FILM PRODUCTION THEORY Jean-Pierre Geuens, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000
Integrates contemporary film theory into the teaching of film production, presenting alternatives to the standard Hollywood model of filmmaking. Most serious film books during the last twenty years have focused on theoretical issues, film history, or film analyses, leaving production to the side. This text, however, appropriate for film production courses, fills that void, opening the production process to pertinent, argumentative notions and incorporating material from Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Derrida, among others. Although Geuens covers screenwriting, lighting, staging, and framing, among other production issues, he avoids the strictly vocational or "professional" approach to film teaching currently applied to most production courses. Geuens reevaluates what cinema could be, to revive its full powers and attend to the mystery of the creative process. To counter Hollywood's normative machinery, he suggests taking back from the professionals important notions they have arrogated for themselves but rarely act upon: artistry, passion, and engagement. "This is a sharply observed, altogether brilliantly written study. I like the originality, the daring, and the sweep of Geuens' argument. As a theorist on the subject of film production, Geuens ranks with such critical thinkers as Baudrillard and Metz in his astute analysis of the field."
-- Gwendolyn Foster, author of Captive Bodies: Postcolonial Subjectivity in Cinema
"Not only is the study of film production significant, but Geuens' study, Film Production Theory, is very significant, specifically as a kind of mentoring text for aspiring directors, actors, producers, and technicians. After reading this book, I feel like going out to a non-soundstage location and shooting my own film!" -- Paul Matthew St. Pierre, Simon Fraser University
Jean-Pierre Geuens teaches film in Los Angeles. A volume in the SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema and Video Wheeler Winston Dixon, editor April 2000 304 pages paperback ISBN 0-7914-4526-7 hardcover ISBN 0-7914-4525-9 State University of New York Press 90 State Street, Suite 700 Albany, NY 12207 For more information contact SUNY Press at firstname.lastname@example.org
Excerpt from a book review by Frederick Wasser, Central Connecticut State University in Journal of Communication, Oxford Universlty Press, Volume 52, Issue 2, June 2002, pp. 462-463.
... Geuens writes with a passion that often falls over the line into a polemic and yet is the best sustained effort in print to redeem film culture in the 21st century. He is obviously a practitioner as well as an independent teacher. His prose is liberated from any attempt to placate peer reviewers or academic committees. He reminds us that movements such as early Soviet filmmaking, the French new wave, and so on, combined great filmmaking and criticism, often in the same person.
Of the three books, this one should be required reading for the undergraduate classroom if only because it is so critical of film school. Geuens solves the riddle of the commercial appropriation of the art film in New Hollywood by referring us not only to poststructuralists and postmodernists but even further back to Martin Heidegger and William James. James stated that the first reaction to a perception is a physical one that then triggers the emotion. A human being feels fire, runs, and then experiences fear. The mental act of feeling fear is the last in the sequence an yet is the one that is traditionally the site of aethetic reflection. The tendency in Hollywood is to short circuit the sequence with techniques that produce visceral reactions and only secondarily emotion reflection. The camera and the editing pace have both been utilized to trigger the physical sensation of speed. Speed, as Heidegger points out, is a negation of space and time, and it is no accident that movies increasingly are roller coaster rides without reference to reflective aesthetics or human emotions. One may grumble that Hollywood has always favored physical manipulation over reflective pondering.
Geuens is able to show that there is something new that makes his thesis more urgent. It is the combination of technology and postmodernism. Technologies such as staedicam and video tap assist have facilitated the visceral over the reflective. The steadicam became widespread at the end of the 1970s and is a camera mount that allows the camera to be moved through space even in tight corners in a smooth glide. The smoothness deprives the camera of any kind of dimensionality. The ubiquity of the steadicam has relieved directors of the need to preplan or to construct a space to facilitate camera placement. Thus, the camera catches the action on the fly rather than have the action presented in a mediated fashion to the camera. The video tap assist is a device that can be placed on the camera to allow the director and even the camera operator to observe what is being filmed on a video monitor without being in proximity to the camera. Geuens denounces the strange metaphysics of actors playing to the camera while the director and others have their back turned on the action in order to watch the monitor. These are just a few of the technological examples. The unfortunate marriage is that these technical devices come in just as the postmodern scoffing of the creative personality took hold. Because postmodern logic states that art is the experience of the viewer not the reflection of the artist, the artist has little or no reason to resist the easy road of cheap thrills and commercial pandering. The filmmaker embraces the technological means to enhance the experience at the cost of artistic coherency.
Geuens notices that Eisenstein would construct a montage to engage the audience in reflecting on the relationships between shots while Ridley Scott cuts shots together in order to deprive us of any reflective distance from the action. As these books demonstrate, film theorizing does not have to be after the fact. Taylor suggests and Geuens openly argues that film theorists must give film artists the tools to stand up for their own creative autonomy. Filmmaking is too big an enterprise not to allow occasional outbursts of expressive power. Today we are still treated to surprises from Russia and Senegal and a full renaissance in Iran, and so on. Independent American films sometimes give us similar visions. All too often, the aesthetic power is diluted in subsequent efforts by the independent, perhaps because American film theory has yet to give adequate support. These books seek to remedy the situation.
You should really read this, July 27, 2001 Reviewer: Ralph Herscu from Pasadena, CA USA
First I thought what could this book tell me what I didn't know already. But then I realized this is not just about filmmaking, this book is about you and me and what we call life. It's a story of looking behind the curtain and seeing the wizzard but not giving up your dream. Deeply inspiring and ultimately insightful, this is the one text everybody who cares about movies should read. I read this book in a day and I hope Mr. Geuens will continue to write. So fasten your seatbelt and be prepared to see your preconceived ignorance shatter into a thousand little pieces and out of it will rise a new outlook on life and the movies.