The Canon: Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies. By V.F. Perkins

February 4, 2010

Growing up in the 1980s, how I wished films were an intravenous fix. You can understand how satisfying it was to discover Film as Film, albeit in the years after I finished my BA.

Film as Film comprises a catalogue of movie-viewing mantras powerfully useful for those wised up to the practice-theory-practice life cycle. V.F. Perkins' book is concerned with film form; with the DNA of movies. The book is thrilling in its quiet, cool-headed logic. It's not a cold book, though. Perkins cares about film and he cares about how we can best consider it. Film as Film is a holy grail of film studies, even though its original publication in the early 1970s was a relatively muted moment.

Its first three chapters offer indications of film study's development and the evolution of film viewing. Perkins explores realism and cinema, invoking the work of Andre Bazin and Siegfried Kracauer. Having indicated his bigger-picture considerations, he gets to the heart of the matter with a range of plain-speaking textual analyses. Finally, he goes on to explore the challenges of considering film authorship in terms of the studio-produced title.

The book's project is driven by Perkins' assertion that "the more completely the cinema is able to duplicate 'mere reality', the wider becomes the range of alternatives open to the film-maker". Certainly, for Perkins, "prestige" films are not automatically films worthy of consideration. Film as Film explores how the intensely rendered genre film offers much, and this resounded powerfully with me. Alongside my teaching, I write about film, and Perkins' ethos never leaves my side.

There's a supreme logic at work in Film as Film. Try this: "Films are often described as being in the present tense. Like most direct, linguistic analogues, this one promotes confusion rather than enlightenment." Perkins also observes wryly that "although it has acquired special creative connotations, 'montage' is just the French word for film editing".

Perkins' work appears to be enjoying a renaissance. This book ably endures, being concerned with the evidence we see and the evidence we hear. It has fuelled my focus on authorship and style and meaning. Film as Film is precise, concise and inspiring. It's a guiding light for the generation of film students that I am part of, and who went on to work in the worlds of teaching and film writing.

Know-nothing that I was at 18, how was I to have known on day one of my studies at the University of Warwick that the man who showed us how to lace up a 16mm film projector was V.F. Perkins himself? The last time I saw him, he was standing in the student common room wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Looney Tunes character Foghorn Leghorn.

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