Saturday, July 13, 2013

Old Film Studies Books

This fall I'm taking a film class called Cutting Edge Films From the '60s-'90s. I'm fairly familiar with everything that will be shown, though for me film classes have never been about being introduced to new material. It's about being introduced to new ways of seeing familiar material. The class itself will be wonderfully relaxing and a nice three credit distraction from the rest of my course load. It's only once a week, and includes a two hour lecture and a film. I believe journal entries are required each week, which I may end up posting here.

Anyway, this reminded me of the film class I took last year, The Psychology of Cinema, which was primarily concerned with the narrative technique called mindscreen. Bruce Kawin describes it as "a visual (and at times aural) field that presents itself as the product of a mind, and that is often associated with systematic reflexivity, or self-consciousness." In other words, mindscreen asks us to see characters in stories and discern the objective and subjective realities. Mindscreen can be found in anything from Rashomon, which asks us whether every perspective is a mindscreen, to Swimming Pool, which depicts an individual's reality as very different than the way things really are. It's pretty simple, and more of a game than a truly compelling idea. The fun is to see movies with the notion of mindscreen and think more about the ways reality is being dealt with in them.

I didn't get a terrible amount out of the class, but I did get some fine books that I unfortunately mostly neglected when I was supposed to be reading them. When I wrote last month about selling school books to Amazon, well, these were some of the ones that I actually kept and am now finally going through:

Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. This is a collection of essays, all of which are pretty challenging and academic. Some of the titles include: Narrative Desire, The Scene of Empathy and the Human Face on Film, The emotional Basis of Film Comedy. There's also a terrific piece on the way music affects our emotions in movies, which I hope to include in a piece on that topic soon. 

The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact. This was written by a really smart man named Colin McGinn, who, as described on the back of the book, "thinks like a laser and writes like a dream." McGinn is dealing purely with theoretical notions about the concept cinema and the power and appeal it has in relation to the human mind. Only once or twice does he actually draw on actual movies (he loves Lean's Brief Encounter, a photo of which makes the cover of the book). He's purely interested in light on a screen, what you might call the metaphysics of the moving picture. 

How to Read a Film. This is James Monaco's classic text that covers all the major facets of film and filmmaking and that is now in its fourth edition. As far as the more general film texts go that span a wide range of subjects, this is in my mind one of the best. Monaco is supremely intelligent and for a text of this size his writing is incredibly thoughtful. Reading this doesn't just provide a rush of quick information. It really makes you feel smart.

Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and First-Person Film. This is the quintessential mindscreen text. It's very accessible and unlike McGinn's book it uses concrete examples in tackling its ideas. 

These are probably among the best books available for anyone concerned with the more psychological aspects of movies. I'm not especially, but it's still an undeniably interesting facet of cinema and truly important when considering why we keep on watching these things. 

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