Wednesday 25 April 2018

In Print - Max Berghouse reads David Bordwell's "Reinventing Hollywood: How the 1940's Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling"

David Bordwell (with Kristin Thompson)
Mr Bordwell is a most interesting writer. He has an easy and approachable writing style that could be considered by some as no more than upper-class journalese but I think in fact is a deliberate style so that the words don't get in the way of the meaning. This, meaning rather than form, after all is the singular import of his filmic interest whereby a whole gamut of reasons create "meaning" in films. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industrial/profit motive of all cinema and especially Hollywood and his cultural and historical knowledge and sensibility seems to me unrivalled. Until now I have known him most in terms of his knowledge of the Hollywood studio system and the way in which he is able to make very balanced judgements about it.

It's a very big ask to accept the author's claim in this his latest work that storytelling in the 1940's, especially Hollywood but also elsewhere "changed". His basic thesis is that studios and directors constantly tried to expand novelty in films, purely as a lure for audiences. He is not concerned with the audience or the public as such. By way of example, film noir is to some extent a response by the studios to the unease of the immediately post-Second World War period, particularly in men returning to a very changed world from their years of service overseas. Mr Bordwell acknowledges this but it is not central to his thesis.

Ultimately I don't think this thesis is made out at all but the book is splendidly entertaining and the author collects an extraordinary wide number of examples. I particularly enjoyed his study of British films from the early part of the period and of the effect of a new generation of writers, directors and producers, all in competition.

Quite the best part of this for me is that the author has collected many examples, basically clips from films but also commentary so that one can turn from the written word, almost immediately to a clip to make judgement.

I truly enjoyed this book which like most published literature is considerably more expensive than I think it ought to be, but which, in reality is cheap for the knowledge and entertainment it gives.

David Bordwell, Reinventing Hollywood: How the 1940's Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling 
ISBN – 13:978 – 0 – 226 – 48775 – 5, University Of Chicago Press, 2017.

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