Sunday, July 27, 2008

Analyses To Sink Your Teeth Into



At the beginning of this year I embarked on a personal project: revisiting a film and then, immediately afterwards, reading a detailed, lengthy, meaty analysis of it. I've tried to do this with at least 1-2 films a week.

My objective is to target films that are (1) either well-reputed, or (2) ones for which I have a special affinity. My hope is that this will help me construct and 'fix' in my memory, however sparse and skeletal, a small matrix of details about each film.

There has been another, unanticipated benefit to this exercise: a reminder that no close analysis is 'objective' or 'neutral'. Every reading occurs from a certain reading position, and employs a certain methodology. Thus, it's been a great, practical way to be exposed, on an ongoing basis, to a broad range of interpretative approaches: e.g., mise-en-scene analysis (V.F. Perkins on The Magnificent Ambersons), structuralism (Peter Wollen on Ford and Hawks), feminism (Tania Modleski on Hitchcock), psychoanalysis (Laura Mulvey on Citizen Kane), urbanism and cultural studies (Edward Dimendberg on Phantom Lady), liberal humanism (Robin Wood on Hawks), textual analysis (Raymond Bellour on The Birds), ideological analysis (Robert B. Ray on Casablanca and Taxi Driver), Marxist critique of postmodernism (Fredric Jameson on The Terrorizer), etc.

It has also resulted in my having to read a wide variety of writers, much greater than a few years ago when nearly all my movie-related reading was journalistic and I read the same writers (the ones I gravitated towards) all the time. Suddenly, the horizon of writing models available to learn from has opened up considerably.

I went about the project in two ways: either (a) working backwards from books or essays I identified, or (b) working forwards from films I felt were important to see and read about in depth. Here are some examples of the books and films:

(a) Books/Essays:

-- The James Quandt-edited Bresson anthology.

-- Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film, edited by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye. La Ceremonie (Deborah Thomas), Letter from an Unknown Woman (Steve Neale), Bonjour Tristesse (Gibbs/Pye), etc.

-- Gilberto Perez's The Material Ghost: Films and their Medium. Rules of the Game, Earth, Nosferatu, L'Eclisse, A Day in the Country, etc.

-- Adrian Martin's books on the Mad Max series and Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America.

-- Joe McElhaney's The Death of Classical Cinema: a full-length book devoted to three films, Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Hitchcock's Marnie and Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town.

-- David Bordwell's book on Ozu (available online).

-- The Cinema of Victor Erice, edited by Linda Ehrlich.

-- Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View by George M. Wilson. You Only Live Once, North by Northwest, Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Devil is a Woman, Rebel Without a Cause.

-- James Naremore's books on Kubrick and Minnelli.

-- Robert B. Ray's The ABCs of Classic Hollywood. (A post I wrote on it.)

-- Dudley Andrew's Film in the Aura of Art. Broken Blossoms, Sunrise, L'Atalante, Meet John Doe, La Symphonie Pastorale, Diary of a Country Priest.

-- Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (ed. Geiger and Rutsky), with over forty essays.

-- Jim Kitses's Horizons West. Ford, Mann, Boetticher, Peckinpah, Leone, Eastwood.

(b) Films:

-- Rules of the Game: Perez, Andre Bazin, Peter Wollen, Raymond Durgnat, Leo Braudy, Alexander Sesonske.

-- Passion: Peter Wollen, Harun Farocki and Kaja Silverman, Fredric Jameson.

-- Marnie: Robin Wood, Murray Pomerance, Joe McElhaney.

-- The Searchers: Edward Buscombe, Tag Gallagher, Brian Henderson, Douglas Pye, Peter Lehman.

-- Blade Runner: I didn't realize that an army of people have written about this film!

-- The Scarlet Empress: Robin Wood, George Toles, Andrew Sarris, Carole Zucker.

-- Brokeback Mountain (which I just saw for the first time): Film Quarterly special issue in 2007 with D.A. Miller (this essay is a tour de force--highly recommended), Jim Kitses, Chris Berry, B. Ruby Rich, etc.


* * *

I realize this is a vast topic, but I thought we'd try to turn this post into a modest little resource that others might find helpful. So, let me ask you: Would you like to share any examples of your favorite film analyses (either books or essays)? And/or any good analyses you might've read recently that you'd like to recommend?

Many of the examples I've listed above are probably known to the cinephile or cinema student. Any off-the-beaten-path or under-appreciated pieces of analysis that you'd like to turn us on to? Your suggestions are welcome.


* * *

Links:

-- Adam Nayman at Reverse Shot on The Dark Knight.

-- At Errata, Rob Davis and J. Robert Parks have a discussion, on podcast, of Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep.

-- Phillip Lopate has a piece at Film in Focus called "Critics in Crisis."

-- via David at Greencine, the Stanley Kubrick site has loads of material: interviews, essays, reviews, etc.

-- Youssef Chahine has died. He was 82.

John Ford has said that he made it plenty clear in The Searchers that Ethan and his sister-in-law Martha were in love. Here they share an intimate moment, and Clayton (Ward Bond) pretends not to notice.

41 Comments:

Blogger Robert said...

I love Robin Wood's analysis of "I Walked With a Zombie" (using the narrative codes of Barthes' "S/Z") and have used it as a classroom exercise many times. I also recommend Guzzetti's book on "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her". There's also a wonderful piece from the pre-VCR era by Jonathan Rosenbaum where reconstructs the musical "On Moonlight Bay" from memory and from listening to a tape recording of it. (Oh, the things we did in the days before home video...)

July 27, 2008 11:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Robert, I've seen Robin Wood's piece in Personal Views but haven't read it. (I need to read S/Z.) His piece on Ophuls and Letter from an Unknown Woman in that book is great too. I didn't know of Guzzetti's book on 2 or 3 Things.

July 28, 2008 12:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Also, can anyone advise whether Jeanine Basinger's book on Anthony Mann and Lisa Dombrowski's book on Sam Fuller are worth picking up?

July 28, 2008 12:28 AM  
Blogger harmanjit said...

I quite liked Tim Kreider's sociological take on Eyes Wide Shut.

http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0096.html

July 28, 2008 12:35 AM  
Blogger David said...

I've read through a bunch of Basinger's book on Mann (original edition, not the recent updated reissue) and was completely disappointed: a lot of summary, and a lot of charts listing some favorite motifs. Godard's suggestive analysis of Man of the West is a significant advance.

And I completely second the Kreider. Along with Thomas Allen Nelson's essay on EWS in Inside a Film Artist's Maze, easily the best essay I've read on it.

Thanks for all these tips in the meantime.

July 28, 2008 2:08 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

I knew you warmed your feet with footnotes! I knew it, I knew it, I KNEW IT!

July 28, 2008 3:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Girish,
Since I don't think it is normally more useful to spend the time reading about a film than looking at that film again, I'd reccommend several rather short, non-exhaustive pieces. First, Godard on "The Wrong Man" (to be found in "Godard on Godard"); Second, the analysis/reviews by Robin Wood, V.F. Perkins, Ian Cameron, Paul Mayersberg, then Andrew Britton, of several films by Preminger, Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray, Hawks... Ophuls, Fleischer, etc., first on "Movie" magazine (or the "Movie Reader" anthologies), the "CinemAction".
Miguel Marías

July 28, 2008 4:26 AM  
Blogger Edwin Mak said...

Definitely Phillip Hammond's muscular ideological dismantling of Iron Man, a film I abhor yet, after having read this, now perversely enjoy.

At book length, I recently finished reading Laura Mulvey's 'Death 24x a Second'; and am still basking in the glow of her insights. She makes light work (and reading) of the entire history of narrative cinema, and on the way provides the most natural account for psychoanalysis' finesse. There are chapter spanning analyses on The Red Shoes, Psycho, and overviews of Kiarostami and Sirk. Highly recommended. I would love to know more from others who have read it, perhaps I may blog about it?

July 28, 2008 6:36 AM  
Blogger adam said...

Not so much for a specific film, but I found Tag Gallagher's book on Ford really helpful for getting a grip on Ford's greatness - a greatness that's notoriously hard to pin down. And perhaps the real triumph is that he doesn't just find it in the obvious films, but in Seven Women and The Wings of Eagles too.

(Does his book on Rossellini work in a similar way?)

On a lighter note, Anthony Lane's ecstatic review of Speed might not offer deep analysis, but it does offer a useful reminder that we're allowed to embrace popular cinema as great cinema without having to scramble to find political metaphors as a perverse justification for our enjoyment!

July 28, 2008 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

The Searchers - I read Andrew Sarris' description of that scene in "The American Cinema" before I had seen the film. Sarris basically outlined what to look for.

I'm currently finishing "Eros plus Massacre" by David Desser, about Japanese "New Wave" films. Desser discusses in part how the films fit into Japanese culture and history, as well as explaining how some Western critics, particularly Joan Mellon and Noel Burch have misread some films.

July 28, 2008 9:29 AM  
Blogger harmanjit said...

Zizek's analysis of Lynch's "Lost Highway" is also considered a great classic.

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Ridiculous-Sublime-Occasional-Humanities/dp/0295979259

July 28, 2008 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Christian Keathley said...

I thoroughly disagree with Miguel's point that reading about a film is less useful than watching it again. I re-watch, to be sure, but after seeing a film that really excites me, the first thing I want to do is read about it. It's the best aid to thinking about the film. I came of age in the years before home video, when re-watching wasn't as easy as it is now; therefore, reading was the way I extended the pleasure of the film experience. Also, simply re-watching suggests a kind of critical self-sufficiency that I think is both unrealistic and undesirable. Reading a fine analysis of a film is like having a great conversation. Why would I want to forgo that pleasure?

I agree with David that Basinger's book on Mann isn't very good. It only points up how easy thematic analysis is, as opposed to how challenging good stylistic analysis can be.

Robin Wood has taught me a lot about a lot of films. Check out his short volume on The Apu Trilogy. I like his essay on I Walked with a Zombie, but he borrows from Barthes only S/Z's five codes realist narrative. He completely ignores the divagations that quickly becomes the main force of the book.

A few recommendations:

Noel Burch's essay on Fritz Lang in the Roud edited volume, Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. Rich discussion of some of the silent films (esp. Mabuse and Spies) and a lengthier analysis of M. See also Burch's discussion of Dreyer in the same volume. Absolutely first-rate.

Sontag's essay on Vivre sa vie.

Peter Wollen's essays on Rules of the Game and Blade Runner in Paris, Hollywood.

Tom Gunning's essay on I Know Where I'm Going! in The Cinema of Michael Powell.

Several lengthy reviews by William S Pechter in Twenty-four Times a Second. What ever happened to this guy?!

July 28, 2008 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You probably know it if you're a reader of rouge, but they posted an amazing essay on Jancso's Red Psalms by Durgnat, have a look at the back issues. I haven't rewatched the film again since reading it, so I can't tell you it changed my reading of the film (I found the film good the first time, which was such a letdown: I adored the other Jancsos I had seen), but it clarifies a lot of things about the historical context which are very useful (always daunting with Jancso). Come to think of it, maybe I'll rewatch it tonight...
Nathan

July 28, 2008 3:30 PM  
Blogger David said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 28, 2008 4:17 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all! So many great ideas here.

Miguel, Dan Sallitt gave me an idea and I've been finding it useful. I'll spend 10 or 15 minutes fast-forwarding through the DVD of a film I've just seen to 'affix' the film a bit better, get its structure down, and replay some key moments. I've also been scribbling a bit about each film in a small notebook--recording some details I know will fly out of my head before the week is over.

Chris, I've been meaning to make an entire pass through the Roud Cinema Dictionary (a big project) specifically by following certain individual writers: e.g., read all the Burch entries, the ones by Jean-Andre Fieschi, Rosenbaum, Robin Wood, etc.

I've been meaning to check out Pechter too!

Eyes Wide Shut is coming up this week, so it's good to know of the above essays.

If Adrian happens to be around, perhaps he can hip us to some good examples of French-language film analysis (among other things).

July 28, 2008 9:52 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Quickly: That Michel Chion BFI monograph on _Eyes Wide Shut_ is pretty good, too.

July 28, 2008 11:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah yes, I've picked that one up, along with his monograph on Thin Red Line (+ the new edition of his Lynch book which includes Mulholland Drive).

July 28, 2008 11:08 PM  
Blogger craig keller. said...

Analyses to sink one's teeth into, on the moving-image front:

-Tag Gallagher's video-essays, all of which are totally brilliant and always spot-on. And very hypnotic. Especially his analyses of Francesco giullare di Dio, Letter from an Unknown Woman, and the one on Madame de..., which will be (at last) accompanying the forthcoming Criterion release. He's made works about The Big Sky, Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Angel Face as well — with one forthcoming, I believe, on Dreyer. They're all explosive.

-A friend of mine is in the middle of a work-in-progress about the entirety of Welles, which is its own kind of poetic video essay that has no correlative in anything yet created or conceived in cinema (which is also video, of course). I don't want to speak about it too much until he decides its final form, and how he's going to release it. Some may have seen a few of the finished episodes so far through private distribution, and have some idea what I'm talking about. But rest assured: a legitimate Masterpiece is in the works; I'm not exaggerating in the slightest degree...!

-Jean-Pierre Gorin's video lectures about various filmmakers for The Criterion Collection. The newest one forthcoming will be on the Salò reissue-remaster, I believe. Gorin's words are so effortless, cogent, and ecstatic that they render almost every other on-disc video appreciation that's out there very thin and paltry by comparison, intellectually and emotionally. His piece about only the first 15 minutes of Pierrot le fou is the summary tour de force of "what makes Godard Godard," engaging his cinema on every level of image, sound, allusion, and aesthetic/intellectual conception as set forth in those first 15 minutes of Pierrot — nothing escapes his attention. It's refreshing (no, it's beyond this), it's moving, it's absolutely à bout de souffle.

craig.

July 29, 2008 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Girish, here is a true question/mission for me! Really, it's the basis of the 4th year level course I teach here at Monash University: we watch a film, and then read and discuss together a piece on that film by a particular critic - and another form of the same exercise happens in the act of translating: to translate another person's description of a film, or a scene, you have to keep rewatching it, until you see it completely through that critic's eyes. Actually, I think this is one working definition of a good critic: do they notice something in the film that you didn't, do they make some connection you didn't make when you first saw it?

To resolve somewhat the contradiction between our heavy-hitting cinephiles Miguel and Christian, I will say I often watch a film - then read a piece (short or long) - then instantly rewatch the film in a new way!

Here are some examples of pieces I recommend in this spirit:

- Chris Fujiwara on OUT OF THE PAST in his Tourneur book
- Jean-Baptiste Thoret on the MIAMI VICE film (appalling translation on-line, but you can get the idea)
- Nicole Brenez on BODY SNATCHERS, the piece translated as "Come Into My Sleep" in ROUGE
- Raymond Durgnat's pieces for MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN in the 80s-early 90s under Richard Combs' comradely editorship: especially THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (this may be the one incontestable case of the essay being better than the film!); on Powell's BLACK NARCISSUS (a 'review', then a separate theoretical reflection on the review); all his Nouvelle Vague re-reviews (esp. BREATHLESS and PIERROT LE FOU); and his 'Skeleton Key to Stephen Dwoskin'.
- in French, I always find Marie-Claire Ropars' very precise analyses great to use in tandem with stop-motion viewing.
- Bellour on Ghatak's CLOUD-CAPPED STAR (also translated in ROUGE)is another piece that can be used to 'accompany' the film, as he puts it.
- not much of Alain Masson's work from POSITIF has been translated into Engish. His recent pieces on 'The Idea of the Shot' in Naruse, Ozu and Mizoguchi, and his piece on gesture (which is his great area of study) in early Lang, are really magnificent. Like much film criticism these days, it's all better when it comes with frame enlargements! - that's why I reprinted Masson's piece on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (which I originally published in 1992) in ROUGE, with profuse illustrations!

But there's some writing that, very deliberately, should never come with pictures: Petr Kral, for instance, whose pointillistic evocations of film moments are completely self-sufficient, poetic inventions unto themselves. His marvellous book NOTIONS DE BASE is in fact appearing in English this year, as WORKING KNOWLEDGE: a major literary event, in my opinion. And while I am on books, I also wholeheartedly recommend the appearance in English of MASCULINE SINGULAR: FRENCH NEW WAVE CINEMA by Noel Burch's intellectual comrade, Genevieve Sellier (Duke Uni Press) - a real eye-opener.

July 29, 2008 7:49 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Adrian and Craig! That's a lot of new and exciting stuff for us to track down.

July 29, 2008 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian, I not only "came of age" before the days of home video, but was 39 when I got my first VCR, and until Franco's death in 1975 so many films where either forbidden or cut or not available one had to read a lot before knowing even what to try to see when traveling abroad. But at 60, I am persuaded that no film (not even the worst, more carelessly made or insubstantial) can be properly "read" or fully appreciated in just a single viewing, so one should watch them at least twice, and also from time to time, since both the film and the watcher change. Once you know how the film looks and works, and have grasped the plot, you always get to see a lot of new, different things, and these are the things YOU see, not that other people saw - or imagined. Some people write magnificent pieces about quite uninteresting films, that they seem to dream or imagine from the launching-pad of the actual film. But I'm more interested in films that in film criticism (including, even specially my own). Only if it's the first film I have seen by an ignored filmmaker, or from a very different culture, do I feel the urge to read about him, rather than about that movie in particular. And I did not say it is useless to read (how should I keep writing for more than 40 years if I thought so?), only that NORMALLY it is more useful to watch again the film in question, and see and think for yourself. Of course, what you think is not the only possible or valid interpretation or appreciation possible.
Girish, same as I would never watch a film in pieces, like Godard used to, and much less without having watched it in full beforehand, and seemingly not even in narrative order, I never watch a film at fast-speed. Too old for that, no doubt, since it seems all the younger generations do just that a lot. But that's not how film were made to be watched. And it can play tricks, same as looking at an anthology-film: almost half of the films ever made have at least a good shot, a good scene, and it can be very misleading... you have to suffer or enjoy the whole movie, that's the only way to see properly its structure, its rhythms, its changes of pace. And it can be a way of looking very unfair to filmmakers whose visual style seems plain or is really unobtrusive. That way Eisenstein, Rocha or Godard will seem always better than Renoir, Dwan, Borzage, McCarey, Rohmer, late Lang. And would not tell much about the real feel of Rivette, Eustache, Pialat, Mizoguchi or Ozu.
Miguel Marías

July 29, 2008 12:38 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

There's a lot of valuable stuff here, I must admit, but I'm curious: how much reading do you, Girish and everybody, do outside film studies? Do you make time for fiction? History? Other theories? Recently I've been reading one film book after another and boy has that gone stale. Yesterday I opened _Walden_ in the library because somebody had left a copy on a table and it sure was a delight. Don't we need to look outside this circle, too?

July 29, 2008 3:20 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

It's funny, I was going to say something very similar to Ryland: after reading lots of film stuff for a year or so after getting "back into" movies as more than just something to watch, I found that it was very limiting if I didn't also try to read fiction, see an art exhibition, listen to some new music, or just the news, etc. I'm starting to sound like Nathan Lee...

July 29, 2008 3:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi Miguel -- I end up using the "fast-forward" method only for films I have seen (never ones I have not seen), and I use it primarily to improve my memory of the film and its details.

But I must also admit that there's a part of me that resists ideas of intentionalism and 'essence' a little bit, i.e. ideas such as 'a film is meant to be seen and experienced in a certain fashion'. Part of me respects and pays close attention to the organic unity of a work but another part of me wants to overturn that 'natural' unity and examine (and enjoy) the facts of the work's constructedness in an 'unintended' way.

July 29, 2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ry and Gareth -- Perhaps you will indulge me some personal rambling in response...!

I'm a big believer in 'difference': not just on a macro level (between ethnicities or nations, say) but also on a micro level (between individuals inhabiting the same culture or subculture). We're all, as individuals, in different phases of our lives, in the grip of different forces and interests at any particular moment, in uniquely different places at that moment in a large dispersed field of possibilities. This is true even if we're all part of a certain specific subculture, e.g. that of cinephilia.

I'm in my 40s. In my late teens and early 20s, all the years of my undergraduate life, my only reading outside of engineering school work was literary fiction. I was passionately devoted to it.

In other phases of my life, I've been consumed almost exclusively by painting (my ex-wife was an artist) or music (I've been an amateur musician for almost 30 years), or the discipline in which I teach (I've worked as a prof full time for almost 20 years). All these phases and immersions have had invaluable formative effects.

My personality is such that I tend to strongly immerse myself in a field when I'm trying to cultivate a modest level of knowledge and expertise in it. For the last year or two, that field has been cinema and cinema studies, and I'm still in the "baby steps" stage. I recognize that it will take a few years of effort to acquire even a modest breadth and depth of expertise in the field. I'm committed to this, and this is why the lion's share of my reading these days is film-related.

Cinema is wonderful because it is a synthetic art. And so my favorite film writers are those who work centrifugally, perhaps beginning with cinema but forever spinning outwards into other realms.

Take Peter Wollen, who is one of my most cherished writers on the cinema. He has written eruditely and insightfully not just about cinema but also about painting, car culture, conceptual art, kitsch, situationism, rubbish theory, fashion, semiotics, avant-gardism, digital technologies, the history of military tanks, the processes of government and institutions, and many other far-flung topics. The best film writers write simultaneously about cinema and about other things in the world. And cinema particularly lends itself to this encompassing tendency.

In terms of my interests, I think this blog--by choice, not by accident--disproportionately emphasizes one field, that of cinema. But music has been at least as important as cinema in my life. Perhaps later, when I have more time available, I'll be able to bring music, fiction, art, and other interests into the fold here. That is my hope.

July 29, 2008 6:05 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Girish, I admire your rigor. I imagine your chosen readings on Godard's PASSION (Farouki, Silverman, Wollen, Jameson) could alone occupy a year's worth of thought and background research! Godard's own SCENARIO DE FILM 'PASSION' is particularly good analysis, as it were, of the character in the film played by Jerzy Radziwilowicz, even though SCENARIO was made before PASSSION proper, and Radziwilowicz's character is quite different in the final film. I say that in earnest: evidence is inexhaustible and comes before and after the film too. And who says there's only ONE evidence? There are many evidences to be discovered.

All that said, I must say I've arrived at the same conclusion as Miguel over the years, spurned by the acute results of Tag Gallagher's close readings, the product of watching a film over and over and over, recording the soundtrack (yes after vhs), etc.. The main coversation is with every element of the film at hand. Not that that eliminates all the conversations in the margins. For me criticism is marginal to the film. Theory is not even in the margins, it's a whole other book, which is fine, but conflating books can also be harmful (the case of Straub/Huillet being the most extreme).

Some texts on film I find irresistably worth revisiting just before or just after having seen the films:

--Fieschi on Murnau and particularly NOSFERATU, in the Richard Roud edited CINEMA: A CRITICAL DICTIONARY

--Bazin on CRIME DE M. LANGE (the courtyard travelling shot!) and JOURNAL D'UN CURE DE COMPAGNE.

--Rosenbaum on Godard's HISTOIRE(s) DU CINEMA: his Film Comment piece (Sept/Oct. '98) and the piece in MOVIES AS POLITICS, 'His Twentieth Century')

--more recently, Rosenbaum on SPIONE by Lang in the Masters of Cinema dvd booklet

--Godard himself on MAN OF THE WEST, BITTER VICTORY, TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE...very short pieces but who can read his description of a shot in the Mann and not have to verify, or conversly, see the film, and not want to read Godard on it? With Godard's criticism (the WRONG MAN piece Miguel mentions!) it's not always the film's terms, fields, and plots that are elucidated but a whole philosophy of citizenry and activity in the arts. His criticism is done "luminously on a dark field" (Mallarme) but is far from a chalk board.

--FILM HEIROGLYPHS by Tom Conley, I won't go into my enthusiasm for this book here, it would go too long, but it contains crucial analysis of Walsh and particularly MANPOWER, Lang and SCARLET STREET, Renoir and LA BETE HUMAINE, and others. Word is he's doing a whole book on Walsh.

--Rivette's text THE HAND, on Lang's BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT - not a theory, not an analysis, not a critique...that rare occurence where you have two objects, Rivette's text and Lang's film, that seem to happen to cross autonomously on the elements of the film, Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, a script, some burnt pictures, culpability. Lang's film would exist without Rivette's text, and I have the frightening feeling that somehow Rivette's text would exist without BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT! Just as Rivette CDC piece on Franju's JUDEX night-mared a film that was later called CASA DE LAVA (Costa).

--Jacques Aumont on Eisenstein, MONTAGE EISENSTEIN (bfi trans.)

--Tag Gallagher, the chapter on DONOVAN'S REEF, THIS IS KOREA!, and especially STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND. I mentioned Tag's methods before...there's a line by Goethe: "a delicate empiricism which makes itself utterly identical with the object, thereby becoming true theory."

--Fujiwara's chapter on Tourneur's NIGHTFALL

--Yuri Tsivian on MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA by Vertov. The dvd commentary and the book MAN WITH MOVIE CAMERA: FILM COMPANION -

--Durgnat's chapter on LE SANG DES BETES in his book FRANJU.-

--(French language) Jean-Claude Biette on A KING IN NEW YORK by Chaplin

--Bill Krohn on Boetticher's last film MY KINGDOM FOR... (coming to Kino Slang soon!!)

--Giulio Bursi's montage of texts on Straub/Huillet here: http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/article.php3?id_article=268
While not an analysis it familiarizes one with their stance: so much the better to receive the raw material of the film, any of them, on one's own - an accompaniment in a different sense.

-Adrian Martin on BAND OF OUTSIDERS in the book FOR EVER GODARD. Especially the consideration of one moment in that film: the Aragon song sung by Karina. If it is possible for a critic to make as grand a moment as this resound even further, it is in this piece by Adrian.

-HEAVEN AND HELL TO PLAY WITH: THE MAKING OF 'NIGHT OF THE HUNTER' -- yes a production history, but what can be more analytical than that when well done? And not only in terms of 'the author', in terms of everything: adaptation from the novel, cinematography and optics, the hollywood system, history (the Great Depression), the pauses, the acting... the construction of a set (the twinkling stars of the children's boatride, for instance) and how it was then filmed can often tell one more than a belabored analysis...It also makes me want to mention one of the best pieces of Mizoguchi criicism and analysis that I know: Joanne R. Bernardi's UGETSU MONGATORI: THE SCREENPLAY, in the Quandt edited Cinematheque Ontario booklet MIZOGUCHI: THE MASTER. It's a detailed history of the script, following the screenplay's development and Mizo's work with Yoda. It has everything to do with decoupage, filmic density. Reading this plus the film (or a good memory of the film) raises up a good deal of elements of the story and characterization, but not only the that; with decoupage better understood the cinematographic elements stand out even bolder (of course this depends on the spectator doing some "finishing" of the analysis, but it's accessible).

Finally, I'd like to contradict Miguel just a tiny bit and say one of the most moving and illuminating experiences I've ever had with a film was coming late to a projection of SANSHO DAYU, so late that it was the final sequence. I sat and watched the reunion of mother and son on the beach. The silence of it struck me so deeply, the mother's solitude, the son's solitude and their recognizing eachother through the extreme scars and pain they've been dealt throughout the film, like the last tattered people on earth - it was so pure, pure as a sequence (I would argue that Mizo and Renoir are great for watching in fragments because of the way they construct in sequences, but not only in fragments), that recently I felt violated upon seeing a production still of the shooting of that scene in the MASTERS OF CINEMA dvd booklet, 20 people standing behind the camera. It doesn't seem possible. In any case seeing that fragment helped me better understand Mizoguchi henceforth (of course I'd 'suffered' the whole film before seeing the last sequence alone...and since). Craig Keller has a magnificent short text on Mizo's MADAME YUKI (it appeared in the email monthly NEW YORK GHOST) - this in addition to reading the short text by Daney on the same film (from the LIBE cine-journals) was one of the most enriching in regards to Mizo, who is so hard to talk about (most existing writing on Mizo is either dried of emotion or any sort of critical empathy, inaccurate, irrelevantly theory based, only 1/5th of what's going on, or dealing too much with the outside of the film). Craig has some staunch views on writing on Mizo and I hope he continues to set them down one way or another.

July 29, 2008 6:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

As always, Andy, such useful, insightful ideas and suggestions. Thank you.

July 29, 2008 6:35 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

...and hear hear to Ryland's extra-filmic literary sentiment. He describes an experience at the library that we've probably all had. For me, this experience often holds a stronger impression than the cinema material I was there for!

So in that spirit, I'll mention:
-Pierre Reverdy on Costa
-Walt Whitman on Ford
-Maykovsky on Ernie Gehr
-Georges Bataille on George A. Romero

July 29, 2008 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure of being asked, but since Ryland's question comes just after one of my comments, I must say I always insisting that people who make movies or study/comment them should not become prisoners of movies. And of course I read more novels, poetry, literary essays, books on music and painting, economics, politics or history, listen to recordings, try to visit museums and exhibitions or concerts as much as I can. Sometimes I even watch sports on TV, swim, chat with non-cinephile friends, work at my job (I'm an economist, no film-studies) and live my private life. Of corse, even sleeping only 4 hrs, you cannot do everything all the time, you miss things or leave them for later in life (which means you'll probably die before). And if one writes and sees a lot of films, you hardly can read about them, and of course not at the same time.
Of course how much one must read depends on how much you have read before and how good is your memory. There are filmmakers about which there is a very large bibliography, in some cases larger than their filmography; some have good luck, some bad (there was a lot of good books on Fuller, few if any on Aldrich, none I find illuminating on Buñuel, lots of rubbish on Chaplin), but you won't know before reading them. I won't add any further advised reading, since Andy Rector already mentioned lots of it, only recall Joseph McBride's book(s) on Ford, and for those reading French some of the entries in the 1966 Éditions Universitaires "Dictionnaire du Cinéma" (especially those by Daney, Douchet and Bellour; there is a quote of Elie Faure on Giotto which is yet the best on Mizoguchi I have ever read), or Jacques Lourcelles' "Dictionnaire du Cinéma". But this could be the story of our lives, so I will stop here.
Miguel Marías

July 29, 2008 7:05 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Miguel, I wasn't aiming to call anybody out. It was a sincere inquiry into how people prioritize their interests. For example: I feel I have not been looking outside this circle enough as of late.

And, of course, I'm daunted by all that you, and everybody else older than me, have/has read beyond my feeble grasp of this great, synthetic art form.

So, please, more: I dig this list.

That said, I'm always curious how things expand from film (or any art) and redirect people towards film (or any art). However, that probably deserves its own post, doesn't it, Girish?

July 29, 2008 7:42 PM  
Blogger ZC said...

Girish, when you wrote: "Take Peter Wollen, who is one of my most cherished writers on the cinema. He has written eruditely and insightfully not just about cinema but also about painting, car culture, conceptual art, kitsch, situationism--"

Guy Debord would have had you expelled from the club for that! Recall:

There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by anti-situationists.

But Debord would have cajoled you into buying him a bottle of booze first. (Hmm--that gives me an idea.)

Andy, you've sold me on Conley. (Feel free to send me an email using all necessary verbiage to cement the sale.)

As for reading other things--Girish is a polymath and of course doesn't have to worry about well-roundedness at this point, he's got it no matter what. It's those of us in our 20s, who've "come up" in/with cinema and cinephilia, who need to be most vigilant about freeing ourselves from the ever-looming "prison" (as Miguel puts it).

July 29, 2008 9:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Guy Debord would have had you expelled from the club for that!"

Touché, Zach!

Ry, those two questions would be capacious enough to happily occupy an entire lifetime!

July 29, 2008 9:10 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Most of my film-book reading skews to history and less to analysis, but I have to give a shout-out to "From Reverence to Rape," as formative a critical influence as I ever had, aside from Kael in the New Yorker. Still an exceedingly useful and even iconoclastic book, in that it takes many movies seriously that other critics to this day do not.

Bogdanovich's slim volume on John Ford is also extremely useful, as is all his film analysis. I was reminded of this when reading his review of Two Weeks in Another Town. Minnelli said, with wry amusement, that Bogdanovich saw things in the movie that no other critic did. I'd say that just means Bogdanovich was right.

July 30, 2008 11:20 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

girish -

Your account of the way in which you approach things is fascinating, since it functions itself as an illustration of the difference that you refer to. I find myself always shying away from complete and total immersion in subjects, without necessarily understanding why: I accept that it's a facet of my personality to constantly seek to balance different things rather than to plunge wholeheartedly in, though to the point where that effort to seek "balance" itself becomes a form of immersive experience... I suppose that by the end of a lifetime, you might reasonably find that two people had reached remarkably similar places through very different approaches, though the connections that they form - between works, experiences, etc. - along the way will be quite different. In a sense I envy the ability to throw oneself into an immersive education like that, but I recognise that I have great difficulty doing it, for reasons I can't always grasp.

It seems very easy to forge links between some things that I'm interested in - movies and art, or movies and history, say - and more challenging to see some way for movies to reflect on sport, or sport to reflect on movies, to give an example of something else that eats up much of my time. But perhaps not everything has to be connected.

On fast-forwarding films or watching particular chunks, I remember a few years ago reading about how David Lynch didn't want the DVD versions of his films divided up into chapters because the films were to be seen as whole works (I don't know how true this is of the actual DVD versions of his films, to be honest). My reaction was sort of bloody-minded, thinking, you know, if I want to just watch a particular scene on its own, you can't stop me, Mr. Lynch! After all, long before DVD I watched his earlier films in the way I wanted to through forwarding and rewinding VHS tapes, whether or not that matched his desired viewing method.

July 30, 2008 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish,
I'm afraid my very happy two years as director of the Spanish Film Archive (1986-1988) marked me even more than any theoretical "auteurism" in the trail of respecting the films as they are, unless you know for sure how they were meant too be and have the material. I've often been tempted to re-edit some films which I certainly felt would be improved if a couple of shot were taken out, but I've never done it, only in my mind. Immediately I thought I was being pretentious and pompous, getting ready to ammend Ray or Hitchcock, and doing that decades after they made the films. I confess to having strong misguivings and reservations when Bresson re-edits Cocteau, with the work of Ken Jacobs or Gianikian & Ricci Lucchi, even sometimes with the astounding sound/image/dialogue collages Godard makes in "Histoire(s) du Cinéma", which after long meditation I really love, but since I'm no Godard, I would never do that. Not even for teaching purposes, I'd rather show complete sequences than interrupting one for brevity's sake. I cannot help thinking how much angered & offended most filmmakers would feel, and would see myself as a sort of Selznick, Zanuck or Thalberg. I've sometimes tried, in the midst of writing, to make sure things were as I recalled, and see only one scene. But everytime I started to see "The Searchers", "Ordet", "Ugetsu Monogatari" or "Le Mépris" I ended up seeing the whole movie. I recall going thru a theatre where in 1980 "Sauve qui peut(La vie)" was to have its Madrid première, the owners were showing us the whole thing, and we came to the projection room, Godard recognised through the small window "Johnny Guitar" and we stayed there, standing, almost entranced, for nearly half an hour, while the owners urged us to continue our visit. Of course, with an already seen bad or mediocre film, I could see only a scene or two.
Ry, a couple more useful books: Henri Langlois' "Trois cents ans de cinéma" (he really had a sense of history, far better than that of professional historians); Jean-Pierre Coursodon & Pierre Sauvage's two-volume "American Directors" seems to me (even if I not always agree) the most practical book on US film; Youssef Ishaghpour "Formes de l'impermanence" (about Ozu) and his mammoth on Welles; Tsyvian on Bauer, Eisenstein, Vertov, every Russian he writes about; Bergala on Kiarostami; and lately, most of all, Jean-Louis Comolli's "Post-scriptum sur Rossellini" , which is for me like Rivette's "Lettre sur Rossellini", but applied to RR's last period (in "Trafic" 63).
Of course, there are hundreds of things that should be read (if possible, after watching the films).
Miguel Marías

July 30, 2008 2:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Siren, Gareth, Miguel, thanks for your responses. As always, they make for very interesting reading.

July 31, 2008 9:53 AM  
Blogger whitney said...

I think I've mentioned this one before, but I really think you would enjoy Paul Schrader's master's thesis: Transendental Film. It talks about a specific style that he outlines and how it manifests itself in Ozu, Dreyer and Bresson. Brilliant.

And Jim Kitses is my man! Anything he's written is clever and heartfelt. The man is a sherrif himself. He KNOWS the western.

August 01, 2008 12:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Whitney, I've read Schrader's Transcendental Style book but it was years ago; I don't remember it very well. There's a collection of Schrader's writings (on noir, Bresson's Pickpocket, etc) in the mostly-interviews book Schrader on Schrader edited by Kevin Jackson. Come to think of it, they're also most likely at his website.

August 02, 2008 3:40 PM  
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