Observations on Film Art

  • Meet the Team

    David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Jeff Smith are leading film scholars and the authors of the definitive cinema studies textbook, “Film Art.” This short documentary introduces you to the three of them in Madison, Wisconsin‚ both on campus at the University of Wisconsin and in Thompson and Bor...

  • Comedy, Suspense, and Three-Point Lighting in TO BE OR NOT TO BE

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 31

    In his audacious political satire TO BE OR NOT TO BE, Ernst Lubitsch pulls off the seemingly impossible by using a deadly serious, then-unfolding crisis—the Nazi occupation of Poland—as the backdrop for a hilarious and subversive screwball comedy. In this episod...

  • The Long Take in SHOCK CORRIDOR

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 30

    Pitched at screaming, full-throttle intensity, Samuel Fuller’s SHOCK CORRIDOR plunges headlong into the delirium of a psych ward, finding in it a daring metaphor for the anxieties consuming early-sixties America, from racism and xenophobia to sexual politics and...

  • Plotting in VAGABOND

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 29

    VAGABOND, Agnès Varda’s stunning look at life on the margins, tells the story of a defiant young drifter named Mona (played by the remarkable Sandrine Bonnaire) as she embarks on a self-destructive journey in search of the ultimate freedom. In this episode of Ob...

  • Spontaneous Play in PARADE

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 28

    Upon its release in 1974, Jacques Tati’s final film, PARADE—a seemingly off-the-cuff documentary in which the director acts as ringleader of a colorful circus—was viewed by many as a departure from the intricately choreographed comedies for which he was renowned...

  • Games of Vision in STREET OF SHAME

    1 season

    "Observations on Film Art No. 27

    Master director Kenji Mizoguchi’s final film, STREET OF SHAME—a wrenching portrait of women working in a brothel in Tokyo’s red-light district—employs intricate mise-en-scène to create an almost hypnotic relationship between viewer and image. In this episode of...

  • The Revolutionary Subjectivity of MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 26

    The first Cuban film to garner international attention in the years following the nation’s 1959 revolution, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT remains one of the most important works of the influential Third Cinema movement that emerged in the ...

  • LYDIA and the Power of Flashbacks

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 25

    Professor David Bordwell illuminates how Julien Duvivier’s haunting, exquisitely bittersweet romantic drama deploys intricate, subjective flashback sequences to enhance its sublime emotional impact.

  • Widescreen Composition in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 24

    Professor Jeff Smith explores how François Truffaut harnesses the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in his wildly playful gangster-movie pastiche, a giddy high point in the French New Wave’s assault on cinematic convention.

  • Mutations of Memory: Editing in HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 23

    Professor David Bordwell traces the ways in which director Alain Resnais and screenwriter Marguerite Duras retooled cinematic language to evoke the texture of memory in their 1959 masterpiece.

  • Dissolves in THE LONG DAY CLOSES

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 22

    Professor Kristin Thompson explores the ways in which dissolves allow Terence Davies to mimic the fluidity and emotional texture of memory in his elegiac coming-of-age film.

  • The Restless Cinematography of BREAKING THE WAVES

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 21

    Jeff Smith unpacks Robby Müller’s handheld camera work in Lars von Trier’s wrenching fable, showing how it alternates choppy realism with calculated stylization.

  • Continuity Editing in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 20

    Professor Jeff Smith walks us through the basics of continuity editing and shows how William Dieterle’s faustian fever dream adheres to that code while testing the limits of its expressive potential.

  • Color Motifs in BLACK NARCISSUS

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 19

    Professor Kristin Thompson breaks down the lush palette of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s sensuous masterpiece, showing how set designer Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff use splashes of color to trace the film’s emotional arc.

  • Staging and Performance in IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART 2

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 18

    Professor David Bordwell explores the “expressive movement” that animates one of Sergei Eisenstein’s boldest experiments in film form, demonstrating how the director draws on the language of dance and painting.

  • Narrative Symmetry in CHUNGKING EXPRESS

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 17

    David Bordwell unpacks Wong Kar-wai’s intricate approach to double-pronged storytelling in one of the defining works of nineties cinema.

  • The Darkness of War in WOODEN CROSSES

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 16

    Professor Kristin Thompson explores how Raymond Bernard evoked the horror and despair of battle in his shatteringly realistic World War I film.

  • Genre Play in THE PLAYER

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 15

    Jeff Smith walks us through Robert Altman’s most intricately allusive film, a satire that enlists genre tropes in order to send up the Hollywood assembly line that spits them out.

  • GIRL SHY: Harold Lloyd Meets Classical Hollywood

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 14

    David Bordwell shows how Harold Lloyd helped silent comedy evolve from gag-based skits to increasingly intricate narrative forms.

  • Flashbacks in THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 13

    Professor Kristin Thompson explores the intricate chronology of Victor Sjöström’s innovative ghost story.

  • BRUTE FORCE: The Actor’s Toolkit

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 12

    What do actors do when they act? Few aspects of film craft are as widely discussed—and as little understood.

  • Mastering a New Medium: Sound in M

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 11

    Listen closely: Fritz Lang’s claustrophobic thriller has one of the densest, most skillfully layered soundtracks in all of early sound film.

  • The Stripped-Down Style of ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 10

    Professor Jeff Smith illustrates how Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s deliberate blocking and tableau compositions accentuate the social divisions that crisscross his 1974 masterpiece.

  • Chaplin’s Comedy of Murders

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 9

    From tramp to serial killer: find out how Charlie Chaplin reinvented himself for this pitch-black comedy.