Books on film theory. Suggestions?

Discussion in 'General' started by BroodingHope, Mar 6, 2009.

  1. BroodingHope

    BroodingHope New Member

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    After doing some reading online I feel like a lot of the concepts and techniques used by more 'artsy' directors seem to go way over my head. Actually, film techniques in general, such as cinematography extremely confuse me. For example, I'm always reading reviews discussing shot composition and whatnot. Maybe I don't think that deep about film but I simply don't get it. Does anyone have any suggestions about books that discuss film theory and techniques? Even websites and such would suffice. I'm just trying to get a better grasp of these commonly discussed minutia.
     
  2. j tea

    j tea New Member

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    your signature is adorno, seems like you have some reading chops!

    i liked 'broken mirrors, broken minds' about argento, there are some great books on kubrick too, fairly superficial but containing interesting insights. 'inside a film artists maze' was good.
     
  3. maybrick

    maybrick Well-Known Member

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    Speaking as a former film student, why do you want to torture yourself like that? Just my humble opinion but Film Theory, as a general rule, is BULLSHIT. Do not go there if you don't have to, but if you really feel like you NEED to, stick with books written by actual filmmakers, not by armchair quarterbacks like Pauline Kael. Film technique doesn't qualify as theory so that's a different story. It should be easy enough to track down a basic "Intro to Film Production" textbook and that will probably be more than you'll ever need.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2009
  4. Matt89

    Matt89 Well-Known Member

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    Well there are theorists such as Christian Metz and Roland Barthes and their relations to film and semiotics. There's also certain eras, and it really depends on what you're looking for. Christian Metz (who was also a linguist) and Roland Barthes are quite hard to understand if you know nothing about semiotics. Then there's areas such as Russian Formalism and Soviet Montage (people like Sergei Eisenstein). But here are several good essays:

    Sergei Eisenstein:
    "The Montage of Film Attractions", "The Montage of Attractions", "The Problem of Materialist Approach to Form" and "The Fourth Dimension in Cinema"

    Hugo Munsterberg:
    "The Photoplay: A Psychological Study"

    And if you're interested in Theodor Adorno (and other Frankfurt School writers such as Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin and Max Horkheimer) there's a lot of stuff you can find on them, summaries and such online. Some good ones are Horkheimer's and Adorno's "Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments".

    Bertholt Brecht and André Bazin wrote many essays and books trying to define realism (which, when you get into it, realize that the term "realism" is the broadest category you can ever have imagined.) Nonetheless, some good points from Bazin and many other theorists/filmmakers such as Truffaut and Godard who wrote for the French film magazine "Cahiers du Cinéma" throughout the 50s and 60s.

    That there should be enough to get you started, but I think it still might be a bit over your head. Seems to me like you need to give a book on cinematography a good read first. Get things down such as shot composition, montage, mise-en-scene, depth of field etc etc in order to understand these theorists much better. Once you get the basics down, I'd suggest reading the stuff I've mentioned. If you know your stuff and begin to see the theories relating to one another, they really do start to get interesting. But if you don't know the basics, not only will you not udnerstand anything, but you'll be bored out of your fucking skull.

    ~Matt
     
  5. Matt89

    Matt89 Well-Known Member

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    I'd say it's bullshit moreso if you're studying film production. If you're studying and analyzing films, then it definitely applies. I think BroodingHope was a little confused with the actual term "film theory", because he seems to be a bit more interested in the technical aspects of analysis, as opposed to theoretical analysis. They're interrelated for sure, but are very different.

    ~Matt
     
  6. maybrick

    maybrick Well-Known Member

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    And chance are, even if you know more than the basics you'll still be bored out of your fucking skull! :lol: Seriously, theory isn't for everybody. Me, I'd rather spend my time making movies than reading about them.
     
  7. Matt89

    Matt89 Well-Known Member

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    LOL definitely. I'm taking Film Theory right now and I have to admit, some of it is fucking BRUTAL. Semiotics isn't so bad, but soviet montage? While they make good points, I really wanted to slit my throat during some lectures. It basically provides a different way of viewing film study. That's what I liked about it, but some is dry as fucking hell.

    ~Matt
     
  8. maybrick

    maybrick Well-Known Member

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    It's funny, I'm the exact opposite. Soviet Montage interested me, but Semiotics was Idiotics.
     
  9. Anaestheus

    Anaestheus Well-Known Member

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    While in film school, I hated reading about films. So, I can't really recommend any books or articles for them. But, I have found a few alternatives that may interest you.

    While not exactly film theory, more like film psychology, Zizek's Pervert's Guide to the Cinema is an excellent documentary that explores film psychologically from a Lacanian perspective. And Zizek himself is immensely entertaining.

    I also highly recommend listening to Corman's commentary on the House of Usher DVD. He breaks down a lot of the theories behind setting up the shot composition, the use of editing, as well as analyzes the story from a basic Freudian perspective. I honestly found it more educational than most of the things I learned in film school.
     
  10. Matt89

    Matt89 Well-Known Member

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    I second this. It was actually the very first film we screened in Film Theory. It's a great documentary. It's long (like 2.5 hours) but it's very informative and doesn't feel as long as it is.

    But if you're more interested in the function of cinematography, there's an excellent doc. called Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography. It features interviews with cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, Gordon Willis, Owen Roizman, and director Robert Wise. It also analyzes and features such films as Jaws, Star Wars, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Cool Hand Luke, Hud, The Graduate, Rosemary's Baby, 2001, The Godfather, Chinatown, Dog Day Afternoon, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall and Blue Velvet, among others. It's a really interesting documentary about the production of films and the art of filmmaking. It's rare that cinematographers get this kind of attention and appreciation, and it's a fantastic historical analysis of the development of cinematography over the past 100 years and the important role of the cinematographer.

    ~Matt
     
  11. spawningblue

    spawningblue Deadite

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    Thanks for the recommendations guys, I don't know about Brooding but I'm def. going to check out those two documentaries.
     
  12. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    Something like this perhaps?: http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2008/08/kurtzman-and-composition.html

    John K (creator of Ren & Stimpy) has the best blog I've found so far with practical information that while directly about animation is still 99% applicable to live action. (ie, animated movement translated to actor movements)

    Modern cinema is saddly devoid of higher film technique. Just as an example a lot of cinematographers I've talked with who've come out of Columbia don't even pay attention to what lenses they use. I'll do stuff like adjust the shutter speed and it blows people away. :rolleyes:
     
  13. Fistfuck

    Fistfuck Slowest to 2000 posts

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    Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
    From Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film by Roz Kaveney
    Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema by Jamie Russell
    Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover
    Cinematography: Image Making for Cinematographers, Directors, and Videographers by Blain Brown
    Reflections: Twenty-One Cinematographers At Work by Benjamin Bergery (EXPENSIVE)
     
  14. BroodingHope

    BroodingHope New Member

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    Thanks for all of the suggestions guys. I'll be sure to try and check out everything mentioned!
     
  15. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    You might try Francois Truffaut's book about Hitchcock,in which one great director interviews another.That deals quite a bit with technique.As Matt suggested,a book about the technical terms of filmmaking would be a good start,learn the language of film before searching for meaning.As mentioned by j. tea the Argento book BROKEN MIRRORS,BROKEN MINDS can be interesting reading,especially if you are a fan of Argento's work.It delves into his symbolism on screen,gives some insight into his mindset.I've corresponded with the author,Maitland McDonaugh,she's a bright lady and a major buff when it comes to the ''exploitation" genres.
     
  16. DeathDealer

    DeathDealer I Inhale Horror

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    I'm thinking of going to Film School. Which one did you attend? How was it? Are you currently doing anything with what you got from Film School?
     
  17. Angelman

    Angelman OCD Blu Ray Collector

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    If you are serious about film there are only two schools: NYU and USC. Not only do they provide the best instruction but the connections (if you know how to network) can be invaluable as a shortcut to getting gigs. This is not to say that other schools aren't good... but those two are the gold standard. At the end of the day, though, I agree with what some others have said: just make 'em. That's how you learn.
     
  18. Anaestheus

    Anaestheus Well-Known Member

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    I may not be the best person to ask about this sort of thing. I went to Ithaca College. At the time I was turned off by USC and NYU because they wanted you to declare a specialty for your final degree, such as editing or cinematography. Where as, with IC, you learned all aspects. And their Communications school was started by Rod Serling and that's pretty cool.

    While I have worked in media consistently since I graduated, starting as with freelance gigs here in Chicago. I've shot films of my own, done some festivals, and currently run the video production department for a small company. But, I don't know how much of my actual education really comes into play with my work. At the time, nearly two decades ago, I majored in film, learned about film cameras, the physical cutting of film stock, etc. Now I haven't touched film in well over a decade.

    And, while my school did have a very notable video department, I didn't really do a lot there. I mean, the video toaster was brand new technology and there were only two or three Avid systems in the world and they ran on Kray Supercomputers at the time and cost literally 1 million dollars. So, I figured video editing was something I would never want to do.

    When the digital revolution came, I needed to learn lots of new stuff and ended up teaching myself most of the skills that I now use for a living. While the technology and programs can seem daunting, there is so much information easily available now, that all you need is some persistence to learn how to use them.

    And the "connections" that you'll need can come about the same way. Granted, that has also been my biggest weakness as I am not really good at being social any more. So, making and maintaining those connections has been challenging. But, as long as you can continue to put out good work, they do come about on their own, to some extent.

    What film school did give me access to was exposure to a lot of films that I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise. But, now I own most of those on DVD, so I can't say how much benefit that would have had for me today.

    But, I have to temper my cynicism with a bit of reality for myself. I do admit that I didn't really like a lot of my teachers there. I found them dull and rigid, for the most part. And I probably was either too naive or insecure or cocky to actually try to reach out to any of them on my own.

    So, in the retrospective eyes of a forty year old man, I can probably say that half of the reason I didn't appreciate film school was because I was too young to really see it's potential. But the part of me that is still cocksure says that I would have been better served by taking all the money that I spent going to school and using it to start up my own production company.
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2009
  19. mcchrist

    mcchrist A new breed of pervert!

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    Hey! I agree with Maybrick on something! Amazing!

    Yeah, seek The Filmmakers Handbook, that should suffice.
     

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