Making Meaning

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Overview


David Bordwell's new book is at once a history of film criticism, an analysis of how critics interpret film, and a proposal for an alternative program for film studies. It is an anatomy of film criticism meant to reset the agenda for film scholarship. As such Making Meaning should be a landmark book, a focus for debate from which future film study will evolve.

Bordwell systematically maps different strategies for interpreting films and making meaning, illustrating his points with a vast array of examples from Western film criticism. Following an introductory chapter that sets out the terms and scope of the argument, Bordwell goes on to show how critical institutions constrain and contain the very practices they promote, and how the interpretation of texts has become a central preoccupation of the humanities. He gives lucid accounts of the development of film criticism in France, Britain, and the United States since World War II; analyzes this development through two important types of criticism, thematic-explicatory and symptomatic; and shows that both types, usually seen as antithetical, in fact have much in common. These diverse and even warring schools of criticism share conventional, rhetorical, and problem-solving techniques--a point that has broad-ranging implications for the way critics practice their art. The book concludes with a survey of the alternatives to criticism based on interpretation and, finally, with the proposal that a historical poetics of cinema offers the most fruitful framework for film analysis.

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Editorial Reviews

Sight & Sound

Making Meaning is a startling and important book.
— Barry Salt

Film Quarterly

It's hard to avoid superlatives when talking about David Bordwell's work. Let me simply say that here is a book which, for lucidity, breadth, erudition, and rigor, only he could have written. It addresses and analyzes interpretive practice in a way that only the most self-absorbed critic can ignore, and then only at his or her own risk.
— Seymour Chatman

Wide Angle

[Bordwell] approaches the issue with his characteristically refreshing candor, clarity, and wit, proceeding from the direct question, 'How do film interpreters actually come up with the meanings at which they arrive?'...The controversies sure to be ignited by Making Meaning, in the short run, will be anything but dull; in the long run, its contributions to the development of film poetics will be of even greater import.
— Herb Eagle

Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement

An A-list historian and theorist himself, Bordwell is the unchallenged capo di tutti capi of academic film studies...His industrial-strength overview is a streamlined and steady Eurail pass through the Continental modes of thought that have dominated the American university since the late 60s.
— Thomas Doherty

Film Quarterly - Seymour Chatman
It's hard to avoid superlatives when talking about David Bordwell's work. Let me simply say that here is a book which, for lucidity, breadth, erudition, and rigor, only he could have written. It addresses and analyzes interpretive practice in a way that only the most self-absorbed critic can ignore, and then only at his or her own risk.
Wide Angle - Herb Eagle
[Bordwell] approaches the issue with his characteristically refreshing candor, clarity, and wit, proceeding from the direct question, 'How do film interpreters actually come up with the meanings at which they arrive?'...The controversies sure to be ignited by Making Meaning, in the short run, will be anything but dull; in the long run, its contributions to the development of film poetics will be of even greater import.
Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement - Thomas Doherty
An A-list historian and theorist himself, Bordwell is the unchallenged capo di tutti capi of academic film studies...His industrial-strength overview is a streamlined and steady Eurail pass through the Continental modes of thought that have dominated the American university since the late 60s.
Sight & Sound - Barry Salt
Making Meaning is a startling and important book.
Thomas Elsaesser
A new book by David Bordwell is always an event. The wealth of examples, the sharp prose and vividness of his presentation give his writing force and persuasiveness.
Sight & Sound
Making Meaning is a startling and important book.
— Barry Salt
Film Quarterly
It's hard to avoid superlatives when talking about David Bordwell's work. Let me simply say that here is a book which, for lucidity, breadth, erudition, and rigor, only he could have written. It addresses and analyzes interpretive practice in a way that only the most self-absorbed critic can ignore, and then only at his or her own risk.
— Seymour Chatman
Wide Angle
[Bordwell] approaches the issue with his characteristically refreshing candor, clarity, and wit, proceeding from the direct question, 'How do film interpreters actually come up with the meanings at which they arrive?'...The controversies sure to be ignited by Making Meaning, in the short run, will be anything but dull; in the long run, its contributions to the development of film poetics will be of even greater import.
— Herb Eagle
Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement
An A-list historian and theorist himself, Bordwell is the unchallenged capo di tutti capi of academic film studies...His industrial-strength overview is a streamlined and steady Eurail pass through the Continental modes of thought that have dominated the American university since the late 60s.
— Thomas Doherty
Library Journal
In the rarefied world of 1980s film theory, the Americans have taken over from the British in the 1970s (who took over from the 1960s French Cahiers crowd), and University of Wisconsin professor Bordwell has long been at the forefront here. In his newest book, Bordwell offers a history of post-World War II film theory; rethinks interpretation and meaning; and proposes a new course, dubbed ``historical poetics,'' for future film study. The major complaint about academic film theory is that it means zip in the real world of movies, including most film ``criticism''--that it's gibberish, written by the ivory-towered for each other. Although Bordwell writes less densely than others, he falls into the same elitest-jingoistic-linguistic quagmire. His book is important for the academics who read, grasp, teach, and write this stuff, but not for anyone off campus.-- David Bartholomew, NYPL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674543362
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1991
  • Series: Harvard Film Studies Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 354
  • Product dimensions: 0.74 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

David Bordwell is Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
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Table of Contents

Preface

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