David Bordwell  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"David Bordwell has been associated with a methodological approach known as formalism, a school which rejects many assumptions made by the hermeunetic (interpretive) school championed by Slavoj Žižek. Bordwell calls this school the school of slab theory, which is an acronym of Saussure, Lacan, Althusser and Barthes."--Sholem Stein

"Many film scholars would object to my position on the grounds that it inhibits progressive political thinking, but this doesn't follow. Since this essay was first published, a compatible argument has been set forth by Peter Singer in A Darwinian Left. He proposes a continuum fairly congruent with mine."--Poetics of Cinema (2007) by David Bordwell

Related e



David Bordwell (1947-2024) was an American film theorist, film historian, author of "The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice" (1979), Making Meaning (1989) and Post-Theory (1996).



After receiving his PhD from the University of Iowa in 1974, he wrote more than fifteen volumes on the subject of cinema including Narration in the Fiction Film (1985), Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (1988), Making Meaning (1989), and On the History of Film Style (1997).

With his wife Kristin Thompson, Bordwell wrote the textbooks Film Art (1979) and Film History (1994). As of 2024, Film Art, is being published in its 12th edition, is still used as a seminal text in introductory film courses. With aesthetics philosopher Noël Carroll, Bordwell edited the anthology Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (1996), a polemic on the state of contemporary film theory. His largest work was The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (1985), written in collaboration with Thompson and Janet Staiger. Several of his more influential articles on theory, narrative, and style were collected in Poetics of Cinema (2007), named in homage to the famous anthology of Russian formalist film theory Poetika Kino, edited by Boris Eikhenbaum in 1927.

Bordwell spent nearly the entirety of his career as a professor of film at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, retiring in 2004 and becoming the Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, Emeritus in the Department of Communication Arts. Notable film theorists who wrote their dissertations under his advisement include Edward Branigan, Murray Smith, and Carl Plantinga. He and Thompson maintained the blog "Observations on film art" for their ruminations on cinema.

On genre theory

"The variety of categories at work in film criticism-grouping by period or country (American films of the 1930s), by director or star or producer or writer or studio, by technical process (CinemaScope films), by cycle (the 'fallen women' films), by series (the 007 movies), by style (German Expressionism), by structure (narrative), by ideology (Reaganite cinema), by venue ('drive-in movies'), by purpose (home movies), by audience ('teenpix'), by subject or theme (family film, paranoid-politics movies)-all this should bewilder only the system-builder." (Bordwell 1989, 148)


Drawing inspiration from film theorists such as Noel Burch as well as from art historian Ernst Gombrich, Bordwell contributed books and articles on classical film theory, the history of art cinema, classical and contemporary Hollywood cinema, and East Asian film style. However, his more influential and controversial works dealt with cognitive film theory (Narration in the Fiction Film being one of the first volumes on this subject), historical poetics of film style, and critiques of contemporary film theory and analysis (Making Meaning and Post-Theory were his two major contributions to this subject).


Bordwell was also associated with a methodological approach known as neoformalism, although this approach has been more extensively written about by his wife, Kristin Thompson. Neoformalism is an approach to film analysis based on observations first made by the literary theorists known as the Russian formalists: that there is a distinction between a film's perceptual and semiotic properties (and that film theorists have generally overstated the role of textual codes in one's comprehension of such basic elements as diegesis and closure). One scholar has commented that the cognitivist perspective is the central reason why neoformalism earns its prefix (neo) and is not "traditional" formalism. Much of Bordwell's work considers the film-goer's cognitive processes that take place when perceiving the film's nontextual, aesthetic forms. This analysis includes how films guide our attention to salient narrative information, and how films partake in "defamiliarization", a formalist term for how art shows us familiar and formulaic objects and concepts in a manner that encourages us to experience them as if they were new entities.

Neoformalists reject many assumptions and methodologies made by other schools of film study, particularly hermeneutic (interpretive) approaches, among which he counts Lacanian psychoanalysis and certain variations of poststructuralism. In Post-Theory, Bordwell and co-editor Noël Carroll argue against these types of approaches.


Bordwell's considerable influence within film studies reached such a point that many of his concepts are reported to "have become part of a theoretical canon in film criticism and film academia."


The David Bordwell Collection of over one hundred 35mm film prints is held at the Academy Film Archive and is particularly noteworthy for the strength of its Hong Kong holdings.


Bordwell died from degenerative lung disease on February 29, 2024, at the age of 76.

Linking in at time of death

¡Que viva México! (unfinished film), 1980s in film, A Brighter Summer Day, A Man Escaped, A Touch of Zen, About Elly, Action film, All My Life (1966 film), An Inn in Tokyo, Art film, Asghar Farhadi, Asian Film Archive, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 film), Auteur, Axial cut, Back-to-back film production, Bill Haydon, Brian Boyd, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Chandralekha (1948 film), Christian Metz (theorist), Christopher Nolan, Christopher Rouse (film editor), Cinema of Europe, Cinema of Japan, Cinematic style of Christopher Nolan, Cinephilia, Citizen Kane, Classical Hollywood cinema, Cognitivism (aesthetics), Culture of Germany, David Fishelson, Deep focus, Dragnet Girl, Early Spring (1956 film), Early Summer, Ebertfest, Ellie Sattler, Experimental film, Feminist film theory, Film Comment, Film criticism, Film Quarterly, Film semiotics, Film studies, Film styles, Film theory, Filmmaking technique of Akira Kurosawa, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, Formalist film theory, Found footage (film technique), French impressionist cinema, French New Wave, Gender of God, German expressionist cinema, Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Glossary of motion picture terms, Goodbye to Language, Grey's Anatomy, Hallelujah (film), Henry Jenkins, High culture, His Girl Friday, Historical poetics, Hong Kong action cinema, Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award, House (TV series), I Flunked, But..., I Graduated, But..., Implied author, Internationale Filmschule Köln, Invisible College, James Benning (film director), Jason Mittell, Jump cut, Kammerspielfilm, Ken Kwapis, Killer Constable, Kristin Thompson, Last Year at Marienbad, Linguistic film theory, Long take, Marxist film theory, Masters of Cinema, Medium essentialism, Michelangelo Antonioni, Murray Smith (philosopher and film theorist), Narrative film, National cinema, National Treasure (film), Noël Carroll, Ozu's Anti-Cinema, Penn Yan, New York, Persistence of vision, Post-classical editing, Pseudo-documentary, Psychoanalytic film theory, Psychology of film, Quality television, Rafał Syska, Reader-response criticism, Robert Reinert, Russian battleship Potemkin, Saber Abar, Schreiber theory, Screen theory, Sean Hanish, Sergei Eisenstein, Shaky camera, Slab, Smile (The Beach Boys album), Sound film, Strike (1925 film), Structuralist film theory, The Blue Angel, The Fright of Real Tears, The Front Page, The Good German, The Infernal Cauldron, The Inside of the Cup, The King of Comedy (film), The Magic Flute (1975 film), The Mysterious Retort, The Only Son (1936 film), The Oracle of Delphi (film), Theodora (1921 film), Throw Down (film), Tokyo Story, Tsui Hark, Verna Fields, Viktor Shklovsky, Woman of Tokyo, Wong Kar-wai, Yasujirō Ozu

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "David Bordwell" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools