The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies

The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies

The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies

The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies


Hollywood moviemaking is one of the constants of American life, but how much has it changed since the glory days of the big studios? David Bordwell argues that the principles of visual storytelling created in the studio era are alive and well, even in today's bloated blockbusters. American filmmakers have created a durable tradition--one that we should not be ashamed to call artistic, and one that survives in both mainstream entertainment and niche-marketed indie cinema. Bordwell traces the continuity of this tradition in a wide array of films made since 1960, from romantic comedies like Jerry Maguire and Love Actually to more imposing efforts like A Beautiful Mind. He also draws upon testimony from writers, directors, and editors who are acutely conscious of employing proven principles of plot and visual style. Within the limits of the "classical" approach, innovation can flourish. Bordwell examines how imaginative filmmakers have pushed the premises of the system in films such as JFK, Memento, and Magnolia. He discusses generational, technological, and economic factors leading to stability and change in Hollywood cinema and includes close analyses of selected shots and sequences. As it ranges across four decades, examining classics like American Graffiti and The Godfather as well as recent success like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, this book provides a vivid and engaging interpretation of how Hollywood moviemakers have created a vigorous, resourceful tradition of cinematic storytelling that continues to engage audiences around the world.


Q: DO you write with specific actors in mind?

A: Always … but they’re usually dead.


(Private Benjamin, Irreconcilable Differences)

This book is about the art and craft of Hollywood cinema since 1960. In two essays I trace some major ways that filmmakers have used moving images to tell stories. The narrative techniques I’ll be examining are astonishingly robust. They have engaged millions of viewers for over eighty years, and they have formed a lingua franca for worldwide filmmaking.

Naturally, during the years I’m considering, American films have changed enormously. They have become sexier, more profane, and more violent; fart jokes and kung fu are everywhere. The industry has metamorphosed into a corporate behemoth, while new technologies have transformed production and exhibition. And, to come to my central concern, over the same decades some novel strategies of plot and style have risen to prominence. Behind these strategies, however, stand principles that are firmly rooted in the history of studio moviemaking. In the two essays that follow I consider how artistic change and continuity coexist in modern American film.

To track the dynamic of continuity and change since 1960, it’s conventional to start by looking at the film industry. As usually recounted, the industry’s fortunes over the period display a darkness-to-dawn arc that might satisfy a scriptwriter of epic inclinations. We now have several nuanced versions of this story, so I’ll merely point out some major turning points. The appendix provides a year-by-year chronology.

Although court decisions of 1948–1949 forced the major companies to divest themselves of their theater chains, during the 1950s Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, Columbia, 20th Century Fox, United Artists, MGM, and Universal controlled distribution, the most lucrative area of the industry. While the studios were producing a few big-budget films themselves, they also relied on the “package-unit” system of production. In some cases, in-

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