What are the best books to learn about appreciating films and film techniques?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Dan Lindley, Aug 4, 2003.

  1. Dan Lindley

    Dan Lindley Second Unit

    Sep 19, 2000
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    These threads about montages, etc. and discussions about framing, cropping, angles, lighting, etc. make me want to learn more about the art of film making. Which books are the best to help someone learn about various techniques and styles. I'm interested in everything from technical details to the psychology of creating moods.

    Which books are good at explaining which aspects of film making and why?

    Many thanks, Dan
  2. Matthew_Millheiser

    Matthew_Millheiser Supporting Actor

    May 1, 2000
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    I highly recommend The Film Studies Dictionary by Blandford, Grant, and Hiller: a fantastic reference piece and even a fun A-to-Z read for movie buffs.

    I have also enjoyed Sidney Lumet's Making Movies, Gilliam on Gilliam, and Donald Richie's comprehensive The Films of Akira Kurosawa.
  3. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

    Feb 8, 2001
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    Bordwell and Thompson has a variety of great books out that several cinema schools use as texts.

    Intro to Film
    Film History

    those are the two I've used and they're an aweome detailed overview of everything.

    Other than that I just suggest you just start grabbing random interesting books from your local library. If they're on Dewey Decimel the section you're looking for is in the mid 700s and just before you get to the celebrity biography section. If they're on the Library of Congress system it should be really easy to find them.

    Technique is not something you can really learn by reading. What you get from reading is the terminology and the history, primarily. The best means you can learn technique is by gaining an understanding and then watching a hell of a lot of movies and trying to see (even in the crappy ones) how the concepts in the books are really applied, and how you percieve technique to being used. Just as good is discussions such as on HTF where you can pick up by context of the discussion how the aspects you read about work themselves out in films.

    There are a lot of great books out there on a variety of technique subjects that will impart vast amounts of information, and I recommend you don't stop reading.

    Some of these
    Film Directing Shot By Shot (the Blue Book)
    The 5 C's of Cinematography

    Right now I'm more into reading a lot on film history since I"m watching primariliy older films. Such as:

    Pre Code hollywood
    Censored Hollywood
    SIn in Soft Focus
    The Bad and the beautiful
    High Concept

    One thing, the bestsellers such as Easy Riders Raging Bulls can best be described as a tabloid headlines only history of American New Cinema, it'll give you a good grasp of important figures/events in that era but I would take much of whats in the book with a grain of salt (although it could very well be true) but is seems much was included for it's scandal value, if things actually were as bad as the book often implies, I doubt any films could ever have been made in that period by these people. It's a gossip rag, in other words--sure to mention the fact that X celebrity auteur was wasted X number of times, but makes no comment that any work ever happened, the films just pop into existence.

    I'll get around to getting you authors later, but that may keep you busy for a while.

  4. Dan Lindley

    Dan Lindley Second Unit

    Sep 19, 2000
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    Dear Adam and Matthew,

    Thank you both for your detailed answers. Based on your recs, I did some groping about at Amazon, and ordered the books listed below (two were used at great prices). And put several others on my wish list.

    Bordwell et al, loomed prominently, but looked quite pricey and in the used dept, I couldn't figure out which of the various editions were on tap at most of the sellers, so I shied away. Also, I think a workbook or accompanying book of some sort came with Bordwell, but wasn't offered with most of the used offerings.

    Lumet is on my wishlist, but seems perhaps more of a personal recollection (judging from Amazon's notes), than a tutorial. Ie: harder to skim to learn from.

    I may be sated for awhile, but any new or further comments on these from the wishlist would be much appreciated, as would new ideas altogether:

    *The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz

    *Film Art: An Introduction by David Bordwell

    *The Oxford Guide to Film Studies by John Hill

    *Digital Filmmaking 101: An Essential Guide to Producing Low Budget Movies by Dale Newton, John Gaspard

    *The Filmmaker's Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age by Steven Ascher, et al

    * Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen by Steven D. Katz

    *The Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques by Joseph V. Mascelli

    *The Film Studies Dictionary (Arnold Student Reference) by Steve Blandford, et al

    *Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

    HERE are the actual purchases:
    1 "How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia: Language, History, Theory"
    James Monaco $17.47

    2 "Roger Ebert's Book of Film"
    Roger Ebert (Editor); Hardcover; @ $7.95 each

    3 "How Movies Work"
    Bruce F. Kawin; ; Paperback; @ $4.98 each

    Thank you for your help and thoughts,

  5. Steve Felix

    Steve Felix Supporting Actor

    Jan 17, 2001
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    Huh, looking over my film books I don't see much that I'd eagerly recommend. Here are a few I like, though:

    One aspect of the process that gets overlooked is acting. Starting with practically zero knowledge on the subject I read Directing Actors by Judith Weston and found it extremely enlightening. (I think mass audiences often view actors as the auteurs of a film, and bad acting tends to sink otherwise OK independent work.)

    It's not very educational, but I found Memo from David O. Selznick by Rudy Behlmer (who did a commentary on Criterion's Notorious disc) to be a cool read.

    If you're interested in desktop/personal "filmmaking" as I am, the DV Magazine series of books is quite good and very practical. I own four of them.

    Lumet's Making Movies is not bad as I recall, but I didn't like its apparent suggestion that a film should be boiled down to a one-sentence meaning. A lot of film books are worth owning, but I'm glad I got that one from the library.

    The Film Encyclopedia is what it promises and I don't know that it has any competition. (I'm not familiar with The Film Studies Dictionary, but it doesn't sound like the same thing.)

    It's good your list doesn't seem to contain any of the books with titles that vary on the form "How to Make a Movie on No Budget" that I think exist to prey on idle Borders shoppers. And yet every one manages to get a couple quotes from household names on the back cover.

    I'll be looking into some of the titles you three have mentioned.[​IMG]
  6. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

    Oct 16, 2000
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    You might also want to make sure you've got access to a lot of great movies. I took a Film Study class in High School 2 years ago and we used a college-level book that referenced MANY movies, so our teacher had to keep going to blockbuster (they eventually just bought a dozen or so DVDs for the class). If the books you end up reading through have mentions of montages in films (like the classic one in High Noon) or how a certain director was able to use a style effectively in a specific film, then you should try to have those films available to see what they're talking about.
  7. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    William Goldman has written a few books that I recommend, although they are from a writing perspective rather than the technical aspects you mention. His Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting is highly recommended.

    Pauline Kael’s Citizen Kane Book and Shooting Script is worth the study of anyone who is interested in the film construction.

    There are a lot of books of film criticism (some such as Richie on Kurosawa) that provide insight on the technical choices that filmmakers make in order to make their points to their audiences.
  8. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

    Aug 2, 2000
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    This HTF Reading Challenge is a couple of years old now, but the recommendations are still pretty relevant. I gave up on the thread a while ago since no else seemed to be posting their film-related reading except me. [​IMG]
  9. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

    Jul 29, 1999
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    Los Angeles
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    I recommend "The Film Till Now" by Paul Rotha. Originally publihed in 1930, when he was 23 years old, revised again in 1949 then again in 1967, it is an epic overview of world film from someone who was THERE. Paul Rotha was reviewing films in the 1920s, in pre-talkie days. God, I would love to get hold of the original 1930 edition and read his thoughts on the recent phenomenon of talkies.

    It was the '67 revision I read. But even then, when he lists films he feels are worthy of seeking out, there is a huge amount of silents in there. This is the book that got me interested in silent film! Especially in The Gold Rush, which he raved about... and he saw it on its first release!

    It's fascinating to get the views of a man who watched film evolve through the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. I don't think it's in print anymore, but many libraries carry it.

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