We all have our preferred way of learning more about the craft of filmmaking, whether it’s by reading, watching videos, listening to audio, or during the process of making videos themselves. Often it’s a mix of all types of learning that helps make some lessons stick with us forever.
But there’s no denying that watching films is one of the most essential ways to grow as a visual storyteller. And with some guidance, we can learn to watch films with a more critical eye.
Recently, author and professor David Bordwell, along with his wife and writing partner Kristin Thompson, have made several of their books on cinema available to download and read completely free of charge. David and Kristin have become an instrumental part of film studies for many undergraduate students, and their books are widely considered must-reads for anyone interested in diving deeper into cinema.
As written in David’s blog post, the reason for making the books available for free all of a sudden came from a desire to boycott PayPal and cofounder Peter Thiel. But more than that, David believes in the power of learning about cinema, especially for students of filmmaking, and so making his books available for free makes him feel good. More power to you, David.
Here are the free books on cinema that you can download and start reading today.
On the History of Film Style
This 353-page book is a great introduction to studying cinematic style across the history of films. Here’s the book’s description:
“The study of cinematic style has profoundly shaped our attitude toward movies. Style assigns films to a tradition, distinguishes a classic, and signals the arrival of a pathbreaking innovation. David Bordwell now shows how film scholars have attempted to explain stylistic continuity and change across the history of cinema.
Bordwell scrutinizes the theories of style launched by André Bazin, Noël Burch, and other film historians. In the process he celebrates a century of cinema, integrating discussions of film classics such as The Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane with analyses of more current box-office successes such as Jaws and The Hunt for Red October. Examining the contributions of both noted and neglected directors, he considers the earliest filmmaking, the accomplishments of the silent era, the development of Hollywood, and the strides taken by European and Asian cinema in recent years.
On the History of Film Style proposes that stylistic developments often arise from filmmakers’ serch for engaging and efficient solutions to production problems. Bordwell traces this activity across history through a detailed discussion of cinematic staging. Illustrated with more than 400 frame enlargements, this wide-ranging study provides a new lens for viewing cinema.”
There’s also a thorough blog post that details how and why the book came about.
Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages
There’s one thing for certain when you watch a Christopher Nolan film: one viewing is never enough to grasp the full scope of his films. Even better is having the guidance of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson to help you understand and fully appreciate Nolan’s cinematic breakthroughs.
Here’s the book’s description:
“Christopher Nolan is widely considered one of the most accomplished living filmmakers. The Dark Knight, Inception, and many other of his films rank high in moviegoers’ esteem. This book traces out some of his contributions to modern American cinema—particularly his unique experiments in narrative form.
More generally, his career offers us an occasion to think through some issues about creativity and originality in modern Hollywood. How innovative can filmmakers be without losing the audience? How to combine complexity with clarity? Nolan’s career offers some solutions to these questions.
Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages is derived from several popular entries on the blog Observations on Film Art. The book recasts these entries and integrates them into a continuous argument, while adding illustrations and new material written especially for the book. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson analyze Following, Memento, The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk. After gauging Nolan’s command of editing and scene construction, the authors go on to concentrate on his innovations in movie storytelling. The book treats his work as a continuing experiment with time, crosscutting, and stories within stories, all the while relying on “rule sets” that create distinct cinematic worlds. The book also argues that Nolan has been able to blend his experimental impulses with the demands of mainstream entertainment.”
There’s also a blog post that gives you a background to the book.
Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies
It seems inevitable now, but there was a time when moving from film to digital cinema was a huge change in our industry. And it wasn’t so long ago either. This book gives you a 237 page background to how digital projection changed cinema significantly.
Here’s the book’s description:
“It was the biggest upheaval in film exhibition since synchronized sound. Between 2010 and 2012, the world’s film industries forever changed the way movies were shown.”
This is the opening sentence of Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies. Written in lively and accessible language, it tells the story of how the recent revolution in film projection came about. It also situates the digital change in the history of American film distribution and moviegoing.
- Pandora’s Digital Box answers these questions:
- How did digital projection get on the agenda?
- What roles did George Lucas, James Cameron, and others play in promoting and advancing the technology?
- How did the Hollywood studios/distributors take charge of the process and turn it to their advantage?
- What was the role of 3D in fulfilling the digital agenda?
- How does the shift to digital projection fit into theatres’ strategies to solidify and expand the audience?
- How does digital conversion affect small-town theatres? Art and repertory theatres? Film archives and the future of film preservation?
- With filmmaking and now film projection becoming extensions of Information Technology, what sorts of changes might we expect to come? Will digital exhibition expand viewers’ choice or reinforce the Hollywood industry’s hold on commercial film culture?
Written by David Bordwell, an award-winning teacher and researcher, Pandora’s Digital Box provides both a snapshot of the changes taking place at this moment and a long-term history of American film culture.
The book is derived from a series of weblog entries on davidbordwell.net. For the book, the original website entries have been rewritten, merged, and updated. The author has gone beyond the entries to provide deeper and wider financial and historical background, adding some 22,000 words of new material. The result now reads as an independent, coherent study of the digital transition. A final section of references provides weblinks to important documents, sites, and commentary.”
Here’s a blog post that provides a background to this book.
Planet Hong Kong
Even if you’re not familiar with Hong Kong cinema, there is so much to learn from this 299-book on filmmaking in general. You can read the full book description here.
More free books on cinema, blog posts, and video lectures
In addition to these free books, there’s so much more on David Bordwell’s website on cinema. There are links to other books for purchase, many free essays, and enough blog posts to keep you reading for years. If you haven’t checked out the site, I highly recommend it.
You might also be interested in learning about cinema lenses – here’s our recent article and video about it from NAB 2022.
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Full disclosure: MZed is owned by CineD
What are some of your favorite books on cinema? Let us know in the comments below!