Recommended introduction to film theory?
October 26, 2021 5:44 AM   Subscribe

Hi MetaFilmers! What book do you currently recommend as an introduction to film theory? I need to recommend one to someone today, but school was a long time ago now--I'm wondering what more modern basic (starter level) work you might suggest for a novice these days. Thanks!
posted by theatro to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I was in film school a million years ago, Film Theory by David Bordwell was one of the textbooks. New editions come out pretty frequently, so you could probably easily find slightly older editions for sale online.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:40 AM on October 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You want whatever is the latest edition of Film Art by Bordwell and Thompson.
posted by dobbs at 6:52 AM on October 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Haha, oops. Yes, Film Art, not Theory.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:54 AM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: As for "more modern," the person might enjoy Tony's YouTube series Every Frame a Painting. Word on the street is he is working on a similar series for Netflix with David Fincher, probably due in 2022.
posted by dobbs at 7:04 AM on October 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Dissolve is defunct but I still go back to their Movie of the Week.

One Perfect Shot hasn't been updated in awhile either, I think they're looking for funding for a standalone series or something.

Vogue Magazine's Notes on a Scene series is interesting, tho not every director is interesting to watch. Rian Johnson is an über film nerd!

Covid seems to have taken a real toll on websites or YouTubers or Twits that focus on movies, a lot of them have slowed down and are just now posting more.

I'm just a film nerd who read too much Premier Magazine as a child and decided not to go to film school because it was far away. There's probably better sources!
posted by fiercekitten at 7:39 AM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing Bordwell and Thompson (me = MA Film, Northwestern, 1988)
posted by briank at 7:39 AM on October 26, 2021

Response by poster: Oh YES how could Bordwell & Thompson not come first to my mind! I've recommended Film Art: an Introduction (and also Film History: an Introduction, in case they have a hankering in that arena).

I also recommended Bordwell & Thompson's "Observations on Film Art" blog for good measure.

Thank you all for your help, and for the ancillary links!
posted by theatro at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: Does it have to be 'more modern'? I might lean towards some classics…

Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality

André Bazin, What is Cinema?
posted by Ahmad Khani at 10:24 AM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, they needed something modern and introductory. Although Kracauer & Bazin are definitely famed classics of the field, those aren't quite where I'm aiming at the moment.
posted by theatro at 12:04 PM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: Film Studies prof here, and a student of Bordwell and Thompson's. They pointedly have never really written film THEORY per se, but have written extensively about film analysis, which is a different beast. They write *about* film theory, but never have written theoretical texts. Indeed, some of their work, like Thompson's Breaking the Glass Armor, is in part a treatise against theory; the same could be said about the collection edited by Bordwell and Noël Carroll called Post-Theory.

Not to split hairs, here, but what kind of film theory do you want to recommend to this person? Cultural/feminist/structuralist/postmodern/identity/aesthetic/etc? I can help with this but could use a little more info!

My own intro to film theory came in the form of various essays (Eisenstein, Bazin, Kracauer, Mulvey, many others) in the oft-assigned Film Theory and Criticism, edited (in my student days) by Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen, and since taken over by others. You could do a lot worse!

It's considered, I'm sure, somewhat old-school these days, but V.F. Perkins's Film as Film is a highly readable intro to theory -- so readable that you may not even realize you're reading film theory.

Of all the biggies, I've always found Dziga Vertov's essays - manifestoes, really - the most fun to read. They're filled with excitement and verve in a way that most film theory is decidedly not.

I gotta go now but will check in later. I can make many other suggestions if you mention a few parameters!
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:34 PM on October 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Would Miriam Hanssen's Cinema and experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno be too advanced? Is recent, and I find her to be eminently readable. I wonder if Saër Maty Bâ and Will Higbee's anthology De-Westernizing Film Studies might also be of interest. There's also Lee Grieveson and Haidee Wasson's anthology Inventing Film Studies. I hope this is useful.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 2:19 PM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: André Bazin's What is cinema? Vol. 1 & 2 are fantastic. I don't know about the translation but in french Bazin was one of the clearest and more approachable theorist of film that I've read.
posted by SageLeVoid at 5:45 PM on October 26, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for the additional followup! Sorry for the delay in responding--I was out of town and mostly internet-free.

I only had the one time-limited chance to give the recommendation, so my train has left the station. I do think the Bordwell & Thompson will do him some good, even if it isn't film theory per se... In hindsight, I don't think he entirely understood what film theory even is, and basically wanted help analyzing/understanding films, which I think B&T will help him with as a starter.

But the other recs are still very welcome, for me to have in my pocket the next time it becomes relevant, whether it's revisiting the classics or reading something more recent and new-to-me.
posted by theatro at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2021

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