Reading Film

When I was writing Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes, I decided not to attempt a standard film book. Not that I could have: my background is in literature and my inclination is toward cultural studies. Film studies has grown into its own conversations and I really could not be a part of them without engaging in a great deal of study.

The first thing I do in the book is try to put my study into a different context, doing so by coupling Tarantino with novelist Thomas Pynchon and talking about what I see as artificial distinctions between the ways we look at filmmakers and the ways we look at novelists. Following that, I write:

Whatever the reasons, we hold movies to a standard different from fiction. When Robert Coover and John Barth and Don DeLillo write novels about writing novels, they are esteemed. No one implies that they degrade their craft by “only” writing about writing. We always assume, with novelists who show their craft as they write, that much more is going on beyond simply showing off one’s skills and knowledge. With Tarantino, though his work is related to fiction as much as to film, we are not so sure. (2)

As I do when writing about literature, I wrote the book with the movies constantly beside me, referring to them constantly through the process of composition. I did not think back on them or think about them… I thought with them. And I had a glorious time flipping back and forth from scene to scene, shot to shot.

I was taking advantage of new possibilities for the study of film brought about by digital access, possibilities that allowed me to work slowly and carefully and to make connections not quite so easily made when watching a film as a discrete unit over a limited viewing time.  I was discovering what film and digital media scholar Virginia Kuhn knows, that “digital technologies endow films with the same infinite patience that books possess.”

Though I had not been able to express that so elegantly, the pleasure I found in writing about Tarantino’s movies stems exactly from what Kuhn points out. I expect it will be the basis of a new and expanding method of considering film (far beyond what I did in my book) as we move further into a digital culture.