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Basic Description: For this assignment, you will be required compare and contrast formal/social analyses of two films that have been screened for our class (that is, are on our syllabus and in our official class screenings).A few notes about the essay:–One of the films may be the film you wrote about in your first paper.– Please do not write a paper about BOTH Rear Windowand Citizen Kane, since the films are both works of the classical Hollywood system. You might write about one or the other as one of the two films you are analyzing.–You are welcome to consult outside sources for material, but if you do so you should be absolutely certain that you cite them in your paper as sources using an established citation format (MLA, Chicago, APA). If citing secondary works, please cite at least one text we have read in class, so we can be sure you have checked those as well.Tips for Writing:Unlike the first paper, your unit of analysis is an entire film, not just a single scene or sequence. An analysis of a film, however, is built out of readings of individual scenes or elements. In this spirit YOU WILL LIKELY WANT TO FOCUS ON 2-3 SCENES FROM EACH FILM as evidence of your point.While our sequence analysis focused on formal techniques and their relation to the larger film, here you will want to expand your formal reading to include the social/political/historical dimensions that we have been discussing in the second half of the class. Thus, in addition to a consideration of sound, cinematography, editing, narrative structure, etc. you will also want to consider issues around race, gender, nationality, historical context, political environment, etc.As a compare contrast, your argument will derive from finding similarities and differences between the two films. For a formal social comparative analysis, a thesis might pursue one of the following structures:NOTE: As a resource for general advice on writing papers on films, see Nichols’s Engaging CinemaChapter 12, especially, in this case, 441-42 on the search for a topic.Similar formal strategies, divergent social contexts“While both FILM A and FILM B utilize classical continuity editing and place their characters in gritty natural settings, FILM A utilizes these techniques to uphold traditional moral values about x while FILM B explores the manner in which they unravel in the face of conflict.”Divergent formal strategies, similar formal contextWhile both FILM C and FILM D explore the role of masculinity in the context of harsh natural environments, FILM Cs use of handheld cinematography, tracking shots and natural lighting do x while Film Ds reliance on montage techniques offer a more fractured view overall.Some divergence, some similarity (the mixed model)Film E and Film F both utilize low key lighting and other Film Noir techniques to explore the evacuation of political commitments within bourgeois capitalism, for Film E this implies x whereas for Film F this upholds y.Please keep in mind the paper-writing techniques we have discussed in relation to the first essay and in your sections: developing a clear argument/thesis, dynamic arguments, key sentences (especially topic and concluding sentences), and writing about the film in a way that avoids simply describing (avoiding extended plot summary of two or more sentences in a row) or reviewing it as a good or bad film.NOTE: In your argument and sequence analyses, you do not need to mention every technique. You’ll notice from the sample essays in Nichols and the Film Analysis book that the sequence analyses emphasize one or two or three techniques the argument foregrounds. You should analyze only those techniques that help your argument (rather than an encyclopedic catalogue of all techniques in a sequence).Sample formal techniques for the Argument:These are techniques and themes around which you might develop your argument (they are not arguments in themselves)The familiar main areas of technique and their contribution to filmic narrative– the evolution of editing/importance of editing to narrative– the role of sound in filmic narrative– how camera work (distance, movement, for example) contribute to the narrative– the role played by mise-en-scene (lighting, sets, costumes, actors) in the overall filmic system–the construction of film narrative (plot/story, cause/effect, Classical Hollywood narrative, etc.).Sample social contexts you might consider (there are many more)– how gender is constructed in the narrative and how it functions in the films more generally (consider, for instance, costume or lighting effects).– how social forces (bigger than the will of any one character) are depicted in the films– how do race and/or ethnicity function in films and how are they coded/constructed technically– the role of genre in the viewers’ experience of a film– how the films construct and utilize space in their narratives? You might consider private and public space.– how work or play is represented (technically) in the films and how it stands in for class– in what ways does generational conflict play an important role in the films and how is it constructed technically.Some topics you may consider:1. Political perspective and social attitude
2. The individual and society as represented in the
film
3. Emotional impact
4. Structure of the narrative
5. The social function of a film7. Omissions, absences, and questions of emphasisMy TA’s requirements:- You must engage with a minimum of
2 readings from the syllabus (you may
not use EC).
– Though not required, you may cite
outside sources, but they must be
academic analyses (blogs and reviews
are not allowed).For the movie, you can choose:Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock, 1954, USA; Screening: Ali, Fear Eats the Soul, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974, Germany 94 mins; Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee, 1989, USA; In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai, 2000, Hong Kong; And for movies, I would like to choose Rear Window and another one I have no idea, so it depends on you. I can send you the clips of them but I can’t post the mp4 here. And if you have some ideas, you can just text me.
ec_1_50__1_.pdf

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ec_week_1.pdf

global_trauma_and_narrative_cinema__babel_.pdf

getino_cinema_as_political_fact.pdf

fa_cowie_rear_window__1_.pdf

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1
FILM AS A LANGUAGE
Film Is a Visual Language
E
very language makes communication possible by means of sym­
bols or sigris. While we usually think of languages based on
words, films rely on images. These images can be put together
in almost any way. Even if they do not seem to make sense, viewers
routinely find meariing in their juxtaposition. Films such as Godfrey
Reggio’s
Koyaanisqatsi (1982), for example, bring together images
from a vast array of locations around the world. Koyaanisqatsi is an elo­
quent plea for harmony between man and nature. There is no com­
mentary or dialogue at all, no main characters, no plot in the usual
sense,, a’nd the only sound is Philip Glass’s mesmerizing music. Yet the
film makes sense to most viewers. It does not necessarily mean the
same thing to everyone, nor do viewers necessarily agree on the mer­
its of the film, but almost all viewers agree that there is

formal pat­
tern and a consistent structure that conveys expressive meaning.
The patterns of organization -that operate most’frequently in films
and that viewers �xpect to encounter are conventions, a customary way
29
30
CHAPTER
1
FILM
of doing things, rather than grammatical rules. (All words that appear
cally function as guidelines for selecting certain types of images (shots
two activities that build a film from isolated shots.
Film conventions, including genre conventions, vary over time and
with the type of film under consideration, but among the most univer­
sal are those that create continuity. Continuity includes all the ways of
organizing shots so that the transition from one shot to the next does
not jar the viewer. Something occurs in the first shot-the character
looks in a particular direction, for example-and this motivates or jus­
sion or Internet websites needs to be familiar with the basic elements
of film language. Spectators need a comparable familiarity to under­
stand and interpret what they see. This basic knowledge is a prerequi­
site for all film communication, not just those instances that are artis­
tically or aesthetically remarkable. The artistic use of film language
is
but one possible use. The art of cinematic expression receives consid­
eration at many points in this book, but it is not the exclusive focus.
Whatever use is intended, all films rely on the basic building block
of the
In other cases, a musical soundtrack continues smoothly beneath a series
visual or aural, is called
from diverse sources, as in the case of Koyaanisqatsi. Many conventions
govern the creation of continuity and are discussed further below.
Films use images to convey emotional impact, express various states
of mind, tell a story, or present an argument. The reliance on con­
ventions to achieve these ends helps explain film’s universal appeal.
Viewers can draw on their experience of previ?us films and on their
0 F ·�INEMAT1 C
Anyone communicating in film or other audiovisual fonps·like televi­
tifies a cut or edit to another shot, most likely to what the character sees.
of shots. The music creates a sense of cont:jnuity even if the images come
31
COMM U NI CATION: THE S I G N
establishing shot to
example). The selection and arrangement of sounds and images are the
LANGUAGE
THE 8 A 5.1 C U NIT
of domestic space in melodramas and of landscape in westerns, for
reveal the overall space of a scene followed by a closeup of the hero, for
A
The Semiotics of Film
in bold are explained in the text and listed in the Glossary.) These basi­
example) and for arranging them into scenes (an
AS
sign. The ·study
of communication, be it verbal or nonverbal,
semiotics.
Semiotics defines a
sign as the
smallest meaningful unit of communication. Words are only one of
many kinds of sign. In film, each shot functions as a sign. In fact,
within each shot, there may well be a variety of signs mixed together
:
the scowl on the hero’s face; the smug look of superiority on the vil­
lain’s; the scruffy suit worn by the hero that signifies his ethic of har-d
work for low pay; the very elegant suit worn. by the villain that signi­
fies his preference for the easy life, regardless of whom he might hurt
experience of interpreting what they see in the world around them. If
in getting it. American
there is subtlety and complexity involved in understanding films, it
dresses drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) in profes­
sional, understated attire but presents Richie Roberts (Russell
Crowe)-the cop who brings him down-in cheap, scruffy clothes, as
involves grasping the nuances made possible by a range of different,
often competing conventioqs and interpreting the metaphorical impli­
cations of what we see. A slightly raised eyebrow; exactly when a shot
cuts to another; the angle from which the camera views a scene; the
Gangster (Ridley Scott, 2007), for example,
if to say that impressive appearances are deceptive and unimpressive
ones a sigt?. of genuine principles.
insertion of a sudden sound, the placement of the actors in relation to
Because viewers usually recognize what an image represents quite
each other-these are the small things that distinguish one film from
quickly, it may seem as if the meaning is already in the image; the
another and that challenge the viewer’s interpretive skills.
viewer simply notes it. This, however, is incorrect. What an image

II

32
CHAPTER
1
FILM
AS
A
LANGUAGE
33
represents, or signifies, is not in the image but in the beholder. The
shadowy face may be shot that way to suggest untrustworthiness,
spectator instantly attaches a signified, the meaning of a given image,
but it remains up to the viewer to interpret the specific look of the
to the signifier, the thing seen or heard. The signifier is what is mate­
image as meaningful.
. ::
,
rially presented to the viewer. The signified is the meaning the viewer
3) A fihn signifier will not mean the same thing to every viewer. A shot
supplies to it. Together they form a sign. To recognize an image of an
that includes the American flag in the background will carry dif­
apple as an apple requires that the viewer already have in her mind an
ferent meanings for a highly patriotic American and an anti-Amer­
idea of what an apple looks like. A visual signifier, a photo of an apple,
ican foreigner. A violent fight between hero and villain may signify
can then instantly have the proper signified attached to it.
bravery and skill for one viewer and a resort to crude brutality for
Without prior knowledge, a word or image is meaningless.
another. These variations cannot be fully controlled by the film-
“Demit” may look like a word, but is it? A trip to the dictionary will
. maker. By the same token, they help account for the fact that a
tell us it means “to resign.” Wtth this signified attached “demit”
range of different, valid interpretations exist for the same film.
becomes a meaningful set of letters, a word. A shot of a shadowy fig­
ure moving down a narrow alleyway may look like a person, but is it?
Perhaps it is the shadow of a moving object; maybe it is important to
Alfred Hitchcock stages the dramatic climax to his film
North by
Northwest (1959) on the faces of the four American presidents carved
the story but maybe not. A gap suddenly opens up between the signi­
into Mount Rushmore. In doing so, he presents a set of signifiers that
fier and the signified. The felt need to supply a signified intensifies. If
mean different things to different viewers. Some may simply recog­
the shadow is of a person, who is it and what is she ·doing? If the viewer
nize it as a dangerous site, since the hero (Cary Grant) and heroine
recognizes the shadowy figure as the heroine, it’s likely that the shot
(Eva Marie Saint) could fall off the rock at any moment. Some will rec­
will now become meaningful: perhaps the viewer realizes that the
ognize that faces are carved into the stone and that the heroes are on
heroine wants to warn the hero of danger or that she is, in fact, about
the brow of one of the faces, just above the nose. Others will recognize
to betray him, depending on what is already known about the story.
that the faces are famous American presidents (George Washington,
The strict separation between materially present signifiers and
assigned meanings or signifieds has three important implications:
Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt). Some
may recognize the irony of the hero battling villains who are involved
in espionage against the United States on the faces of four presidents
1)
2)
The image as signifier, and its relationship to any accompanying
who helped define the United States as a nation. Yet others will rec­
sounds, is the raw material with which the filmmaker works. The
ognize an element of humor in a deadly fight taking place on the face
image is comparable to the painter’s paint or the musician’s notes.
of a president. Finally, some will recognize that the scene is strikingly
The options sketched out below in relation to the expressive, per­
similar to the climax of another Hitchcock film,
suasive, and poetic techniques of the cinema catalogue ways in
which the hero confronts the villain atop the Statue of Liberty. The
which a filmmaker can shape images, or sounds, to convey just
image or signifier, in other words, offers extra rewards for those who
Saboteur (1942),
in
the right tone, feeling, and meaning.
bring familiarity with its social and formal context. Such viewers draw
Despite this shaping effort, the viewer must still assign meaning
more meaning from the scene because they can assign more signifieds
to the image and its relationship to any accompanying sounds. A
to the images presented.
CHAPTER
34
FILM
1
AS
A
—- —
ing, cars, guns, etc.) and their possible meanings before seeing them in
External Reality

a film. This is why silent cinema was called a universal language: it relied
on viewers’ familiarity with visual signs. Almost all viewers recognize a
:ii.-;�;
System
— Cinema as
� �-=———–.———–� r=�
TheSignifier

The actual image
TheSign
film shot of a hat as a hat. They might well be able to infer things about
its wearer as well from the type of hat and how it is worn. Similarly,
viewers recognize something about a character’s social status from her
Interpreting a film shot
requires both perceiving
the image, the signifier,
and assigning an appropriate
meaning to it, the signified
clothing, expressions, gestures, and actions. They might also recognize
the actor playing the character. Part of the pleasure of seeing a silent
(1917) comes
:�
IMAGES AS A SIGN SYSTEM
In most cases, the viewer is familiar with common signifiers (cloth­
short by Charlie Chaplin such as
35
LANGUAGE
[Zl
Easy Street (1917) or The Immigrant
from recognizing the character of the tramp that Chap­
lin had begun to develop as his primary screen persona.
T H E S I G N AND I TS RE FERENT
of a metal object
TheSignified
The meaning the viewer
assigns to the image:
“toy gun,,, “weapon,”
“Colt .45”


:�:
;;:The actual gun
used in the shot
-r– –
.
_
….. —
_..
.- .-
.- .-
_
_
…..
_
_
_ ….-
….
…..
…..

Paradigmatic axis
(possible shots that
could be used:
various weapons)
SignB’
Most cinematic signifiers possess a referent. The referent is what a sign
refers to outside the language in which it appears. A photo of a·hat is

a signifier and the viewer’s response, “This is a hat,” generates the sig..
nified, but the referent would be the actual hat used in the photo. This
SignA
referent, the hat, exists in physical reality. Almost all photographic

Sign B
Sign C
SignD
� � tJ;�
images, but not all computer-generated images, have a referent. A
viewer, for example, may recognize that the specially equipped car

driven by James Bond is an Aston Martin. The actual car is the refer­
ent. It exists outside the world of the movie and the language of cin­
Narrative:
Composed
Synatagmatic axJs
(arrangement of
actual shots that
compose the film)
ema. But this particular car now functions as a signifier. The viewer r.ec­
ognizes that the Aston Martin signifies what a Volkswagen would not
(wealth, driving prowess, sophistication). In terms of signifieds, this par­
ticular car reinforces Bond’s image as someone adept with technical
·
gadgetry, his skill at daredevil maneuvers, ·and his sophisticated taste in
A filmmaker chooses each shot from a set of possible shots that work in a
luxury goods. The diagrams in Figure
whip, sword, rope, or other weapons would also work. The sum of the
given context. Here the shot is of a gun, but shots of a knife, pitchfork,
1. 1 show the relations of the dif­
ferent parts of the sign and how any communication involves selecting
specific signs from�a repertoire of available signs and then. assembling
the selected signs into a meaningful sequence.
:i
II
of shots that •’
advance the
story
available choices exists on the paradigmatic axis. This amounts to all the
choices that work in a given context: one is chosen and the others are not.
CHAPTER
1
FILM
IMAGES AS A SIGN SYSTEM (CONTINUED)
Similarly, each sign couples with other signs to form a chain. In the
with any accompany ing sounds. This means more than choosing. to
sequence represented in Figure 1.1, a shot of the hero cuts to a shot of
film a face, say; it becomes a question of how to film a face. Is it shot
axis consists of the actual arrangement of the chosen signs: the hero,
gun, villain, and the hero’s action. This axis unfolds over time. The paradigmatic axis is sometimes called the metaphoric axis and the syn- ·


37
A LANGUAGE
involves the way a filmmaker selects and arranges images, together
a gun pointed at him and then to a shot of the villain. The syntagmatic
r
AS
tagmatic the metonymic. In any language, the selection of one sign from
a range of possible signs and the arr�ngement of these choices into a
series are the two steps that allow communication to occur.
·
_,_’!.. . *-
..-ii:”!’.:t.:”‘
. .�o…;:.&.!”.!”‘ICT.�
from above, or below? Is it in color or in bl�c� and white·? With bright
I
!
fl,
light from nearby or dim light from further away? Every shot raises
1’
adigffiatic range of choices available and then arranges these choices
ti
into syntagmatic scene , sequences, and, ultimately, entire films.
1•
questions like these. The filmmaker chooses one opti0n .fr om the·par­
·
[i
Although it may seem to be merely the backdrop for.the action, the

natural or built environment is not simply documented in films but can
;z.:::… “””‘:”:t:L.� •
also carry metaphorical meanings. In the classic Japanese film Woman
of the Dunes. �iroshi Teshigahara, 1964), about a man who stumbles
upon a modest house at the foot of huge sand dunes and cannot escape
The Expressive, Persuasive, and
Poetic Uses of Film Technique
it; and in The Cruwd•(1928), King Vidor’s.remarkable silent film study
of urban alienation, both the looming sand dunes and the huge office
act as signifiers of isolation and of the power of invisible, almost inex­
·
Filmmakers expend considerable effort to shape the images they
plicable forces. They provide a visible stand-in for what cannot be
shoot. They place the camera with great care. They select camera
shown (power, dominance, hierarchy, and so on). As such, the images
lenses and arrange the lighting to fit the needs of the story. Actors play
have not only real life referents but important signifieds. They allow
specific parts or agreements are struck with non-actors. The director
the thematic- concerns of the films to· find visual expression.
may start, stop, and repeat a specific shot as many as twenty, thirty,
eighty times. A scene may be shot from a multitude of angles, which
.
·
For a filin to fulfill an expressive, persuasive,- or ·poetic purpose it
must utilize signifiers that convey the desired feelings, tones, and atti­
then requires intricate lighting and, later, editing, including the intro­
duction of music and sound effects, to assemble It into the most effec­
quality evident one director may choose to have him do something
tive form for a given purpose. These expressive elaborations move a
film from being “mere film,” or just a factual document, however valu­
truly heinous,.�uch as torture female captives i� ��s,prison-basement
_
as serial killer_����ff�lo Bill”_does in The Silence ofthe Lambs Gonathan
able such a document might be as evidence, to something that reveals
the attitude, perspective, or point of view of its maker. Expressive tech­
Demme, 1991). Another director, with the same goal, may have the
tudes effectively. A character may be a cruel monster; to make this
:H�- .
monstrous character compel an honorable, loving person to do some­
thing unforgivably cruel. In Sophie’s Choice (Alan Pakula, 1982), for
niques create an emotional impact on the viewer.
Style involves the particular way a filmmaker makes use of cine­
example, the greatest horror of Sophie’s (Meryl Streep’s). deportation
matic signifiers. It also refers to broad categories like realism to which
to a Nazi concentration· camp is not physical violence,· but the calm,
many works belong. Style is always medium specific. Film style
clinical command of the doctor assessing new arrivals. He tells her
CHAPTER
1
FILM
AS
A LANGUAGE
39
she must choose which of her two children will go to the left with her
different times and spaces that would not otherwise be possible. Every
and which to the right and certain doom. He forces her to act as an
edit also introduces the possibility of deception Gust as a person is
accomplice in the murder of her own child. Expressivity, persuasive­
about to be hit, the film might cut to a shot from a different ·angle as
ness, and poetic effect amounts to a question of how a filmmaker rep­
the character recoils, eliminating the n��S to actually hit the actor or
resents her own conceptio.n of the world to an audience.
to fake the blow in a single shot).
To be as adept as possible, a filmmaker must be familiar with the
Sometimes considered an alternative to editing, long takes are
repertoire of choices available as a result of technology and tradition.
shots that are noticeably more extended than usual: the viewer gains
James Cameron could not have shot the masses of passengers tum­
the most obvious plot information from the shot but the shot lingers,
bling across the decks of the Titanic as effectively or safely as he did,
or things continue to happen without a cut occurring. Some directors
for e�ample, without the use of computer-generated images (CGI)
favor long takes to allow action to occur in real time; it demonstrates
that placed lifelike figures created on a computer onto the d�ck of the
that no deception took place in staging the action. The documentary
sinking ship in Titanic (1997). CGI.does �ot photograph objects but
creates them from software; it offers a huge range of. options for
film Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005) contains numerous shots
made by the film’s protagonist, Timothy Treadwell, in which he and
creating entirely fabricated images, or altering images that have real­
wild Alaskan bears share the same frame, and therefore the same time
world referents.
and space in realicy. No form of editing could convey the same sense
An attentive viewer must also be familiar with this r:epertoire of
of Treadwell’s extended proximity to the creatures that will ultimately
choices a director faces to recognize her decisions as choices rather
than as simply the product of the camera’s·mechanical’ ability to record
Sokurov, 200 …
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