Why exactly was Citizen Kane such a revolutionary film? What are the hallmarks of Italian Neorealism? How do directors sew together a smooth scene from five or six different shots? Fabe answers these questions and more in this primer on the narrative structure of filmmaking, which analyzes 14 benchmark movies from D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation to Mike Figgis’s Timecode. (Since each film was selected to represent a significant cinematic movement—expressionism, postmodernism, French New Wave, etc.—the book also doubles as a concise history of film’s most innovative storytellers.) Fabe teaches film theory at the University of California, Berkeley, and her chapters maintain the conversational feel of lecture notes: each one gives some background on and a plot synopsis of the film discussed then provides a close analysis of a particular sequence. Antonio Ricci’s decision to steal in De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, for example, is broken down to show how moral conflict can be encapsulated in a split second. Fabe’s analysis proves most engaging when it shows how each cinematic element works to add subtext and depth to story and character. Her explication of Hitchcock’s camera work in Notorious, for example, shows how his use of space in a frame could evoke either freedom or claustrophobia.
How do films work? How do they tell a story? How do they move us and make us think? Through detailed examinations of passages from classic films, Marilyn Fabe supplies the analytic tools and background in film history and theory to enable us to see more in every film we watch.