Film: A Very Short Introduction

Film: A Very Short Introduction

Michael Wood

Language: English

Pages: 144

ISBN: 0192803530

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Film is arguably the dominant art form of the twentieth century. In this Very Short Introduction, Michael Wood offers a wealth of insight into the nature of film, considering its role and impact on society as well as its future in the digital age. As Wood notes, film is many things, but it has become above all a means of telling stories through images and sounds. The stories are often quite false, frankly and beautifully fantastic, and they are sometimes insistently said to be true. Indeed, many condemn movies as an instrument of illusion, an emphatic way of seeing what is not there. And others celebrate the reverse: that film brings us closest to the world as it actually is. "Photography is truth," a character says in a film by Jean-Luc Godard. "And cinema is the truth twenty-four times per second." But they are stories in either case, and there are very few films, Wood observes, even in avant-garde art, that don't imply or quietly slip into narrative.

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Then the screen turns to colour, pale green with dots of mauve, a sort of messy Monet, it seems, and the association is not too far from the mark. This is a pond which now covers the burying grounds of one of the camps, a blurred and (in 1955) more or less meaningless image. But then its historical existence vanishes immediately into what the commentary names as its metaphor: ‘the cold and opaque water of our bad memory’. ‘Who among us’, the commentary asks, ‘watches from this strange

easily takes over popular art. Some films – Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz (both 1939) – had so many directors they could only be producer or studio works; and if critics regard Rebecca (1940) as a Hitchcock film, David O. Selznick and the old public certainly saw it as a Selznick film. The producer indeed is a large part of the fact and the legend of classic American movies. He is the one who builds myths and makes himself larger than life, like Kirk Douglas in The Bad and the Beautiful

myths of photography claimed, and ‘digital’ is in one sense just a name for our belated sense of how much manipulation is possible in any mode of imagery. Still, as Edwards points out, if a picture of a car is transformed on a computer into a picture of a bike, we have to wonder whether we should still call the result a photograph. It’s a wonderful question, and I think the answer is that unless we knew the story of the transformation, we would call it a photograph – of a bike. To believe that

that will help to preserve the term’s life. Could the name change? Might we come to call ‘film’ in either or both of these senses something else? We might; but I’m guessing we won’t. The two senses are these. A film is a story or a proposition (remember the dictionary’s cautious recital: ‘a cinematographic representation of a story, drama, episode, event, etc.’) that is shaped, angled, finite, intended, whether it is a documentary, an art installation, a bit of gritty realism, or a full-blown

Panofsky 29, 31, 65 parallel editing 22 Parapluies de Cherbourg, Les (1964) 97–8 parodies 83–4 of gangster films 104 Passion of Joan of Arc, The 22, 41, 110, 111 Peck, Gregory 36 perception of movement 3–5 perception of reality 13–16 Pesci, Joe 102 Petit Soldat, Le (1960) 50–1 Pfeiffer, Michelle 33 photography 8–11 and cartoon 76–7 from movies 1–3 as truth 50–1 Player, The (1992) 20–1, 34 Poetics (Aristotle) 10 Porgy and Bess (1959) 95

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