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Film Analysis & Criticism

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1 Film Analysis & Criticism
An Introduction to Writing about Film Film Analysis & Criticism

2 Why practice film criticism?
Why write about film? We all already practice film criticism verbally whenever we see a movie that interests us: we ask friends what they thought of the film and tell them what we think. Film buffs/geeks do this more often and more intensely. Film criticism is a more involved and more careful version of that: it’s an ongoing conversation about film among film scholars (all of whom are film fans!). Academic film scholars are pretty much film buffs/geeks who are trained in cinema and writing, so we write and publish what we think about film.

3 Why practice film criticism?
These film conversations are not isolated and unrelated to the world Writing about film functions in the following ways: Gain introspective understanding of our own reactions to film and to the world It’s Communicative: creates film community Persuasive functions of convincing others of our opinions Educating others about movies, filmmakers, movements, ideas Comparing films helps us understand cultures better—both ours and others’ cultures; it helps us make connections across cultures

4 Approaches to film criticism
How to write about film

5 Different approaches to film criticism
Film History: very popular style; sets film in historical context National Cinemas: in-depth analysis of a country’s cultural, social and political backgrounds through film Genre Criticism: film types, variations, subversions of traditions Auteur Criticism: study a director’s oeuvre Formalist Criticism: structures & stylistic patterns, techniques, specific to film itself; detailed analyses, focused close readings Usually refers to some level of historical and/or ideological context too Ideological Criticism: ways film conveys meanings about social values Not necessarily propaganda, more subtle, often “against the grain” Not intentions of filmmakers because that’s tricky and often irrelevant Others: Spectator Studies, Psychoanalytic Criticism, Theory… We’ll study many of these approaches to film criticism in our class, but we’ll focus on formalist and ideological criticism.

6 Styles of writing about films
How to write about film

7 Different styles of writing about films
Knowing your audience is key. Movie review: broad audience unfamiliar with the film Casual writing style: your recommendation, lots of plot summary Theoretical essay: narrow audience often very familiar with the film and/or film language, history, etc.—knows the whole conversation among film scholars Formal writing style: more advanced language, word choice, jargon No plot summary, just reminders to cue reader as necessary, plot is not the point These are NOT the writing styles you’ll be writing for your journals, your shot x shot analysis, and your final paper.

8 Different styles of writing about films
Critical essay: an academic audience that’s familiar with the film, but readers haven’t considered the film as thoroughly as you have (that’s your job in your critical essay) Still no plot summary, just reminders as necessary In-depth consideration of complexities of the film with terms Goal = to add understanding (not convince to like the film, not a review) Audience: think of fellow students, as Corrigan suggests in SGWF (they saw the film, but didn’t consider it as closely as you are for your critical essay) Don’t include obvious material, trivia, likes/dislikes (E.g., “Hitchcock is master of suspense” = BAD) DO include your analysis, critical interpretation > personal response (though your response can be a good start) Analytical Essay: biographical, historical, or essays that closely analyze techniques and details of films; usually close readings You’ll be writing a combination of Critical and Analytical essays for your journals, your shot x shot analysis, and your final paper.

9 Tips for writing your journals
Opinion and Evaluation Note Taking

10 Opinion & Evaluation: how to use wisely
Limit use of “I” to balance personal expression with analytical observation Eliminate passive voice/objective speak (despite Corrigan’s poor choice of the word “objective”) Always support your observations/arguments with examples SGWF Don’t skip essay examples—they’re usually great! Root around in films first: what do you respond to? Analyze what makes them tick, how they shape our response—how they use film form, technique, and ideology to make meaning Great François Truffaut quote: “Instead of indulging passions in criticism, one must at least try to be critical with some purpose.… What is interesting is not pronouncing a film good or bad, but explaining why.”

11 Note taking during films
Use a penlight to help you see in the dark Create your own personal shorthand, sketches—whatever is quick and thorough enough to remind you about key points later as you write Note significant motifs in narrative, mise-en-scene, camerawork, editing, sound, and ideology Look for metaphors, themes, symbolism, etc. Establish the pattern for each technique, then note any significant deviations/exceptions E.g., the range of narration in Rear Window remains restricted to Jeff the entire film, except when the camera shows him sleeping while Thorwald and the woman in black leave. During this singular moment of unrestricted narration, Hitchcock expands the range of narration in order to increase the viewer’s doubts about Jeff and to heighten suspense. E.g., the camerawork in The Piano is highly mobile; frequent craning and panning express the characters’ restlessness under their tight social constraints. Significantly, however, the camerawork becomes stationary during the love scenes with Ada (Holly Hunter) and Baines (Harvey Keitel). The camera’s stasis here conveys a kind of still oasis amid the flurry of emotion and propriety elsewhere in the film, and it conveys their calm acceptance of and respectful love for each other.

12 That’s it! Looking forward to a great semester full of your brilliant ideas and thoughtful writing about some really amazing films this semester!

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