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Film Language. Aims. To illustrate and apply basic critical methodology of film analysis: Signs: denotation, connotation, motivation Cinematography (the shot): camera distance, angle, movement; their motivations and connotations
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Film LanguageAimsTo illustrate and apply basic critical methodology of film analysis:
  • Signs: denotation, connotation, motivation
  • Cinematography (the shot): camera distance, angle, movement; their motivations and connotations
  • Mise-en-scène analysis: lighting, objects, colour etc - everything in the frame
  • Editing: types of edit; their motivations and connotations; continuity editing
  • Sound
  • Explicit and implicit meaningSign: any unit of meaning (graphic, aural, verbal)Denotation: the (literal) description of a signConnotation: the meaning associated with a signSigns: Denotation and Connotation Motivation: the reason a film element is included:RealismNarrativeIntertextuality (including “hommage”)ArtisticSigns: MotivationNB A sign can connote and/or be motivated.Key Elements of Film Languageor the Poetics of CinemaMise en Scene and CinematographyEditingSoundHow they combine to create meaningCinematography (The Shot)Camera Distance
  • Extreme Long Shot (ELS)
  • Shows location
  • Often used as an initial establishing shot in a sequence
  • Also called a master shot as whole scene is usually shot in LS before breaking down into MS and CU
  • Example: Shot of Ethan near start of The Searchers(John Ford, 1956)
  • Searchers openingThe Shot: Camera DistanceELS/Establishing shot shows the location, setting or landscape of a scene; presents the action’s setting, with some characters. A mood or sense of drama may be presented with this shotThe Shot: Camera DistanceLong Shot (aka Full Shot) frames the entire body of one or more charactersThe Shot: Camera DistanceMedium Long Shot: (also called “plan américain” or American shot) shows 1 to 3 characters from the thigh up. This shows characters and their roles without emphasising their emotions.The Shot: Camera DistanceMLS shows location/ relationships - often used as an initial establishing shot in a sequenceThe Shot: Camera DistanceMedium Shot (MS)
  • Waist up
  • Focus on character(s)
  • The Shot: Camera DistanceThis MS shot allows other characters to be in view and so allows character interaction. This often makes for more sociable shots.The Shot: Camera DistanceMedium shots put more emphasis on characters and their emotions.The Shot: Camera DistanceMedium Close Up (MCU)
  • Chest up
  • Focus on character(s)
  • The Shot: Camera DistanceCLOSE UP:
  • Generally any close up shot of an object gives the object meaning. If the close up is of the whole or part of the face then it shows emotion and reinforces spectator involvement
  • Before advent of widescreen in mid 1950s, only one character usually in a close up - character on their own and can seem isolated in this type of shot - but wider fram allows CU two-shot
  • The Shot: Camera DistanceClose Up (CU)Can be of peopleCan be of objectsThe Shot: Camera DistanceExtreme Close Up (ECU)
  • Part of face
  • Often used at climax of drama
  • The Shot: Camera DistanceAn extreme close up is more magnified than close up, and will focus on one part (hand, eye, mouth, etc.)Insert: a detail shot magnifying a thing (letter, business card, etc.)The Shot: Camera Distance“Sergio Leone Shot” (ECU)
  • Isolates eyes
  • Often used at climax of drama, eg in Leone’s films in the lead-up to a shoot-out
  • Clip 1The Shot: Camera AngleStraight-on Angle
  • Connotes equilibrium (normality) and makes spectator feel comfortable
  • The Shot: Camera AngleCanted Angle (aka Dutch Angle)
  • Connotes disequilibrium (physical or mental) and produces sense of unease in spectator
  • “The world is out of joint”
  • Clip 2The Shot: Camera AngleHigh Angle ShotConnotation - lack of power Motivation: can be point-of-view (POV) shotIn The Color of Paradise/Rang-e Khoda,1999) a blind son Mohammad and his elderly grandmother are ruled over by a dominant father and are often shot from a high angle, emphasizing their dependence and smallness.The Shot: Camera AngleIn this high angle shot, the angle - combined with mise en scene (prop) - the wheelchair - can make the character seem small and vulnerable.Gattaca, Andrew Noble, 1997)The Shot: Camera AngleLOW ANGLE SHOTA shot taken from below an character, as if he/she is looking down on us. This may make us feel small and vulnerable and the character seem powerful and authoritativeGladiator, Ridley Scott, 2000The Shot: Camera AngleLOW ANGLE SHOTThis shot from The Magnificent Seven bestows authority on the Yul Bryner character. Although the Steve McQueen character is also shot from a low angle, he has less authority because of his position vis a vis the Yul Bryner character - see Mise en Scene (later)The Shot: Camera AngleLow Angle
  • Often connotes power but motivation can simply be POV shot
  • In The Color of Paradise/Rang-e Khoda,1999) a dominant father is frequently shotFrom a low angleThe Shot: Camera AngleIn this clip from Citizen Kane, there is not much difference in height (seated) between Kane and his about-to-be mistress and future wife, Susan Alexander. However, as the shots cuts between the two, we have a high angle on Susan and a low angle on Kane, perhaps connoting that he will be dominant in the relationshipClip 3The Shot: Camera AngleNeed to avoid a mechanical interpretation of camera angle - context needs to be taken into account - high angle hardly connotes lack of power but visual indication as to what’s about to happen to “traitor”eg North by North West (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1959 )Clip 4The Shot: Camera MovementPan: (panorama) Camera swivels left or right on axis. Used for:
  • Showing scene
  • Following movement
  • Show POV as head turns
  • Guiding attention
  • eg Traffic (Stephen Sodeberg)
  • Clip 5The Shot: Camera MovementWhip Pan ie very rapid pan. Used for:
  • Rapid head-turn POV
  • Style
  • Eg Fists of Fury/Tang Shan Da Xiong, Wei Lo, Honk Kong, 1971).Clip 6The Shot: Camera MovementTilt Camera swivels up or down. Used for:
  • Showing scene on different levels
  • Following movement
  • Show POV as head moves up/down
  • Establishing shot e.g. ext: tilt up high building CUT int: room in building
  • eg In Leon (Luc Besson, 1994 ) tilt up used to reveal character of Matilda. Audience asked to notice contradictions in her clothing, starting with boots, her comic-book leotards, past her teenage jewellery and her cigarette to gentle, vulnerable face hidden behind ornate railing. Tilt-up allows audience to take in each item separately and notice contradictions central to her character.
  • Clip 7The Shot: Camera Movement
  • Track (dolly) (tracking shot)
  • - camera on wheels, usually on a little cart called a dolly (so sometimes known as a “dolly shot”; or the verb “to dolly” is used. - can track in/out, left/right, slow/fast.The Shot: Camera MovementTracking inLateral track(ing shot)The Shot: Camera MovementTracking Shot
  • Lateral track(ing shot)
  • Examples:
  • Central do Brasil/Central Station
  • Les 400 coups/ The 400 Blows
  • Clip 8The Shot: Camera MovementReverse Tracking ShotIn this example from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg/The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964, France) note the effect of the reverse tracking shot in combination with the moving trainClip 9The Shot: Camera MovementOverhead Tracking ShotIn this example from 1984 (Michael Radford, 1984), the overhead tracking shot of Winston Smith in his workplace has connotations of surveillance, spying, oppression.Clip 10The Shot: Camera MovementCrane shot
  • Crane: camera on crane so can move in/out, up/down space
  • Great potential from dramatic and aesthetically pleasing shots
  • Camera on crane so can move in/out, up/down space
  • Very flexible - can produce dramatic/aesthetic effects
  • Examples from The Player (Robert Altman), Once Upon a Time in the West, Young and Innocent (where it combines with a zoom)Clip 11The Shot: Camera MovementHandheld:Portable camera so get jiggling image. Used for:
  • Realist documentary look
  • Convey dynamism of action
  • Eg Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000)
  • Clip 12The Shot: Camera MovementSteadicamPortable camera with weights which is ‘worn’ by camera operator. Used to:
  • Steady image
  • Film scene without multiple takes
  • Film on terrain where tracks difficult (or where the director wants to show the floor)
  • Eg The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
  • Clip 13The Shot: Camera MovementSteadicam
  • Use of Steadicam in Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
  • In five-minute shot, audience follows gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in the back door, through the kitchen and up to the bar, stopping to meet patrons all the way
  • Shows how gangsters don’t have to wait in queues like everyone else
  • Clip 14The Shot: Camera MovementZoom Use of zoom lens to create illusion of camera moving in/out. Can zoom in/out (forward zoom/reverse zoom)Examples:The Stendhal Syndrome (Dario Argento, 1996)The Godfather Part 2 (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)Clip 15The Shot: Camera MovementRack or Pull Focus
  • Change focus during scene to new point of interest
  • In this clip from 1984, note the way that Julia (Joanna Hamilton) is in focus and then there is a rack focus and she comes out of focus while O’Brian (Richard Burton) comes into focus.
  • This has narrative significance as it shows that a member of the inner party is noticing her, perhaps suspicion that her zeal is attacking the image of arch-traitor Goldstein in hiding some deviant thoughts.
  • Clip 16The Shot: Camera MovementVertigo effectaka “dolly zoom” or “transtrav” “trombone shot”Unsettling in-camera special effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception in filmEffect achieved by using setting of zoom lens to adjust field of view while camera dollies (or tracks) towards or away from subject in such a way as to keep subject same size in frame throughout. From Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)Scotty - former policeman: fear of heights ends his careerThe effect gives an insight into his state of mind as he is going up spiral staircase near climax of filmClip 17The Shot: Camera Movement
  • This effect used expressively in a variety of films to show characters’ state of mind:
  • Jaws (Spielberg, USA, 1973) - shows Chief Brodie’s dread when he realises the killer shark has returned
  • Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1980) - here used very slowly to indicate that the world is closing in on Henry Hall as former comrades plotting to kill him
  • The Quick and the Dead (Sam Raimi, USA, 19) - here used to show unnatural state of affairs in which a son Leonardo di Capprio) fights a gun duel with his father (Gene Hackman). Note way in which young woman seems literally to recoil in fear. Combined with a canted/Dutch frame: the world really is out of joint
  • Clip 18The ShotFreeze FrameAchieved by repeating the same frame again and again so thatit gives the screen the appearance of a still photographCan have the effect of leaving us uncertain about the final consequences of the action (ie prevents “narrative closure”Most famous use of this technique: Les 400 coups/The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959) but much imitated in later filmsAt the end of the film, its protagonist turns to camera - direct address - as the frame freezes - ambiguous: happiness? hope? uncertainty? disillusionment?Clip 19Mise en scène (pronounced “meez on sen” with second syllable nasalised) Term from French theatre - literally, what has been put on the stage. In film refers to everything we see on the screen: Main elements of mise en scene are:
  • setting, objects (props), people, make up, costumes, figure arrangement and movement (aka blocking), colour, lighting, gesture, acting styles etc
  • Analysis of mise-en-scène can reveal how themes are symbolised
  • Mise en scèneLighting
  • Three point system of lighting
  • Key light: main source of light
  • Backlight: adds highlights and differentiates actor from background
  • Fill light: softens shadows
  • from key lightMise en scèneLightingClassical use of three-point lighting - all three elements are in balance. Connotes normality. Here, the actors are made to look glamorous by the balanced lighting.Written On The Wind(Douglas Sirk, 1956)Mise en scèneHigh Key Lighting- lighting scheme in which fill light is raised to almost the same level as key light - produces images that are usually very bright, few shadows on principal subjects. This bright image is characteristic of entertainment genres such as musicals (eg classic MGM style)Peking Opera Blues /Do Ma Daan, Tsui Hark (Honk Kong, 1986)Mise en scèneLow Key Lighting Key light dimmed (may be moved – kick light), very little fill light, creating strong contrasts between the brightest and darkest parts of an image and often creating strong shadows that obscure parts of the principal subjects. Shadows - connote unease, sense of evil - feature of horror and ‘film noir’(style or genre of filmmaking prominent in 1940s)Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1957)Mise en scèneProps and Objects Costumes are important props. In film, any portion of a costume may become a prop. When Hildy Johnson switches from her role of aspiring housewife to that of reporter, her stylish hat with its low-dipping brim is replaced by a “masculine” hat with its brim pushed up, reporter-styleHis Girl Friday (Howard Hawkes, 1940)Mise en scèneProps and ObjectsThis staircase is a signifier. Notice how structure is so similar to shape of DNA (our genetic blue print). Gattaca, Andrew Noble, 1997)(Note: the DVD cover even placed a model image of DNA next to the staircase.Mise en scèneProps and ObjectsThis sequence from North by North-West (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) seems at first simply to be economical transition from previous scene but metaphorical information in dissolve: CIA imposes itself on UN; Capitol is reflection of CIA - ie intelligence agency imposes over seat of governmentClip 20Mise en scèneProps and ObjectsWhat might these signifiers represent?Mise en scèneProps and Objects.. and this?Mise en scèneColour
  • Like light colour has a symbolic and subconscious affect on us. We passively accept colour more than lines (light and dark), but it too has a profound affect on us as viewers.
  • Colour is strongly linked to emotions (though the specifics are very cultural)
  • Cool colours (blue, green, violet) suggest calm, tranquility, aloofness, and tend to recede in images (go to the back)
  • Warm colours (red, yellow, orange) suggest aggression, violence, stimulation, and come forward in images (stand out)
  • Mise en scèneColour In Three Colours: Blue (1993), Krzysztof Kieslowski used a number of different connotations of the colour blue. It is one of the colours of the French tricolour, it perhaps represents freedom, but it also stands for sadness: “the blues”. Julie (Juliette Binoche) loses her husband and daughter in a car crash in the opening sequence. She decides to block herself off by attempting to “free” herself from all the associations of her past life Throughout the film Kieslowski uses blue motifs as in the brief montage which followsClip 21Mise en scèneColour
  • Connotations of colours culturally determined - don’t necessarily carry exclusive meanings.
  • Compare the use of red Zhang Yimou's Ju Dou (1990), for example with Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers(Viskingar Och Rop, 1972),   
  • Zhang exploits red as signifier of unrestrained passion - fairly typical connotation
  • However, Ingmar Bergman associates the color with stagnation and contaminated blood.
  • Clips 22, 23Mise en scèneColour In Traffic(2000), Steven Soderbergh decided to shoot all the sequences in the Northern Mexico desert overexposed. Resulting images give impression of barren, desolated land being mercilessly burnt by sun, no-man's land over which police and customs have no control.Mise en scèneProxemic Patterns and Gestures
  • The relationships between the organisms in a space are called Proxemic Patterns.
  • The proxemic pattern is determined by distance and may be Intimate (touching – ½ m away), Personal (½ m – 1m) , Social (1m – 4m), or Public (greater than 4m distance).
  • These patterns can be manipulated using camera shots and angles
  • For example this big close up brings us into intimate proximity with the character.Mise en scèneProxemic Patterns and GesturesSometimes two people in close proximity form a heart shape.Mise en scèneProxemic Patterns and GesturesExpansive outward movements generally associated with explosive emotions such as joy or terror. Look at example of The French Connection, William Friedkin, 1971)Scene occurs at climax of chase sequence in which protagonist Popye Doyle (Gene Hackman) finally triumphs over vicious killer by shooting him - just as he seems on verge of eluding him once againKinetic outburst symbolises not only bullet exploding in victim’s body, but joyous climax for protagonist after humiliating and dangerous pursuitKinetic “ecstasy of death” also releases dramatic tension built up in audience during chase sequence: in effect we are seduced into sharing protagonist’s joy in the killClip 24Mise en scèneProxemic Patterns and GesturesFrom “Understanding Movies”,LouisGiannettiMise en scèneGestureCapturing of gesture or look just as or more importantthan objects or colour, as in this shot of a confrontation in American History X (Tony Kaye, 1998)Editing
  • How the shots are arranged in sequence
  • Involves choice of length of each shot and of the kind of transition between each shot
  • Primitive film: no editing - just filming from fixed position till the reel ran out
  • eg The Workers Leaving the Factory
  • The Little Rascal (or The Hoser Hosed)
  • and The Arrival of a train at La Ciotat (Auguste and Louis Lumiere, 1895, 1896) Clip 25Editing Montage is the French term for editing; but also generally used to mean a succession of shots that clash to create new meaning (aka “Soviet Montage”) Emphasises dynamic, often discontinuous, relationships between shots and the juxtaposition of images to create ideas not present in either shot by itself. eg October (1925) andBattleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1927)Clip26Editing: Types of Edit
  • Why did Eisenstein edit these shots of the lion statues in this way?
  • 2 most obvious answers:
  • To suggest that a stone lion would be shocked by the massacre on the Odessa steps
  • The lion could represent the workers and peasants rising up against their oppressors
  • Editing: Types of Edit“American Montage”Succession of shots to indicate compressed time (frequently linked by dissolves)Example:The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)Clip 27Editing: Types of EditCut: Shot A followed by shot B. Used for:
  • Sequence in real time
  • Parallel editing: cutting between related actions
  • Most common transition - there will be hundreds of cuts in an average film (ASL =“average shot length”)1930s - 1950s: ASL = between 8 and 11 seconds1960s ASL = between 6 and 8 seconds1970s ASL = between 5 and 8 seconds1970s ASL = between 5 and secondsFrom mid-1990s, many films as low as 3-4 secondsEditing: Types of EditCut: Tension built by way scene is cut - cf this sequence from The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) Average shot length short but rate of cutting faster at highest point of tensionClip 28Editing: Types of Edit Parallel edits/cross cutting: a way of showing two actions taking place simultaneously; originally used for excitement; later more sophisticated effects, eg Godfather: cross-cuts between baptism of Michael’s nephew (connotations of innocence) and the preparation and execution of the murder of rival gang leaders - ordered by Michael - ironyClip 29Editing: Types of EditFadeFade In: shot lightens from black. Used to:
  • Signify start of scene/new day
  • Fade Out: shot darkens to black. Used to:
  • Signify end of scene/day
  • Fade Out/Fade
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