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Movies and meaning 6th edition by stephen prince pdf

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RICHARD BARSAM (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at Hunter College, City Univer- sity of New York. He is the author of Nonfiction Film: A Critical History (rev. and exp. ed., 1992), The Vision of Rob- ert Flaherty: The Artist as Myth and Filmmaker (1988), In the Dark: A Primer for the Movies (1977), and Filmguide to Triumph of the Will (1975); editor of Nonfiction Film: Theory and Criticism (1976); and contributing author to Paul Monaco’s The Sixties: 1960–1969 (Vol. 8 in the History of the American Cinema series, 2001) and Filming Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story: The Helen van Dongen Diary (ed. Eva Orbanz, 1998). His articles and book reviews have appeared in Cinema Journal, Quarterly Review of Film Studies, Film Comment, Studies in Visual Com- munication, and Harper’s. He has been a member of the Executive Council of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the Editorial Board of Cinema Journal, and he cofounded the journal Persistence of Vision.

DAVE MONAHAN (M.F.A., Columbia University) is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Film Studies at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His work as a writer, director, and editor includes Things Grow (2010), Ringo (2005), Monkey Junction (2004), Prime Time (1996), and Angels Watching Over Me (1993). His work has been screened internationally in over fifty film festivals and has earned numerous awards, including the New Line Cinema Award for Most Original Film (Prime Time) and the Seattle International Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Animated Short Film (Ringo).



To Students xvii Preface xix Acknowledgments xxiii

CHAPTER 1 Looking at Movies 1 Learning Objectives 2

Looking at Movies 2 What Is a Movie? 3 The Movie Director 5

Ways of Looking at Movies 6 Invisibility and Cinematic Language 6 Cultural Invisibility 10 Implicit and Explicit Meaning 11 Viewer Expectations 13 Formal Analysis 14 Alternative Approaches to Analysis 19 Cultural and Formal Analysis in The Hunger Games 22 Analyzing Looking at Movies 32 Screening Checklist: Looking at Movies 33 Questions for Review 34 Student Resources Online 34

CHAPTER 2 Principles of Film Form 35 Learning Objectives 36

Film Form 36 Form and Content 36

Form and Expectations 39 Patterns 41 Fundamentals of Film Form 45 Movies Depend on Light 45 Movies Provide an Illusion of Movement 46 Movies Manipulate Space and Time in Unique Ways 48

Realism and Antirealism 55 Verisimilitude 58


viii Contents

Cinematic Language 59

Looking at Film Form: Donnie Darko 61 Content 61 Expectations 61 Patterns 62 Manipulating Space 63 Manipulating Time 64 Realism, Antirealism, and Verisimilitude 64 Analyzing Principles of Film Form 65 Screening Checklist: Principles of Film Form 65 Questions for Review 66 Student Resources Online 66

CHAPTER 3 Types of Movies 67 Learning Objectives 68

The Idea of Narrative 68

Types of Movies 71 Narrative Movies 72 Documentary Movies 73 Experimental Movies 77

Hybrid Movies 83

Genre 85 Genre Conventions 88

Story Formulas 88 Theme 89 Character Types 89 Setting 89 Presentation 89 Stars 90

Six Major American Genres 91 Gangster 91 Film Noir 93 Science Fiction 96 Horror 99 The Western 102 The Musical 105

Evolution and Transformation of Genre 108

What about Animation? 111

Looking at the Types of Movies in The Lego Movie 115 Analyzing Types of Movies 119 Screening Checklist: Types of Movies 119 Questions for Review 120 Student Resources Online 120


CHAPTER 4 Elements of Narrative 121 Learning Objectives 122

What Is Narrative? 122 Characters 126 Narrative Structure 130

The Screenwriter 135

Elements of Narrative 136 Story and Plot 136 Order 141 Events 142 Duration 143 Suspense versus Surprise 147 Repetition 148 Setting 148 Scope 149

Looking at Narrative: John Ford’s Stagecoach 150 Story, Screenwriter, and Screenplay 150 Narration and Narrator 152 Characters 153 Narrative Structure 153 Plot 154

Order 154 Diegetic and Nondiegetic Elements 154 Events 155 Duration 155 Repetition 155

Suspense 155 Setting 157 Scope 159 Analyzing Elements of Narrative 161 Screening Checklist: Elements of Narrative 161 Questions for Review 162 Student Resources Online 162

CHAPTER 5 Mise-en-Scène 163 Learning Objectives 164

What Is Mise-en-Scène? 164

Design 173 The Production Designer 173 Elements of Design 176

Setting, Decor, and Properties 177 Lighting 179 Costume, Makeup, and Hairstyle 181

International Styles of Design 188

x Contents

Composition 196 Framing: What We See on the Screen 197

On-screen and Offscreen Space 197 Open and Closed Framing 199

Kinesis: What Moves on the Screen 202 Movement of Figures within the Frame 203

Looking at Mise-en-Scène 204 Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow 204 Analyzing Mise-en-Scène 209 Screening Checklist: Mise-en-Scène 209 Questions for Review 210 Student Resources Online 210

CHAPTER 6 Cinematography 211 Learning Objectives 212

What Is Cinematography? 212

The Director of Photography 212

Cinematographic Properties of the Shot 215 Film Stock 215

Black and White 217 Color 219

Lighting 222 Source 222 Quality 223 Direction 223 Color 227

Lenses 229

Framing of the Shot 233 Implied Proximity to the Camera 235

Shot Types 236 Depth 238 Camera Angle and Height 242

Eye Level 243 High Angle 243 Low Angle 245 Dutch Angle 246 Aerial View 247

Scale 247 Camera Movement 248

Pan Shot 249 Tilt Shot 249 Dolly Shot 249 Zoom 251 Crane Shot 251 Handheld Camera 254 Steadicam 254

Framing and Point of View 255

Speed and Length of the Shot 258


Special Effects 261 In-Camera, Mechanical, and Laboratory Effects 262 Computer-Generated Imagery 263

Looking at Cinematography: Richard Linklater's Boyhood 265 Analyzing Cinematography 269 Screening Checklist: Cinematography 269 Questions for Review 270 Student Resources Online 270

CHAPTER 7 Acting 271 Learning Objectives 272

What Is Acting? 272 Movie Actors 273

The Evolution of Screen Acting 279 Early Screen-Acting Styles 279 D. W. Griffith and Lillian Gish 279 The Influence of Sound 281 Acting in the Classical Studio Era 282 Method Acting 286 Screen Acting Today 287 Technology and Acting 292

Casting Actors 293 Factors Involved in Casting 294

Aspects of Performance 295 Types of Roles 295 Preparing for Roles 297 Naturalistic and Nonnaturalistic Styles 299 Improvisational Acting 301 Directors and Actors 302

How Filmmaking Affects Acting 303 Framing, Composition, Lighting, and the Long Take 304 The Camera and the Close-Up 307 Acting and Editing 308

Looking at Acting 309 Looking at Acting: Michelle Williams 311 Analyzing Acting 315 Screening Checklist: Acting 315 Questions for Review 316 Student Resources Online 316

xii Contents

CHAPTER 8 Editing 317 Learning Objectives 318

What Is Editing? 318

The Film Editor 320 The Editor’s Responsibilities 323

Spatial Relationships between Shots 323 Temporal Relationships between Shots 324 Rhythm 329

Major Approaches to Editing: Continuity and Discontinuity 333 Conventions of Continuity Editing 336

Master Scene Technique 337 Screen Direction 337

Editing Techniques That Maintain Continuity 342 Shot/Reverse Shot 342 Match Cuts 342 Parallel Editing 345 Point-of-View Editing 347

Other Transitions between Shots 348 The Jump Cut 348 Fade 349 Dissolve 349 Wipe 350 Iris Shot 351 Freeze-Frame 351 Split Screen 352

Looking at Editing 353 Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s City of God 357 Analyzing Editing 361 Screening Checklist: Editing 361 Questions for Review 362 Student Resources Online 362

CHAPTER 9 Sound 363 Learning Objectives 364

What Is Sound? 364

Sound Production 366 Design 366 Recording 367 Editing 368 Mixing 368

Describing Film Sound 369 Pitch, Loudness, Quality 369 Fidelity 370


Sources of Film Sound 371 Diegetic versus Nondiegetic 371 On-screen versus Offscreen 372 Internal versus External 373

Types of Film Sound 374 Vocal Sounds 374 Environmental Sounds 376 Music 378 Silence 383 Types of Sound in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds 385

Functions of Film Sound 389 Audience Awareness 389 Audience Expectations 390 Expression of Point of View 391 Rhythm 392 Characterization 394 Continuity 394 Emphasis 395

Looking at (and Listening to) Sound in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane 397 Sources and Types 398 Functions 398 Characterization 400 Themes 401 Analyzing Sound 402 Screening Checklist: Sound 402 Questions for Review 403 Student Resources Online 403

CHAPTER 10 Film History 405 Learning Objectives 406

What Is Film History? 406

Basic Approaches to Studying Film History 407 The Aesthetic Approach 407 The Technological Approach 407 The Economic Approach 408 The Social History Approach 408

A Short Overview of Film History 409 Precinema 409

Photography 409 Series Photography 410

1891–1903: The First Movies 411 1908–1927: Origins of the Classical Hollywood Style—The Silent Period 414 1919–1931: German Expressionism 418 1918–1930: French Avant-Garde Filmmaking 420 1924–1930: The Soviet Montage Movement 421

xiv Contents

1927–1947: Classical Hollywood Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age 424 1942–1951: Italian Neorealism 428 1959–1964: French New Wave 430

1947–Present: New Cinemas in Great Britain, Europe, and Asia 433 England and the Free Cinema Movement 434 Denmark and the Dogme 95 Movement 435 Germany and Austria 436 Japan 437 China 440

The People’s Republic 440 Hong Kong 441 Taiwan 442

India 442 Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African Cinema 444

Algeria 444 Egypt 444 Iraq 444 Iran 444 Israel 445 Lebanon 445 Palestine 445

Latin American Filmmaking 445 Argentina 445 Brazil 445 Cuba 446 Mexico 446

1965–1995: The New American Cinema 447

Looking at Citizen Kane and Its Place in Film History 452 Analyzing Film History 454 Screening Checklist: Film History 454 Questions for Review 455

CHAPTER 11 How the Movies Are Made 457 Learning Objectives 458

Money, Methods, and Materials: The Whole Equation 458

Film and Digital Technologies: An Overview 460 Film Technology 460 Digital Technology 463 Film versus Digital Technology 464

How a Movie Is Made 466 Preproduction 466 Production 467 Postproduction 468

The Studio System 468 Organization before 1931 468 Organization after 1931 469 Organization during the Golden Age 471 The Decline of the Studio System 473


The Independent System 474 Labor and Unions 476 Professional Organizations and Standardization 476

Financing in the Industry 477

Marketing and Distribution 479

Production in Hollywood Today 483 Audience Demographics 485 Franchises 485 LGBT Movies 486 African American Movies 487 Foreign Influences on Hollywood Films 487 Looking at the Future of the Film Industry 487 Thinking about How the Movies Are Made 490 Screening Checklist: How the Movies Are Made 490 Questions for Review 491

Glossary 493 Permissions Acknowledgments 507 Index 511


The movies, born in 1891, have flourished for 124 years, yet there have always been those who believed that they were a passing fancy, or a poor cousin of the more tradi- tional arts like literature, painting, architecture, dance, and music. In 1996, shortly after cinema’s one hun- dredth birthday, cultural pundit Susan Sontag mused on the state of the art:

Cinema’s 100 years seem to have the shape of a life cycle: an inevitable birth, the steady accumulation of glories and the onset in the last decade of an ignominious, irre- versible decline. . . . the commercial cinema has settled for a policy of bloated, derivative film-making, a brazen combinatory or recombinatory art, in the hope of repro- ducing past successes. Cinema, once heralded as the art of the 20th century, seems now, as the century closes nu- merically, to be a decadent art.1

Yet, 60 years before that, the art historian Erwin Panofsky had a very different insight into the movies as a form of popular art:

If all the serious lyrical poets, composers, painters and sculptors were forced by law to stop their activities, a rather small fraction of the general public would become aware of the fact and a still smaller fraction would seri- ously regret it. If the same thing were to happen with the movies the social consequences would be catastrophic.2

Both, of course, were right. The commercial cinema, driven by the box office, has not fulfilled the promise of cinema’s potential, yet today, we would hardly know what to do without movies. They are a major presence in our lives, and an influential beneficiary of our techno- logical age. Since their invention more than a hundred years ago, movies have become one of the world’s largest industries and the most powerful art form of our time.

1. Susan Sontag, “The Decay of Cinema,” The New York Times, Feb. 25, 1996. 2. Erwin Panofsky, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,” in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Leo Braudy and Mar-

shall Cohen, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 280.

With each new technological development—sound, color, widescreen projection, television, 3-D, computer- generated imagery, DVDs, internet streaming, and dig- itization of the filmmaking process—the movies have changed. Indeed, looking at movies (and the audience that looks at them) has changed as well. Traditionally, we saw movies in a theater, separated from the outside world—although it was a communal experience, sitting in the dark on seats fixed to the floor and a huge image screen. Today, we see movies wherever we happen to be; with whomever we want to be with (but usually alone); standing with a handheld device, curled up on a sofa, or sitting at a desk; and usually with the lights on. The image can be as large as a home theater or as small as a smartphone screen.

A source of entertainment that makes us see beyond the borders of our experiences, movies have always pos- sessed the power to amaze, frighten, and enlighten us. They challenge our senses, emotions, and sometimes, our intellect; pushing us to say, often passionately, that we love (or hate) them. It’s easy to get excited by movies because they arouse our most public and private feel- ings and can overwhelm us with their sights and sounds. The challenge is to combine that enthusiasm with un- derstanding, to be able to say why we feel so strongly about particular movies while others are easily forgot- ten. That’s one reason why this book encourages you to go beyond the stories, and to understand how these stories are told. After all, movies are not reality but only illusions of reality, and as with most works of art, their form and content work as an interrelated system, one that asks us to accept it as a given rather than as the product of a process. As you read this book devoted to looking at movies—that is, not passively watching them but actively considering the relation of their form and their content—remember that there is no one way to look at film, no one critical perspective that is inherently better than another, and no one meaning that you can insist on after a single viewing. Indeed, movies are so di- verse in their nature that no single approach could ever do them justice.


xviii To Students

No other art form has had so many lives. The cinema is alive because it is constantly changing as it adapts to technological advances and audience expectations. Cin- ema evolves because everything we see on the movie screen—everything that engages our senses, emotions, and minds—results from hundreds of decisions affect- ing the interrelation of formal cinematic elements, such as narrative, composition, cinematography, editing, and sound, as well as the influence of film producers whose financial decisions determine which films are made and whose advertising decisions make audiences desire what’s new. Audiences in turn encourage new trends with their ticket purchases and habits of consumption. This book encourages you to look at movies with an un- derstanding and appreciation of how filmmakers make the decisions that help them tell a story and create the foundation for its meaning. After all, in the real life of the movies, it is not historians, theorists, or critics—

important and invaluable as they are—but filmmakers who continually shape and revise our understanding and appreciation of the film art.

If Susan Sontag were alive today, she would prob- ably still lament the decline of thoughtful content in movies. But in an industry driven by what the public wants, the movies are doing just fine, and their formal elements, history, business practices, and cultural im- pact remain fruitful fields for further study. So even as the technology for making movies continues to evolve, and the marketplace in which they are created grows and contracts and expands internationally, the princi- ples of film art covered in this book remain essentially the same. The principles you learn and the analytic skills you hone as you read this book will help you look at mo- tion pictures intelligently and perceptively throughout your life, no matter from which medium you view those pictures.


Students in an introductory film course who read Look- ing at Movies carefully and take full advantage of the ma- terials surrounding the text will finish the course with a solid grounding in the major principles of film form as well as a more perceptive and analytic eye. A short de- scription of the book’s main features follows.

An Accessible and Comprehensive Overview of Film

Recognized from its first publication as an accessible in- troductory text, Looking at Movies covers key concepts in films studies as comprehensively as possible. In ad- dition to its clear and inviting presentation of the fun- damentals of film form, the text discusses film genres, film history, and the relationships between film and culture in an extensive but characteristically accessible way, thus providing students with a thorough introduc- tion to the major subject areas in film studies.

Film Examples Chosen with Undergraduates in Mind

From its very first chapter, which features sustained anal- yses and examples from The Hunger Games and Jason Reitman’s Juno (2009), Looking at Movies invites stu- dents into the serious study of cinema via films that are familiar to them and that they have a reasonable chance of having experienced outside the classroom prior to tak- ing the course. Major film texts from the entire history of cinema are also generously represented, of course, but al- ways with an eye to helping students see enjoyment and serious study as complementary experiences.

A Focus on Analytic Skills

A good introductory film book needs to help students make the transition from the natural enjoyment of mov-

ies to a critical understanding of the form, content, and meanings of movies. Looking at Movies accomplishes this task in several different ways:

Model Analyses Hundreds of illustrative examples and analytic readings of films throughout the book provide students with con- crete models for their own analytic work. The sustained analyses in Chapter 1 of Juno and The Hunger Games— films that most undergraduates will have seen and en- joyed but perhaps not viewed with a critical eye—discuss not only the formal structures and techniques of these films, but also their social and cultural meanings. These analyses offer students an accessible and jargon-free introduction to most of the major themes and goals of introductory film course, and show students that look- ing at movies analytically can start immediately, even before they learn the specialized vocabulary of film study.

Each chapter also concludes with an in-depth “Look- ing at Movies” analysis that offers a sustained look at an exemplar film through the lens of the chapter’s focus. New analyses of Donnie Darko, The Lego Movie, and Boy- hood join existing chapter summations on Citizen Kane, Stagecoach, and City of" God to provide clear models for students’ own analyses and interpretations of films.

Interactive Tutorials New interactive tutorials created by the authors pro - vide students with hands-on practice manipulating key concepts of filmmaking and formal analysis. Stu- dents can work at their own pace to see how elements such as lighting, sound, editing, composition, and color function within a film. Available in the ebook and on the Looking at Movies student website, both found at digital .wwnorton.com/movies5.

Video Tutorials A series of video tutorials—written, directed, and hosted by the authors—complement and expand on the book’s analyses. Ranging from 2 to 15 minutes in length, these


xx Preface

tutorials show students via moving-image media what the book describes and illustrates in still images. Help - ful as a quick review of core concepts in the text, these tutorials also provide useful models for film analysis, thus helping students further develop their analytical skills. Available in the ebook and on the Looking at Movies student website, both found at digital.wwnorton .com/movies5.

“Screening Checklists” Each chapter ends with an “Analyzing” section that in cludes a “Screening Checklist” feature. This series of leading questions prompts students to apply what they’ve learned in the chapter to their own critical view- ing, in class or at home.

The Most Visually Dynamic Text Available

Looking at Movies was written with one goal in mind: to prepare students for a lifetime of intelligent and per- ceptive viewing of motion pictures. In recognition of the central role visuals play in the film-studies classroom, Looking at Movies includes an illustration program that is both visually appealing and pedagogically focused, as well as an accompanying moving-image media that are second to none.

Hundreds of In-Text Illustrations The text is accompanied by over 750 illustrations in color and in black and white. Nearly all the still pictures were captured from digital or analog film sources, thus en- suring that the images directly reflect the textual dis- cussions and the films from which they’re taken. Unlike publicity stills, which are attractive as photographs but less useful as teaching aids, the captured stills through- out this book provide visual information that will help students learn as they read and—because they are re- produced in the aspect ratio of the original source—will serve as accurate reference points for students’ analyses.

Five Hours of Moving-Image Media The ebook and student website that accompany Looking at Mov ies offer five hours of two different types of video content:

The twenty-seven video tutorials described above were specifically created to complement Looking

at Movies and are exclusive to this text. The tuto - rials guide students’ eyes to see what the text describes, and because they are viewable in full- screen, they are suitable for presentation in class as “lecture launchers,” as well as for students’ self-study.

A mini-anthology of thirteen complete short films, ranging from 5 to 30 minutes in length, provides a curated selection of accomplished and entertaining examples of short-form cinema, as well as useful material for short in-class activities or for students’ analysis. Most of the films are also accompanied by optional audio commentary from the filmmakers. This commentary was recorded specifically for Looking at Movies and is exclusive to this text.

Accessible Presentation; Effective Pedagogy

Among the reasons that Looking at Movies is consid- ered the most accessible introductory film text available is its clear and direct presentation of key concepts and unique pedagogical organization. The first three chap- ters of the book—Looking at Movies, Principles of Film Form, and Types of Movies—provide a comprehensive yet truly introductory overview of the major topics and themes of any film course, giving students a solid grounding in the basics before they move on to study those topics in greater depth in later chapters.

In addition, pedagogical features throughout provide a structure that clearly identifies the main ideas and pri- mary goals of each chapter for students:

A checklist at the beginning of every chapter provides a brief summary of the core concepts to be covered in the chapter.

Extensive Captions Each illustration is accompanied by a caption that elab- orates on a key concept or that guides students to look at elements of the film more analytically. These captions expand on the in-text presentation and reinforce stu- dents’ retention of key terms and ideas.

“Analyzing” Sections At the end of each chapter is a section that ties the terms, concepts, and ideas of the chapter to the primary goal of the book: honing students’ own analytical skills. This


short overview makes explicit how the knowledge stu- dents have gained in the chapter can move their own analytical work forward. A short “Screening Checklist” provides leading questions that students can ponder as they screen a film or scene.

“Questions for Review” “Questions for Review” section at the end of each chap- ter tests students’ knowledge of the concepts first men- tioned in the “Learning Objectives” at the beginning of the chapter.

Enhanced Ebook

Looking at Movies is also available as an enhanced ebook free with every new copy of the print book. This ebook works on all computers and mobile devices, and embeds all the rich media—video tutorials, interactive tutori- als, and more—into one seamless experience. Instruc- tors can focus student reading by sharing notes in the ebook, as well as embed images and other videos. Re- ports on student and class-wide access and time on task also enable instructors to monitor student read ing and engagement.

Writing About Movies

Written by Karen Gocsik (University of California, San Diego) and the authors of Looking at Movies, this book is a clear and practical overview of the process of writing papers for film-studies courses. In addition to provid- ing helpful information about the writing process, the new Writing About Movies, Fourth Edition, offers a sub- stantial introduction-in-brief to the major topics in film studies, including an overview of the major film theories and their potential application to student writing, prac- tical advice about note-taking during screenings and private viewings, information about the study of genre and film history, and an illustrated glossary of essential film terms. This inexpensive but invaluable text is avail- able separately or in a significantly discounted package with Looking at Movies.

Resources for Instructors

Clip Guide An invaluable class-prep tool, the Clip Guide suggests a wide range of clips for illustrating film concepts covered in the text. Each entry in the Clip Guide offers a quick overview of the scene, the idea, and crucially, time- stamp information on exactly where to find each clip. The Looking at Movies Clip Guide includes suggestions from not just the authors but a wide range of teachers, offering a broad perspective of insightful teaching tips that can inspire and save valuable prep time.

Instructor’s Guide The Instructor’s Guide to Looking at Movies offers a concise overview of each chapter’s main points and key concepts, as well as suggested learning exercises and recommended tutorials from the book’s extensive media ancillaries.

PowerPoints Ready-made lecture PowerPoint presentations for each chapter as well as art and image slides are available for download at Norton’s instructor resource page: wwnorton.com/instructors.

Test Bank Completely revised for this edition, each chapter of the Test Bank includes a “concept map,” and 60–65 multiple-choice and 10–15 essay questions (with sample answer guides). Questions are labeled by concept, ques- tion type, and difficulty.

Coursepacks for Learning Management Systems

Ready-to-use coursepacks for Blackboard and other learning management systems are available free of charge to instructors who adopt Looking at Movies. These coursepacks offer unique activities that reinforce key concepts, chapter overviews and learning objectives, quiz questions, links to the video tutorials, questions about those tutorials and the short films, and the com- plete Test Bank.

xxii Preface

A Note about Textual Conventions

Boldface type is used to highlight terms that are defined in the glossary at the point where they are introduced in the text. Italics are used occasionally for emphasis. References to movies in the text include the year the movie was released and the director’s name. Members of the crew who are particularly important to the main topic of the chapter are also identified. For example, in the chapter on cinematography, a reference to The Matrix might look like this: Andy and Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999; cinematographer Bill Pope). Other relevant information about the films can be found in the chapter itself.


Writing a book seems very much at times like the col- laborative effort involved in making movies. In writing this Fifth Edition of Looking at Movies, we are grateful to our excellent partners at W. W. Norton & Company. Chief among them is our editor, Pete Simon, who has guided us and offered insightful ideas for every edition of this book. Other collaborators at Norton were Sujin Hong, project editor; Andy Ensor, production manager; Carly Fraser-Doria, media editor; Cara Folkman, asso- ciate media editor; Colleen Caffrey, media designer; Kim - berly Bowers, marketing manager; and Emily Stuart and Gera Goff, editorial assistants. Thanks also to Spencer Richardson-Jones. It has been a pleasure to work with such a responsive, creative, and supportive team.

Richard Barsam thanks the friends and colleagues who have assisted and contributed suggestions over the course of five editions, including Kevin Harris Bahr, Luiz-Antonio Bocchi, Daniel Doron, Richard Koss, Emanuel Leonard, Vinny LoBrutto, Peter Maxwell, Gus- tavo Mercado, and Renato Tonelli. I am also grateful to Edgar Munhall for his continuing interest, patience, and companionship.

Dave Monahan would like to thank the faculty, staff, and students of the Film Studies Department at the Uni- versity of North Carolina, Wilmington. My colleagues Mariana Johnson, Shannon Silva, Andre Silva, Tim Palmer, Todd Berliner, Carlos Kase, Nandana Bose, Chip Hackler, Lou Buttino, Glenn Pack, Terry Linehan, Ana Olenina, and Sue Richardson contributed expertise and advice. Film studies student Kevin Bahr excelled as my research assistant. My colleagues Nate Daniel, Glenn Pack, Aaron Cavazos, and Alex Markowski deserve spe- cial thanks for their production and postproduction help with the new video modules I directed for this edi- tion. Nate was our camera operator, colorist, and post- production supervisor; Glenn was our cinematographer, gaffer, and assistant director; Aaron did an amazing job on the animation and motion graphics for the new The Hunger Games tutorial; and Alex provided sound de- sign and the sound module script. A number of talented UNCW students served on the crews that produced the

new modules. Sarah Flores was our producer; Richard Martin, Adam Getz, Kim Szany, Savvas Yiannoulou, Ryne Seals, Patrick Johnson, and Adam Fackelman were the camera and lighting team; and Rebecca Rathier, Christina Lamia, and Tara Lymon-Dobson made up the art department. Cast members include Sarah Flores, Moriah Thomason, Christina Lamia, Chris Keefe, Chey- enne Puga, Kenneth Freyer, Tomasina Hill, Mariah Jar- vis, Mikaela Fleming, John T. McDevitt, Gabby Adeoti, Daniel Adkins, and Adam O’Neill.

I would also like to thank my wife, Julie, for her pa- tience, support, and encouragement; and my daughters, Iris and Elsa, for looking at a lot of movies with me.


We would like to join the publisher in thanking all the professors and students who provided valuable guid- ance as we planned this revision. Looking at Movies is as much their book as ours, and we are grateful to both stu- dents and faculty who have cared enough about this text to offer a hand in making it better.

The thoughtful comments from the following col- leagues and fellow instructors helped shape both the book and media for this Fifth edition: Sandra Annett (Wilfred Laurier University), Richard Blake (Boston College), Laura Bouza (Moorpark College), Aaron Braun (Hofstra University), Derek Burrill (University of Cali- fornia, Riverside), Emily Carman (Chapman University), Megan Condis (University of Illinois), Angela Dancy (University of Chicago), Dawn Marie Fratini (Chap man University), Isabelle Freda (Oklahoma State University), Paul Gaustad (Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody), Michael Green (Arizona State University), David Kreu- tzer (Cape Fear Community College), Andrew Kunka (University of South Carolina, Sumter), G. S. Larke-Walsh (University of North Texas), Nee Lam (Chapman Uni- versity), Elizabeth Lathrop (Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston), Melissa Lenos (Donnelly College), Albert Lopez (University of Texas, San An tonio), Yuri Makino


xxiv Acknowledgments

( University of Arizona), Ste phanie O’Brien (Ashville- Buncombe Technical Community College), Jun Okada (SUNY Geneseo), Mitchell Parry (University of Victoria), Frances Perkins (University of Wisconsin, Fox Valley), Christina Petersen (Eckerd College), George Rodman (Brooklyn College), Rosalind Sibielski (Bowling Green State University), Robert Sickels (Whitman College), Ja- son Spangler (Riverside City College), Suzie Young (York University), and Michael Zryd (York University).

The following colleagues provided extensive reviews of the Third Edition and many ideas for improving the book in its Fourth Edition: Katrina Boyd (University of Oklahoma), James B. Bush (Texas Tech University), Rodney Donahue (Texas Tech University), Cable Hardin (South Dakota State University), Christopher Jacobs (University of North Dakota), Tammy A. Kinsey (Uni- versity of Toledo), Bradford Owen (California State Uni- versity, San Bernadino), W. D. Phillips (College of Staten Island/New York University), Michael Rowin (Hunter College, CUNY), and Nicholas Sigman (Hunter College, CUNY).

The transition from our Second Edition to the Third was an especially momentous revision, and we wish to acknowledge once more the following people, all of whom provided invaluable input during this impor- tant stage in the evolution of Looking at Movies: Donna Casella (Minnesota State University), John G. Cooper (Eastern Michigan University), Mickey Hall (Volunteer State Community College), Stefan Hall (Defiance Col- lege), Jennifer Jenkins (University of Arizona), Robert S. Jones (University of Central Florida), Mildred Lewis (Chapman University), Matthew Sewell (Minnesota State University), Michael Stinson (Santa Barbara City Col- lege), and Michael Zryd (York University).

The following scholars and teachers responded to a lengthy questionnaire from the publisher several years ago, and their responses shaped the early editions of this book: Rebecca Alvin, Edwin Arnold, Antje Ascheid, Dyrk

Ashton, Tony Avruch, Peter Bailey, Scott Baugh, Harry Benshoff, Mark Berrettini, Yifen Beus, Mike Birch, Robin Blaetz, Ellen Bland, Carroll Blue, James Bogan, Karen Budra, Don Bullens, Gerald Burgess, Jeremy But- ler, Gary Byrd, Ed Cameron, Jose Cardenas, Jerry Carl- son, Diane Carson, Robert Castaldo, Beth Clary, Darcy Cohn, Marie Connelly, Roger Cook, Robert Coscarelli, Bob Cousins, Donna Davidson, Rebecca Dean, Mar- shall Deutelbaum, Kent DeYoung, Michael DiRaimo, Carol Dole, Dan Dootson, John Ernst, James Fairchild, Adam Fischer, Craig Fischer, Tay Fizdale, Karen Ful- ton, Christopher Gittings, Barry Goldfarb, Neil Goldstein, Daryl Gonder, Patrick Gonder, Cynthia Gottshall, Curtis Green, William Green, Tracy Greene, Michael Griffin, Peter Hadorn, William Hagerty, John Harrigan, Cath- erine Hastings, Sherri Hill, Glenn Hopp, Tamra Hor- ton, Alan Hutchison, Mike Hypio, Tom Isbell, Delmar Jacobs, Mitchell Jarosz, John Lee Jellicorse, Matthew Judd, Charles Keil, Joyce Kessel, Mark Kessler, Gar- land Kimmer, Lynn Kirby, David Kranz, James Kreul, Mikael Kreuzriegler, Cory Lash, Leon Lewis, Vincent LoBrutto, Jane Long, John Long, Jay Loughrin, Daniel Machon, Travis Malone, Todd McGowan, Casey Mc- Kittrick, Maria Mendoza-Enright, Andrea Mensch, Sha- ron Mitchler, Mary Alice Molgard, John Moses, Sheila Nayar, Sarah Nilsen, Ian Olney, Hank Ottinger, Dan Pal, Gary Peterson, Klaus Phillips, Alexander Pitofsky, Lisa Plinski, Leland Poague, Walter Renaud, Patricia Roby, Carole Rodgers, Stuart Rosenberg, Ben Russell, Kevin Sandler, Bennet Schaber, Mike Schoenecke, Hertha Schulze, David Seitz, Timothy Shary, Robert Sheppard, Charles Silet, Eric Smoodin, Ken Stofferahn, Bill Swan- son, Molly Swiger, Joe Tarantowski, Susan Tavernetti, Edwin Thompson, Frank Tomasulo, Deborah Tudor, Bill Vincent, Richard Vincent, Ken White, Mark Williams, Deborah Wilson, and Elizabeth Wright.

Thank you all.



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2 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

Looking at Movies

In just over a hundred years, movies have evolved into a complex form of artistic representation and commu- nication: they are at once a hugely influential, wildly profitable global industry and a modern art—the most popular art form today. Popular may be an understate- ment. This art form has permeated our lives in ways that extend far beyond the multiplex. We watch movies on hundreds of cable and satellite channels. We buy movies online or from big-box retailers. We rent movies through the mail and from Redbox machines at the supermarket. We TiVo movies, stream movies, and download movies to watch on our televisions, our computers, our iPads, and our smart phones.

Unless you were raised by wolves—and possibly even if you were—you have likely devoted thousands of hours to absorbing the motion-picture medium. With so much experience, no one could blame you for wondering why you need a course or this book to tell you how to look at movies.

After all, you might say, “It’s just a movie.” For most of us most of the time, movies are a break from our daily

obligations—a form of escape, entertainment, and plea- sure. Motion pictures had been popular for fifty years before even most film makers, much less scholars, con- sidered movies worthy of serious study. But motion pic- tures are much more than entertainment. The movies we see shape the way we view the world around us and our place in that world. Moreover, a close analysis of any particular movie can tell us a great deal about the artist, society, or industry that created it. Surely any art form with that kind of influence and insight is worth under- standing on the deepest possible level.

Movies involve much more than meets the casual eye . . . or ear, for that matter. Cinema is a subtle—some might even say sneaky—medium. Because most movies seek to engage viewers’ emotions and transport them inside the world presented onscreen, the visual vocabu- lary of film is designed to play upon those same instincts that we use to navigate and interpret the visual and aural

Movies shape the way we see the world No other movie featuring a homosexual relationship has earned the level of international critical acclaim and commercial success of Brokeback Mountain (2005). The Academy Award–winning indepen- dent film, made for a relatively paltry $14 million, grossed $178 mil- lion at the box office and eventually became the thirteenth highest- grossing romantic drama in Hollywood history. Academy Awards for Best Director (Ang Lee) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Diana Os- sana and Larry McMurtry, from a short story by Annie Proulx) were among the many honors and accolades granted the independently produced movie. But even more important, by presenting a gay re- lationship in the context of the archetypal American West and cast- ing popular leading men (Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal) in starring roles that embodied traditional notions of masculinity, Brokeback Mountain influenced the way many Americans perceived same-sex relationships and gay rights. Since the film’s release, thirty-six states have lifted the ban on gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a nationwide right, and LGBT characters and storylines have become increasingly commonplace in popular films and television. No movie can single-handedly change the world, but the accumulative influence of cinema is undeniable.


After reading this chapter, you should be able to P appreciate the difference between passively watching

movies and actively looking at movies. P understand the defining characteristics that distinguish

movies from other forms of art. P understand how and why most of the formal

mechanisms of a movie remain invisible to casual viewers.

P understand the relationship between viewers’ expectations and filmmakers’ decisions about the form and style of their movies.

P explain how shared belief systems contribute to hidden movie meaning.

P explain the difference between implicit and explicit meaning, and understand how the different levels of movie meaning contribute to interpretive analysis.

P understand the differences between formal analysis and the types of analysis that explore the relationship between culture and the movies.

P begin looking at movies more analytically and perceptively.

3What Is a Movie?

information of our “real life.” This often imperceptible cinematic language, composed not of words but of myriad integrated techniques and concepts, connects us to the story while deliberately concealing the means by which it does so.

Yet behind this mask, all movies, even the most bla- tantly commercial ones, contain layers of complexity and meaning that can be studied, analyzed, and appre- ciated. This book is devoted to that task—to actively looking at movies rather than just passively watching them. It will teach you to recognize the many tools and principles that filmmakers employ to tell stories, convey information and meaning, and influence our emotions and ideas.

Once you learn to speak this cinematic language, you’ll be equipped to understand the movies that per- vade our world on multiple levels: as narrative, as ar- tistic expression, and as a reflection of the cultures that produce and consume them.

What Is a Movie?

Now that we’ve established what we mean by looking at movies, the next step is to attempt to answer the decep- tively simple question, What is a movie? As this book will repeatedly illustrate, when it comes to movies, nothing is as straightforward as it appears.

Let’s start, for example, with the word movies. If the course that you are taking while reading this book is “In- troduction to Film” or “Cinema Studies 101,” does that mean that your course and this book focus on two differ- ent things? What’s the difference between a movie and a film? And where does the word cinema fit in?

For whatever reason, the designation film is often applied to a motion picture that critics and scholars consider to be more serious or challenging than the mov- ies that entertain the masses at the multiplex. The still loftier designation of cinema seems reserved for groups of films that are considered works of art (e.g., “French cinema”). The truth is, the three terms are essentially in- terchangeable. Cinema, from the Greek kinesis (“move- ment”), originates from the name that filmmaking pi- oneers Auguste and Louis Lumière coined for the hall where they exhibited their invention; film derives from the celluloid strip on which the images that make up motion pictures were originally captured, cut, and pro- jected; and movies is simply short for motion pictures. Since we consider all cinema worthy of study, acknowl-

edge that films are increasingly shot on formats other than film stock, and believe motion to be the essence of the movie medium, this book favors the term used in our title. That said, we’ll mix all three terms into these pages (as evidenced in the preceding sentence) for the sake of variety, if nothing else.

To most people, a movie is a popular entertainment, a product produced and marketed by a large commer- cial studio. Regardless of the subject matter, this movie is pretty to look at—every image is well polished by an army of skilled artists and technicians. The finished product, which is about two hours long, screens initially in movie theaters; is eventually released to DVD and Blu-ray, streaming, download, or pay-per-view; and ul- timately winds up on television. This common expecta- tion is certainly understandable; most movies that reach most English-speaking audiences have followed a good part of this model for three-quarters of a century.

And almost all of these ubiquitous commercial, feature-length movies share another basic characteris- tic: narrative. When it comes to categorizing movies, the narrative designation simply means that these movies tell fictional (or at least fictionalized) stories. Of course, if you think of narrative in its broadest sense, every movie that selects and arranges subject matter in a cause- and-effect sequence of events is employing a narrative

structure. For all their creative flexibility, movies by their very nature must travel a straight line. A conventional motion picture is essentially one very long strip of im- ages. This linear quality makes movies perfectly suited to develop subject matter in a sequential progression. When a medium so compatible with narrative is in- troduced to a culture with an already well-established storytelling tradition, it’s easy to understand how pop- ular cinema came to be dominated by those movies de- voted to telling fictional stories. Because these fiction films are so central to most readers’ experience and so vital to the development of cinema as an art form and cultural force, we’ve made narrative movies the focus of this introductory textbook.

But keep in mind that commercial, feature-length nar- rative films represent only a fraction of the expressive potential of this versatile medium. Cinema and narra- tive are both very flexible concepts. Documentary films strive for objective, observed veracity, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t tell stories. These mov- ies often arrange and present factual information and images in the form of a narrative, whether it be a preda- tor’s attempts to track and kill its prey, an activist’s quest

4 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

to free a wrongfully convicted innocent, or a rookie ath- lete’s struggle to make the big leagues. While virtually every movie, regardless of category, employs narrative in some form, cultural differences often affect exactly how these stories are presented. Narrative films made in Africa, Asia, and Latin America reflect story telling traditions very different from the story structure we ex- pect from films produced in North America and Western Europe. The unscripted, minimalist films by Iranian di- rector Abbas Kiarostami, for example, often intention- ally lack dramatic resolution, inviting viewers to imag- ine their own ending.1 Sanskrit dramatic traditions have inspired “Bollywood” Indian cinema to feature staging that breaks the illusion of reality favored by Hollywood movies, such as actors that consistently face, and even directly address, the audience.2

Compared to North American and Western European films, Latin American films of the 1960s, like Land in An- guish (Glauber Rocha, 1967, Brazil) or Memories of Un- derdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968, Cuba), are less concerned with individual character psychology and motivation. Instead, they present characters as social types or props in a political allegory.3 The growing influ-

ence of these and other even less familiar approaches, combined with emerging technologies that make film- making more accessible and affordable, have made pos- sible an ever-expanding range of independent movies created by crews as small as a single filmmaker and shot on any one of a variety of film and digital formats. The Irish director John Carney shot his musical love story Once (2006) on the streets of Dublin with a cast of mostly nonactors and a small crew using consumer-grade video cameras. American Oren Peli’s homemade horror movie Paranormal Activity (2007) was produced on a min- iscule $15,000 budget and was shot entirely from the point of view of its characters’ camcorder. Once received critical acclaim and an Academy Award for best origi- nal song; Paranormal Activity eventually earned almost $200 million at the box office, making it one of the most profitable movies in the history of cinema. Even further out on the fringes of popular culture, an expanding uni- verse of alternative cinematic creativity continues to flourish. These noncommercial movies innovate styles and aesthetics, can be of any length, and exploit an ar- ray of exhibition options—from independent theaters to cable television to film festivals to Netflix streaming to YouTube.

No matter what you call it, no matter the approach, no matter the format, every movie is a motion picture: a series of still images that, when viewed in rapid suc- cession (usually 24 images per second), the human eye and brain see as fluid movement. In other words, mov- ies move. That essential quality is what separates mov- ies from all other two-dimensional pictorial art forms. Each image in every motion picture draws upon ba- sic compositional principles developed by these older cousins (photography, painting, drawing, etc.), includ- ing the arrangement of visual elements and the inter- action of light and shadow. But unlike photography or painting, films are constructed from individual shots— an unbroken span of action captured by an uninter- rupted run of a motion-picture camera—that allow vi- sual elements to rearrange themselves and the viewer’s perspective itself to shift within any composition.

And this movie movement extends beyond any single shot because movies are constructed of multiple individ- ual shots joined to one another in an extended sequence.

1. Laura Mulvey, “Kiarostami’s Uncertainty Principle,” Sight and Sound 8, no. 6 (June 1998): 24–27.

2. Philip Lutgendorf, “Is There an Indian Way of Filmmaking?” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10, no. 3 (December 2006): 227–256.

3. Many thanks to Dr. Mariana Johnson of the University of North Carolina Wilmington for some of the ideas in this analysis.

Narrative in documentary Just because a film is constructed from footage documenting actual events doesn’t mean it can’t tell a story. The Imposter (2012; director Bart Layton) tells the story of Frédéric Bourdin, a French con man who convinces an American family that he is their long-lost son. The film’s interviews, reenactments, and archival footage are structured like a procedural crime thriller: once the impersonation seemingly succeeds, the imposter finds himself in over his head as increasingly skeptical investigators chip away at his masquerade and uncover troubling details about his adopted family.

5What Is a Movie?

With each transition from one shot to another, a movie is able to move the viewer through time and space. This joining together of discrete shots, or editing, gives mov- ies the power to choose what the viewer sees and how that viewer sees it at any given moment.

To understand better how movies control what au- diences see, we can compare cinema to another, closely related medium: live theater. A stage play, which con- fines the viewer to a single wide-angle view of the ac- tion, might display a group of actors, one of whom holds a small object in her hand. The audience sees every cast member at once and continuously from the same an- gle and in the same relative size. The object in one per- former’s hand is too small to see clearly, even for those few viewers lucky enough to have front-row seats. The playwright, director, and actors have very few practical options to convey the object’s physical properties, much less its narrative significance or its emotional meaning to the character. In contrast, a movie version of the same story can establish the dramatic situation and spatial relationships of its subjects from the same wide-angle viewpoint, then instantaneously jump to a composition isolating the actions of the character holding the object, then cut to a close-up view revealing the object to be a charm bracelet, move up to feature the character’s face as she contemplates the bracelet, then leap thirty years into the past to a depiction of the character as a young girl receiving the jewelry as a gift. Editing’s capacity to

isolate details and juxtapose images and sounds within and between shots gives movies an expressive agility im- possible in any other dramatic art or visual medium.

The Movie Director Throughout this book, we give primary credit to the mov- ie’s director; you’ll see references, for example, to James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Zero Dark Thirty (2012; director Kathryn Bigelow). You may not know anything about the directorial style of Mr. Gunn or Ms. Bigelow, but if you enjoy these movies, you might seek out their work in the future.

Still, all moviegoers know—if only from seeing the seemingly endless credits at the end of most movies— that today’s movies represent not the work of a single artist, but a collaboration between a group of creative contributors. In this collaboration, the director’s role is basically that of a coordinating lead artist. He or she is the vital link between creative, production, and tech- nical teams. The bigger the movie, the larger the crew, and the more complex and challenging the collabora- tion. Though different directors bring varying levels of foresight, pre-planning, and control to a project, every director must have a vision for the story and style to in- form initial instructions to collaborators and to apply to the continuous decision-making process necessary in every stage of production. In short, the director must be a strong leader with a passion for filmmaking and a gift for collaboration.

The other primary collaborators on the creative team—screenwriter, actors, director of photography, production designer, editor, and sound designer—all work with the director to develop their contributions, and the director must approve their decisions as they progress. The director is at the top of the creative hier- archy, responsible for choosing (or at least approving) each of those primary collaborators. A possible excep- tion is the screenwriter, though even then the director often contributes to revisions and assigns additional writers to provide revised or additional material.

The director’s primary responsibilities are perfor- mance and camera—and the coordination of the two. The director selects actors for each role, works with those actors to develop their character, leads rehearsals, blocks performances in relationship with the camera on set, and modulates those performances from take to take and shot to shot as necessary throughout the shoot. He

Cultural narrative traditions The influence of Sanskrit dramatic traditions on Indian cinema can be seen in the prominence of staging that breaks the illusion of re- ality favored by Hollywood movies, such as actors that consistently face, and even directly address, the audience. In this image from the opening minutes of Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express (2013), the lonely bachelor Rahul (Shah Rukh Knan) interrupts his own voice-over nar- ration to complain to viewers about attractive female customers who consider him only a “brother. ”

6 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

or she works with the director of photography to de- sign an overall cinematic look for the movie and to vi- sualize the framing and composition of each shot before and during shooting. Along the way, as inspiration or obstacles necessitate, changes are made to everything from the script to storyboards to blocking to edits. The director is the one making or approving each adjust- ment—sometimes after careful deliberation, sometimes on the fly.

On the set, the director does more than call “action” and “cut” and give direction to the actors and cinema- tographer. He or she must review the footage if neces- sary, decide when a shot or scene is satisfactory, and say that it’s time to move on to the next task. In the editing room, the director sometimes works directly with the editor throughout the process but more often reviews successive “cuts” of scenes and provides the editor with feedback to use in revision.

In today’s film industry, a director’s qualifications may vary; she may have previous directorial credits on film or television, be a successful actor in her first po- sition as a film director, or be a recent graduate of a film school. But the changing nature of film production (see Chapter 11, “How the Movies Are Made”) and the increas- ing gender and ethnic diversity among directors makes defining the director’s role a necessarily flexible thing.

Ways of Looking at Movies

Every movie is a complex synthesis—a combination of many separate, interrelated elements that form a co- herent whole. A quick scan of this book’s table of con- tents will give you an idea of just how many elements get mixed together to make a movie. Anyone attempting to comprehend a complex synthesis must rely on anal- ysis—the act of taking apart something complicated to figure out what it is made of and how it all fits together.

A chemist breaks down a compound substance into its constituent parts to learn more than just a list of in- gredients. The goal usually extends to determining how the identified individual components work together toward some sort of outcome: What is it about this par- ticular mixture that makes it taste like strawberries, or grow hair, or kill cockroaches? Likewise, film analysis involves more than breaking down a sequence, a scene, or an entire movie to identify the tools and techniques that comprise it; the investigation is also concerned with

the function and potential effect of that combination: Why does it make you laugh, or prompt you to tell your friend to see it, or incite you to join the Peace Corps? The search for answers to these sorts of questions boils down to one essential inquiry: What does it mean? For the rest of the chapter, we’ll explore film analysis by applying that question to some very different movies: first, and most extensively, the 2007 independent film Juno, and then the blockbuster Hunger Games film series.

Unfortunately, or perhaps intriguingly, not all movie meaning is easy to see. As we mentioned earlier, mov- ies have a way of hiding their methods and meaning. So before we dive into specific approaches to analysis, let’s wade a little deeper into this whole notion of hidden, or “invisible,” meaning.

Invisibility and Cinematic Language The moving aspect of moving pictures is one reason for this invisibility. Movies simply move too fast for even the most diligent viewers to consciously consider every- thing they’ve seen. When we read a book, we can pause to ponder the meaning or significance of any word, sen- tence, or passage. Our eyes often flit back to review some- thing we’ve already read in order to further comprehend its meaning or to place a new passage in context. Sim- ilarly, we can stand and study a painting or sculpture or photograph for as long as we require to absorb whatever meaning we need or want from it. But until very recently, the moviegoer’s relationship with every cinematic com- position has been transitory. We experience a movie shot, which is capable of delivering multiple layers of visual and auditory information, for the briefest of moments before it is taken away and replaced with another moving image and another and another. If you’re watching a movie the way it’s designed to be experienced, there’s little time to contemplate the various potential meanings of any single movie moment.

Recognizing a viewer’s tendency (especially when sitting in a dark theater, staring at a large screen) to identify subconsciously with the camera’s viewpoint, early filmmaking pioneers created a film grammar (or cinematic language) that draws upon the way we auto- matically interpret visual information in our real lives, thus allowing audiences to absorb movie meaning intui- tively—and instantly.

The fade-out/fade-in is one of the most straight- forward examples of this phenomenon. When such a

7Ways of Looking at Movies

1 2

3 4

5 6

The expressive agility of movies Even the best seats in the house offer a viewer of a theatrical production like Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street only one unchanging view of the action. The stage provides the audience a single wide-angle view of the scene in which the title char- acter is reintroduced to the set of razors he will use in his bloody quest for revenge [1]. In contrast, cinema’s spatial dexterity allows viewers of Tim Burton’s 2007 film adaptation to experience the same scene as a sequence of fifty-nine viewpoints. Each one isolates and emphasizes distinct meanings and perspectives, including Sweeney Todd’s (Johnny Depp) point of view as he gets his first glimpse of his long-lost tools of the trade [2]; his emotional reaction as he contemplates righteous murder [3]; the razor replacing Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) as the focus of his attention [4]; and a dizzying simulated camera move that starts with the vengeful antihero [5], then pulls back to reveal the morally corrupt city he (and his razors) will soon terrorize [6].

8 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

transition is meant to convey a passage of time between scenes, the last shot of a scene grows gradually darker (fades out) until the screen is rendered black for a mo- ment. The first shot of the subsequent scene then fades in out of the darkness. Viewers don’t have to think about what this means; our daily experience of time’s passage marked by the setting and rising of the sun lets us under- stand intuitively that significant story time has elapsed over that very brief moment of screen darkness.

A low-angle shot communicates in a similarly hid- den fashion. When, near the end of Juno (2007; direc- tor Jason Reitman), we see the title character happily transformed back into a “normal” teenager, our sense of

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