- Publisher: Univ of California Pr (February 28, 2005)
- ASIN: B001E384IM
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,618,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Figures Traced in Light
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FIGURES TRACED IN LIGHT deals with key issues of cinematic style and staging. Beginning with frame analysis of some scenes from JERRY MAGUIRE, Bordwell defines the current role of "intensified continuity" in contemporary Hollywood productions and then goes back to the past to counterpose the long-take, stylistic innovations of Louis Feullade and Kenji Mizoguchi. He follows them with detailed examinations of the films of Theo Angelopoulos and Hou Hsiao-hsien in terms of their distinctive creative approaches from different historical eras. All these directors deserve to be better known and Bordwell makes his usual cogent arguments for us to return to this lost tradition of cinematic art and specific production contexts that overshadow anything in European and Hollywood cinema today. It is, in short, an argument for precise attention to cinematic detail rather than today's current tendency to gloss over significant artistic differences in favor of monolithic theories that do not explain the creative nature of particular films.
This is a lucid, well-written book taking issue with certain concepts of cultural studies sadly in vogue today which sacrifice significant details at the altar of banal generaliies. It challenges supposedly established theories such as the role of modernity influencing cinema as a twentieth-century art form as well as other ideas such as the dominant role of a "cinema of attractions" at one particular era of film history. No matter the time and location, good filmmakers are "active agents." But this does not mean that they operate in a vacuum.
As Bordwell states. "The filmmaker creates out of the norms and forms available in the craft milieu or out of the possibilities in adjacent media that can be brought into that milieu." (257) It is a modest proposal but one helping us define what makes great art as well as factors defining any great director.
As well as challenging fashionable ideas, the book is not without humor as the author's references to contemporary "Europuddings and hypehanate productions that had neither local flavor nor radical ambitions" (267) show. In addition to dragging fashionable gurus such as Zizek down from their pedastals (260-265) and arguing for a more rigorous approach to problem solving, Bordwell often comes up with witty sentences that will long remain in the reader's mind. "If you hire a tax accountant, you will be best off with one vigorously committed to problem-solving. (You don't want one who will produce a Lacanian reading of your IRS audit notification)  I doubt whether academic champions of Lacan and Zizek would also when they face their yearly audits rather than university departmental Merit committees!
This is a very important work, rigorous and scholarly in every sense of the work. It not only argues for the importance of a particular type of cinema illustrated by these selected directors but for a particular type of reception making us all reponsible for what we see. "HOW we manage to see more and more depends on us."