Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder (Film and Culture) (Paperback)
Narrative innovation is typically seen as the domain of the avant-garde. However, techniques such as nonlinear timelines, multiple points of view, and unreliable narration have long been part of American popular culture. How did forms and styles once regarded as "difficult" become familiar to audiences?In Perplexing Plots, David Bordwell reveals how crime fiction, plays, and films made unconventional narrative mainstream. He shows that since the nineteenth century, detective stories and suspense thrillers have allowed ambitious storytellers to experiment with narrative. Tales of crime and mystery became a training ground where audiences learned to appreciate artifice. These genres demand a sophisticated awareness of storytelling conventions: they play games with narrative form and toy with audience expectations. Bordwell examines how writers and directors have pushed, pulled, and collaborated with their audiences to change popular storytelling. He explores the plot engineering of figures such as Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock, Dorothy Sayers, and Quentin Tarantino, and traces how mainstream storytellers and modernist experimenters influenced one another's work. A sweeping, kaleidoscopic account written in a lively, conversational style, Perplexing Plots offers an ambitious new understanding of how movies, literature, theater, and popular culture have evolved over the past century.
About the Author
David Bordwell is the Jacques Ledoux Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His many books include, most recently, Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling (2017), as well as the widely used textbook Film Art: An Introduction (twelfth edition, 2020). He cohosts the "Observations on Film Art" series of video essays on the Criterion Channel.