Minding Movies: Observations on the Art, Craft, and Business of Filmmaking

April 28, 2011

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are both well-known film studies scholars who have written extensively on film aesthetics, film history and on the film industry. However, it is as the co-authors of Film Art: An Introduction that they are best known. Minding Movies offers a series of "observations", as its subtitle suggests, and although it contains much that is stimulating and thought-provoking, it is a frustrating book because it isn't, or shouldn't be, a book at all.

In assembling a collection of writings from Bordwell and Thompson's blog, Observations on Film Art (http://www.david bordwell.net/blog), the book reproduces, more or less unedited, a selection of entries from the past four years or so. The relaxed presentational style of the blog is carried over successfully into the book. However, it does not feature the images and frame grabs that populate the blog's pages, nor, more crucially, can it match the blog's ability to link dynamically to other blogs and online articles. Instead, it reprints lengthy URLs that disrupt the flow of the text. As such, the book represents the fixing of an online conversation that translates poorly to the more static form of a book, leaving one wondering quite who it is meant to be for.

As an online space wherein movies are seen as things we should bear in mind, and are also explicitly for the mind, the blog works well. It provides an opportunity to promote what Bordwell refers to as the "research essay", which in the blog entry/chapter, "In critical condition", is seen as the ideal critical form: "if the critical essay of haut journalism tips towards reviewing while being more argument-driven, the research essay leans toward academic writing but doesn't shrink from judgement".

Thompson's expertise on the business of Hollywood is manifest, as ever, but she also deftly combines the analytic with the personal, writing with passion on Daffy Duck, aesthetics and perceptual psychology in "Pausing and chortling: a tribute to Bob Clampett". Bordwell's perennial disdain for film theory is evident in the preface, which criticises academics for lacking interest "in film as an art form...instead treat(ing) it as a vehicle of social attitudes", but also for writing incestuously only for their students and for each other. This, we learn, has prompted Bordwell and Thompson's blog; it is less clear, however, why they would then publish this book through an academic publishing house whose primary audience is likely to be those very academics.

These grumbles aside, I have enjoyed reading their blog entries, which enact the kind of film writing that is championed in the two blog entries/chapters "Love isn't all you need" and "In critical condition". The writing is easy and companionable, and yet is for the most part rigorous too. Blog entries/chapters that stand out include Bordwell's convincing exploration of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds in "A welcome basterdization", and Thompson's explanation and defence of the production costs of large-scale films in "Don't knock the blockbusters".

As the preface entreats, against a backdrop of what is perceived to be poor-quality reviewing, writing on film online will "benefit from ambitious critical essays, pieces that illuminate movies through detailed analysis and interpretation". It is evident from this book, but more importantly through their blog, that the authors are worthy contributors to this online project.

Minding Movies: Observations on the Art, Craft, and Business of Filmmaking

By David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. University of Chicago Press. 304pp, £48.50 and £14.50. ISBN 9780226066981 and 6998. Published 15 April 2011

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