Analyzing Film ENG 225: Introduction to Film June 7, 2010 Abstract “To evaluate a film as art requires knowing the purpose of a film, and then judging how well the basic elements of the film work together to achieve that end” (Durante, 2006). To become truly “cineliterate” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 5), one must be totally absorbed in the film but also impartial and indifferent. The thematic, fictional, and dramatic elements, visual design, cinematography and special visual effects, editing, color, sound effects and dialogue, acting, and direction are all important components in the making of a film.
In this paper, I will clarify by what means to analyze a film, reveal according to what we find and interpret the meaning in movies, and clarify my personal criteria for the evaluation of movies. Analyzing Film “The properties that make film the most powerful and realistic of the arts also make analysis challenging” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 5). The viewer’s reaction of the image, sound, and movement on the screen must be receptive in reaction to concurrent and uninterrupted interaction. A film tells the viewer that a certain issue, event, emotion or principle is worth thinking about and perhaps fighting for.
The theme distinguishes the style of the film. All aspects of the film must work together to articulate the theme. The viewer should be able to analyze the contributions to its theme by secondary plots, twists of plot, recollections of the past, use of body language, conversations, costumes, and each camera position. Nothing should be incomprehensible or useless nor should it be baffling unless perplexity is necessary for plot development (Boggs & Petrie, p. 5). Film analysis is an assessment of how all the essentials in a film unite to divulge the theme.
The viewer should watch the film more than once to gain a more insightful knowledge. The film should be watched the first time for initial impressions of the plot, mood, and theme. It should be viewed at least once more to study the means by which the theme was delivered. A viewer should be able to look at a film and know exactly what purpose one or more aspects perform and its input to the film’s theme. The ending is a crucial part of the plot because it is what reveals the theme (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 6). The theme of a film is the “unifying central concern, the special focus that unifies the work” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 0). There are four major elements the filmmaker may choose to focus on or emphasis. They are plot, emotional effect or mood, character, and style or texture. These elements are present in all films, but usually one is more prevalent than the others (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 20). The arrangement of the events in a film to achieve a specific effect is the plot. The plot is essentially the events in a film for a purpose. The expression of the meaning of a work is important in a plot. A cause-effect relationship may be formed in a pattern. The film communicates information necessary to understand the story line.
The introduction of the plot introduces the element of instability which opens up the development of the story. The theme can be summarized in a film by its plot. The plot is what provides general entertainment to the viewer in maintaining interest throughout the entire film. The final outcome of a film is usually of most importance, but characters, ideas, and emotional effects are very significant to underlying events (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 20). A specific mood or emotion that is prevalent throughout an entire film is a part of a large majority of movies.
Some films suggest a specific mood or emotion in difference sequences to exemplify and advance an emotional outcome within the film (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 20-22). In the film, The Way We Were (Pollack, 1973); the mood is somewhat dismal and bleak. By the end, the leading male character (Robert Redford) realizes he is nothing special without the leading female character (Barbara Streisand) who is the only one who believes in him, but it is too late to resurrect their past for transgressions are far too prominent. The theme of many films is suggested in their characters.
Some films describe the theme in only one character. The importance of what happens to the character is essential in development of the story line. The character’s charm lies in their persona which sets them apart from common people. The main character is usually highlighted by the remarkable qualities of the individual’s character which in turn sets the theme of the film (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 22-23). Film style and texture can be so dominant and memorable because of the way the director tells the story in such a different way.
This gives a stronger impact on the viewer’s minds and senses and is stronger than any of the other thematic elements. This type of film has such “qualities that set them apart by their unique look, feel, rhythm, atmosphere, tone, or organization that echoes in the minds and senses of the viewers long after leaving the theater” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 23). The film’s distinctive style, texture, or shape spreads throughout, and all the cinematic elements are blended collectively. These types of film are often not successful because of their distinctiveness (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 3). Film and plays act out or dramatize what happens in a story. Films are not expressed simply in writing but depend on nonverbal and visual elements. The central theme of a film is unified under a good plot or story line making it clearly understood. In a unified plot, conflict must be resolved by the elements within the plot. There are always exceptions to this general rule by which the unity of action and cause-and-effect relationships between events are not that important (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 2). Credibility of a story is usually required for the viewer to be convinced that it could be true. A good story usually requires suspense and action. Simplicity of a story that is expressed and unified cinematically is also an element of a good story, but it should also have some complexity to maintain the viewer’s interest. An ending that is a surprise to the viewer is very powerful when the plot has prepared the viewer for it as in The Sixth Sense (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 46-49).
The viewer’s reaction of the image, sound, and movement on the screen must be receptive in reaction to concurrent and uninterrupted interaction. A film tells the viewer that a certain issue, event, emotion or principle is worth thinking about and perhaps fighting for. The theme distinguishes the style of the film. All aspects of the film must work together to articulate the theme. The viewer should be able to analyze the contributions to its theme by secondary plots, twists of plot, recollections of the past, use of body language, conversations, costumes, and unique arrangement of the camera.
Nothing should be beyond understanding nor should it be mysterious unless confusion is needed for development of the plot (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 5). The film’s title is very important to the meaning of the film. One may have a specific idea of what the title means. After viewing the film the impression is completely different, more affluent, and more profound. A key scene can also be where the title is taken from. The title of the film is extremely important in identifying the theme, but it does not always name the theme (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 53-54).
The conflict is the basic driving force behind every film. The interest in the conflict is the one element that encapsulates and challenges the mind while accelerating the viewer’s pulse. The major conflict is of great importance to the characters involved. This almost always brings about an important change either to the characters or their situations. There are two types of conflict—external or internal. An external conflict may be between two characters of a film. The internal conflict may be an inner or emotional conflict within the main character (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 57-59).
The film’s characters are a very essential element to the success of the film. The viewer must be involved in the characters whereby they should seem genuine, reasonable, and appeal to the compassionate side of the viewer. The actors must convince the viewer of their credibility. To prove their credibility actors must use one or more of the following characterizations: appearance, dialogue, external action, internal action, reactions to other characters, contrast, caricature and leitmotif, and through choice of name. There are many varieties of characters which is another method for analysis of film.
Stock characters are those which are minor in nature to the film but their actions are predictable to their job within the film such as a barber or a cashier in a grocery store. Stereotypes are of more importance to a film. These characters have a fixed prototype of manners which are familiar or symbolic to many. Examples of this are a pleasant doctor or an unscrupulous lawyer. The perceptions of these stereotypes make the director’s job much easier. The determination of whether a character is static or dynamic is very useful in the analysis of a film.
Characters are developed throughout the film by the activity surrounded by the plot and typically go through some sort of transformation in behavior or position as a result of the storyline. This transformation is important to the film and the character will not be the same. The static character is basically unchanged throughout the film. The theme or plot does not affect the static character. This character may be a hero or the complete opposite whereby they are incapable of change which is exactly what the director intended. The difference between the flat and round character is completely opposite.
Flat characters are deficient in vigor, individuality, and are conventional. Round characters are not necessarily better than flat characters, but they are superior in purpose to the structure of the storyline. Round characters are more complicated and cannot be easily portrayed or intrinsically distinguished. Flat characters may actually serve better than round characters when attention need to be shifted to the storyline and away from the characters (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 59-70). An allegory is an account in which every object, event, and person has a theoretical significance.
Each component of an allegory is part of an autonomous structure that enlightens the viewer of a comprehensible, unconnected, entirely informative account on a solely symbolic plane. The two stages of meaning are difficult to both be simultaneously interesting because the importance is normally placed on the symbolic point; therefore the concrete narrative is abandoned (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 70-71). A symbol is something that stands for something else by way of initiating, motivating, or awakening a previously associated thought to a person. In some films characters may be the symbol.
Once the character takes on the role of a symbol, their conflicts also become symbolic. The setting can also take on compelling symbolic implications. This is the rationale and importance of becoming informed of the unique makeup of symbolism in a film. A symbol obtains importance outside itself by something that it proposes, standpoint, or generates an intricate array of thoughts, way of thinking, or point of view. Once a symbol is linked with a group of related aspects, those aspects accumulate and are coupled any time they are exercised (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 1-72). The linking or juxtaposition of opposites by literary, dramatic, and cinematic techniques is called irony. Irony adds intellectual dimension and achieves both comic and tragic effects at the same time with emphasis on sharp and startling contrast, reversals, and paradoxes. Irony can be openly comprehended by dividing it into several types and described in conditions of the perspective in which it emerges (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 80). Audiences demand to see color images both in the theater and television screens.
Filmmakers have adapted to this demand while adding new techniques in films. By using color cinematography, it allows the modern filmmaker to create more dominant and genuine images while connecting more effectively with their audiences. While designing the look of a film, the design team establishes a color palette which limits the number of specific colors used or emphasized throughout the entirely of the film. When color is used in this way, it enhances the dramatic elements of the film (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 91-92).
Screen format is another important element for the design team to consider. Screen format is simply the size and shape of a projected image. The image’s photographic composition of the frame is dictated by its visual boundaries. The two basic aspect ratios for the projected image are standard screen and wide screen. “Standard screen width is 1. 33 times its height while the width of wide screen can varies from 1. 85 to 2. 55 times it height” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 93). The trade names for wide screen are “Cinemascope, Panavision, and Vistavision” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 3). There are diverse types of problems due to the ways these are arranged because of the different dimensions and shapes of these screens. Wide screens are best for a panoramic views while the standard screen is more appropriate for films with a lot of close ups with a lesser amount of movement. “To heighten the suspense of a movie, visual information brought into a scene at the outer edges of the screen produces visual tension by a slow panning or dollying camera” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 93).
The use of smooth-grain film stock and rough-grain film stock may have an important effect on a visual image in a film. Smooth-grain film stock produces a smooth or slick image that is frequently used in romantic love scenes while it conveys a wide range of slight diversity between light and dark, allowing the director to establish fine tones, artistic shadows, and contrasts. Rough-grain film stock produces a rough, grainy-textured image mostly used in action packed films with austere contrasts between black and white and almost no contrasts.
The cinematographer may actually make use of both types of film stock for different effects within the same film (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 93). The setting is a vital component in a film and formulates an important part to the theme or entire outcome of a film. In relation to the setting of a film it is important to consider four factors. The time period in which the story takes place is the temporal factor. The physical location including the type of environment, typical weather patterns, and the size of the population are all geographic factors.
The social structure and economic factors and the customs including moral attitudes, and their code of behaviors are all factors that have important effects on the film’s plot or theme (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 101). The most powerful means of communication in a film is its visual element. A film’s visual elements should be created psychologically, dramatically, and aesthetically and should not be overpowering which could work against the unity and viability of the film. Camerawork is also applicable to this theory. Special camera technique should have a purpose related to the film.
When cinematography dominates the film, the artistic arrangement is undermined making the film fade in theatrical influence (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 125). The contribution of the editor is of greatest importance to any film. Our text points out that “the editor’s role may nearly equal that of the director” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 186). Basically the editor is entrusted with numerous strips of film and compiles them with creative compassion, insight, and artistic wisdom as well as genuine participation in the topic and a clear awareness of the director’s objectives.
Sometimes the editor may even be the genius of the film’s structure. The editor may also have the clearest vision making up for lack of vision by the director (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 186). Human response to color is not only pleasurable to the eye, but also psychological or possibly physiological and known to attract and hold our attention better than shape or form. Colors bright or saturated placed against a contrasting background can simply capture the viewer’s eye. Three-dimensionality can be created on screen by advancing and receding characteristics that color develops in an illusion.
Colors can create a notion or sense of temperature. In the film The Fox color is used inside the house to show the warmth and love between two women yet the harsh cold outside the house is portrayed also (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 231). Combinations or schemes of color manufacture expected and reliable visual effects. Color is used as a transitional device to signal significant variations within a film. In the film, The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is in Kansas, the story is black and white and when she enters Oz, it becomes very colorful (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 235).
Color used to clue the audience in on a character’s innermost feelings is an expressionistic use of color. Director Ron Howard used the subdued shades of beige to imply the sensitive and tender connection between boxer husband Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Renee Zellweger) (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 237). Colors are used in films as symbols akin to Ingmar Berman’s Cries and Whispers (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 238). The over abundant use of deep red in the bedroom of the dying Agnes is Bergman’s vision of the symbol of the soul as a red membrane which the audience may not be clearly aware (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 23-238). Sound effects and dialogue are two of the three elements that make up the soundtrack of the modern film. Digital recording technology is used by filmmakers to combine and process layers of sound in a film. Dialogue in film is realistic compared to onstage. The pace of film dialogue is delivered more rapidly than onstage. The use of dialogue must be carefully done so that what can be expressed visually is done so that the cinematic and dramatic power of a film is not diminished (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 257-259).
The musical score is the third element that makes up the soundtrack of the modern film. Creating structural rhythms and to stimulate emotional responses are the two most general and basic functions of the musical score which greatly enhance and reinforce the effect of the image (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 292). The normal question we ask when going to view a film is who is in the movie? The work of the actor overshadows the work of any other contributor to the film. The actor should make the viewer believe completely in the character he or she is portraying.
They must be talented by projecting sincerity, truthfulness, and naturalness in such a way that we are unaware that they are acting (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 319). The director is the unifying force that is responsible for the majority of the creative decisions (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 364). The director has varying amounts of control in each individual film. The director who brainstorms the scheme of the film, writes the script, and then supervises every step of the film is known as an auteur (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 365).
Not all directors are inclined to handle all of these aspects of the film therefore they assign rather than do much of the work for the film. The director is responsible for determining the style of the film. A director’s personality is expressed through the language of the medium and his or her style is reflected in almost every decision (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 364-367). The thematic, fictional, and dramatic elements, visual design, cinematography and special visual effects, editing, color, sound effects and dialogue, acting, and direction are all vital pieces in the theme of a film. The viewer must see the film at east twice to make a correct analysis and evaluation of the film because the difficulty of the many conditions makes it too complicated to reflect on all the elements of a film in one viewing. The first viewing the viewer should figure out its theme and plot. In the second viewing, the viewer can focus all attention on the “how’s and whys of the filmmaker’s art” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 404). Theme is the first step in analyzing a film. The question we should ask ourselves is which element unifies this film? Is it the plot, a single unique character, the creation of an emotional mood or effect, or the creation of a certain style or texture?
A film can also be intended to express an idea or declare a thought. When the theme is known, the viewer can move on to identify the basis of the film (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 405). Every element of the film should be considered at this point. If the relationship between each element is obvious and reasonable, then we have correctly identified the film’s theme. If we cannot be sure of the theme at this point, we should reconsider our preliminary perception of the theme and alter the blueprint and affiliation surrounded by the distinctive film elements.
Once we are satisfied that we are completely harmony with the theme of the film, we move on to the evaluation process (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 405). In evaluation of the film, we must think about the objective of the film. Once we have discovered that, we should adjust our expectations of what the film aspires. When we discover the level of ambition, we can begin the objective evaluation. Does the film succeed in its goal? Why does the film succeed or fail? The specific strengths and weaknesses should be assessed to determine this information.
Nitpicking should be avoided in the overall process of analyzing the film. Every decision we make must be defended or explained as to why we believe something worked or did not work. The next step is the subjective step. The question we should ask ourselves is “what is our person reaction to the film? What are our personal reasons for liking or disliking it” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, pp. 405-409)? “To evaluate a film as art requires knowing the purpose of a film, and then judging how well the basic elements of the film work together to achieve that end” (Durante, 2006).
To become truly “cineliterate” (Boggs & Petrie, 2008, p. 5), one must be totally absorbed in the film but also impartial and indifferent. The thematic, fictional, and dramatic elements, visual design, cinematography and special visual effects, editing, color, sound effects and dialogue, acting, and direction are all important components in the making of a film. Once we have completed the evaluation of all the elements of the film, we are ready to re-read the reviews of the film. We may now be more open to the review of the critics or vice versa.
Although we should be open-minded about the critic’s opinion, we should never be too submissive about our own analysis, interpretation, or evaluation. References Boggs, J. M. , & Petrie, D. W. (2008). The art of watching films. Boston: McGraw Hill. Durante, D. (2006). Analyzing and evaluating films as works of art: Part 3 of a 3-part series. Forgotten Delights: Representational art… and more. Pollack, S. (1973). The way we were. USA: Columbia-Tristar. Shyamalan, M. (1999). The sixth sense. USA: Spyglass Entertainment.