By David Bordwell There he was, large as life, if not as lively. Ozu sat cross-legged, bent toward his camera and studying the final shot of Chishu Ryu in Tokyo Story. The Mitchell camera was real, as was the low-level tripod, and he had his trusty cigarettes in easy reach. But he, like Ryu, was only an effigy in a theme park. In fall of , while visiting Tokyo to do research, I took the train out to the suburb of Kamakura. Shochiku had recently turned part of its grounds into a theme park devoted to movies.
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They move in many different directions, across the history of film, but they do conveniently highlight several areas of my research. Most important, all of these areas of inquiry put a film or batch of films at the center of the process. This automatically sets me off from some of my peers. Today there are many scholars studying the film industry and probably many more seeking to understand filmic reception by studying audiences in their sociocultural contexts.
I need my movies! Some people think of me as a theorist, and I suppose I am to some extent, but I have always tried to keep theoretical reflection tied to the concrete facts of cinema—as films, as experiences, as part of a historical process.
The first section of Poetics of Cinema is the most evidently theoretical. The introductory essay introduces the idea of poetics, a frame of reference that helps me study the things that matter to me most. One of these things is the aesthetic dimensions of cinema, particularly the ways in which form and style shape meanings and effects.
This goes back to my youth, when I fell under the spell of literary and art criticism. My earliest publications were in the area of film criticism, and my starting point for almost any project is an analysis of how the films in question are put together at the broadest level and how they work on a moment-by-moment basis. I suppose an art critic would speak of structure and facture; a literary critic might speak of architectonics and texture.
A second area of concern for me involves the historical circumstances that create aesthetic traditions, such as classical Hollywood storytelling. Once we bring formal principles to light, how shall we explain them? How do we think they arose in history? What factors in culture or the film community can we invoke to explain how these films took the shapes they did? In the mids, I found that the most satisfying explanations for why films had the forms and styles they did involved the ways in which these aesthetic elements engaged our minds.
Every gesture, every cut, every camera movement is designed to shape our uptake. Our experience—perceptual, cognitive, emotional—is guided by form and style. It seemed to me then, and still does, that a broadly cognitive conception of how our minds mesh with movies is well suited to explain many aspects of cinematic design.
I offer a general theory of cinematic narrative, teased out along three dimensions. This essay gives me the opportunity to test out several of the ideas floated in earlier pieces.
Part III is devoted to stylistics. Another essay examines the very distinctive style of the German director Robert Reinert. The longest and newest essay is devoted to the stylistics of CinemaScope. Here I try to trace how different principles of staging were manifested in the early anamorphic movies.
For instance, one essay proposes a cognitively flavored explanation of why actors so seldom blink. Many of the topics in the book are taken up in entries on the blog maintained by Kristin Thompson and me. For reasons nobody would explain to me, some pages are more densely packed with text than others. What is it about this harmless chart?
Thanks to Peter Hourigan for pointing this out. And here is the Mildred Pierce chart, currently on p. Mildred Pierce: The opening scene and its replay.
Bordwell has studied all surviving films and therefore has a greater overall analysis of the complete career of Ozu. The first part of the book focuses on "Problems of Poetics" and is organized into eight chapters: 1. Bordwell discusses their criticism and makes observations and judgements as well. It is largely easily readable for the general reader, however, there is a certain amount of academic jargon used when discussing the more technical aspects of filming. In the second part of the book he discusses the films individually and even has notes about non-existing films that have been lost.
Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema
Career[ edit ] Drawing inspiration from earlier film theorists such as Noel Burch as well as from art historian Ernst Gombrich , Bordwell has contributed books and articles on classical film theory, the history of art cinema, classical and contemporary Hollywood cinema, and East Asian film style. However, his more influential and controversial works have dealt with cognitive film theory Narration in the Fiction Film being one of the first volumes on this subject , historical poetics of film style, and critiques of contemporary film theory and analysis Making Meaning and Post-Theory being his two major gestures on this subject. Neoformalism[ edit ] Bordwell has also been associated with a methodological approach known as neoformalism, although this approach has been more extensively written about by his wife, Kristin Thompson. One scholar has commented that the cognitivist perspective is the central reason why neoformalism earns its prefix neo and is not "traditional" formalism.
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