Saturday, March 02, 2024

David Bordwell remembered

David Bordwell (1947-2024), a central figure in film culture, in his blog mugshot.

Professor Emeritus David Bordwell died at home on 29 February 2024 from a lung disease, lucid to the end. His wife Kristin Thompson was with him. Born on 23 July 1947, he was a global figure and benign presence, respected across the international film scene, both in academia and among cinephiles, also film-makers, some of whom were his students. He was the Jacques Ledoux Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bordwell and Thompson wrote the major textbooks Film Art (1979 - 13th edition in 2024) and Film History (1994 - 4th edition 2018), whose value for global academic film studies is incalculable.

Bordwell practised close reading in his monographs on Dreyer, Ozu and Eisenstein. These works have lasting value thanks to their solid research.

Written with Thompson and Janet Staiger, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production (1985) was another foundational work, as was Narration in the Fiction Film, published in the same year, pursuing cognitive theory and historical poetics in film studies. Together with Thompson, he developed an approach called neoformalism, based on theories of Russian formalists and emphasizing a cognitivist perspective. Poetics of Cinema (2008), its title honouring a major work by Russian Formalists, was a showcase of Bordwell's range.

Bordwell did not suffer fools gladly and criticized speculative trends of 1970s film studies in Making Meaning (1989) and Post-Theory (1996, with Noël Carroll).

An example of his global range and passions was Planet Hong Kong (2000, second edition 2011), another groundwork of film history.

In 2006 Bordwell and Thompson established an influential blog, Observations on Film Art, with lots of new research and valuable contributions. From the blog it is also possible to access pdf editions of their out-of-print work.

But they also published new work as online books, such as Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages (e-book, second edition, 2019). 

Pandora's Digital Box (e-book 2012) is the best book I have read on the cinema's digital turn.

Bordwell's last books belong to his best. Reinventing Hollywood (2017) and Perplexing Plots (2023) are inspiring and illuminating works about Hollywood storytelling and detective fiction, relaxedly authoritative, based on a lifetime of passionate commitment to cinematic narrative. In detective fiction, Bordwell discovered audacious and innovative approaches to storytelling, unsung in the criticism of modern / modernist literature. David was happy to read Geoffrey O'Brien's laudatio of Perplexing Plots in the 8 February 2024 issue of The New York Review of Books and to learn that his book had been nominated as a candidate for the 2024 Edgar Awards.

Based in academia, Bordwell was also intimately familiar with the world of film archives, a frequent presence at film festivals and an ardent film buff, never losing his boyish enthusiasm. A born teacher, his inspiration to an ever-growing chain of generations of students was infectious. In close reading, his approach was exemplary, his empirical toughness and logical clarity a model even for those tempted by a wider license of interpretation.

Bordwell and Thompson celebrated their wide circle of international friends in joyous annual holiday letters. We miss the happy explorer, always curious, eager to make new discoveries. In the first row of Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato his spirit will be with us.
Noel Vera, 1 March 2024 .
Sean Patrick Kelly (Indiewire > Skon Movies / Sean Kelly on Movies), 1 March 2024 .
Mike Barnes (The Hollywood Reporter), 1 March 2024.
Dana Linssen (NRC), 2 March 2024 .
Off Screen, 2 March 2024 .
Lars Ove Kristiansen (Montages), 2 March 2024 .
Teknomers, 2 March 2024.
Kristin Thompson, 3 March 2024 .
Jolie Bobine, 3 March 2024 .
David Vanden Bossche (, 3 March 2024.
Dag Sødtholt (Montages Magazine), 4 March 2024 .
Santiago Navajas (Libertad Digital), 4 March 2024
David Hudson, 5 March 2024.
Moviemaniyack (Medium), 4 March 2024 .
Eric San Juan (, 5 March 2024 .
Il Cinema Ritrovato directorial team, 5 March 2024 .
Grant Phipps (Tone Madison), 5 March 2024 .
Isthmus Staff, 5 March 2024.
Österreichisches Filmmuseum (ES), 6 March 2024 .
Dana Polan, New York University, 6 March 2024 .
Dan Hassler-Forest, Filmkrant, 6 March 2024 .
András Bálint Kovács (Metropolis), 6 March 2024 .
Peter Labuza, 6 March 2024 .
Ray Pride, 7 March 2024 .
Jan-Willem Geerinck (Jahsonic), 7 March 2024 .
The Striped Chair of Vilas Hall (LinkedIn), 7 March 2024 .
Michael S. Rosenwald (The New York Times), 8 March 2024.
Raina Polivka (University of California Press), 8 March 2024 .
Dennis Doros (and many others / Nitrateville), 10 March 2024 .
Roy Stafford (The Case for Global Film), 11 March 2024 .
Giaime Alonge (Università di Torino) (Consulta Universitaria Cinema, Università Roma Tre), 11 March 2024 .
James Naremore, for British Film Institute, 19 March 2024.
Charlie Keil (Patrick Ellis / Domitor), 21 March 2024 .
Fredrik Gustafsson (Fredrik on Film / Substack), 21 March 2024.
Rodney Powell (The University of Chicago Press Publicity Team / The Chicago Blog), 22 March 2024.
Christopher Holliday & Alexander Sergeant (Fantasy / Animation), 22 March 2024 .
Dudley Andrew (Afeccav: Association Francaise des Enseignants et Chercheurs en Cinéma et AudioVisuel), 3 April 2024.

David Bordwell in Helsinki, 19 Sep 2004. Pia Tikka, AA, DB. Photo: Matti Lukkarila.

David Bordwell in Helsinki, 19 Sep 2004. Matti Lukkarila, AA, DB, Henry Bacon (1957-2022), Sirpa Hintikka (U.S. Embassy).

No comments: