15 September 2016

Reading the Silver Screen: A Film Lover's Guide to Decoding the Art Form That Moves by Thomas C. Foster

Summary from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor comes an indispensable analysis of our most celebrated medium, film.

No art form is as instantly and continuously gratifying as film. When the house lights go down and the lion roars, we settle in to be shocked, frightened, elated, moved, and thrilled. We expect magic. While we’re being exhilarated and terrified, our minds are also processing data of all sorts—visual, linguistic, auditory, spatial—to collaborate in the construction of meaning.

Thomas C. Foster’s Reading the Silver Screen will show movie buffs, students of film, and even aspiring screenwriters and directors how to transition from merely being viewers to becoming accomplished readers of this great medium. Beginning with the grammar of film, Foster demonstrates how every art form has a grammar, a set of practices and if-then propositions that amount to rules. He goes on to explain how the language of film enables movies to communicate the purpose behind their stories and the messages they are striving to convey to audiences by following and occasionally breaking these rules.

Using the investigative approach readers love in How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster examines this grammar of film through various classic and current movies both foreign and domestic, with special recourse to the “AFI 100 Years-100 Movies” lists. The categories are idiosyncratic yet revealing.

In Reading the Silver Screen, readers will gain the expertise and confidence to glean all they can from the movies they love.

I have read (and thought very useful) Forster's previously published books on reading novels and/or literature "like a professor".  They are accessible and fun to read.  So I was intrigued to see that Foster had written a book about film criticism.

Unfortunately, Foster has turned in a superficial, scattershot attempt at film-crit-lite in Reading the Silver Screen. It is very heavy on the white Hollywood dudes (Nora Ephron gets a paragraph, Kurosawa gets a mention, and Beasts of the Southern Wild has several paragraphs, likely due to getting a lot of attention in awards season that year).  Art house and foreign cinema are generally ignored - he likes Westerns and Woody Allen (meh). By leaning heavily on the AFI 100 Years - 100 Movies list he cut himself off from serious contemplation of Kurosawa, the Apu trilogy, Bergman (The Seventh Seal, y'all), and other films and directors whose innovative techniques are still used today.

If you know absolutely nothing about film studies, this book might work for you. However, I have a really solid and reasonably wide-ranging film education for someone who isn't in the industry or a professional film critic or anything.  I got more mileage out of 10 Bad Dates with de Niro - which is essentially a book of lists - than I did Foster's book.  I also have to recommend Ebert's Great Movies series - which is a film education in itself if you watch every movie he wrote about (still extremely dude-heavy selections - which is a problem the film industry has yet to actually solve with any satisfaction - but is much more culturally diverse than many film books out there).

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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