plays, and films made unconventional narrative mainstream. He shows that since the nineteenth century, detective stories and suspense thrillers have allowed ambitious storytellers to experiment with narrative. Tales of crime and mystery became a training ground where audiences learned to appreciate artifice. These genres demand a sophisticated awareness of storytelling conventions: they play games with narrative form and toy with audience expectations. Bordwell examines how writers and directors have pushed, pulled, and collaborated with their audiences to change popular storytelling. He explores the plot engineering of figures such as Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock, Dorothy Sayers, and Quentin Tarantino, and traces how mainstream storytellers and modernist experimenters influenced one another’s work. A sweeping, kaleidoscopic account written in a lively, conversational style, Perplexing Plots offers an ambitious new understanding of how movies, literature, theater, and popular culture have evolved over the past century.

David Bordwell
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