The Art of Pure Cinema: Hitchcock and His Imitators

ISBN : 9780190889951

Bruce Isaacs
272 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
May 2020
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In a now-famous interview with Francois Truffaut in 1962, Alfred Hitchcock described his masterpiece Rear Window (1954) as "the purest expression of a cinematic idea." But what, precisely, did Hitchcock mean by pure cinema? Was pure cinema a function of mise en scene, or composition within the frame? Was it a function of montage, "of pieces of film assembled"? This notion of pure cinema has intrigued and perplexed critics, theorists, and filmmakers alike in the decades following this discussion. And even across his 40-year career, Hitchcock's own ideas about pure cinema remained mired in a lack of detail, clarity, and analytical precision.

The Art of Pure Cinema is the first book-length study to examine the historical foundations and stylistic mechanics of pure cinema. Author Bruce Isaacs explores the potential of a philosophical and artistic approach most explicitly demonstrated by Hitchcock in his later films, beginning with Hitchcock's contact with the European avant-garde film movement in the mid-1920s. Tracing the evolution of a philosophy of pure cinema across Hitchcock's most experimental works - Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, and Frenzy - Isaacs rereads these works in a new and vital context. In addition to this historical account, the book presents the first examination of pure cinema as an integrated stylistics of mise en scene, montage, and sound design. The films of so-called Hitchcockian imitators like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Brian De Palma are also examined in light of a provocative claim: that the art of pure cinema is only fully realized after Hitchcock.


Introduction: The Myth of Pure Cinema
Part 1: The Evolution of Pure Cinema
Chapter 1: Pure Cinema in Context
Chapter 2: Hitchcock's Interlocutors
Part 2: The Mechanics of Pure Cinema
Chapter 3: The Part is Greater than the Whole: Toward an Aesthetic Philosophy of the Fragment
Chapter 4: The Fragmented Frame 1: Expression, Abstraction, Schematization
Chapter 5: Intensified Schematics: Bava, Argento, and De Palma's Body Double
Chapter 6: The Fragmented Frame 2: Segmentation
Chapter 7: Music You Can Hear: Toward an Abstract Soundscape
Conclusion: The Fractal Image in De Palma's Femme Fatale

About the author: 

Bruce Isaacs is Associate Professor of Film Studies and Director of the Film Studies Program at the University of Sydney. He is the author of The Orientation of Future Cinema and Toward a New Film Aesthetic, and has published in leading journals on topics relating to the evolution of cinema as an art form.

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