It’s a surprise to find that a textbook more than thirty years old is not only still relevant, but also a pleasure to read.
Bordwell and his colleagues show how economic, technical and cultural factors joined to create what they call the classical Hollywood movie. They define that form as emphasizing continuity of character, time and location, all tied together by cause and effect. The Hollywood movie hews close to the Aristotelian dictum that nothing should be in the presentation that does not further the narrative. (The reference to the philosopher is mine, not the authors.) The book is beautifully written with logically and clearly developed analyses to show how the authors reached their conclusions
To insure that they were not just taking the “big” movies as indicative of the Hollywood style, the authors almost randomly selected 100 movies from a list of almost 30,000 made between 1915 and 1960. (I say almost because certain movies were excluded either because they were not made in the United States or because prints were not available.) At first I was skeptical of using this kind of statistical method, but I soon relented. The authors were able to show the similarities between below “B” movies and what we now call blockbusters.
I was a bit disappointed at first that the period covered ended in 1960 before the advent of steadicams, Dolby sound and non-linear editors. Yet the discussion of how the introduction of tungsten lighting, sound and new screen ratios changed the Hollywood movie while the basic form still survived made it easy to infer how these later developments changed movies while enabling the same movies to keep to the classical form.
The book deals not just with technical change but also with phenomenon that effected movie aesthetics like the move from the studio system to the independent producer system, the union structure of the work force, and even a publication like “American Cinematographer” (The magazine of the American Society of Cinematographers).
The book has two sections of smallish black and white illustrations. I recommend a second bookmark at these images to ease flipping back and forth.
Many students of cinema have heard how Gregg Toland used deep focus to create the look and art of Citizen Kane, yet the authors call attention to the fact that other cinematographers of the time were using deep focus; that Toland was criticized by his peers for the fancy camera work; and that in later years Toland moved away from the more extreme forms of the technique.
By clarifying exactly what the Hollywood style is, this book has changed some of the ways I watch cinema. Deeper awareness of the classical model has not only allowed me to more critically watch Hollywood movies, but has also led me to distinguish how art movies, European movies, and experimental movies differ from the Hollywood model.
- Paperback: 506 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (15 February 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231060556
- ISBN-13: 978-0231060554
- Product Dimensions: 24.9 x 19 x 3.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 1.4 Kg
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 375,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)