Cinematic Overtures

How to Read Opening Scenes

Annette Insdorf

Columbia University Press

Cinematic Overtures

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Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231182256

208 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $20.00£14.95

Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231182249

208 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£49.95

Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231544061

208 Pages

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List Price: $19.99£14.95

Cinematic Overtures

How to Read Opening Scenes

Annette Insdorf

Columbia University Press

A great movie’s first few minutes provide the key to the rest of the film. Like the opening paragraphs of a novel, they draw the viewer in, setting up the thematic concerns and stylistic approach that will be developed over the course of the narrative. A strong opening sequence leads the viewer to trust the filmmakers. Other times, opening shots are intentionally misleading as they invite alert, active participation with the film. In Cinematic Overtures, Annette Insdorf discusses the opening sequence so that viewers turn first impressions into deeper understanding of cinematic technique.

From Joe Gillis’s voice-over in Sunset Boulevard as he lies dead in a swimming pool to the hallucinatory opening of Apocalypse Now, from the stream-of-consciousness montage as found in Hiroshima, mon amour to the slowly unfolding beginning of Schindler’s List, Cinematic Overtures analyzes opening shots from a range of Hollywood as well as international films. Insdorf pays close attention to how the viewer makes sense of these scenes and the cinematic world they are about to enter. Including dozens of frame enlargements that illustrate the strategies of opening scenes, Insdorf also examines how films explore and sometimes critique the power of the camera’s gaze. Along with analyses of opening scenes, the book offers a series of revelatory and surprising readings of individual films by some of the leading directors of the past seventy-five years. Erudite but accessible, Cinematic Overtures will lead film scholars and ardent movie fans alike to greater attentiveness to those fleeting opening moments.
In this brief but richly stimulating book on beginnings, Annette Insdorf opens up a treasure chest of insights and sensory delights. The films of Altman, Kaufman, Welles, Bertolucci, Coppola, along with the work of exciting lesser-known foreign auteurs, come alive through her precise descriptions of opening scenes and credit sequences. In examining the interplay of music and image, or the many stylistic choices made by a director, she draws us ever more compellingly into the films themselves, while subtly charting the broader course of movies as they come to reflect a more fragmented and self-questioning world. Like the best critics and teachers, she not only inspires us to track down unknown films, and return to favorites with renewed curiosity, but shows us how to think more alertly and knowledgeably in future movie-watching. Molly Haskell, author of Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films
We knew it already, but Annette Insdorf has identified the condition: the first moments of a movie are electric, a going into some new world while giving up our safety. With brilliant examples, this short survey of beginnings is one of the best provocations in print to having us see entire movies—the openings that go on forever. David Thomson, author of A Biographical Dictionary of Film and Warner Bros: The Story of an American Movie Studio
Like a wise guide unveiling mysteries, Annette Insdorf in Cinematic Overtures shows with wit and insight the many ways movies from their first moments teach us how to watch and understand their special worlds. Leo Braudy, Bing Professor of English and American Literature, University of Southern California
Cinematic Overtures is about openings; it serves as an opening to a much wider field of films. It is, therefore, a kind of overture itself. It's surprising that nobody has thought to do this before, and it leads to a fascinating subject ripe for in-depth discussion. This book's strengths lie in the erudition Annette Insdorf brings to the subject, her extensive experience of writing about and teaching film, and the precision of her formal analysis. Ed Sikov, author of Film Studies: An Introduction
Preface
1. The Crafted Frame (Saul Bass, Talk to Her, Knife in the Water, Camouflage)
2. The Opening Translated from Literature (The Conformist, The Tin Drum, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, All the President’s Men, Cabaret)
3. Narrative Within the Frame: Mise-en-Scene and the Long Take (Touch of Evil, The Player, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, The Piano, Bright Star, In Darkness)
4. Narrative Between the Frames: Montage (Z; Hiroshima, mon amour; Seven Beauties; Schindler’s List; Three Colors: Red; The Shipping News; Shine)
5. Singular Point of View (The Graduate, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Come and See, Lebanon, Good Kill)
6. The Collective Protagonist (La Ciudad, 3 Backyards, Little Miss Sunshine, Le Bal, Day for Night, A Separation, Where Do We Go Now?)
7. Misdirection/Visual Narration (The Hourglass Sanatorium, Before the Rain, Ajami, Under Fire, The Conversation, Rising Sun, Psycho, The Truman Show)
8. Voice-Over Narration/Flashback (Sunset Boulevard, American Beauty, Fight Club, Badlands)
Notes
Index
Color Plates

About the Author

Annette Insdorf is a professor in the Film Program of Columbia University’s School of the Arts and host of the Reel Pieces series at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. Her books include Indelible Shadows: Film and Holocaust (1983), Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski (1999), Francois Truffaut (1979), Philip Kaufman (2012), and Intimations: The Cinema of Wojciech Has (2017).