Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bordwell’s Common Sense

David Bordwell recently published an omnibus article under the title, Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory? He wrote it, so the frame story goes, in lieu of making a presentation at the current meeting of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image. He wasn’t able to make the meeting, so he wrote, and posted, this essay instead.

And a good thing, I say. Sure, Bordwell missed the face-to-face interaction with his colleagues from far and wide. But, in karmic compensation, the rest of get this essay, which begins thus:
Start with this question, which I think is one of the most fascinating we can ask: What enables us to understand films?
Bordwell then sets out, not to answer the question, not directly, but to review how his sense of the question, and its answers, has changed over the years, starting with film  semiology in the 1960s and 70s, with its emphasis on codes, to “New Look” perceptual and cognitive psychology starting in the mid-80s, to today’s “newer” psychologies, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and neuropsychology.

That’s a lot of territory and Bordwell doesn’t pretend to cover it all. This rather, is a history of his encounter with those movements. Frankly, it has something of the aura of a deck-clearing about it: Let’s review this stuff, clear it out, and get ready for some real work. What do you have up your sleeve, Bordwell?

I recommend the whole essay. If you don’t know Bordwell’s work, or if you don’t know this material, this is a good way in. If you’ve been over the territory, many times, then it’s a useful vehicle for conducting your own overview, using Bordwell’s review and elaboration as prompts for your own.

* * * * *

And when you’re done with that essay, have a look at his current blog post, Chinese boxes, Russian dolls, and Hollywood movies, in which he speaks to one of my hobby horses, ring forms (though he doesn’t use that term). He presents two films, Passage to Marseille and The Locket, as being stories4, with stories3, within stories2, within stories1. The innermost story (story4) contain the key the unlocks the mystery of the rest, something Mary Douglas pointed out in Thinking in Circles (2007).

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