Book Review: A History of Narrative Film

A History of Narrative FilmA History of Narrative Film by David A. Cook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you want to explore the world of cinema, this is as good an atlas as you can have. Like any atlas, it’s an overview—you’ll have to look elsewhere for topographic maps and street-level views of the Czech New Wave, Cinema Novo, French Poetic Realism or whatever happens to catch your eye—but it grounds every movement in the history of both its national cinema and the historical and technological development of film as a whole, giving you a practical sense of awareness in the great filmic scheme of things. Although it’s a thick book and does contain paragraphs that are just lists of film titles, Cook’s narrative proceeds smoothly and you can certainly read it cover to cover, skipping those paragraphs if you’re uninterested. Speaking of lists: yes, the internet is a better place for them than a printed book and you can find plenty of good film lists online (Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 1000 Essential Films is a great one), but Cook digs up titles you usually won’t see elsewhere and he does it objectively, on a global scale and for over one hundred years of film production. He also never leaves you questioning why a particular film is important, even if his explanation is just a single densely-packed sentence. Sometimes he does spend a page or two on a film, but these close-ups aren’t the book’s strength. Uncontroversial, they mostly illustrate that film, which is often approached very personally or dogmatically in theory books, can be studied analytically: there truly is a visual language. A History of Narrative Film is enthusiastically recommended to anyone with a burgeoning interest in cinema.

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