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:
-- 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.
-- 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.
-- 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.