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David Bordwell

Related: film theory - genre theory

Bordwell has been associated with a methodological approach known as neoformalism. [...] Neoformalists reject many assumptions and methodologies made by other schools of film study, particularly hermeunetic (interpretive) approaches such as structuralism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. In Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, Bordwell and co-editor NoŽl Carroll argue against these types of approaches, which they claim act as "Grand Theories" that use films to confirm pre-determined theoretical frameworks rather than attempting to do middle-level research that can actually illuminate how films work. Many film scholars have criticized neoformalism, notably Slavoj éiěek, of whom Bordwell has himself been a long-time critic. [Jul 2006]


David Bordwell (born 23 July 1947) is a prominent film theorist and author. He is the Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, Emeritus in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is married to Kristin Thompson, with whom he has written two textbooks: Film Art and Film History. Film Art is the most widely used introductory film textbook in the United States. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bordwell [Jul 2006]

Genre theory

Grouping by period or country (American films of the 1930s), by director or star or producer or writer or studio, by technical process (CinemaScope films), by cycle (the 'fallen women' films), by series (the 007 movies), by style (German Expressionism), by structure (narrative), by ideology (Reaganite cinema), by venue ('drive-in movies'), by purpose (home movies), by audience ('teenpix'), by subject or theme (family film, paranoid-politics movies). (Bordwell 1989, 148)

Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema () - David Bordwell

  • Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema () - David Bordwell [Amazon.com]
    Few books of film criticism are as daring and controversial as Making Meaning. In the tradition of Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction and Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious, David Bordwell looks back at the work done in his field, summarizes its strengths, criticizes its weaknesses, and proposes a new point of departure. The result is an arresting overview of contemporary film theory that also exposes its shortcomings. Bordwell concludes that most film criticism and theory is tied to the idea of making meaning, unpacking the overt or hidden messages that lie within the movie. Prophesying that a new era of analysis is before us, Bordwell calls for film scholarship that will both complement and transcend mere interpretation. --Amazon.com

    From Library Journal
    In the rarefied world of 1980s film theory, the Americans have taken over from the British in the 1970s (who took over from the 1960s French Cahiers crowd), and University of Wisconsin professor Bordwell has long been at the forefront here. In his newest book, Bordwell offers a history of post-World War II film theory; rethinks interpretation and meaning; and proposes a new course, dubbed "historical poetics," for future film study. The major complaint about academic film theory is that it means zip in the real world of movies, including most film "criticism"--that it's gibberish, written by the ivory-towered for each other. Although Bordwell writes less densely than others, he falls into the same elitest-jingoistic-linguistic quagmire. His book is important for the academics who read, grasp, teach, and write this stuff, but not for anyone off campus.-- David Bartholomew

    This ought to have been the most controversial book I produced, but although many have dismissed what they take to be its conclusions, I'm aware of only one sustained critique (by V. F. Perkins). I discuss this and other matters in On Interpretation. Making Meaning is about how we interpret films. (I thought about calling it Making Movies Mean, except Kristin pointed out to me that it might be taken as a manual for producing raw-edged action films.) How do we assign abstract significance to films, going beyond the "obvious" meanings and proposing ones that are "deeper"? The argument advances in three stages. First, the book sketches a history of film interpretation, from the work of early critics through the rise of academic film studies in the 1960s and 1970s, ending in the great quantity of interpretive work that emerged in the 1980s. The second part of the book tries to answer the question of how interpretation works, treating it as a skill which can be mastered. I argue that meaning is indeed made, through a constructive process. Critics build up inferences and deploy the persuasive powers of language to arrive at conclusions permitted within the institution of criticism. My approach, then, tries to be at once psychological (drawing on cognitive psychology), social (treating cognitive schemata as socially approved meaning-making processes), and rhetorical. The last stretch of the book is more polemical, arguing that by now we have all mastered these skills and we ought to move toward cultivating others-≠chiefly those of scrutinizing form and style. I argue that the most robust impulse in this direction is the tradition of film poetics. Put another way: interpretation has become easy, but analysis is still hard. This conclusion was misunderstood in a remarkable variety of ways: I wasn't saying that a complete approach to film could do without interpretation, nor that it wasn't worth doing (just that it has become predictable). Given all the things we might study in films, contemporary discourse seems very narrow. The book has been translated into Chinese (Taipei: Yuan-Liou, 1995) and Spanish (Barcelona:Paidůs Ibťrica, 1995). Excerpts are available in Polish in Interpretacja dziela filmowego, ed. Wieslawa Godzica, ed. (Cracow: Jagiellonian University Press, 1993), pp. 13-32. --David Bordwell

    Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (1996) - NoŽl Carroll, David Bordwell

    Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (1996) - NoŽl Carroll, David Bordwell [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Dissatisfied with the vast body of film criticism bound to the theories of Sigmund Freud and his disciple Jacques Lacan, David Bordwell and Noel Carroll have compiled a group of essays that pursue alternative routes. "If there is an organizing principle to the volume," they write in their introduction, "it is that solid film scholarship can proceed without employing the psychoanalytic frameworks routinely mandated by the cinema studies establishment." These essays tackle films of many genres and from many countries. Looking through the lenses of the anthropologist, the economist, the social critic, the formalist, the aesthetician, the narratologist, and the cultural historian, the essayists in this volume offer original, diverse, and erudite perspectives on the art of the movies. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

    Since the 1970s, film scholars have been searching for a unified theory that will explain all types of film, their production and their reception; the field has been dominated by structuralist Marxism, varieties of cultural theory and the psychoanalytic ideas of Freud and Lacan. The authors of this text ask why not employ many theories tailored to specific goals, rather than search for a unified theory. They offer directions for understanding film, presenting essays by 27 scholars on topics as diverse as film scores, audience response and the national film industries of Russia, Scandinavia, the US and Japan. Using historical, philosophical, psychological and feminist methods, the book examines issues such as: what goes on when viewers perceive a film?; how do filmmakers exploit conventions?; how do movies create illusions?; and how does a film arouse emotion? --via Amazon.co.uk

    Could it be that Carroll and Bordwell represent the "analytical" side of film theory and film philosophy and éiěek the "continental philosophy" side? [Jul 2006]

    See also: critique of psychoanalytical film theory - David Bordwell - NoŽl Carroll - film theory

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