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Film Analysis & Criticism
An Introduction to Writing about Film
Why practice film criticism?
Weall already practice film criticism verballywhenever we see a movie that interestsus: we ask friends what they thought of the film and tell them what we think. Film buffs/geeksdothis moreoftenandmoreintensely.Filmcriticism is a more involvedandmorecareful versionof that: it’s an ongoingconversationabout film amongfilm scholars (allof whom are filmfans!).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.
Why practice film criticism?
These film conversations are not isolated and unrelatedtothe worldWritingabout film functionsin the following ways:Gainintrospectiveunderstanding of our own reactionsto film and to theworldIt’sCommunicative:createsfilm communityPersuasivefunctions of convincing others of our opinionsEducatingothers about movies, filmmakers, movements, ideasComparing films helps usunderstand culturesbetter—both ours and others’ cultures; it helps us make connections across cultures
How to writeaboutfilm
Different approaches to film criticism
FilmHistory: verypopular style; sets filmin historical contextNational Cinemas: in-depth analysis ofa country’s cultural, social and political backgrounds throughfilmGenre Criticism: film types, variations, subversions oftraditionsAuteur Criticism: studya director’s oeuvreFormalist Criticism:structures& stylistic patterns, techniques,specificto film itself; detailed analyses, focusedclose readingsUsuallyrefersto some level ofhistoricaland/or ideological context tooIdeological Criticism: ways film conveys meanings aboutsocial valuesNotnecessarily propaganda, moresubtle,often “againstthe grain”Not intentions of filmmakersbecause that’s tricky andoften irrelevantOthers:SpectatorStudies, Psychoanalytic Criticism,Theory…We’ll study many ofthese approaches to film criticism in our class, but we’ll focus on formalist and ideological criticism.
Stylesof writing about films
How to writeaboutfilm
Differentstyles ofwriting aboutfilms
Knowingyouraudienceiskey.Movie review: broad audience unfamiliar with the filmCasual writing style: your recommendation,lots ofplotsummaryTheoretical essay: narrow audience often very familiar with the film and/or film language, history, etc.—knows the whole conversationamong filmscholarsFormalwriting style: more advanced language, word choice, jargonNo plot summary, just remindersto cue reader asnecessary, plotis notthe pointThese areNOTthe writing styles you’llbe writingforyour journals, your shot xshot analysis,and your finalpaper.
Differentstyles ofwriting aboutfilms
Criticalessay:an academic audience that’sfamiliar with thefilm,butreaders haven’t considered the film asthoroughly as you have(that’s yourjob in your critical essay)Stillno plot summary, just reminders as necessaryIn-depth consideration of complexities of the filmwithtermsGoal = to add understanding (not convince tolike the film,not a review)Audience:think of fellow students, as Corrigan suggestsin SGWF (they sawthe film, but didn’t consider it as closely as you are for your critical essay)Don’t includeobvious material, trivia,likes/dislikes (E.g., “Hitchcock is master of suspense” =BAD)DO include youranalysis, criticalinterpretation> personalresponse(though your response can be agood start)Analytical Essay: biographical, historical, oressays that closely analyze techniquesand details of films; usually closereadingsYou’llbe writing acombinationofCritical and Analytical essaysfor your journals, your shot xshot analysis,and your finalpaper.
Tips for writing your journals
Opinion and EvaluationNote Taking
Opinion & Evaluation: how to usewisely
Limituse of“I”to balance personalexpression withanalyticalobservationEliminatepassive voice/objectivespeak (despite Corrigan’spoor choice of the word “objective”)Always support your observations/arguments withexamplesSGWF Don’t skip essay examples—they’re usually great!Rootaround in filmsfirst: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 meaningGreat François Truffautquote:“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, butexplaining why.”
Notetaking during films
Use a penlight to help you see in the darkCreate your own personalshorthand,sketches—whateverisquick and thorough enough to remind you about key points later as you writeNotesignificantmotifsinnarrative,mise-en-scene, camerawork, editing,sound,and ideologyLook formetaphors, themes, symbolism, etc.Establish the pattern for each technique, then note any significantdeviations/exceptionsE.g., the range of narration inRear Windowremains restricted to Jeff the entire film, except when the camera shows him sleeping whileThorwaldand 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 inThe Pianois 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 withAda(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.
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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Film Analysis & Criticism -