Basic Notes on Film Analysis

These introductory notes are meant for students of art academies and film academies, to stimulate them to get an informed view and fresh perspective on contemporary cinema and film heritage. 

1. Asking the right questions
2. How to get a grip on film history
3. Exploration of remakes, the second use of stories
4. The Poetics of Film
5. Cinephilia and the institutional view on film culture
6. Resources for film studies

Asking the right questions
The internet offers a huge amount of information. Anybody can find something, but only a wise person can select the essential or valuable. There are many resources on line for free, but a big part of it is useless or superficial. To survive, you need to be able to ask the right questions. It is a precious gift to do just this: to ask the right questions. It is also a competence everybody can develop. Some people can even make a living of it: professional critics, scientists, curators and artists. I would like this course to be embedded in a general urge of curiosity. I hope to inspire students to continue their search for intelligent questions.
Let’s start with the simple question: How is it possible that we see movement in the projected film image?
The standard answer is: our perception of movement is a mental illusion, a result of the slow connection between our eyes and brain. It is a trick which requires an advanced technical achievement. This answer is just the beginning of an exploration of the fascinating world of the so-called pre-cinema in the 19th century.
Media researcher Lev Manovich stated in 2002:
 “The introduction of Quick Time by Apple in 1991 can be compared to the introduction of the Kinetoscope in 1892: both were used to present short loops, both featured the images approximately two by three inches in size, both called for private viewing rather than collective exhibition. Culturally, the two technologies also functioned similarly: as the latest technological marvel. If in the early 1890s the public patronized Kinetoscope parlors where peep-hole machines presented them with the latest invention of tiny moving photographs arranged in short loops; exactly a hundred years later, computer users were equally fascinated with tiny Quick Time Movies that turned a computer in a film projector, however imperfect. Finally, the Lumieres first film screenings of 1895 which shocked their audiences with huge moving images found their parallel in 1995 CD-ROM titles where the moving image finally fills the entire computer screen (for instance, in Johnny Memnemonic computer game, based on the film by the same title). Thus, exactly a hundred years after cinema was officially “born, it was reinvented on a computer screen.“
(from: Lev Manovich ‘New Media from Borges to HTML’, on-line: In print: Wardrip-Fruin, Noah & Nick Montfort (eds.) The New Media Reader, MIT Press, 2002).
Media researcher Lev Manovich stated in 2001:
 “Don’t you wish that somebody, in 1895, 1897 or at least in 1903, realized the fundamental significance of cinema’s emergence and produced a comprehensive record of new medium’s emergence? Interviews with the audiences; a systematic account of the narrative strategies, scenography and camera positions as they developed year by year; an analysis of the connections between the emerging language of cinema and different forms of popular entertainment which coexisted with it, would have been invaluable. But, of course, these records do not exist. Instead, we are left with newspaper reports, diaries of cinema’s inventors, programs of film showings and other bits and pieces — a set of random and unevenly distributed historical samples.”
(Lev Manovich: ‘Cinema as Cultural Interface’, on-line: In print: Lev Manovich The Language of New Media, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001, p 6-7).
In 1895 film was a “new medium”: filmmakers of the early cinema had no examples of how to operate. You can compare this historic introduction of a new means of expression with for example the more recent invention of the webcam. The first use of the webcam was just to see if the coffee jar in the next room was full or not. Afterwards the webcam was used by artists in a more inventive and creative way. Likewise in film history: the brothers Lumière for example started filming their employees leaving their factory, or a train arriving at a station. Thomas Edison filmed many stage acts (dancers, acrobats). It took a while before the camera moved and before the possibilities of editing were fully explored.
Which film did you see, in which order?
(These notes are inspired by the lectures of the American film historian Robert C. Allen, at the University of Utrecht, 2005)
Every film you see changes the way you watch other films. Your personal chronology of film viewing and your personal story of film experiences are set in a context of many other personal stories and also the general, historical context. Especially the way you experience old, classical films is dominated by your expectations, based on your personal experiences and the way these films are shown. I challenge you to see old films, you can challenge me to defend the need of all this and you can enrich me with your comments.
For example: did you see METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang, 1927)?
Part of this silent film classic is about a mad scientist who makes an evil woman-robot (or ‘female cyborg’). This theme reminds us of for example the TERMINATOR and ROBOCOP cycles. The art direction of the apocalyptic vision of a big intimidating city (or ‘futuristic urban dreamscape’) reminds us of films like BLADE RUNNER (Ridley Scott, 1982) or THE FIFTH ELEMENT (Luc Besson, 1997) or MINORITY REPORT (Steven Spielberg, 2002). Almost every film set in a futuristic urban architecture with a dark gothic atmosphere seems to be inspired by METROPOLIS, look at the images of for example BATMAN (Tim Burton, 1989).
In which order did you see these films? Which influence has this on your viewing experience? Perhaps you also saw the Japanese animation film METOROPORISU (Rintaro, 2001), which was influenced by METROPOLIS, or maybe you started with the video clips ‘Radio Gaga’ (Queen) or ‘Express Yourself’ (Madonna) which also refer to METROPOLIS. Maybe you had the chance to watch other German silent fiction films from the twenties, like NOSFERATU. A SYMPHONY OF TERROR (Murnau, 1922)? Again: in what order? In which way did it change your opinion about the classical METROPOLIS?
How to get a grip on film history
A traditional way of getting a grip on film history is to start with a division between feature films (fiction) and documentary (facts), with a third smaller division of experimental cinema. One can continue with a division in decades (cinema of the teens, twenties, thirties and so on), combined with an assorted choice of grouping and placing strategies like film style, genre, national cinema.
Fact and fantasy
It is possible to divide all filmmakers in two categories: those who use facts from reality and those who use their imagination and create fantasy. A short elaboration of this statement:
  1. Film artists could use the camera to collect images taken from reality, this means not just recording, but excelling in a special way to observe the existing world through the lens. The brothers Lumière could be pointed as the first example of this kind of filmmakers: they put their camera on a train platform or before a factory gate (1895-1897) and recorded what happened there. Later on they sent many cameramen around the world, who returned with exotic images of astonishing beauty. This way of filmmaking became a small industry (for example: the Pathé Company). You can create a lasting wonder with observations, it is possible to fascinate an audience of all times, if you put your camera in the right place at the right time (and: if you are able to edit your footage in a compelling way!). Some examples: in Germany Walter Ruttmann and his team captured a day in the big city: BERLIN, DIE SINFONIE DER GROSSSTADT (1927). In the Soviet-Union Dziga Vertov and his team demonstrated he craft and art of the cameraman: THE MAN WITH THE CAMERA (1929). Documentary is most obvious part of this category of observing the existing world, but it is also perfectly possible to make a fiction film within this category. For example: Buster Keaton made a hilarious silent comedy about an aspiring newsreel cameraman (THE CAMERAMAN, 1928).

Some possible approaches to documentary:
  1. Film artists could use fantasy to create moving images. Filmmakers in this category create their own reality. The first example in history is George Méliès, who made for instance a film about a voyage to the moon (LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE, 1902). In the Soviet Union the experienced filmmaker Jakov Protazanov made AELITA (1924), a silent science-fiction film, situated at Mars. The sets and costumes are all masterpieces of avant-garde art, fit for a museum of modern art. The world of made belief is perfectly demonstrated in the classic Hollywood film THE WIZZARD OF OZ (1939), a fairy tale told in saturated Technicolor: the Yellow Brick Road is really glowing yellow. More recent examples of imaginative created realities in films: BLADE RUNNER (1982), BIG FISH (2003). Some feature films about virtual reality: STRANGE DAYS (Bigelow, 1995); JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995); THE GAME (Fincher, 1997); eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999); THE MATRIX (1999); AVALON (Mamoru Oshii, 2001); RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (Sun-Woo Jang, 2002); THE 13TH FLOOR (Josef Rusnak, 1999).
Patterns of taste
Movies can be seen as an expression of identity to be divided in many taste groups, according to nationality, age/ generation, gender. There are many patterns to be explored.
Cinema of reassurance and cinema of disturbance
Another possibility to evaluate films, in a more loose way, is the division between a ‘cinema of reassurance’ and a ‘cinema of disturbance’.
The former offers ‘feel good movies’, films with a positive mood, a happy end, a spirit of optimism. Most of the time it could be labelled as mainstream entertainment, but not necessarily so. Classic examples of high quality in this division are for instance the Hollywood musical AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), or the Dutch art film FANFARE (1958).
The latter (‘cinema of disturbance’) offers films which confront us with the dark side inside all of us, ranging from existential despair, alienation, a feeling of loneliness, a pessimistic mood, to films which show cruel physical violence and a break down of human civilization. Classic examples of high quality in this division are for instance European art films from the seventies like LAST TANGO IN PARIS (Bertolucci, 1972), LE LOCATAIRE (Polanski, 1976 – try also to see his earlier CUL-DE-SAC, 1966), DER AMERIKANISCHER FREUND (Wenders, 1977), DESPAIR (Fassbinder, 1978). More recent examples: LA HAINE (1995), IRREVERSIBLE (2002) or the films of Jim Jarmusch (GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI, 1999) or Sofia Coppola (LOST IN TRANSLATION, 2003). Could you name more recent examples of both options?
The theme of vengeance of treason or abuse deals with one of the fundamental human emotions. Many westerns are built upon this basic feeling. The story of vengeance can be assuring if the revenge is completed before the end of the movie and the bad one is finished in style. To name a few famous examples of this kind: HIGH NOON (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) or ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone, 1968). The story can also be disturbing if it is not clear who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, at the end the moral distinctions are opaque, like for instance in THE SEARCHERS (John Ford, 1956) or UNFORGIVEN (Clint Eastwood, 1992). There are many more outstanding films from Hollywood about revenge, like for instance POINT BLANK (John Boorman, 1967). The theme of revenge is universal, watch for instance the Korean feature LADY VENGEANCE (Chan-wook Park, 2005), or the Japanese feature UNAGI (The Eel, Shohei Imamura, 1997). One can sample more or less the same overview of variations in assurance or disturbance regarding other examples within the spectrum of human emotions, like Guilt and Repentance, or Greed and Sacrifice, or Crime and Punishment.
Another element of disturbance is the mixing an objective view with a subjective view. The milder variation offers enacted memories like in WILD STRAWBERRIES (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) or HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (Alain Resnais, 1959) or alternating subjective point of views (the most famous example is RASHOMON, Akira Kurosawa, 1950 - see:
The most extreme subjective view is the hallucination, which is successful rendered in films like THE TRIP (Roger Corman, 1967) or NAKED LUNCH (David Cronenberg, 1991 – based on the novel of William S. Burroughs).
An interesting disturbing narrative strategy is choosing the point of view of a character who is loosing his or her grip on life and gets out of control. It is a challenge to create an unreliable narrator: it gives the filmmaker the opportunity to balance on the edge of comprehension. What is happening? What is true and what is imagination? There is a changing point of view and an unstable representation of time and space.
Some examples: TOTAL RECALL (1990), MEMENTO (2000), THE FIGHT CLUB (1999) or GERRY (2002), or the films of David Lynch and classics like LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961) and PIERROT LE FOU.
Exploration of remakes, the second use of stories
Most of the time, a remake has economical reasons: a studio or producer expects to make an easy profit with an existing film script.
Hollywood has the inclination to remake successful European films, as is the case with for instance INSOMNIA (based on the Norwegian film of the same name by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, 1997), VANILLA SKY (based on the Spanish film ABRE LOS OJOS, 1998), THE VANISHING (based on the Dutch film SPOORLOOS by George Sluizer, 1988).
In India many American movies are remade, for instance A STAR IS BORN was the blue print for ABHIMAAN; and ON THE WATERFRONT turned into PARINDA; and KRAMER VS. KRAMER is imitated in AKELE HUM AKELE TUM. More examples: CAPE FEAR and DARR or WESTSIDE STORY and JOSH.
Sometimes the remake is meant as a hommage to the original. A few examples of this kind of intertexuality:
PSYCHO: The most extreme example of a remake is the version of PSYCHO by Gus van Sant. He remade the film of Hitchcock shot for shot. Most of the critics were not pleased.
Recommended reading: Check the discussion at For some more detail you can go to (homepage of the Gus van Sant movie) or check the two essays at or go to
NOSFERATU: Werner Herzog directed NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT (1979), a remake based on the film of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau: NOSFERATU: EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUEN (1922).
SOLARIS: Stephen Soderberg directed a remake in 2002, based on the film of Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and the novel of Polish author Stanislaw Lem (1961). Both Tarkovsky and Lem explore the realm of myths and the unconscious inner world of their protagonists. They use metaphors to express their fascination by a reality beyond the borders of human perception. Stanislaw Lem depicts the highly scientific exploration of the planet Solaris as a religious quest, more or less like Medieval Scolastic Theology, with some dissidents as ‘heretics’. “Solaristics is a revival of long-vanished myths, the expression of mystical nostalgias which men are unwilling to confess openly. The cornerstone is deeply entrenched in the foundations of the edifice: it is the hope of Redemption” (from the novel, p.180). The novel Solaris contains throughout the narration of the futuristic story many thoughtful passages like: “Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies beyond doorways that he himself has sealed.” (taken from the novel Solaris p 164).
Recommended reading: Tarkovsky, Andrei Sculpting in Time. Reflections on the cinema. London: Faber, 1989. Dutch transl.: De verzegelde tijd. Beschouwingen over de filmkunst. Groningen: Historische uitgeverij, 1991.
More examples of remakes: the two versions of CAT PEOPLE, or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, or THE FLY, or CAPE FEAR. The western RIO BRAVO (Howard Hawks, 1959) was remade as ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (John Carpenter, 1976) and recently again, with the same title (Jean Francois Richet, 2005).
The German director R.W. Fassbinder made many allusions to film history. LOLA (R.W. Fassbinder, 1981) reminds you of DER BLAUE ENGEL (Josef von Sternberg, 1930). His television epic BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (1980) was based upon the novel of Alfred Döblin, which was already made into a strong atmospheric fiction film by director Piel Jutzi in 1931. See also: Susan Sontag, ‘Novel into Film: Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz’, in: Where The Stress Falls: Essays, New York: Farrar, Strauss& Giroux, 2001.
Fassbinder made a hommage to the American film noir with his film DIE SEHNSUCHT DER VERONIKA VOSS (1982), especially SUNSET BOULEVARD (Billy Wilder, 1950). Fassbinder was also an admirer of the melodramas of Douglas Sirk from the Fifties, which is recognizable in films like DIE EHE DER MARIA BRAUN (1979). This film is also inspired by a dark Hollywood melodrama like MILDRED PIERCE (Michael Curtiz, 1945).
Besides Fassbinder, the melodramas of Douglas Sirk are also admired by Spanish director Almodovar. Douglas Sirk got his most clear and convincing tribute from the American director Todd Haynes, in his film FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002), a variation on the material and mood of ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955).
It is interesting to look for cross cultural lines and genre cross overs, like for instance the remake of the Japanese Samurai film YOJIMBO (Akira Kurosawa, 1961) as the Spaghetti western A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (Sergio Leone, 1964) or THE SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) as the Hollywood western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960).
Recommended reading
The Poetics of Film
(These notes are inspired by the lectures of the American film historians David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, during the Zomerfilmcollege 2005, Brugge, Vlaamse Dienst voor Film Cultuur/ Royal Film Archive).
Staging and Editing
A film director can learn the most from studying other films and other directors. Broadly speaking, there are two choices for composing a film, to express emotions or to convey the dramatic essence in the best way possible:

1. Staging: the placing of actors and of the camera, choose the format of the frame and of the lenses. The French word is mise-en-scène, or mise-en–cadre.
The easy way is to choose a flat background, a frontal view, a static camera and distant framing. It is possible to make masterpieces in this minimalist approach, as for example The Swedish director Victor Sjoström proves.
The more complex way is staging in depth, with different planes of action, long takes, and a choreography of the moving camera, the actors and settings. It is possible to do some playing around with the system of staging, using framing within the frame, or make some variations on the partial view, obscuring the view in different ways (by means of lightning, or framing, or focus). There are many masters in the art of elaborate cinematic staging and compositional design, for example Kenji Mizoguchi or Theo Angelopoulos.
2. Editing: Breaking down the film in shots and putting them together. The French word is decoupage and montage. Editing makes it possible to use a creative geography, an imaginary space. The Soviet film director Lev Kuleshov discovered this with his experiments. In Hollywood they perfected the technique of Continuity Editing: the construction of coherent space and time. The transitions of different shots are smooth because of matching screen direction and eye-lines.
There are many masters of cinema who are able to combine the two possibilities of film poetics in a stunning way, and who are able to create a masterful interplay between images and soundtrack. You can draw many historical lines of idiosyncratic and personal film style. You can search for creators who invented new techniques, or changed conventions, routines and practices.
Besides the personal style of the directors one has to assess the institutional context: the surroundings of the filmmaker, the existing historical traditions in production, distribution and exhibition. This institutional context is a source of inspirations and possibilities, but also a source of constraints and limitations.
Recommended reading:
Widescreen and other screens
(These notes are inspired by the lectures of the American film historian David Bordwell, during the Zomerfilmcollege 2007, Brugge, Vlaamse Dienst voor Film Cultuur/ Royal Film Archive).
When you buy or rent a DVD, you have to read the small print very careful because you are shopping for the highest quality and there is a lot of confusion about the rendering of the image and sound. You would want to purchase merchandise which is complete, so you have to check if the jacket promise to deliver the goods.
For the time being we neglect the sound track, and focus on the images.
·       When it reads 4:3 it means you get an image with an aspect ratio of 1:1.33 (called Academy Ratio).
·       When it reads 16:9 it means you get an image with an aspect ratio of 1:1.77, this could be either 1:1,66 (European Widescreen) or 1:1.85 (American Widescreen). The Widescreen format is the result of masking part of the full frame image, this can be done in the camera or during projection.
·       If the DVD-jacket reads “16:9 anamorphic” it means you get an image of 1:2.35 (called Cinemascope). If it is a film of the fifties the aspect ratio should be 1:2.55 (early Cinemascope). This longer version of Widescreen is obtained by squeezing the visual information, using special lenses. In a perfect world you shoot and show the film with the same lens, but unfortunately the world is not perfect.
On the internet you can find several overviews of the different screen formats and explanations of the importance of getting the full image in a proper way. This is basic stuff, please check it out.
When you are in a movie theatre, the fate of the aspect ratio is in the hands of the projectionist. The task of the projectionist is to show a film as the maker has intended. This sounds easy and simple, but in practice it is a challenge which only the brave and ingenious could handle. Roughly speaking there are three possibilities: Academy, Widescreen and Cinemascope, but as mentioned before, there are many variations and there are also many weak spots (for instance: 35mm-prints are very vulnerable). So you are blessed with a devoted professional in the projection booth.
Suppose we have a perfect projection or a perfect rendering on DVD, then we can see different uses of the screen format. Historically speaking there is a shift, starting in the fifties, from the use of Academy Ratio towards different forms of widescreen (including Cinemascope). There are several aesthetic possibilities of the technology of widescreen, the technology has an impact on creative choices, Cinemascope offers other possibilities and other limitations than Academy Ratio.
Professor Bordwell stated back in 1985 his intentions for a Widescreen Aesthetics: “An aesthetic of the wide screen must reckon with the centrality of intersubjective and intertextual norms – their relation to economic and aesthetic forces, the range of choices they offer to filmmakers working within them, and the possibility of systematic violations of them.”
source: Bordwell, David, ‘Widescreen Aesthetics and Mise en Scene Criticism’, in: The Velvet Light Trap, no 21 (summer 1985).
The anamorphic lens was invented at an early stage of film history, but it was not put in commercial practice until Hollywood studios in the fifties were searching feverishly for a way to compete with the rise of television. They thought to profile their product by offering giant and spectacular images. In the Fifties, Cinemascope offered a lot of optical problems and technical constraints. It is interesting to reconstruct how the artists reacted. The members of the film crews were rooted in a long tradition of outstanding visual storytelling through careful compositions of the shots. Behind the scenes you needed experts, capable to adapt themselves to the new challenges of staging compelling scenes, handling more difficult ways of lighting and focus, and you also would need a cast of good actors, capable to carry a more intricate staging.
In a forthcoming publication professor Bordwell is going to expand his analysis on the arrival of wide screen, covering the different reactions of critics to a new film style and the different strategies of filmmakers to use new technical possibilities. In Brugge we had a preview of his research. You can check further updates on his website:
During the Summerschool in Brugge we were also treated on perfect projections of several outstanding Cinemascope films. Just one example: MOONFLEET (Fritz Lang, 1955), an unknown and underrated film. It shows a masterful use of the Cinemascope format, you can check this yourself by watching the dvd. MOONFLEET is a gothic adventure film, in the British tradition of GREAT EXPECTATIONS or JAMAICA INN, but it offers also many themes and motifs of the more famous films of Fritz Lang, such as: the presence of a dark underworld, the character of a powerful man who pulls all the strings behind a mask of respectability, and who has a double personality: a devilish aggressive criminal and a caring father, mourning the death of the mother and suffering from social injustice. At the end he is chased in a man hunt, like many characters in films of Fritz Lang. MOONFLEET also offers good dialogues with many nice one-liners, a cast of good actors and a beautiful set design (for instance: the castle decorated with a glowing blue). MOONFLEET is a film fit for a children matinee, but also fit for further academic analysis.
There is a canon of excellence in early CinemaScope, some beautiful staged Hollywood films from the Fifties: RIVER OF NO RETURN (Otto Preminger, 1954); A STAR IS BORN (George Cukor, 1954 – restored in 1983); CARMEN JONES (Otto Preminger, 1954), REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (Nicholas Ray, 1955). An European example of high rank early CinemaScope would be LOLA MONTES (Max Ophuls, 1955).
There are also many Cinemascope films from Hollywood and elsewhere that deserve more recognition. The film heritage festival ‘Il Cinema Ritrovato” in Bologna is one of the most energetic promoters of the good cause (check their website!). VIOLENT SATURDAY (Richard Fleischer, 1955) for instance was screened at Bologna 2007. COMPULSION (Richard Fleischer, 1959) was screened in Brugge 2007 (this film belongs to the small collection of outstanding black and white Cinemascope in Hollywood).
I am curious to see more unknown Cinemascope films from the Fifties, like GARDEN OF EVIL (Henry Hathaway, 1954) or NIGHT PEOPLE (Nunnaly Johnson, 1954) and I would like to have a second vision of several Cinemascope films of more famous Hollywood directors, entertainment productions like KISS THEM FOR ME (Stanley Donen, 1957), PARTY GIRL (Nicholas Ray, 1958), GIGI (Vincente Minnelli, 1958) or SILK STOCKINGS (Rouben Mamoulian, 1958). In the sixties and seventies Hollywood continued to produce landmark films in Cinemascope, like THE HUSTLER (Robbert Rossen, 1961) or JAWS (Steven Spielberg, 1975).
Professor Bordwell showed us some bright colored screenshots of BONJOUR TRISTESSE (Otto Preminger, 1958), which made me curious. The DVD was for sale at a bargain price, it proofs to be a delightful film, very artificial and very beautiful compositions of the Cinemascope image. It would be interesting to program the film next to MARIE BAIE DES ANGES (Manuel Pradal, 1997), which also gives an image of a daring and frivolous young girl at the French Riviera, in Cinemascope. The coast of woods, cliffs and beach was never prettier. Filmcritic Roger Ebert is negative about the film, but it was shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and distributed in The Netherlands.
Outside Hollywood Cinemascope became fashionable in the sixties. You could say that Francois Truffaut introduced in his films a more loose way of using Cinemascope, starting with LES 400 COUPS (1959) and that Jean Luc Godard experimented with collages of abstract images, pushing the limits of possibilities of staging, in films like LE MEPRIS (1963), PIERROT LE FOU (1965) and MADE IN U.S.A. (1965). In Japan Cinemascope became very popular, the visual style of these films is breathtaking.
Some of my favourites of Excellent European and Japanese Cinemascope of the sixties:
Recent publication:
Belton, John & sheldon Hall & Steven Neale, Widescreen Worldwide, Bloomington: Indiana UP 2011.
Nowadays, the technical limitations are diminished. Cinemascope is more flexible and easier to use. Does this technical change have an influence on the creativity of the filmmakers? Are the compositions less daring and the scenes edited in a more conventional way? Perhaps the answer is yes, because you can see many films where Cinemascope is used in an indifferent, bleak way. The imagination seems to shrink when the freedom expands. Still, there are many examples of glorious use of Cinemascope in recent times.
Some of my favourites of contemporary Excellent Hollywood Cinemascope are SHORT CUTS (Robert Altman, 1993), HARD EIGHT (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1996), MEMENTO (Christopher Nolan, 2000), THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (Wes Anderson, 2001), DONNIE DARKO (Richard Kelly, 2001), THE AVIATOR (Martin Scorsese, 2004).
Some of my favourites of contemporary Excellent European Cinemascope: IL PIU BEL GIORNO DELLA MIA VITA (Cristina Commencini, 2002), AZULOSCUROCASINEGRO (Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, 2006).
Cinephilia and the institutional view on film culture
The phenomenon of loving cinema (cinéphilie or cinephilia) has a large diversity, it could be approached from many different perspectives and angles. Provided here is a six points inventory.
First, cinephilia is a way of forming a shared identity, forming a group of like minded people.
This shared identity is confirmed at international filmfestivals, in specialised filmtheatres and at some domains of the internet. In short, cinephilia is part of the construction of local and global clans.
The documentary film Cinemania (2002) for example shows us a few movie buffs in New York, they are perfect representatives of this cinephiliac subculture, typical metropolitan and for some extremely excentric, for others extremely recognisable, depending on the level of cinephilia one has.
Secondly, cinephilia could be an individual character trait, a peculiar way of spending free time, watching films frequently and devoted.
It is possible to raise many fascinating and meaningful questions around this particular way of watching films, like which films are seen and admired, in which circumstances, and which traces of the viewing experience are left in speech, writing, or memory? The rise of the videotape and especially the dvd has changed the pattern of film consumption into a sharp division between the collective way of watching films in a screening room or in individual surroundings (home cinema, lap-tops). The traces of cinephilia in unprofessional writing used to be very sparse, but internet opened up the possibility of sharing your thoughts and experiences with everybody willing to read your user comments or blogs. The amount of testimonies of cinephilia is staggering.
Thirdly, cinephilia is also a critical method, a foundation for evaluation.
We can observe this aspect by reading selected magazines and reviews. Taking the personal cinephiliac experience as a starting point for a review is an international accepted and practiced phenomenon within film criticism.
A first example: the essays of the French film historian Antoine de Baecque, published in one volume in 2003. He gives us a historical overview of the French cinephilia in the fifties and sixties, a practice of watching film and responding to film in a polemic way, arguing about taste and about the importace of specific films and filmers. De Baecque (2003) describes a specific sort of Parisian subculture and its key figures like André Bazin or François Truffaut in a broader context of society and institutional forces as the policy of film magazines (among others Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif), or the influence of the excentric programming of, for instance, the Cinématheque Française. De Baecque (2003) has moments of melancholic musing about a vanished culture, but his essays offers foremost a critical analysis of a historic minority cult. The subtitle of his volume is well chosen:’the invention of a way of watching, the history of a culture between 1944 and 1968’.   
A second example of cinephilia, as critical method could be found with critics like Adrian Martin or Jonathan Rosenbaum, who express their cinephilia on several international stages, at festivals, in magazines, and on the internet. In 2003 they published some texts of themselves and their friends in the book Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia. In my opinion, the result is an unbalanced book, meant for a limited group of soulmates. It is a fascinating experience to be a witness of the conversation amongst highly qualified cinephiles and to read their first reactions to new festival films. This focus also makes these texts outdated very quickly. A film like THE CIRCLE (Panahi, 2000) was the talk of the town at the time, circulating along the festivals globally. Just a few years later this film has almost vanished from the stage, pushed away by other films of Panahi himself and many others. The cosmopolic cinephile from the group around Movie Mutations is able to mention effortless many titles and names, but their enthousiasm offers no guarantee for aesthetic insights which remain useful.
Fourth, cinephilia is also a strategy of programming a festival.
The American film critic Kenneth Turan for example gives his journalistic impression of three festivals with aesthetic agendas: Pordenone, Lone Pine and Telluride, in his book Sundance to Sarajevo. Filmfestivals and the World they Made (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
In her inspiring academic study about the phenomenon of international film festivals De Valck (2007) describes the case of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. This case study is part of her systematic research of the international film festival circuit, divided in four parts: political, economical, reputation, and programming. Rotterdam serves as an example of a festival with an outspoken cinephiliac programme influenced by a global cinephiliac culture and attended by a mix of a local and international audience to match it.
Fifth, Cinephilia could also be a guideline for buying the rights of a film.
Consequently cinephilia could be described as a marketing tool within the film trade.
In The Netherlands there are some famous examples of this practice, for instance the distribution managers like Cor Koppies, Pieter Goedings or Huub Bals. And there is also cinephilia visible in the catalogue of dvd-labels like Criterion, Eureka, or Moskwood and Homescreen.
Sixth, cinephilia is a source of inspiration for film directors.
They could express their admiration for some of their predecessors (like Gus van Sant did with PSYCHO, 1998) or they can express their nostalgic longing for a film culture in the past (like Bertolucci did in THE DREAMERS, 2003). They can use multiple tones of voice, from a straight and faithful remake to parody and pastiche.
Cinephilia as strategy for historiographic research
So, there are enough possibilities for research, because al these six perspectives have a lively practice and also a rich past. Cinephilia could also be a strategy for historiographic research, a mode of reflecting on cinema.
The best book to read is Keathley (2006). The author stresses the importance of writing a film history of cinephilia, to document and research the ‘Cinephiliac Moment’. He also argues to do research from the perspective of cinephilia, to write a ‘Cinephiliac History’. In his view, most of the academic film histories lack the signs of passion for its object of study. Keathley is pleading for a new approach of film research, but he avoids a polemic tone of voice. He cheerfully proposes to indulge in a ‘irrational’ filmhistoriography (p 130). In his last chapter he himself gives an example of this approach, in five case studies, presented as ‘cinephiliac anecdotes’. His strategy is to choose an arbitrary fragment, a detail of a film which is not generally noted as important. He avoids the spectacular scenes, which are duly high lighted by the narration; instead he explores a particular way of watching, motivated by cinephilia. Keathly limits himself to discussion of films from Hollywood. His selection of five favorite films is highly individual (THE SEARCHERS, BONNIE AND CLYDE, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, LAURA, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), his selection of cherished scenes is even more personal. His approach is highly contagious (or inspiring), I have the unsupressable urge to augment his parade of fondly remembered film moments with a few examples of my own. Like for instance the beautifully opening of FAT CITY (John Huston, 1972), remarkable simple: a man (Stacy Keach) wakens up in his hotel room and walks to the box gym, accompanied by a song of Kris Kristofferson.
Keatley sees the contemporary cinephile as a kind of ‘flaneur’, he is pleading for research of this way of watching, at the same time aloof and intense, distracted and engaged. He would like to return to the asthonishment of the early film viewers. It is said that they did not care much about the main action, but were higly amazed by the moving of tree leafs visible in the background.
Keathly is a thorough academic, who offers a well written and well researched overview of his predecessors. He was greatly influenced by the symposium in 1995 in France ‘The Invention of a Culture: A History of Cinephilia’, organised by Antoine de Baecque and Thierry Frémaux. From this starting point he draws some lines to the notions of Roland Barthes (The Pleasure of the Text), Siegfried Kracauer (The Mass Ornament) and Walter Benjamin, among others. His overview stops around 1995, so the current debate is missing in his study. Also the visible and possible influence of digital technology is not discussed in great length.
The volume of academic essays presented in De Valck & Hagener (2005) offers the best addition to Keathly (2006). The first part gives a good overview of the current debate. The second part of the book offers a series of case-studies and comments on particular films. The authors try to connect a single event to a more general point, to translate a personal experience into a research question.
Charles Leary tells us about his visit to the film archive of Hong Kong, where he experienced the economic value of a film catalogue: old movies prove to be priceless, the big media concerns are earning a lot of money with them. The issue of quality is neglected in the process: most of the time the films are put on dvd in bad shape.
Wanda Strauven recalls a special moment of zapping along the channels of a tv-set: tired in an American hotelroom, she was fascinated by some flashes of images, which proved to be the classic movie Les Carabiniers (J.L. Godard). This raises the question how it is possible that you can recognise quality within an instant, and how it is possible that an old movie is more eye catching than a wide choice of contemporary broadcasting.
Marijke de Valck looked around in 2004 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and observed that the audience incorporates many different sorts of cinephilia. The festival caters many cinephiliac tastes and is attracting a big crowd doing so. In the beginning the festival was a small gathering of people sharing the same interests, a manifestation of like mindedness. De Valck published in 2007 the impressive study about European film festivals, mentioned earlier.
Melis Behlil shares her experiences with the on-line cinephilia at the New York Times Film Forums. The possibilites of the internet are boundless, but how could you guard a minimum of quality in each contribution? It is nice to communicate with fellow cinephiles around the world, but in reality the differences between people are more evident. Sharing communication space proofs to be quickly irritating or a waste of time.
Gerwin van der Pol looks back on his cinephiliac viewing expierence of the premiere of A Zed and Two Noughts (Peter Greenaway) in 1986, which was influenced by another viewing experience, of the then recent Dutch film De Witte Waan (Adriaan Ditvoorst 1984). He tries to figure out the phenomenon of what he calls ‘the cinephile game’, the origin of a special sort of pleasure and a personal interpretation: the cinephile develops, with his informed gaze, a personal interpretation, based on a construction of mutual cross references and resemblances which remains invisible for outsiders, but offers inspiration for fellow-cinephiles to forward fresh views on intertextual rlations.
The personal memory mingles two films and two concepts of cinematic imagination, it is a observation of comparable themes and different variations, blending into a unique viewing experience. Some possibilities for the cinephile game of free associations about matches and clashes between selected films:
Resources cinephilia
This paragraph is based on book reviews, earlier published by me in Dutch:
1.  ‘Filmgeschiedenis op basis van passie’ in: Skrien jrg 39, nr 3 (april 2007) p 50.
2.  ‘De theorie van cinefilie: liefde van filmzaal tot hotelkamer’, in:Skrien, jrg 37, nr 10 (dec 2005/januari 2006), p 50.
Resources for film studies
Recommended basic readings
Recommended readings on the profession of filmmaking
Hollywood director Edward Dmytryk wrote a series of excellent guides, including On Screen Directing (1984) & On Film Editing (1984). More recent are the books of David Mamet (On Directing Film, 1991) and Walter Murch (In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2001, second edition). Try to get hold of a copy of the book Lessons with Eisenstein written by Vladimir Nizhniy.
Cinema meets graphic design

Some famous designers of film titles
Some famous designers of film posters
Cinema meets photography
Some filmmakers who also do photography (or photographers who also make films):
My top three of masterful still picture-films: LA JETÉE (Chris Marker, 1962); DE GEVOELIGE PLAAT (Kees Hin/ K.Schippers, 1976); CONTACTS (Raymond Depardon, 1990).
Also recommended: IF I HAD FOUR DROMEDARIES (Chris Marker, 1966); TRANSFORMATION BY HOLDING TIME (Paul de Nooijer, 1976); MOVING STILLS (Frans Zwartjes/ Paul de Nooijer, 1972); WAVELENGTH (Michael Snow, 1967); COUNTENANCE (Fiona Tan, 2002); WERELD VAN STILSTAND (Elbert van Strien, 2005).
The work of pioneer motion photographer Eadweard Muybridge is a source of inspiration for modern experimental filmmakers and artists, like George Snow (MUYBRIDGE REVISITED, 1988), SolLeWitt (MUYBRIDGE II) or Marion Faller & Hollis Frampton (VEGETABLE LOCOMOTION) and Thom Andersen Zoopraxographer - Edward Muybridge (VS, 1977).
The price of the most infamous still picture-film goes to: NOSTALGIA (Hollis Frampton, 1971), an experimental film in which some photo’s are discussed, while they are slowly burning away on a electric heating-ring. In my opinion, this film is too easy and too pretentious. For another and more positive opinion check the book by Rachel Moore: Hollis Frampton (Nostalgia), London: Afterall Books, 2006.
Recommended reading:
Some feature films about photography or photographers: BLOW UP (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966); UNDER FIRE (Roger Spottiswoode, 1983); FELICE… FELICE (Peter Delpeut, 1998); MEMENTO (Christopher Nolan, 2000); ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek, 2002).
As for the use of beautiful photos in feature films: in SMOKE (Wayne Wang/Paul Auster) the shopkeeper Auggie (Harvey Keitel) has a interesting photo project: he takes the exact same picture every day, at 8 AM, at a cross road before his door.
The closing sequence of the Russian feature film THE RETURN (Vozvrashcheniye, Andrej Zvijagintsev, 2003) contains beautiful black and white photographs. In the film, two small brothers meet their father for the first time after years. He takes them for a ride to a desolated island. The youngest brother takes some photographs along the way. These are beautiful and strong images, the same goes for the film itself…
Film History
Some books about German cinema of the twenties
·       Cooke, Paul, German Expressionist Films, Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2002.
·       Pflaum, Hans Guenther, German Silent Movie Classics, Wiesbaden: Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, 2002.
Some books about French New Wave
A few sites about French New Wave :;;
Watch out for these masters of cinema:
S.M. Eistenstein (IVAN THE TERRIBLE); L. Visconti (THE LEOPARD); M. Antonioni (L’ECLISSE); John Huston (THE DEAD); Alfred Hitchcock (REAR WINDOW); R.W. Fassbinder (ANGST ESSEN SEELE AUF); Akira Kurosawa (DODESKA’DEN); Hou Hsiao-hsien (CITY OF SADNESS); Abbas Kiarostami (THE WIND WILL CARRY US); Wong Kar Wai (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE). See also
Watch out for this special film:
LUMIERE ET COMPAGNIE (1996): a selection of the talented contemporary film directors were invited to use the camera of the Lumière brothers and to make a film of one short reel, no editing allowed.
Read also the article of Martin Loiperdinger, ‘Lumiere's Arrival of the Train: Cinema's Founding Myth’, in: The Moving Image - Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 2004, pp. 89-118.
More recommendations
[copyright: Peter Bosma, spring 2008] - Your comments are welcome<