Go to Wesleyan Homepage Go to Navigation Menu Go to Directories Go to Events Calendar Go to Search Wesleyan Go to Portfolio Sign-in

 
NEWSLETTER HOME
ARCHIVES
E-MAIL US
 
 
   
 
ARTS INFORMATION
SPORTS INFORMATION
WESLEYAN MAGAZINE
WESLEYAN IN THE NEWS
WESLEYAN CLASSIFIEDS
 
 
   
 
MORE SNAPSHOTS
 
     

Lisa Dombrowski, assistant professor of film studies, is a 1992 Wesleyan alumna, and is a specialist on film form, the American film industry and contemporary East Asian cinema.
 
Posted 02.01.06

Sight for Cinema: Assistant Professor of Film Studies Looks for Directors' Visual Styles

Lisa Dombrowski rarely watches a movie just once.

Or twice. Or even 10 times. In fact, it often takes her more than 20 screenings to fully analyze a film.

“Each time I watch a film, I’m looking at it for different reasons,” explains the assistant professor of film studies. “I’ll watch it once to get the initial sense of the narrative, and the next time I’ll count how many shots are in it, and then I’ll focus on the use of the camera, for instance. Is the director using lots of close-ups, or is the camera far from the subject? Is the camera moving a lot? Essentially I’m looking for how the filmmakers’ choices influence our viewing experience.”

Dombrowski, a 1992 Wesleyan alumna, is a specialist on film form and analysis, authorship, the history of film style, the American film industry and contemporary East Asian cinema.

Dombrowski teaches Introduction to Film Analysis; The American Film Industry during the Studio Era; American Independent Filmmaking; and Contemporary East Asian Cinema. This spring, she’s teaching Melodrama and the Woman’s Picture and Contemporary International Art Cinema.

In her classes, she often replaces textbooks with films. Dombrowski accentuates the importance of visual style and has her students look for ways in which filmmakers employ narrative structure, composition and framing, editing, lighting, camera angles and movement, and sound to cue certain emotional and intellectual responses.

She cites as an example Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller “Jaws.” Viewers are introduced to the shark from his visual perspective in the water. What he sees as he swims, combined with the tension-packed musical score, give the audience clues that the shark is on a man hunt.

“We begin affiliating the famous ‘dun-da dun-da’ musical motif with the shark on the prowl for human flesh,” Dombrowski explains. “We actually see very little of the shark until late in the film, so when the shark finally emerges from the water, the shock value is very strong.”

Dombrowski, who also advises the student-run Wesleyan Film Series, says selecting films to show in her classes is a time-consuming and challenging aspect of her position. Only a fraction of all motion pictures are available from distributors, and 35mm film prints can cost more than $800 each to rent. She prefers to show films in the Center for Film Studies’ new state-of-the-art Goldsmith Family Cinema. That way, students can watch the film the way the director originally intended it to be seen: on the silver screen.

Janine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, curator of the Cinema Archives and chair of the Film Studies Department says Dombrowski was one of the most brilliant students she taught in the Wesleyan film major. Basinger encouraged her bright pupil to get a master’s and Ph.D so she could teach at the collegiate level.

“Lisa is a great addition to our department,” Basinger says. “She brings the ability to teach classes in new areas: the contemporary cinema, East Asian cinema, the history of the film industry, and the independent cinema. Her colleagueship is outstanding, and she's reached out to the entire campus to help connect Film Studies to all four divisions. Her brains, her energy, her enthusiasm make her a real asset for Film Studies and for Wesleyan.”

In addition to teaching, Dombrowski is reviewing the production notebooks of director Elia Kazan, whose papers are held in the Wesleyan Cinema Archives. Kazan, who directed post-WWII films including “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “On the Waterfront”, took meticulous notes concerning all aspects of his productions, from the acting to the cinematography. Dombrowski plans to edit a publication based on the filmmaker’s thorough journals.

In the past few years, Dombrowski has presented conference papers on the aesthetics of black and white widescreen pictures in the 1950s; the distribution strategies adopted by Miramax in the release of Hong Kong films in the United States; and comparative approaches to low-budget filmmaking. In March, she will present “Adrift in Time: Free-floating Camera Movement, Memory, and Loss,” at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Dombrowski didn’t always have a heart for Hollywood. A resident of Akron, Ohio during high school, she came to Wesleyan in 1988 to study English and history. During her first year, she took two film courses, which opened her eyes to a new way of watching film. She ended up majoring in American studies and film studies, graduating from Wesleyan in 1992.

“When I was younger, like anyone, I went to movies and looked for a good story line, solid acting and beautiful visuals, but I was never thinking about the choices that filmmakers made, and why I responded in a certain way,” she says. “When you watch film as an artistic creation, and see its historical and cultural context, it becomes a completely different experience.”

During a 16mm viewing of Samuel Fuller’s 1963 thriller “Shock Corridor” in Prof. Jeanine Basinger’s Film Noir class, Dombrowski found herself curled into her seat, stunned by the director/producer’s bold approach and shocking visual style. Fuller would later become the focus of her dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her master’s of arts and Ph.D. in film.

Dombrowski has rewritten her dissertation into a soon-to-be-published book, “If You Die, I’ll Kill You: The Cinema of Samuel Fuller.” The book highlights Fuller’s career from the late 1940s through the 1980s, and examines his films from an aesthetic perspective.

Dombrowski has written or co-authored three recent grants, including a Wesleyan University Pedagogical Grant in 2003; an Edward W. Snowdon Fund Grant in 2004; and a Fund for Innovation Grant in 2005. She’s used these grants to develop a Contemporary International Art Cinema course, support an interdepartmental film and speaker series and support interdisciplinary courses, workshops, and speaker events on science and visualization.

She still tries to catch as many new flicks in the theater as possible. Her recent theater trips included viewings of “The New World,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “King Kong,” “Match Point” and “Pride & Prejudice.”

Her interest in international and independent films has also taken her to the South by Southwest Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, The Chicago Film Festival, and The New York Film Festival. She’s been a jury member for the Bethel Film Festival in Bethel, Conn. and Film Fest New Haven; and she’s served as curator of the Samuel Fuller Series at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cinematheque.

She’s studied thousands of films, averaging two a day. But to date, there’s still one film-related question she’ll always shrug her shoulders at.

“So, what’s your favorite movie?”

“I’ll never have an answer for that,” she says, smiling. “There are too many good movies out there, each with its own distinct style, to have only one favorite.”

 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor