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...

  • Telling Details in Steve McQueen’s HUNGER

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 40

    In his stunning feature debut, Steve McQueen (SMALL AXE, 12 YEARS A SLAVE) used minimal dialogue and vivid imagery to tell the harrowing true story of Irish Republican Army member and political prisoner Bobby Sands’s hunger strike against the British state. In thi...

  • Language and Power in BLACK GIRL

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 39

    In his watershed feature debut BLACK GIRL, master director Ousmane Sembène offers a searing critique of colonialism’s legacy via the story of Diouana, a young Senegalese woman whose new life in France working for a white family gradually reveals itself to be a tra...

  • Visual Strategies in LA CIÉNAGA

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 38

    From the very first shot of her very first feature, LA CIÉNAGA, Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel laid claim to a distinctive, defiantly strange cinematic syntax unlike any other. In this edition of Observations on Film Art, Professor Kristin Thompson examines the ...

  • Ozu’s Space Adventures: Editing in PASSING FANCY

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 37

    One of the last Japanese directors to make the transition to sound, Yasujiro Ozu continued making silent pictures until the midthirties. His lovely 1933 domestic drama PASSING FANCY is a gently humorous take on one of his signature themes: the relationship between...

  • Musical Motifs in THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 36

    Ennio Morricone is perhaps the preeminent film composer of the last half century, an enormously influential artist whose iconic melodies and imaginative orchestrations grace some of the greatest films ever made. In this edition of Observations on Film Art, Profess...

  • In the Service of Horror—The Lyrical Cinematography of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 35

    Though its premise is not far removed from that of a straightforward horror movie, Peter Weir’s Australian New Wave classic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK forgoes conventional shocks in favor of an eerie, otherworldly languor that’s closer to the moody atmospherics of an ...

  • VAMPYR: The Genre Film as Experimental Film

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 34

    Carl Theodor Dreyer’s haunting 1932 masterpiece VAMPYR has long occupied a singular place in film history, resting somewhere at the intersection of horror, avant-garde cinema, and waking nightmare. In this episode of Observations on Film Art, Professor David Bordw...

  • Feminist Mise-en-scène in MY BRILLIANT CAREER

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 33

    Adapted from the beloved novel by Miles Franklin, Gillian Armstrong’s Australian New Wave classic MY BRILLIANT CAREER depicts the world of a rebellious young woman who dreams of becoming a writer while growing up in the rugged countryside of nineteenth-century Aus...

  • Withholding and Revealing in AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE

    1 season

    Observations on Film Art No. 32

    Jane Campion came to international attention with her acclaimed sophomore feature AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE, a luminous adaptation of the memoirs of Janet Frame, tracing her journey from her childhood in New Zealand to her time in a mental hospital to her emergence as ...

  • 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.