A round-up of the latest film books
David Bordwell’s The Way Hollywood Tells It
(University of California Press - 4 stars) is a very
impressive look at recent American cinema’s fascination
with ‘impact aesthetics’ and intensified continuity.
Bordwell, the author of classic film studies text
Film Art, doesn’t think there is that much difference
between old Hollywood and new, but does suggest
that contemporary filmmakers are often offering
style over content. In the first half of the book,
Bordwell focuses chiefly on the way new Hollywood
tells old stories with new twists, and in the second
half shows how directors have shortened shot length,
multiplied the use of different lenses and made the
camera ever more mobile - not always to good effect.
Bordwell quotes Mike Figgis saying, ‘If somebody
goes for a piss these days, it’s usually a crane shot’.
Michel Chion has written marvellous books on sound
(Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen for example),
but his book on David Lynch (BFI - 3 stars)
is of a lesser species, though still a very decent
analysis of Lynch’s work, and contains some very
useful observations - on how Lynch generates stillness
out of a medium given to movement, for instance. ‘No
moment is ever as intense as when there is no more
outward bodily agitation to hide the infinitesimal speed
of an inner movement animating him’. This sums up
the horrors of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet quite brilliantly.
Tanya Krzywinska’s Sex and the Cinema
(Wallflower Press - 3 stars) is a solid, sometimes
stolid, generally very useful look at sex in film. It’s
a book in two parts, the first concentrating on
‘Defining Sex: Forms and Frameworks’, with
chapters on the formal conventions of cinematic
sex, narrative formulae and also the way censorship
works. The second half works with themes of
transgression so looks at adultery films, incest
cinema, and the way animal transformation in cinema
often has a sexual link. Krzywinska’s best ideas,
though, tend not to be her own: observations by
Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze and Michel
Foucault don’t so much ground the book as transcend it.
This leaves Peter Cowie’s rather disappointing
Revolution! (Faber - 2 stars). It’s a study
of 60s film and its impact on the world. The best
bits, again, don’t come from the writer, but from the
filmmakers themselves, as Cowie talks to Resnais,
Bertolucci, Makavajev, Forman and numerous
others. Cowie’s own observations are often flat
and un-analytical. Occasionally, however, he
returns us to the era with a nice bit of sociological
fact. ‘It’s hard to believe that Hiroshima Mon Amour
was rejected for the Cannes Festival in May 1959.
The real reason was that the festival feared that
it might offend the United States’.