David Bordwell

  • Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park, 1993, 35 mm, color, 127 minutes.


    IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that the world’s most famous paleontologist sits in judgment on technologies of visual representation. But when Stephen Jay Gould saw Jurassic Park, his concerns about stereotypical characterizations and the scientific infeasibility of the plot were offset by something close to awe:

    The dinosaur scenes are spectacular. Intellectuals too often either pay no attention to such technical wizardry or, even worse, actually disdain special effects with such dismissive epithets as “merely mechanical.” I find such small-minded parochialism outrageous. . . . The use of technology to

  • David Bordwell

    PEOPLE ARE TALKING more about film technique than ever before. Producers hire directors who have established a distinctive look in a music video or an online clip. Critics of earlier decades scarcely mentioned camera work or cutting, but reviewers today happily point out Steadicam shots and choppy chase scenes. In website comment threads, audiences complain about shaky images and roaring surround sound. Have people become more sensitive to cinematic expression? Mostly not. They are responding to a cluster of in-your-face techniques, from handheld camera work to rapidfire editing to blatant

  • David Bordwell

    FOR SOME OF US, THERE IS NO MORE MOVING moment in cinema than when, in Tokyo Story (1953), which many consider the quintessential film by Yasujiro Ozu (1903–63), Kyoko remarks, “Isn’t life disappointing?” and her sister-in-law Noriko replies, with a smile of calm radiance, “I’m afraid it is.” The poignancy of this exchange is a hallmark of the Ozu we have admired ever since his films slipped into Western film culture in the ’60s. And alongside this poignancy sits an extraordinary formal precision, that much-lauded restraint typically characterized as a set of dogged refusals: constant angle,

  • Johnnie To, Fulltime Killer, still from a color film in 35 mm, 102 minutes. Chin (Kelly Lin) and Tok (Andy Lau).


    IN THE MID-’90S, AFTER A SPLENDID RUN IN regional markets and film festivals, Hong Kong cinema began to unravel. Major directors like John Woo and Tsui Hark, along with star Chow Yun-fat, tried their luck in Los Angeles. The handover to China, American studios’ growing domination of Asia, a regional recession, and video piracy triggered a crisis that has steadily deepened. In 2002, local films posted their worst earnings in decades, and producers begged for more government subsidy. Even the art-cinema wing has waned, though Wong Kar-wai remains a festival favorite.

    There are a few bright spots.

  • David Bordwell


    *1. Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes) A luscious Sirk pastiche and a thoughtful revival of liberal melodrama.

    2. Heaven (Tom Tykwer) Krzysztof Kieślowski’s last script suits Run Lola Run director Tykwer, romanticist of couples in flight. Giovanni Ribisi holds the screen with his eyes.

    3. I’m Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira) This portrait of an aging actor has a Chekhovian tautness. Ideally seen with Oliveira’s affectionate tribute Oporto of My Childhood.

    4. Japón (Carlos Reygadas) An intimate study, on scorched 16 mm, of a suicidal outsider and the hatreds tearing at a Mexican village.


  • The art that inspired them in 2000

    Those of us who live and breathe contemporary art will hold to the idea that art does change, if not the world, then the way we live in it. But our “world” can be more insular than we care to admit. So to open our look back at 2000, we asked twenty-one “outsiders” we admire—from novelist J.G. Ballard to musician John Zorn—to tell us about the art that inspired them this year.

    Dave Eggers (novelist)
    About a year ago, I saw Marcel Dzama’s stuff in zingmagazine and fell madly in love. Then his show at David Zwirner just killed me. A hundred or so drawings (bears with handguns, whale-men

  • ROBERT BRESSON: 1901–1999

    On December 22, 1999, Robert Bresson, the director of thirteen lapidary feature films, died at the age of ninety-eight. Over the course of a career that spanned half a century, Bresson honed a laconic, intensely personal style that has influenced filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to Jim Jarmusch. Here, novelists Gary Indiana and Dennis Cooper and artist Stephen Prina assess the significance of Bresson’s art in their own lives and work, while film historian David Bordwell discusses the French master’s place in the history of cinematic style.

  • Sound of Silents

    ROBERT BRESSON IS USUALLY THOUGHT OF AS AN INVENTOR OF FORMS —an auteur in the strongest possible sense, projecting an idiosyncratic vision of the world. His innovations, we are always reminded, are those of fragmentation and compression. He stresses “the essential,” stripping down an action through close-ups, elliptical cuts, and dead-quiet sound levels until it achieves a hypnotic intensity. A pair of hands, footsteps in a Métro station, a beer glass on a zinc-topped bar: Details are plucked out and laid end to end, sending us back to our world with a sharpened sensitivity. Now you really