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Closely Watched Films

Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique

Marilyn Fabe
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 297
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  • Book Info
    Closely Watched Films
    Book Description:

    How do films work? How do they tell a story? How do they move us and make us think? Through detailed examinations of passages from classic films, Marilyn Fabe supplies the analytic tools and background in film history and theory to enable us to see more in every film we watch. Ranging from D. W. Griffith'sThe Birth of a Nationto Spike Lee'sDo the Right Thing,and ending with an epilogue on digital media,Closely Watched Filmsfocuses on exemplary works of fourteen film directors whose careers together span the history of the narrative film. Lively and down-to-earth, this concise introduction provides a broad, complete, and yet specific picture of visual narrative techniques that will increase readers' excitement about and knowledge of the possibilities of the film medium. Shot-by-shot analyses of short passages from each film ground theory in concrete examples. Fabe includes original and well-informed discussions of Soviet montage, realism and expressionism in film form, classical and modern sound theory, the classic Hollywood film, Italian neorealism, the French New Wave, auteur theory, modernism and postmodernism in film, political cinema, feminist film theory and practice, and narrative experiments in new digital media. Encompassing the earliest silent films as well as those that exploit the most recent technological innovations, this book gives us the particulars of how film-arguably the most influential of contemporary forms of representation-constitutes our pleasure, influences our thoughts, and informs our daily reality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93729-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    How do films work? How do they tell a story? How do they move us and make us think? This book argues that shot-by-shot analysis is the best way for film students to learn about and appreciate the filmmaker’s art. Having taught film studies for many years, I have learned that viewers trained in close analysis of single film sequences are better able to see and appreciate the rich visual and aural complexity of the film medium. Close analysis unlocks the secrets of how film images, combined with sound, can have such a profound effect on our minds and emotions....

  6. 1 The Beginnings of Film Narrative: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
    (pp. 1-18)

    D.W. Griffith, arguably the most influential pioneer in the art of the narrative film, was born on a farm near La Grange, Kentucky in 1875, ten years after the Civil War. He came from a family of wealth on his mother’s side. His father, known as “Roaring Jake” and “Thunder Jake” for his oratory skills, achieved glory on the battlefield as a colonel in the Civil War. But Griffith’s father was also a wanderer and a gambler who left his family in debt when he died. Hence, after Griffith’s mother moved the family to St. Louis, Griffith took a number...

  7. 2 The Art of Montage: Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin
    (pp. 19-36)

    In 1925, ten years afterThe Birth of a Nationestablished the potency of Griffith’s narrative techniques, the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’sThe Battleship Potemkindazzled film audiences around the world. “This is not a picture—” the film critic of Germany’s leading newspaper, theBerliner Tageblatt, wrote, “it is a reality. Eisenstein has created the most powerful and artistic film in the whole world.”¹ The film is still acclaimed today: it is included in almost every introductory course in film history and aesthetics. Interestingly, the German film critic praisesPotemkinfor being profoundly real (“This is not a picture—...

  8. 3 Expressionism and Realism in Film Form: F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Charles Chaplin’s The Adventurer
    (pp. 37-58)

    At the same time that Eisenstein was experimenting with the capacity of editing or montage to give heightened emotional and political impact to his filmed narratives, the German filmmaker F. W. Murnau was concentrating on the potentials of the enframed image, the way specific photographic effects could add psychological expressiveness to the profilmic action. (As discussed in chapter 1, the termprofilmicrefers to the characters, settings, props and other aspects of the film’s mise-en-scène before they are captured or enframed on celluloid.) Like many of his contemporaries working in the German film industry in the 1910s and 1920s, Murnau...

  9. 4 The Conversion to Sound and the Classical Hollywood Film: Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday
    (pp. 59-77)

    By the end of 1929, the conversion of the motion picture industry to sound was all but complete in the United States. Nearly every theater had installed sound equipment. So much did the public love the novelty of the sound film that the best-made silent film could not compete at the box office with the worst, most clumsily crafted “talkie.” But many film directors, film theorists, and aestheticians believed that the image defined the essence of cinema and was the feature that distinguished it from literature and theater. They felt that the addition of synchronized sound (especially in the form...

  10. 5 Expressive Realism: Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane
    (pp. 78-98)

    In August of 1939, at age twenty-four, Orson Welles signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. to make three films, one a year. His pay would be 25 percent of the gross profits of each film with an advance of $150,000. At his own choosing, he could be producer, director, writer, actor, or all of the above.¹ It was unprecedented in Hollywood for a director to have so much control over all aspects of his film. Welles entered Hollywood with such power because of his success as a theater director in the thirties. He first attracted attention at age...

  11. 6 Italian Neorealism: Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief
    (pp. 99-119)

    In my history of film courses I have at various times taught three films defined in film histories as quintessential examples of Italian neorealism:Open City(Roberto Rossellini, 1945),The Bicycle Thief(Vittorio De Sica, 1948), andUmberto D(Vittorio De Sica, 1952).Open Cityis famous for launching the movement,The Bicycle Thieffor reaffirming the neorealist aesthetic, andUmberto Dfor being the last “real” or genuine neorealist film. Before showing the film, I try to define Italian neorealism by listing the stylistic and thematic features of the movement that the film will exemplify. The problem is that...

  12. 7 Auteur Theory and the French New Wave: François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows
    (pp. 120-134)

    The 400 Blowsis the autobiographical first feature film by François Truffaut, who was twenty-seven years old when he made it in 1959. Aside from its intrinsic value as a moving, psychologically acute portrait of the artist as a young man,The 400 Blowsis historically important because its instant commercial and critical success helped launch a national film movement known as the French New Wave. The New Wave flourished for a relatively short period, between 1959 and 1963, when certain historical, technological, and economic factors combined to give considerable influence to a number of young French filmmakers who had...

  13. 8 Hollywood Auteur: Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious
    (pp. 135-151)

    As I discussed in chapter 7, the New Wave theorists distinguished between those directors they considered auteurs, whose unique style and vision marked their films, and those directors who were merely faithful adapters of their literary sources or of other writers’ screenplays. The Hollywood directors the French critics praised as auteurs include Howard Hawks, John Ford, Anthony Mann, Nicholas Ray, George Cukor, Orson Welles, and above all, Alfred Hitchcock. The French auteur theorists and directors Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer point out in their pioneering bookHitchcock(1957) that Hitchcock’s films are deeply infused with anxiety, guilt, and existential angst,...

  14. 9 The European Art Film: Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2
    (pp. 152-172)

    Federico Fellini’s8 1/2(1963) is a radical departure in style and content from mainstream cinema. Unlike the typical Hollywood film, which has its roots in the clearly defined characters and unified, coherent plots of nineteenth-century popular fiction,8 1/2is a European art film, inspired by the forms and techniques of twentieth-century literary modernism.¹ Modernist novelists such as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, and James Joyce adopted complex and often difficult new forms of representation that foregrounded the subjectivity of the narrator, undercutting the pretensions of nineteenth-century fiction to render characters, actions, and events objectively. Literary modernists questioned...

  15. 10 Film and Postmodernism: Woody Allen’s Annie Hall
    (pp. 173-190)

    Postmodernism is such a notoriously slippery term that the word has become almost meaningless. This is ironically appropriate, because meaninglessness is a core concern of postmodernism. On the Internet, I came across the following quotation, which nicely sums up the indeterminacy of the term: “To some it’s an excuse to pile together oodles of wild and crazy décor, to others it’s another example of the weakness of standards and values, to others a transgressive resistance to the sureness of categories, to others a handy way to describe a particular house, dress, car, artist, dessert or pet and to others, it’s...

  16. 11 Political Cinema: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing
    (pp. 191-206)

    Spike Lee’s 1989 filmDo the Right Thingseems a contradiction in terms: an entertaining Hollywood film with a disturbing political message. Intended by Lee as a wake-up call to America (the film’s narrative begins with Señor Love Daddy [Samuel Jackson], a radio DJ, urging his listeners to “Waaaake up”), the film implies that underneath a thin surface of affability between blacks and whites in America lurks a mutual hatred, resentment, and distrust that makes outbreaks of violence between them inevitable. The film’s action takes place on the hottest day of summer in the Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesant, the heat serving...

  17. 12 Feminism and Film Form: Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing
    (pp. 207-227)

    All of the films I have considered thus far have been made by male directors. What difference might it make—in a film’s style, content, or representation of women—when a woman directs? To consider this question, I turn to an exceptional film written and directed by a woman, the Canadian director Patricia Rozema’sI’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.The film, made on a tiny budget, had limited distribution by Miramax and is rarely seen now outside of college film courses, but it was the surprise hit at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987, and winner of the Prix de...

  18. 13 Epilogue: Digital Video and New Forms of Narrative in Mike Figgis’s Timecode
    (pp. 228-242)

    As I conclude this book on the art of narrative film techniques, I am aware that the medium I have been writing about may well be on the verge of becoming extinct, a casualty of a new technology which threatens to replace it—digital video. Since we are only at the beginning of a new technological age, the question of how new electronic ways of creating moving images will ultimately affect our moviegoing experience and the form future films will take is impossible to predict. It is true that at the time of this writing, films shot with digital cameras...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 243-258)
  20. Glossary
    (pp. 259-266)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-272)
  22. Index
    (pp. 273-279)