Some Bordwellian inspiration (in blogpost and podcast)

The latest blog post by David Bordwell (‘They’re looking for us‘, 19 September 2008) treats the important issue of the reaction shot, a film technique which provides ‘one of the most enjoyable and arousing dimensions of cinematic storytelling’.

Bordwell’s post is, as usual, a remarkable, and beautifully illustrated, piece of digital scholarship which takes us, very entertainingly, from a contemporary example of a reaction shot (drawn from the 2007 film Music and Lyrics, directed by Marc Lawrence), and working thus in the context of what Bordwell considers intensified continuity editing; through Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws (1975), John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986), Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), and Carol Reed‘s The Third Man, ending up with Road Warrior (1981, aka Mad Max II, directed by George Miller).

Bordwell’s impressive tour of this technique explores the many ways in which the reaction shot instructs us ‘in how to respond to the fictional world as a whole’, as well as cognitive, or neuroscientific, theories of how ‘Reaction shots may gain their strength from not merely our ability to understand facial expressions but the power of facial expressions to trigger in us an echo of the emotion displayed.’

Bordwell concludes his highly informative and enlightening post with characteristic modesty: ‘There’s much more to say about the reaction shot’. He’s right, of course: we might ‘want as well to talk about films that withhold information about characters’ reactions—by using enigmatic or ambiguous reaction shots, or by eliminating reaction shots altogether’. ‘ But it is really difficult to imagine saying anything more, or saying anything in a more illuminating way, in under 2,750 words. With their blog Observations on film art and Film Art, Bordwell, and Kristin Thompson, his partner and frequent co-writer, have very much perfected the art of concise and scholarly digital communication.

We must be very thankful, thus, that both of them came to be inspired by the possibilities for the creation and dissemination of new film scholarship which are offered by the internet, in general, and by weblogging, in particular. There’s a great podcast in which Bordwell talks about this very topic (recorded in January 2007), which is very much worth checking out. It’s accessible HERE at Zoom in Online (be warned that you have to endure a short advert, and not-the-best audio quality, though).

[Note added on September 8, 2008: Check out a fascinating, subsequent post on reaction shots – ‘Non-Reaction Shots’ on the great blog IScreen Studies, by Ben Goldsmith, who reacts very productively indeed to Bordwell’s thoughts]

An E-book and more podcasts

Thanks to Chris Cagle’s ever excellent Category D: a film and media studies blog (the subject of which I hope to return to shortly), I’ve been able to add another e-monograph to Film Studies For Free’s new listing of Film Open Access e-books (joining Bordwell on Ozu and Kolker’s The Altering Eye, so far). Back in July, Category D discussed and linked to Jennifer E. Langdon, Caught in the Crossfire: Adrian Scott and the Politics of Americanism in 1940s Hollywood (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), which has been made available as an e-monograph thanks to Gutenberg-e, a program of the American Historical Association and Columbia University Press. The Gutenberg-e blurb for Langdon‘s book is given as follows:

In the summer of 1947, Crossfire, a controversial thriller exposing American anti-Semitism, became a critical and box-office hit, and RKO producer Adrian Scott was at the pinnacle of his career. Within several months, however, he was infamous as a member of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted for his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. In Caught in the Crossfire: Adrian Scott and the Politics of Americanism in 1940s Hollywood, Jennifer E. Langdon reconstructs the production and reception of Scott’s major films to explore the political and creative challenges faced by Hollywood radicals in the studio system and to reassess the relationship between film noir, antifascism and anticommunism, and the politics of Americanism.

Following yesterday’s blog post, I also discovered a few more film-scholarly podcasts (or video/webcasts) of note that I added to that listing on FSFF. These are as follows:

[UPDATE (added 11.9.08): I followed up on the technical difficulties with accessing Tate Gallery video podcasts and found that information about these has now been posted on the Tate website:

Important Information! Tate’s Real Player service is being replaced by a new service, and we are currently in the process of re-encoding all of our existing material into the new video format. Some Online Events archives are not currently available due to changes in the way Tate delivers video online. We apologise for the temporary loss and are working hard to put them online as soon as possible.]

As always, any further suggestions for FSFF‘s resource listings will be very gratefully received and anyone suggesting items will always be properly acknowledged.