H. Phillips, Film: An Introduction
(Boston & New York: Bedford / St Martin's, 2005,
third edition, £23.99, 669 pages, ISBN 0-312-41267-3)—Caroline
Marie, Paris IV - Sorbonne
H. Phillips's Film: An Introduction (third
edition) is a textbook: readers are referred to a web
site providing students with supplementary documents
and instructors with a manual including "a new
section on viewing, listening, reading, and writing
exercises" [vii] as well as a sample syllabus and
quizzes. It is divided into four parts (ten chapters)
devoted to the expressiveness of film technique, the
fictional film, the variety of films and understanding
page layout serves the pedagogical purpose of the book
: the margins contain sidebars with additional information
and definitions of technical terms; at the end of each
chapter, the main points of the chapter are summed up,
Close-Up sections apply concepts from that chapter to
films in particular, questions are suggested that may
guide the reader's analysis of any film he may wish
to study, and a bibliography of works cited and suggestions
for further reading help the reader investigate a particular
theme. Numerous black and white or colour pictures illustrate
cinematographic themes, devices and techniques (for
instance, the evolution of sound effects, from the Allefex
sound effects machine to the Foley artist). Given the
didactic bias of the book, however, it sounds offhand
not to name the directors of the films under discussion
either in the body of the text or in the index.
introductory description of what he sets out to do in
his book is mouth-watering: "In addition to introducing
students to the technical, aesthetic, theoretical, historical,
and cultural aspects of film, every chapter offers an
incomparably broad discussion of film, from the silent
classics of D. W. Griffith and Serguei Eisenstein to
the Hong Kong cinema of John Woo, the documentaries
of Errol Morris, and classic and contemporary experimental
films." [v] Such variety is commendable but the
reader soon gets a feeling of arbitrariness: why is
Shall We Dance?, a 1996 Japanese film, mentioned
to illustrate in what way "mise-en-scène
convey[s] much of a story" ? Four frame enlargements
illustrate the way "[t]he settings, subjects, and
compositions of carefully selected images reveal much
of the story" , but the reader is left wondering
in what way this film is particularly apt to illustrate
cinematographic story-telling and whether any randomly
associated pictures would not tell a story anyway. The
book lacks such theoretical discussions. A frame from
Ugetsu (1953) shows how "[e]mpty space
conveys a sense of loss" , but Phillips's conclusion
proves somehow unconvincing: "Because of its composition
and context in the film, the image here is poignant.
A different camera angle or camera distance, a different
framing, and the shot would not have been as effective."
H. Phillips's conception of film techniques tends to
be functionalist. For instance, the split-screen effect
used by Abel Gance in Napoléon (1927)
is said to allow viewers to "absorb more information
than is typical in a movie shown on a single screen"
 as "multiple images allow the simultaneous
viewing of events that are presumably happening at the
same time" . The metonymical and metaphorical
dimensions of the split-screen effect are overlooked.
So is the meta-aesthetic analysis which the use of windows,
lenses, and reflections in films calls for. Phillips
merely asserts that in Chinatown (1974) the
frame in which a detective takes a photograph of a man
and a young woman who are reflected in the lens of his
camera "conveys much information quickly and economically
and without editing: a shot of the detective then a
shot of the man and young woman, or vice versa."
 Similarly, although a frame enlargement of "the
John Travolta character" in Blow Up (1981)
"with a microphone recording sounds of the night
for storage on magnetic tape"  is shown, no
insight into the possible, desirable even, reflexive
reading of the picture is given. Phillips's pragmatic
approach to cinema comes to the fore when he writes
that "[s]ometimes filmmakers use settings, subjects,
and composition to comment on the world outside the
frame—for example, to express a political view-point
or promote a product" , or that "[i]n
some movies, the music may be emphasized so that another
division of the corporate conglomerate that made the
film can sell tapes and CDs based on it." 
Given the pedagogical bias of the book, reminding the
readers that cinema is an industry and that films ought
to be studied in their production context is salutary,
but it only draws the reader's attention to the paucity
of the critical approach.
scarce genuinely critical remarks often verge on the
conversational, with such vague statements as: "[a]s
with any other technique, silence can be used in countless
ways in countless contexts"  which is followed
by no typology (the least the readers might expect),
or "[i]n ways difficult to put into words, the
music seems appropriate for a character like Harry"
. Such commonplace, overly general remarks might
mislead the readers into believing that psychological
identification is always the main purpose of films:
fictional films share a number of characteristics.
For instance, regardless of its length, a fictional
narrative nearly always includes at least one character
that wants something but has problems trying to obtain
it. People are fascinated with characters that have
trouble reaching their goals, in part because in such
circumstances viewers learn about human nature or
think they learn about how they might handle a similar
situation. Perhaps viewers sometimes enjoy seeing
others struggling with problems. 
a result, the tone of the book is normative: "The
beginning of a fictional film tends to involve viewers
and to establish where and when the story starts. Many
fictional films start with one or more shots of the
setting before introducing the subjects." 
This sounds very much like some 'how to' book: but in
what way does this typical film plotline differ from
other plotlines in other (popular) artistic media?
discusses "intertextuality" but his approach
lacks depth. When analysing dialogue in Betrayal
(1983), he asserts that "[t]his passage reveals
writer Harold Pinter's skill in creating characters
that say one thing when they feel and think something
else." [p.167] But whether dialogue in Pinter's
screen adaptation differs from dialogue in his plays—and
if so, in what way—is an issue that is never addressed.
The problem may be rooted in his somewhat lax use of
critical vocabulary; defining "intertextuality"
as "the relation of one text (such as a film) to
another text or texts (such as a journalistic article,
a play or another film)"  and "text"
as "[s]omething that people produce or modify to
communicate meaning. Examples are films, photographs,
paintings, newspaper articles, operas, and T-shirts
with a message"  is tantamount to denying
the differences between those different artistic media.
Although he underlines the affinities between cinema
and literature through laudatory remarks such as: "[s]torytellers
have used flashbacks at least since the time of Homer
and his Odyssey, which begins in the middle,
flashes back to the beginning, and then returns to where
the first section left off and concludes the story"
, he never thoroughly discusses the modes of transfer
of literary notions to films, which would have clarified
and legitimised his approach.
allusions to the influence of context on films are the
most rewarding features of the book:
changing role of women in 1940s American society influenced
film noir. During World War II, women were urged to
take over factory jobs traditionally held by men,
and millions did. After the war, the men returned
and displaced the women workers, often unceremoniously.
The self-sufficiency many women showed during the
war doubtless threatened many men, perhaps including
those involved in making films noirs. [304-305]
the point Phillips makes that it was necessary for "those
involved in making films noirs" to feel personally
threatened in order to be able to capture the fear caused
by the newly-gained self-sufficiency of women is hardly
convincing, his articulation of the aesthetics of the
film noir with its political and cultural context—namely
that "[b]ecause these films were made when the
American production code was strongly enforced, characters
who commit crimes are eventually punished" 
and that "[f]ilms noirs can be understood as in
part a reaction against the brightly lit studio entertainment
of the 1930s" —is enlightening. A whole chapter
focuses on "understanding films through contexts"
(Chapter 9), broaching "society and politics,"
"censorship," "artistic conventions,"
"financial constraints" as well as "technological
developments" in a thought-provoking way. The "Chronology:
Film in Context (1895-2003)" [559-612] which places
films in the context of "world events", "arts",
"mass media" and other "films and videos"
also proves a very useful work tool for researchers,
students and cinephiles.
is a comprehensive and accessible introduction to film
techniques, such as lighting, editing, and sound, which
are discussed at length, rather than an introduction
to film aesthetic theory, although it suggests that
a film ought to be read as a multi-layered text, as
illustrated by the "sample film analysis"
of The Player to be found in the appendices–the
only satisfactory example of such critical analysis
in the book. It is well-researched, and interesting
anecdotes reward the conscientious reader who will discover
that "Top Gun (1986) includes many sounds
of jet-airplanes, but the recording of their sounds
could not capture the excitement of the original noise,
so animal sounds and human screams were blended in"
, or that "[i]n a few frames near the conclusion
of Psycho (1960), viewers may notice that three
images are superimposed briefly: Norman from the shoulders
up, a skull, and Marion's car being pulled from the
swamp by a chain" even though "Viewers are
unlikely to notice them on a videotape version"