Selected Film Essays and Interviews (2013) – By Matt Barry

Bruce F. Kawin’s Selected Film Essays and Interviews, a collection of his writings spanning from 1977 to 2011, is a welcome addition to film studies literature. Kawin, Professor of English and Film at the University of Colorado at Boulder, writes in a style refreshingly free of the jargon and verbal clutter that all too often serve to obfuscate and distract in academic film writing. This volume collects a number of his most important essays and reviews as well as two interviews with Lillian Gish and Howard Hawks, respectively.

The book is divided into six parts. Part I contains three essays on violence in film, including “The Whole World is Watching” from 1987, which contains a particularly insightful analysis of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Part II contains three pieces on the horror and science fiction genre, while Part III features reviews of Welcome to LA, The Fury, Piranha, and The Elephant Man.

It is Part IV that should be of most interest to the historians. Kawin’s 1978 interview with the always-interesting Lillian Gish focuses on her career at MGM at the end of the silent era, where she made a number of her best films, including The Wind. The interview reveals the degree to which Gish was involved in the creative process of her MGM productions (though she didn’t receive screen credit as producer), from picking the scripts, the director, and the actors.

Kawin’s interview with Howard Hawks, from 1976, reveals some interesting details about the director’s collaborations with William Faulkner, including mention of an unpublished manuscript of a vampire story (!) As with the Gish interviews, Hawks shares anecdotes about his experiences working at MGM, painting an interesting portrait of his working methods and collaborative process.

Faulkner’s work is also the subject of the first essay, “The Montage Element in Faulkner’s Fiction”, featured in Part V: Literature and Narration. This is one of the most interesting essays in the book, dealing with the contrast between film’s distinct properties and its frequent literary roots. Kawin explores Faulkner’s writing and how it reflected a distinctly cinematic approach in its use of montage.

Part IV, “Getting it Right”, contains four essays on spectatorship and film studies, the first of which – “Creative Misremembering and Other Perils of Film Study” – explores the problems of faulty facts gleaned from poor memory after a screening of a film. “Late Show on the Telescreen: Film Studies and the Bottom Line” explores the differences between viewing films on the big screen and the TV screen, while “Video Frame Enlargements” compares the differences in resolution and image quality between 35mm and video frame grabs used in publication.

Selected Film Essays and Interviews, published by Anthem Press, is an essential collection of Kawin’s writings that contain concise and thoughtful examinations on different areas of film studies. For more information on the book, visit the Anthem Press website at www.anthempress.com.