17 juillet 2009

Bordwell on cliché in criticism

If Critics can use the artist's statements as evidence for their interpretation, artists versed in interpretative procedures can use the critics.
A complete list of topoi* at work in film interpretation would run very long, but let me pick out a few which have given pleasure over the years.
  1. A critically significant film is ambiguous, or polysemous, or dialogical.
  2. A critically significant film is strikingly novel in subject, theme, style, or form.
  3. A critically significant film takes up an oppositional relation to tradition (old version: ironic; new version: subversive).
  4. A film should make its audience work.
  5. Putting characters in the same frame unites them; cutting stresses opposition.
  6. Montage is opposed to mise-en-scène, or camera movement.
  7. The first viewing is different from later viewings.
  8. Lumière is opposed to Méliès.
  9. The image always escapes verbal paraphrase (old version: through richness; new version: through excess or plenitude).
  10. The filmmaker in question is not solely a master of technique; the film also harbors profound meanings.
  11. In the artist's late period, technique is thrown aside and the work becomes simpler, more schematic, and more profound.
  12. The film asks a question but doesn't answer it.
  13. The film is a reflection or meditation on a sophisticated philosophical or political issue.
  14. The film is Shakespearian (Anglo-American version) or Racinian (French) or Faulknerian (either).
  15. The film's style is so exaggerated that it must be ironic or parodic (useful for Sirk, late Vidor, Visconti, Ken Russell, and so on).
  16. Previous interpretations of the film are inadequate, if not downright wrong.
David Bordwell, in Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema, 1989.

* Topos (plural: topoi) : literally "common place".
a traditional theme or rhetorical motif or literary convention

5 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

Haha... that exhausts almost every type of review I have read!

Robert a dit…

Yeah, and Bordwell wrote this in 1989? It holds up, I'd say. And I think even the new wave of Internet based film writers who have cropped up since then fall into these patterns more often than not.

I thought of #15 myself recently during the new Woody Allen movie, Whatever Works in which the Southern rubes are transformed and freed by moving to New York.

Maya a dit…

Sweet. Of course, the real challenge these days is fitting our topoi into a tweet.

HarryTuttle a dit…

I thought Twitter was to notify links? Can you actually review movies under 140 characters???

Matthew Holtmeier a dit…

Ahhh, reviewing films in under 140 characters - sounds like a challenge, or the beginning of a new internet phenomenon.