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Film: A Critical Introduction, 3rd edition

  • Maria T. Pramaggiore
  • Tom Wallis

Published by Pearson (February 17th 2011) - Copyright © 2012

3rd edition

Film: A Critical Introduction

ISBN-13: 9780205770779

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Film: A Critical Introduction provides readers with the skills needed to successfully critique and analyze film and teaches  strategies for translating ideas about film into written criticism and analysis. Intricate discussions of the current issues in film theory, from sound production to documentaries, keep readers’ perspectives on film fresh and informed. Part I introduces readers to the importance of film analysis, offering helpful strategies for discerning the way films produce meaning. Part II examines the fundamental elements of film, including narrative form, mise en scène, cinematography, editing, and sound, and shows how these concepts can be used to interpret films. Part III frames the debates around ideological criticism, national and transnational cinema, and genre and auteur theory that animate contemporary film scholarship.

Table of contents

 Preface x


Part one

Introduction to
Film Analysis 1



1 Introduction 3


Cinema: A Confluence of Artistry, Industry,
and Technology 4

How This Book is Organized 6

Technical Tips 8


2 An Approach to Film Analysis 9


Understanding Audience Expectations 10

    Expectations and Modes of Organization 11

    Expectations about Genres, Stars, and Directors 13

The Orchestration of Detail 14

    Motifs 15

    Parallels 16

    Details and Structure 18

        Parallels and Structure 18

        Turning Points 18

        Repetition and Non-chronological Structure 19

Creating Meaning Through the World Beyond
the Film 20

    Historical Events and Cultural Attitudes 20

    Stars and Public Figures as References 21

    Intertextual References 22

    Meaningful References with Objects 26

The Goal of Film Analysis: Articulating Meaning 26

The Importance of Developing Interpretive Claims 30

Summary 30

Film Analysis: Reading Significant Details 31

    The Orchestration of Detail in Pan’s Labyrinth31


3 Writing About Film 37


Getting Started 38

    Keeping a Film Journal 38

    Formulating a Thesis 38

    Managing Verb Tense 39

Four Types of Writing About Film 39

    The Scene Analysis Paper 39

        “The Divided Human Spirit in Fritz Lang’s The Big
” 41

    The Film Analysis 43

        “The Anxieties of Modernity in Steamboat Bill Jr.”44

    The Research Paper 46

        “The New Vampire as Sympathetic Gothic Heroine in Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In”49

    Conducting Archival Research 57

    The Popular Review 58

        “Aliens as Apartheid Metaphor in District 9”59



Part Two

Film Analysis 63



4 Narrative Form 65


Defining Narrative 66

    Framing the Fictional World: Diegetic and Non-diegetic Elements 67

    Within the Diegesis: Selecting and Organizing Events 69

Narrative Structure 70

    Alternatives to Conventional Narrative Structure 72

Techniques in Practice: Narrative Structure in Stagecoach74

Variations on Narrative Conventions: Beyond Structure 77

Perspective and Meaning 78

    Character Subjectivity 80

Techniques in Practice: Noticing Shifts in Narration 82

Summary 84

Film Analysis: Analyzing Narrative Structure 85


5 Mise en Scène 91


Setting 93

    Describing Setting: Visual and Spatial Attributes 95

    The Functions of Setting 96

The Human Figure 97

    Casting 97

Techniques in Practice: Same Film, Different Settings 97

Techniques in Practice: Same Setting, Different Film 98

    Acting Style 101

    Acting Brechtian: Distancing the Audience 103

    Actors’ Bodies: Figure Placement 104

Techniques in Practice: Figure Placement in Citizen Kane104

    Actors’ Bodies: Costumes and Props 106

    Actors’ Bodies: Makeup 107

Lighting 109

Composition 114

    Balance and Symmetry 114

    Lines and Diagonals 115

    Foreground and Background 117

    Light and Dark 118

    Color 118

Two Approaches to Mise en Scène121

    The Frame in Two Dimensions: Mise en Scène
in German Expressionism 121

    Combining Mise en Scène and Camerawork: The Frame
in Three Dimensions in French Poetic Realism 122

Summary 124

Film Analysis: The Functions of Space 126

    Spatial Oppositions in Thelma & Louise126


6 Cinematography 129


The Camera in Time and Space 133

    Creating Meaning in Time: The Shot 133

        Altering Time: Slow and Fast Motion 134

    The Camera and Space: Height, Angle, and Shot Distance 138

        Camera Height 138

        Camera Angle 139

        Camera Distance 141

    Camera Movement: Exploring Space 144

        Horizontal and Vertical Movement 144

        Movement in Three Dimensions 145

Lenses and Filters: The Frame in Depth 148

    The Visual Characteristics of Lenses: Depth of Field
and Focal Length 148

Techniques in Practice: Patterns of Camera Placement
and Movement 150

        The Zoom Lens 153

    Combining Camera Movement and Lens Movement 154

    Through the Lens: Filters and Diffusers 155

Film Stock 157

    Characteristics of Film Stock 157

Techniques in Practice: Lenses and the Creation
of Space 157

    Light and Exposure 163

    Film Stock and Color 163

    Wide Film and Widescreen Formats 168

    Stereoscopic 3D: Then and Now 169

    Processing Film Stock 171

Special Visual Effects 171

    Manipulating the Image on the Set 173

    Creating Scene Transitions, Titles, and Credits:
The Optical Printer 175

    Optical and Digital Compositing: Assembling the
Elements of the Shot 176

    Performance Capture 177

    Computer-Generated Images 178

    Adding and Subtracting Frames 179

Digital Cinema: Post-Production 179

Digital Cinematography and Film Style 180

Summary 182

Film Analysis: Cinematography as a Storytelling Device 184

    Entrapment and Escape in Ratcatcher184


7  Editing 191


The Attributes of Editing: Creating Meaning Through Collage, Tempo, and Timing 193

    Joining Images: A Collage of Graphic Qualities 193

    Tempo 195

        Shot Length 195

        Shot Transitions 196

    Adjusting the Timing of Shot Transitions 198

Techniques in Practice: Using Contrasting Imagery
and Timing to Romanticize the Outlaws in
Bonnie and Clyde199

Story-Centered Editing and the Construction of Meaning 201

    Editing and Time 201

        Condensing and Expanding Time 202

        Suggesting the Simultaneity of Events 203

        Arranging the Order of Events 204

    Editing and Space 205

        Shot/Reverse Shot 206

        Eyeline Match 208

        Cutting to Emphasize Group Dynamics 209

        Cutaways 209

Beyond Narrative: Creating Meaning Outside the Story 210

    Continuity Editing: Conventional Patterns and
“Bending the Rules” 210

        Continuity and Space 211

        Continuity and Chronology 212

“Breaking the Rules”: The French New Wave
and its Influence 215

    Associational Editing: Editing and Metaphor 217

        Soviet Montage 217

Summary 221

Techniques in Practice: Soviet Montage Aesthetics in
The Godfather222

Film Analysis: Classical Editing 224

    Editing in Notorious224


8  Sound 227


Film Sound: A Brief History 228

    Critical Debates over Film Sound 230

Freeing Sound from Image 233

The Relationship Between Sound and Image 234

    Emphasizing the Contrast Between Onscreen and Offscreen Space 235

    Emphasizing the Difference Between Objective
Images and Subjective Sounds 236

    Emphasizing the Difference Between Diegetic Details
and Non-diegetic Sound 236

    Emphasizing the Difference Between Image Time
and Sound Time 237

    Emphasizing Differences in Image Mood and
Sound Mood 238

Three Components of Film Sound 239

    Dialogue 239

        Text and Subtext 239

        Volume 239

        Pitch 240

        Speech Characteristics 240

        Acoustic Qualities 242

        Addressing the Audience: the Voice-over 243

    Sound Effects 245

        Functions of Sound Effects 245

        Characteristics of Sound Effects 247

Techniques in Practice: The Human Voice as Aural Object 248

Techniques in Practice: Sound Effects and the
Construction of Class in Days of Heaven253

    Music 255

        Functions of Film Music 255

        Five Characteristics of Film Music 258

Techniques in Practice: Bernard Herrmann’s Score
and Travis Bickle’s Troubled Masculinity in
Taxi Driver 265

Summary 267

Film Analysis: The Human Voice and Sound Effects 269

    Sound in No Country for Old Men: A Tradition
of Violence 269


9  Alternatives to Narrative Fiction Film:
Documentary and Avant-garde Films 275


Three Modes of Filmmaking: A Comparison 276

Documentary Film: “The Creative Treatment of Actuality” 279

    Narrative Documentaries 281

Documentary Form 282

    Voice of Authority 283

    Talking Heads and Director—Participant 283

    Direct Cinema and Cinéma Vérité285

    Self-reflexive Documentary 286

    The Mockumentary 287

Two Theoretical Questions 288

    Documentary Spectatorship 288

    Ethics and Ethnography 290

Avant-garde Film 291

    Surrealist Cinema 292

    Abstract Film 294

    The City Symphony 295

Techniques in Practice: Interpreting Abstract Films 295

    Structuralist Film 299

    The Compilation Film 299

Conducting Research on Documentary and Avant-garde Films: Locating Sources 300

Summary 301

Film Analysis: Interpreting Avant-garde Films 303

    Analyzing Meshes of the Afternoon303



Part Three

Cinema and Culture 307



10  Film and Ideology 309


Ideology and Film Analysis 311

The Institutional Enforcement of Ideology:
The Production Code and the Anti-Communist Witch Hunts 314

    Anti-Communist Witch Hunts and Hollywood Cinema 316

Ideology and Film Spectatorship 318

Topics in Ideological Criticism 322

    Racial Ideology and American Cinema 322

    Gender and Cinema 327

    Sexuality and Cinema 332

    Disability and Cinema 336


11 Social Context and Film Style:
National, International, and
Transnational Cinema 343


Hollywood’s Industrial Context: The Studio System
as Dream Factory 344

    Classical Style 344

    Economic Practice and Hollywood Convention 345

    American Values and Hollywood Style 347

    Hollywood Conquers the World? 349

International Art Cinema 350

    The Industry and Ideology of “Art” 352

Italian Neorealism 354

Third Cinema 355

Fourth Cinema 357

National and Transnational Cinemas 359


12  Film Stardom as a
Cultural Phenomenon 365


Stars and the Movie Industry 367

The Dynamics of Performance 369

The Star Persona 371

Stardom and Ideology 375

Stars and Subcultures 377

    Fan Culture 379


13  Genre 381


What Makes a Genre? 382

Major American Genres 388

    The Western 388

    Film Noir and the Hard-boiled Detective Film 392

    The Action Film 393

    The Science Fiction Film 396

    The Musical 398

Using Genre to Interpret Films 401

    Genre Film and Aesthetic Appeal: Cliché or Strategic Repetition? 401

    Genre and the Status Quo 402

    Genres as Culturally Responsive Artifacts 403

    Genre and Film Authorship 404


14  Film Authorship 407


The Idea of the Auteur: From Cahiers du Cinéma
to the Sarris—Kael Debate 408

Auteur as Marketing Strategy: Old and New Hollywood 410

    Studio-era Auteurs: Welles and Hitchcock 411

    Blockbuster Auteurs: Spielberg and Lucas 413

Using the Auteur Approach to Interpret and Evaluate Films 413

    The Auteur and the Consistency Thesis 414

    The Life and Work of an Auteur: Studying Biographical Influence 417

    Auteurs and Anomalies: Studying Aberrational Films 418

    Auteurs and Ancestors: The Question of Influence 421


15  Cinema as Industry: Economics
and Technology 429


The Changing Structure of the Film Industry 431

    From Oligopolies to Conglomerates 431

    Horizontal Integration: Merchandise and Games 432

    Globalization 433

    Industry Labor Practices 434

        Outsourcing 434

        Star Compensation 435

        Runaway Productions 435

        Creative Centralization 436

Films as Products 437

    The Blockbuster 437

    The High Concept Film 437

    New Modes of Marketing 438

    Independent Film Culture 439

        Two Independent Institutions: Sundance and Miramax 440

Film and the New Technology 442

    The Rise of the DVD and Blu-ray 445

    Film and Digital Technologies 446



Glossary 451

Bibliography 458

Index 463

Picture Credits468




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