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Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes

Annette Insdorf

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Columbia University Press
15 September 2017
Film, TV & Radio; Film theory & criticism
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.
By:   Annette Insdorf
Imprint:   Columbia University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 216mm,  Width: 140mm, 
ISBN:   9780231182256
ISBN 10:   0231182252
Series:   Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures
Pages:   208
Publication Date:   15 September 2017
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Unspecified

Annette Insdorf is a professor in the Graduate 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).

Reviews for Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes

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


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