A Grammar of Murder: Violent Scenes and Film Form

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The dark shadows and offscreen space that force us to imagine violence we cannot see. The real slaughter of animals spliced with the fictional killing of men. The missing countershot from the murder victim’s point of view. Such images, or absent images, Karla Oeler contends, distill how the murder scene challenges and changes film. 

Reexamining works by such filmmakers as Renoir, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Jarmusch, and Eisenstein, Oeler traces the murder scene’s intricate connections to the great breakthroughs in the theory and practice of montage and the formulation of the rules and syntax of Hollywood genre. She argues that murder plays such a central role in film because it mirrors, on multiple levels, the act of cinematic representation. Death and murder at once eradicate life and call attention to its former existence, just as cinema conveys both the reality and the absence of the objects it depicts. But murder shares with cinema not only this interplay between presence and absence, movement and stillness: unlike death, killing entails the deliberate reduction of a singular subject to a disposable object. Like cinema, it involves a crucial choice about what to cut and what to keep.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education Supplement
"Oeler's work is thorough, meticulously researched and elegantly expressed."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226617954
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Karla Oeler is associate professor of film studies at Emory University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



Part One: Murder and Montage


The Human Face, the Murder Weapon, and the Close-Up

How Guns Get Attention in Film Theory

Case Study: Vsevolod Pudovkin’s The Heir of Genghis Khan (aka Storm over Asia, 1928)

Murder and Perspectival Scale: Eisenstein’s “Hidden Montage”


The Body in Pieces

Man, Montage, and the Machine Aesthetic

Case Study: Lev Kuleshov’s By the Law (1926)

The End of St. Petersburg (1927): Bringing Life to a Statue

Aural Montage and Pudovkin’s Deserter (1932)

Anatomy as Alphabet and the Occlusion of Interiority

Putting Stanislavsky Actors through the Montage Machine: Revolvers and Revolutionary Consciousness in The Mother (1926)

Coda: Eisenstein, Inner Speech, and Murder


André Bazin and the Preservation of Loss

Bazinian Ambiguity and the Murder Scene

Murder Scenes in Renoir’s Films of the1930s: An Overview

Case Study: Jean Renoir’s The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936)

The Rules of the Game (1939)

A Montage of Distractions: Murder in La Chienne (1931), Toni (1935), La Bête humaine (1938), and La Marseillaise (1938)

Part Two: Murder and Genre


Montage and Genre

Manny Farber and the Logic of Genre

Case Study: Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948)

“Cosmetics on a Cadaver”: James Agee on War Films


Murder as Stylization

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Style and the Man

Murder in the Mirror: The Shining (1980) and Dead Man (1995)

Conclusion: Hitchcock’s Aerial Views




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