Film Studies

Film Studies: An Introduction

Ed Sikov
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 232
Stable URL: http:/stable/10.7312/siko14292
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  • Book Info
    Film Studies
    Book Description:

    Ed Sikov builds a step-by-step curriculum for the appreciation of all types of narrative cinema, detailing the essential elements of film form and systematically training the spectator to be an active reader and critic. Sikov primes the eye and mind in the special techniques of film analysis. His description of mise-en-scene helps readers grasp the significance of montage, which in turn reveals the importance of a director's use of camera movement. He treats a number of fundamental factors in filmmaking, including editing, composition, lighting, the use of color and sound, and narrative. Film Studies works with any screening list and can be used within courses on film history, film theory, or popular culture. Straightforward explanations of core critical concepts, practical advice, and suggested assignments on particular technical, visual, and aesthetic aspects further anchor the reader's understanding of the formal language and anatomy of film.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51989-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
  3. PREFACE: WHAT THIS BOOK IS—AND WHAT IT’S NOT
    (pp. XI-XVI)
  4. INTRODUCTION: REPRESENTATION AND REALITY
    (pp. 1-4)

    Consider the word representation (see glossary). What does it mean—and what technology does it take—to represent real people or physical objects on film? These are two of the basic questions in film studies. The dictionary defines the verb to represent as “to stand for; to symbolize; to indicate or communicate by signs or symbols.” That’s all well and good as far as it goes. But in the first one hundred years of motion pictures, the signs and symbols onscreen were almost always real before they ended up as signs and symbols on movie screens.

    We take for granted...

  5. CHAPTER 1 MISE-EN-SCENE: WITHIN THE IMAGE
    (pp. 5-23)

    Film studies deals with the problems of reality and representation by making an initial assumption and proceeding logically from it. This assumption is that all representations have meaning. The term mise-en-scene (also mise-en-scène) describes the primary feature of cinematic representation. Mise-en-scene is the first step in understanding how films produce and reflect meaning. It’s a term taken from the French, and it means that which has been put into the scene or put onstage. Everything—literally everything—in the filmed image is described by the term mise-en-scene: it’s the expressive totality of what you see in a single film image....

  6. CHAPTER 2 MISE-EN-SCENE: CAMERA MOVEMENT
    (pp. 24-37)

    Motion pictures share a number of formal elements with other arts. The shape of a particular painting is essentially its aspect ratio—the ratio of width to height of the image—and the composition and lighting effects created by the painter play a central role in that painting’s meaning, as does the distance between the artist and his or her subject. (A portrait might be the equivalent of a close-up; a landscape is usually a long shot or an extreme long shot.) The term mise-en-scene is derived from the theater: the arrangement and appearance of a play’s sets and props,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 MISE-EN-SCENE: CINEMATOGRAPHY
    (pp. 38-54)

    Cinematography—photography for motion pictures—is the general term that brings together all the strictly photographic elements that produce the images we see projected on the screen. Lighting devices and their effects; film stocks and the colors or tones they produce; the lenses used to record images on celluloid; the shape of the image, how it is created, and what it means—these all constitute the art of cinematography. This, too, is an aspect of mise-en-scene.

    The word cinematography comes from two Greek roots: kinesis (the root of cinema), meaning movement, and grapho, which means to write or record. (Photography...

  8. CHAPTER 4 EDITING: FROM SHOT TO SHOT
    (pp. 55-73)

    With all but a very few exceptions, films—especially narrative feature films—are made up of a series of individual shots that filmmakers connect in a formal, systematic, and expressive way. There are practical as well as artistic reasons for directors to assemble movies from many hundreds if not thousands of shots. For one thing, film cameras are able to hold only a limited amount of celluloid film—not enough for a feature-length motion picture. (Digital cameras, however, can capture multiple hours.) More important, narrative films generally compress time considerably by leaving out the boring parts of the stories they...

  9. CHAPTER 5 SOUND
    (pp. 74-88)

    We call them silent movies, those early films that did not have a soundtrack. But they weren’t actually silent. Most motion pictures of that era were screened with some form of live music. In large, urban theaters, exhibitors would often hire a full orchestra to accompany the movies they showed, while in small venues there would simply be a pianist. Organs, too, were commonly used to accompany films in those years. Not only could a single pipe organ or electric organ simulate a variety of instruments from clarinets to violins, but it could also provide a variety of sound effects...

  10. CHAPTER 6 NARRATIVE: FROM SCENE TO SCENE
    (pp. 89-102)

    Even the simplest stories can be broken down into component parts:

    1. Boy meets girl

    2. Boy loses girl

    3. Boy tries to get girl back

    4. Boy and girl get together in the end

    If this conventional story takes the form of a feature-length film, each of its four parts is composed of hundreds of individual shots. Each shot contains mise-en-scene elements that convey expressive information, and each transition from shot to shot compounds that information by creating relationships. But what about the story? How does the boy meet the girl? Why does he lose the girl? What does he do to get...

  11. CHAPTER 7 FROM SCREENPLAY TO FILM
    (pp. 103-115)

    The screenwriter plays one of the key roles in the creation of a motion picture. He or she constructs a detailed story, maps out a scene-by-scene blueprint of the film’s plot, and writes dialogue that may or may not sound like everyday life but that nonetheless fits the tone and style of the particular film. That’s an important distinction. You may have the idea that movie dialogue must be realistic, but this is not the case. The script for Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) features dialogue written by Shakespeare (and adapted by Luhrman and the screenwriter Craig Pearce), much...

  12. CHAPTER 8 FILMMAKERS
    (pp. 116-128)

    You are probably used to hearing and reading reviewers refer to films as having been made by their directors: “Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan,” “Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046,” “Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind …” But consider this: of those three films, only 2046 was written by the person who directed it. Robert Rodat wrote Saving Private Ryan’s screenplay, not Steven Spielberg, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was written by Charlie Kaufman. Why is the director necessarily the film’s creator? What about the screenwriter? Or the producer? Or the cinematographer? How about the actors? Shouldn’t they be...

  13. CHAPTER 9 PERFORMANCE
    (pp. 129-142)

    How does film studies deal with acting? Movie reviewers tell us that certain performances are good while others are terrible. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives awards every year in tribute to the quality of individual performances. And we all come away from the movies we see with opinions of whether the stars have done a good job creating their characters or not. But it should be clear by now that as an academic discipline, film studies is less interested in issuing judgments than in analyzing aspects and components of meaning. How, then, do we distinguish quantitative...

  14. CHAPTER 10 GENRE
    (pp. 143-157)

    Genre (zhon’-ruh): a type or category of film—such as the western, the horror film, the comedy, or the musical—that has its own recognizable conventions and character types.

    To return to a point raised while defining the term convention (chapter 7), we sometimes assume that art is about pure creativity—that great films (or novels, or paintings, or musical works) are a matter of complete originality. But genres belie that idea. Genres rely on repetition and variation rather than uniqueness—familiar, recognizable conventions rather than raw, pure inventions. It’s true that a filmmaker may take an especially fresh approach...

  15. CHAPTER 11 SPECIAL EFFECTS
    (pp. 158-168)

    A train pulls into a station in Louis Lumière’s 50-second 1895 film, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. A train wrecks when the high bridge it is crossing collapses in Buster Keaton’s 1927 comedy, The General. A circus train jumps the tracks and wrecks in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 drama, The Greatest Show on Earth. The first two films used real locomotives, while the third used a small model. But even the real train in The General had to be wrecked by way of special effects.

    The term special effects is broadly defined as any image or element...

  16. CHAPTER 12 PUTTING IT TOGETHER: A MODEL 8- TO 10-PAGE PAPER
    (pp. 169-186)

    This chapter, the last one in the book, is a hands-on guide to writing an introductory-level film paper. Footnotes serve as a running commentary on the pros and cons of the paper’s content, format, writing style, and so on. Every issue covered in these footnotes, even those that seem embarrassingly obvious, is based on an actual student paper received by, read by, and graded by the author of this textbook over the course of twenty-five years of teaching. They range from simple points of common sense and grammar to more substantive issues of content and style.

    A film about male...

  17. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 187-198)
  18. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 199-200)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 201-212)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-216)