I’ve been reading David Bordwell’s Planet Hong Kong. I don’t really follow Hong Kong cinema as much as I used to and have some reservations about the kind of cognitivist/historical poetic approach Bordwell advocates insofar as I sometimes worry that it could become an overarching capital T theory in itself should more cognitivism or formalism be seen as the unreflexive answer to any problem confronted in the data of the films.
This said, one of the strengths of Bordwell’s approach is his willingness to let meaning emerge out of the films and their cultural and industrial contexts, rather than trying to impose some set of ready-made Theory upon them. It’s an approach which, in the context of the book’s subject, is like Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do, where the ideal is to learn from all other schools but without succumbing to having a doctrine of one’s own because doctrines are limiting.
Just like Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon, who says that he does not strike but rather that his fist strikes all by itself, it’s what I’d like to aspire to in relation to genre cinema: I do not approach the film for meaning, its meaning also approaches me.
I would love to see someone do a Planet Hong Kong of the Italian popular cinema of the 1960s and 1970s in a similar vein. To give one example: Bordwell notes how Hong Kong screenwriters, knowing that they were dealing with a 90 or 100 minute narrative, would often construct their stories around the nine reels this represented, ensuring that there was some incident in each. Their films aren't badly constructed, just constructed with different assumptions to Hollywood.
In this regard, it would be useful to know , for instance, what the effect of the interval in the Italian film of this time was on screenwriters’ practice: did they consciously figure that at the 40, 45 or 50 minute mark there had to be a dramatic moment, then some kind of recapitulation to ease the audience back in? (The Anchor Bay DVD of Don’t Torture a Duckling is a good example of this – we have the funeral climaxing part one, then watch the police film of this same funeral as the opening of part two.) How arbitrary was the positioning of the interval – was it done by the filmmakers, or the theatre projectionist? Did the more professional figures – Ernesto Gastaldi, say – think through their craft in relation to things like this in a way that their lesser counterparts did not?
Normal service should be resumed shortly by the way – I have just been very busy with work and the inevitable seasonal whirl of socializing and recovering from socializing.