Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: Film Art: An Introduction

Film Art: An Introduction is a basic film aesthetics textbook.  It is a nearly perfect book on its subject.  It is everything it is supposed to be.  It looks at the main types of movies and the conventions in each.  It looks at all the different aesthetic and production angles.  It is the sort of book that all new filmmakers and students should read.  There are very few problems with it.  I highly recommend Film Art: An Introduction to anyone new to the world of cinephilia.  Film Art: An Introduction looks very in-depth at the basic conventions of movies.  These are the things we have grown up with and intuitively follow, but now they are put out into the open and the system is demystified.  This is good for viewers because it allows them to see through the system and lessen its often negative hold on them.  It also shows the unoriginality in most work, but can lead to highlighting the originality in other work.  For creators, it helps them realize how to "correctly" make a movie.  Knowledge need not destroy creativity, but should enhance the inner voice of an artist.  Being that this is art, these are conventions and not absolutes.  This book will not get into confusing philosophy or pages of Freudian psychology.  It is a perfect, clinical, but not dry, book of film production and basic aesthetics.  Sometimes the best books deal with the most universal, out in the open, ideas.

Brief Table of Contents
Part One: Film Art and Filmmaking
Chapter 1. Putting Films on Screen
Part Two: Film Form
Chapter 2. The Significance of Film Form
Chapter 3. Narrative as a Formal System
Part Three: Film Style
Chapter 4. The Shot: Mise-en-Scene
Chapter 5. The Shot: Cinematography
Chapter 6. The Relation of Shot to Shot: Editing
Chapter 7. Sound in the Cinema
Chapter 8. Style as a Formal System
Part Four: Types of Films
Chapter 9. Film Genres
Chapter 10. Documentary, Experimental, and Animated Films
Part Five: Critical Analysis of Films
Introduction: Writing a Critical Analysis of a Film
Chapter 11. Sample Analyses
Part Six: Film Art and Film History
Chapter 12. Film Art and Film History

I only have one warning and one complaint about this book.  The warning is that this book is for newbies.  I had read portions of it for a class years ago and in returning to it recently, I realized I knew the material and was bored with it.  My second complaint is that it cites way too many movies.  Nearly every example is a different movie.  The author essentially uses the reverse approach of this blog.  When I read a book on film, especially an aesthetics and theory book as opposed to a factual book, I like to get all the references, put them into context and not have portions of movies given away.  Now I know that no two people have seen all the same movies, but given the sheer breadth of references here, even the most serious cinephile will have a whole lot of movies they have never seen or even heard of.  Considering you could nearly write the entire book with examples from Citizen Kane, the current set-up comes off as unnecessary and pedantic, although I suppose it may have been the point to introduce readers to so many movies as well as to show the sheer pervasiveness of the ideas in the book.

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