Thursday, October 18, 2007

Working through Widescreen: David Bordwell on Cinemascope

David Bordwell's observations and arguments on filmmaking have danced across, spun into, and consumed the brains of cinephiles and just about every university student who has taken a class on film theory or history.

He spoke at Emory University, my alma mater, today. Excluding the students who had to or were strongly encouraged (extra credit) to attend his lecture, I wouldn't be surprised if at least half of the remaining audience members were there as a fan or at least an intellectual admirer of his work.

I reviewed his book The Way Hollywood Tells It this past spring for my historiography seminar and had read most of The Classical Hollywood Cinema for the same class.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I bought Bordwell's book Figures Traced in Light after the talk today, and I got him to autograph it and draw me a tropical fruit blossom.

John Orr reviewed it for Senses of Cinema, which you can find here.

David Bordwell is a very engaging speaker; and I daresay I'm more inclined to believe or agree with his views if he were to tell them to me rather than if I were to read those thoughts.

The lecture he gave was on Cinemascope and the ways in which Hollywood filmmakers of the 1950s had to negotiate filming and telling stories as effectively as possible and with new technology. His presentation included a wealth of screen captures that illuminated and bolstered his analysis. Bordwell noticed three primary methods that Hollywood directors dealt with having to make movies with cameras fitted with widescreen lenses and that would be seen in theatres with modified projectors.

A: Direct in rows, fill horizontal space.

B: Choreograph actors' movements such that depth-of-field and diagonal lines would complement whatever narrative and thematic priorities a particular shot or scene demanded.

C: Design the shot or scene anticipating a cropping out of significant vertical space (the areas at the top and bottom of the screen). Close-ups of faces would probably not be too flattering in this case.

Now when I (re)watch American films from the 1950s, I'm going to pay closer attention to where the actors are standing and how they move through space and which of the aforementioned techniques is implemented. In fact, I'm going to have to watch Knute Rockne, All American and Jim Thorpe, All American again and consider how the actors and football game-play are filmed vis-a-vis the absence of widescreen.

David Bordwell definitely has the look of a scholar, though not exclusively of film. He could pass for an anthropologist, an economist, a physicist, and even a criminologist. For a glimpse, click here, scroll all the way down, and look left.

pix creds:

Originally posted at Sthemingway.