Purpose: The purpose of this assignment is to expand your understanding of how film constructs meaning using both traditional narrative as well as iconic representations presented through images and sounds.
Assignment: Write a thesis-driven essay in which you examine ONE scene from a film scheduled to be viewed in class.
Ways to Proceed: First, pick a scene for analysis. It should be one that is important in terms of plot development as well as one that uses filmic apparatuses to artfully construct meaning in the film.
Once you pick a scene, watch it once for an overall impression of the scene. Pay close attention to everything that happens in the scene. What is the initial impact of the scene on you? Are you left happy by the scene? Sad? Anxious? Confused? How does the scene help to set the tone for the film? How does it fit into the overall scope of the film? Is this a revelatory scene? Does it show us something that we have not seen before? Is it a scene integral to narrative development?
Next, watch the scene again, but this time, take notes as you watch. Note camera angles, shots, lighting, sound, narrative. All of these will help you to analyze the scene. You must learn to interpret how film constructs meaning by both traditional and non-traditional methods. Once you learn to look for how film constructs meaning, then you can begin to examine the scene as an opportunity for analysis.
Finally, figure out what the overall impact and / or message of the scene is. As you ponder this, you will want to consider the events that transpire in your scene. Is there dialogue? Is there action? How does the film construct meaning beyond the actions and words of the characters in the film? What film techniques do you see employed in this scene? What are the shot angles? Are there close ups? Establishing shots? Crane Shots? Are there abrupt cuts? Slow fades? Steadicam? Extended shots without cuts? Use of montage? Does the scene violate the 180 degree rule? Does use of sound help to construct meaning? Is there music? What is the music? How does it help construct meaning? Is there information entering the film from outside the diagetic world created by the camera? Is there anything in the scene that draws your attention to the filmic apparatus? How does all of this affect your understanding of the scene?
When you write, your thesis should point out what you think the overall meaning and / or impact of the scene is. It should be organized in a logical manner. You can consider both traditional narrative strategies as well as those which are more commonly associated with film. However, you should not jump all over the place. Move from common to uncommon, known to unknown, familiar to experimental; however, don't jump back and forth between forms. If you're talking about how sound constructs meaning, don't abruptly go to how shots are cut in the film, only to return later to sound in the scene. If you're looking at cuts, look at cuts. Don't move from the visual to something else (e.g., dialogue, soundtrack, etc.) and then come back to the visual later. Stay focused on the task at hand before moving on. Remember this: you don't have to examine everything in a scene. You only have to discuss those portions of the scene that are the most relevant to however you are interpreting the scene.
Criteria for Evaluation: Your scene analysis should be typed, double-spaced, one inch margins (top, bottom, left, right), twelve point font (Courier, Arial, Garamond, etc.). Your paper should be between 5-7 pages. I expect your essay to display proper use of MLA formatting. Your scene analysis must utilize between 6-10 filmic concepts / terms associated with the specific jargon / terminology associated with the construction / narration / compilation of the film medium. You are required to include a glossary at the end of your essay that describes, in your own words the concepts / terms utilized in your essay. It is like a "Works Cited" page, but it should instead be called a "Terminology Utilized" page. This page will count in your final page count for your essay.
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Films take us on journeys; we become immersed in worlds beyond our own. The best films lead us to ask questions about our world as well as ourselves. However sometimes it can be difficult to translate our reactions to film into meaningful English analysis. The table below provides some of the key film techniques for writing about cinematic texts.
Important Cinematic Techniques
sound effects, dialogue, music, silences and voice-overs. Like music, sound can be divided into diegetic (occurring in the world of the film) and extra-diegetic (occurring outside the world of the film).
|Camera angles refer to the tilt of the camera in relation to the scene and characters. Unusual camera angles can emphasise an action sequence, disorientate the audience, and suggest the relationship between characters.|
The main angles are: Low, Eye-Level, High, Worm’s Eye, Canted, Bird’s Eye.
|Colour, especially the choice of colour palette or scheme, can reflect the mood of the piece. Colour in a scene can also be enhanced through lighting.|
For example, in The Great Gatsby (2013), the use of a vibrant colour scheme reflects the opulent lifestyle of New York elites in the 1920s.
You can learn more about colour symbolism at Studio Binder.
Colour Palette Analysis by Movies in Color of Baz Lurman’s The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros. 2013), Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
|Cucoloris is a lighting technique where an object is placed between the light source and the subject in order to create a patterned shadow. A staple of film noir.|
Filter used for Cucloris. Image and device by Henry Nelson.
|Conversation between two characters is called dialogue. Written by scriptwriters to convey the film’s plot, dialogue is also useful in conveying character.|
|The order of each shot and how they have been put together to create a scene. This is usually based upon the storyboard used by the director.|
However, some directors such as Werner Herzog refused to use storyboards, and shoot many scenes which they edit together by trial and error.
|Images that refer to previous events in the characters` lives. Flashbacks can be used to foreshadow future events.|
|Text which is printed on a background and placed between filmed scenes through editing. In silent films, intertitles can convey dialogue and exposition.|
Intertitle from Metropolis Dir. Fritz Lang (1927)
|Lighting contributes to the mood of a film and suggests interpretations of character. Low key lighting emphasises the shadows in a shot, while lighting from above or below can suggest that a character possesses sinister qualities.|
An example of a sinister cat, lit from below.
An example of shadows from Low Key Lighting.
Mise en scène
|Mise en scène translates as ‘what is put into a scene’. This French expression refers to the composition of a scene, including placement of characters, costume, make–up and setting.|
|A montage is a type of editing sequence where a series of shots play rapidly to create a narrative. Often a montage will be accompanied by a unifying piece of music to convey the dominant mood connected with the sequence.|
A GIF of a montage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)
|Mood refers to the feelings suggested by the combination of all the elements on the screen and the accompanying sound. Another way to refer to the mood is to discuss atmosphere.|
|Music can convey the theme, mood and atmosphere. There are different types of music in films. The score is extra-diegetic music composed for the film, designed to evoke the film’s desired mood for the audience. Music heard by the characters in the film is called diegetic music.|
|The place where the action of the film occurs.|
|Shot types indicate how close or far the camera is from the characters. Shot types range from Extreme Long Shot (XLS), where the characters may be very small and embedded in a landscape, to Extreme Close Up (XCU), where part of the character’s face makes up the whole shot.|
The shots are: Extreme Long Shot (XLS), Long Shot (LS), Medium Long Shot (MLS), Medium Shot (MS), Medium Close Up (MCU), Close Up (CU), Super Close Up (SCU), Extreme Close Up (XCU).
|An object used to suggest ideas in addition to, or beyond, their literal sense. For example the glass slipper in Cinderella symbolises the opportunity that Cinderella has to live a different life. Watch films carefully to spot symbols and their potential meaning to the plot. If a symbol recurs throughout the film it is a motif.|
The GIF above is from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999).
The dancing plastic bag symbolises how beauty is found in things that are often discarded. The bag is rubbish to many, but its dance in the wind is beautiful.
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