978-1457663543 Chapter 12 Part 1

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
The Film Experience: An Introduction 4th Edition
Patricia White, Timothy Corrigan
Describe the difference between reviews and critical essays.
Practice taking notes on films and how to organize those notes.
Choose a topic and develop it into a thesis and argument for a paper.
Conduct research and integrate sources.
Acquire the skills to turn your work into a polished essay.
Since the beginning of the movies, writers of reviews, scholarly essays, and philosophical books have debated the
achievements of individual films and the cultural importance, function, and value of this young art form in
general. The second section in Part Four, chapter 12 shows how writing about movies can become a rich extension of our
fundamental film experiences. It begins by making a distinction among the subject matter
of a film, the
material that directly or indirectly comprises the film, and the meaning
or the interpretation a writer discovers within that
film. The chapter describes the steps a writer takes in preparing to write about a film: asking questions, taking notes, and
selecting a topic. It then examines the elements of the analytical film essay in detail, from interpretation, argument, and
evidence to outlines and topic sentences. Finally, it offers a writer’s checklist as well as guidance for research, citation,
revision, manuscript formatting, and proofreading.
This chapter exposes students to aspects of writing about film that they may not have considered analytically
before. It provides them with the tools to construct analytical essays with confidence.
To teach the opening vignette, you may want to place Adaptation (2002) in the context of the challenges
inherent in adapting a book for the screen. Examining the ways in which writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike
Jonze make manifest the challenges of writing, by creating a character named after the screenwriter and then
inventing a twin brother for him, may help students situate their own writing on film. There is passion, panic, false
starts, breaks for coffee, bad writing, cliché, and a lot of staring at a blank page involved on the road to writing
something that works. To provide additional context and encourage students to approach their own writing with a
critical eye for telling details, you could assign the passage from Susan Orlean’s book in which she encounters the
orchid thief in the Florida Everglades. Another approach might be to distribute reviews and critical essays (or
excerpts) about the film, including Orlean’s own comments about being played by Meryl Streep.
The aims and mechanics of good writing about film may be familiar to students who study literature or history. But
competence in this kind of writing can benefit students in all disciplines. We live in an increasingly visual
culture, and the importance of identifying an audience, of balancing subjective and objective perspectives, of taking notes,
and of sketching an outline that develops a particular argument and interpretation is universal and
transferable. With the aid of the many genuine student papers reproduced in this chapter for reference, students can
observe that actual writing requires a clear and detailed thesis, strong topic sentences, and concrete evidence from the
film, and that a first draft is always followed by a series of revisions that work to clarify the argument, its ideas, and its
presentation. Careful proofreading then follows final revision, with special attention paid to easily missed
mistakes in mechanics, such as spelling and punctuation.
When teaching this chapter, it can be useful to root examples in the films you’ve already watched for the
course. Ask students to collect reviews and critical articles and dissect individual writers’ prejudices and points of
view. Encourage them to write often, in class and at home, to overcome their inhibitions and insecurities and provide
you with diagnostic material that will allow you to adapt this chapter’s concepts to accommodate their specific
Teaching Students How to Prepare to Write about a Film
Encourage students to approach each film that is screened for class as though they might write an essay about it.
What do they think they will see? Why are they watching it? What is the relationship between the film and the
material being covered in class? Have them jot down their speculations before the screening and encourage them to
take notes while watching the movie. In the next class, ask them to share their observations and any revelations.
Applying the steps in this section to every film allows students to limber up and will make the prospect of writing their
first essay less daunting.
Taking Notes
In addition to what the text itself suggests, recommend that students also take notes on:
the unusualevents or formal maneuvers that stand out in the film
events or techniques that recur with regularity
oppositions that appear in the film
Revision, Formatting, and Proofreading
Many students tend to leave too little time to write even a first draft of a paper before it’s due. Consider
conducting in-class draft workshops or adopting the Writer’s Checklist below as a kind of contract with the students. It
gives them a clear outline of your expectations. Ask them to submit a completed, signed checklist with each paper, attesting
they have followed every step.
Writer’s Checklist
1. Review your notes, filling in details where you can. Ideally, view the film one more time.
2. Try to summarize the most important themes or motifs in the film.
3. Formulate a working thesis and argument for the essay.
4. Outline the argument. If possible, use full sentences for headings because they can then become your topic
5. Develop the central idea of each paragraph with details from the film that support that paragraph’s topic
6. Rewrite your thesis statement to reflect any changes or refinements in your thinking that occurred while writing
your first draft.
7. If you are writing a research essay, be sure to use the correct documentation format for in-text citations and the
Works Cited list (see pp. 453-55).
8. Revise your essay, checking for large problems such as vague or illogical organization, and proofread for
surface errors in spelling and grammar.
9. Select a title that reflects the main argument of your paper.
10. Print out the essay, and correct any remaining typographical errors.
Teaching Technical Vocabulary and Key Concepts
Ask students to watch a short scene in class and take notes using the common abbreviations or symbols for visual
compositions listed below. Reviewing these notes will reveal whether you should spend more time on a particular
topic or shot.
es: establishing shot
high angle
ct: cut
cu: close-up
mcu: medium close-up
low angle
trs: tracking shot
long shot
ds: diegetic sound
pan shot
mls: medium long shot
nds: nondiegetic sound
low camera angle
high camera angle
tracking shot
Personal Opinion and Objectivity, p. 412
Watch the clip of Birdman (2014) online. What subjective claims might a writer make about this section of the film? What
objective claims might a writer make?
This Viewing Cue allows students to consider how their personal film experiences shape their attitude toward this
clip, and how to negotiate these experiences with a more objective analysis. Students may associate the
Birdman, who is following Riggan, with the character of Beetlejuice, the character Michael Keaton plays in the Tim
Burton film by the same name. They will likely also associate him with the Batman, whom Keaton played in two films
(both directed by Burton). These associations may deflect attention away from or draw attention to the careful staging of
this sequence, the editing and camera alignment.
Identifying Your Readers, p. 413
As you prepare to write an analytical essay about a film you have seen in class, consider your readers. What defines them?
What are their interests? What do they need or want to know about the film?
Ask students to answer the prompt in this Viewing Cue as an informal in-class exercise. This approach helps
demystify the writing process for students with less confidence. Invite them to think of writing a paper as hosting
guests. There’s some degree of pre-existing relationship. A good host puts guests at ease, anticipates their needs, and
doesn’t waste their time.
Asking Questions, p. 415
Before viewing your next film, jot down three or four questions you want to direct at the film. During the film, write
down three or four more about specific shots or scenes. Later, attempt to answer all of your questions as precisely as
This is another Viewing Cue you may want to incorporate throughout the course to accustom the students to
thinking critically about film, both thematically and on the level of the individual shot. Share some of the more
provocative responses in class.
Taking Notes, p. 415
Which events, sounds, or shots in the film you just viewed stand out as unusual? As most important? As examples of
a pattern of repetition? Describe clearly and concretely one or two events, sounds, or shots from the film.
The Film in Focus Minority Report offers ample examples of unusual events, sounds, or shots. In class look at the clip
on LaunchPad for The Film Experience as a model: the gestures Anderton makes seem to have informed Apple’s thinking
about the touch-screen products it has introduced since this film’s release. However, using
oversized microscope slides to move information from one system to another seems ludicrously unwieldy to viewers
in the era of cloud computing. Or ask students to nominate their own candidates from Minority Report or any of the
other Film in Focus movies.
Elements of a Film Essay, p. 421
Sketch an argument for your essay. What is the logic of its development? What conclusions do you foresee making?
Make this Viewing Cue a mandatory journal entry in preparation for writing papers.
Thesis Statement, p. 422
Write a precise thesis statement. Is your thesis specific enough, or does it need refinement? Is it sufficiently
interesting to encourage readers to continue reading your essay?
This Viewing Cue may be combined with several others in this chapter to prepare students to craft a persuasive
Outline and Topic Sentences, p. 423
Create a detailed outline of your essay. Does your outline include subsections that can later be developed with
details and evidence from the film?
To use this Viewing Cue in class, spend some time going over the outline examples included in this chapter. Ask
the students to create their own outlines as homework, and then spend additional class time correcting any common
errors once you’ve had time to review their work.
Writer’s Checklist, p. 425
After writing your first draft, revise your thesis statement to reflect changes in your thinking. Be sure to sharpen your
thesis statement to describe your argument more accurately.
Ask students to respond to this Viewing Cue after returning paper drafts to the class.
Internet Sources, p. 432
Search the Internet for information about your film and topic, and locate at least one useful source. What
distinguishes this source from other online information about your topic?
Bundle this Viewing Cue with others you’ve asked students to respond to before meeting with you for one-on-
one paper consultations.
Direct Quotations and Paraphrasing, p. 434
As you prepare to integrate research into your essay, think about a particular quote or critical position you will argue
against. What factual or historical material will support your argument? Note passages you can use to bolster a
central part of your essay.
Walk through an example of this approach during class using an article you’ve assigned as supplemental
reading for a specific film.
Creating a Video Essay, p. 433
Use some time in class to show students examples of the video essay. Some of the more popular and insightful video
essays have been produced by filmmaker and critic Kevin B. Lee (“The Spielberg Face”) and film scholar Catherine
Grant (Los Olvidados/Lazarus).
Analysis, Audience, and
Minority Report
(2002), pp. 418-420
If you choose to show Minority Report, try to situate it for students as predictive of many of the now-familiar
gestures associated with the small computers (smart phones) most of them carry everywhere.
Discussion Question 1:
What dialogue, images, sound, and so on in the film seemed familiar? They may know that
Philip K. Dick’s writing has been adapted into a number of sci-fi films over the years or that the source story
predates the attacks of September 11, 2001, even though the movie was released afterward, in 2002.
Discussion Question 2:
What does it mean to disconnect the act of seeing from eyes in bodies? Some students
might have drawn a connection between the shots of the pre-cogs’ visions and the surveillance state we live in
today. Consider raising the concept of privacy in the era CCTV and other official surveillance apparatuses, like
unmanned drones, and asking what Steven Spielberg gains imagining technologies where seeing has become
unilateral. A drone denies us the reverse shot that is a hallmark of classical Hollywood continuity editing.
Interpretation, Argument, and Evidence in
(1950), pp. 428-431
This Film in Focus illustrates the play of competing narrative points of view and the difficulty in arriving at a clear
interpretation based on available evidence.
Discussion Question 1:
How do the themes of bias and interpretation in Rashomon provide a model for writing
about film? The sample student paper can serve as a cautionary tale about the importance of conducting secondary
research and citing sources correctly and thoroughly.
Discussion Question 2:
How do we deal with the temptation to incorporate the thinking of other writers when
dealing with well-known films like Rashomon? Discuss how the perspectives of other writers must be attributed and
weighed in the context of the student’s own argument.
From Research to Writing about
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
(1920), pp. 436-440
Working with this Film in Focus serves to demonstrate the wealth of secondary sources available to a writer.
The scenario in the textbook illustrates a methodical, step-by-step approach to collecting information, refining one’s paper
topic, and incorporating secondary sources correctly cited. Contributing a new take to such a vast store of information on
a film may seem daunting to introductory-level students.
Discussion Question 1:
How does this student paper example demonstrate the ways in which a writer can sum up
critical viewpoints and deploy them alongside quotations from the film itself in the service of his or her own
Discussion Question 2:
How does this writer deploy images from the film to illustrate and extend his thesis?
Adaptation (2002)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Birdman (2014)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Bourne series (2002-2016)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Carrie (1976)
Central Station (1998)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Fearless (1993)
His Girl Friday (1940)
Inception (2010)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
In the Bedroom (2001)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Jaws (1975)
Julie & Julia (2009)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Lincoln (2012)
Little Vera (1989)
Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Minority Report (2002)
Mishima (1985)
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Of
Gods and Men (2010)
Orpheus (1950)
Paterson (2016)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Rashomon (1950)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Sorrow and the Pity (1972)
Spellbound (1945)
Spotlight (2015)
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Tokyo Story (1953)
Traffic (2000)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Walk the Line (2005)
FILM IN FOCUS: The 400 Blows
In the final sequence of The 400 Blows, an extraordinarily long tracking shot of Antoine on the run concludes with a
celebrated freeze frame.
1. The length and simplicity of this sequence makes it surprisingly difficult to interpret. How does it elicit moments
of identification? How does it cognitively challenge us to make sense of it in terms of other films we have seen?
Students might choose to answer this question by talking not about cognition at first but about their bodily
response to the length of the shot and their reactions to the freeze frame finish. (Some may exhale audibly or
even blurt out, “That’s it?”) If they found themselves fidgeting and waiting for a cut that never came, ask
them to recall the last time they really focused on an activity they love, without distractions. Did time seem to
move differently?
2. The final freeze frame of Antoine staring into the camera was highly unusual at the time. What does the freezing of the
frame achieve? How do you read or interpret the expression on his face?
If students are frustrated about the seeming lack of closure, encourage them to consider how infrequently in their
own lives they are able to recognize a turning point as it’s happening. Freeze the freeze frame and ask them
individually or in small groups to brainstorm different adjectives to describe Antoine’s expression. Ask them to
think back on a class picture from grade school. How would they interpret their expressions now as viewers have
moved through time and space since the photograph was taken?
In this clip from Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014), an aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller) is intimated by a brutal
instructor (J.K. Simmons).
1. How does the tone of this scene differ from other music dramas you may have seen?
Presumably some students will notice that this scene is more grueling and scarier than a lot of music dramas,
focusing on intimidation and nerves rather than a traditional performance scene. But they might also talk about
the intimacy between the two characters - the smaller canvas that this independent film can use to tell its story,
compared to a splashier Hollywood musical biopic.
2. How do camera placement and editing ratchet up this scene’s intensity?
Students might focus on any number of elements, such as the movie’s use of close-ups on the actors faces
(especially Miles Teller), creating a kind of claustrophobia, or the way the editing places them in close
proximity even when they’re not physically sharing a space.
In this bold clip from Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007), the main character (Ellen Page), a sardonic teenager who has just had
sex with her best friend, receives the news that sets the plot in motion.
1. How do camera placement and editing establish intimacy and identification with Juno?
The close-up is an obvious place to start. Ask students how it conforms to traditional Hollywood ideas about
female beauty while undermining them via the soundtrack that suggests what’s happening in the offscreen
2. What do we learn about Juno from the fact that she reads her test in the presence of the store clerk played by Rainn
Wilson. What other aspects of the clip create a particular understanding of her character?
The self-conscious dialogue may be the first thing students comment on, but a more productive direction
might be to talk about what Juno doesn’t do. She doesn’t hide her intentions from the clerk who sells her the
pregnancy test. She doesn’t go home or somewhere secret to take the test; she heads straight for the store
restroom. And she doesn’t burst into tears or talk about her life being over when the result is positive. You
may also point out how the camera angles place us on Juno’s side. Rainn Wilson’s clerk may loom over her
physically in the low-angled shots, but he doesn’t occupy a place of moral authority over her that such shots
frequently symbolize.
NEW FORM IN ACTION: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) is the film version of an irreverent mash-up between horror tropes and Jane
1. How does this trailer relate to other advertisements for more traditional zombie movies, or more traditional
literary adaptations? How does it depart from these conventions?
The beginning of the trailer very much mimics an advertisement for a classy literary adaptation, as it slowly adds
in more “genre” elements until it fully reveals the “zombies” part of this take on Austen. Compared to some other
zombie/horror trailers, it focuses a bit more on action and on its strong female characters -
focusing on fighting zombies, not just being terrorized by them.
2. Do you find this trailer effective in convincing you to see the movie it’s advertising? Why or why not?
Responses will vary even more than usual here, but the idea is to get the students talking about what the
trailer is trying to do, and whether it’s effective in getting across the movie’s story, tone, central hook, and so
NEW VIEWING CUE: Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad is a 2016 comic-book adaptation set in the DC Comics movie universe. Its release was preceded by a series
of trailers that often used popular music to introduce its group of new characters.
1. What kind of messages does this trailer send about the film and its tone? What does it seem like the studio
considers most marketable about the film?
The trailer depends heavily on its use of the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so it seems like it’s trying to
be sold as a rock-and-roll good time - something rollicking and irreverent and distinct from other superhero-
related movies. The tagline of “Worst. Heroes. Ever” supports that irreverent approach to the characters’
bad-guy roots.
2. How might this trailer accurately reflect what watching Suicide Squad is actually like - and how might it be
This may depend on whether or not students have seen the film. If they have, they might note that the movie is
scored with similarly familiar pop songs throughout, but also a movie that’s far more uneven and less rollicking
than the advertisements suggest. You might bring up in classroom discussion that after positive reaction to the
trailer, the movie was allegedly recut to more closely resemble the ads, because the film itself was not especially
close to that aesthetic!
VIEWING CUE: Man of Steel
Zack Snyder’s retelling of the myth of Superman, Man of Steel (2012), combines familiar icons with fresh effects. In this
clip from a climactic battle scene, General Zod appears invincible.
1. How is attention drawn to Superman and the star who plays him? Does the scene attempt to transcend action film
Students may begin with Superman’s red-white-and-blue signature suit, which makes him easy to spot in the
desaturated landscape. But it’s worth asking them about the impact of seeing him shot in the head by the
arriving soldiers. Ask them if they found the perspective of the respondersblue guys, gray lady are all the
sameunexpected. Do you get to shoot Superman and still think of yourself as a good guy?
2. Look at "trailer 1" for Man of Steel on IMDB or another source and explain how the scene you’ve watched fits in to the
story that the trailer tells. What elements besides action elements seem important to the trailer? Do those appear in the
battle scene?
Superman may seem all-American, but he’s originally from somewhere else, one of many attributes that
prevent him from fitting in. Ask students about the message, “You Are Not Alone,” seen in the trailer: Is it meant
to be reassuring? Are we all misfits? Or is Superman a terrorist/sleeper agent/threat? Ask how they feel about the
trailer’s appropriation of 9/11 imagery; for example, the shots of people in city streets looking up and offscreen in
horror and those of buildings collapsing in fiery explosions.
FILM IN FOCUS: Killer of Sheep
Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1979) is a realist depiction of the everyday challenges faced by a working class father
in the impoverished Watts district of Los Angeles. The dance between Stan (Henry G. Sanders) and his wife (Kaycee
Moore) enacts the strains on their relationship.
1. Killer of Sheep was not widely distributed until all the music rights were cleared thirty years after it was finished.
Describe the effects of Dinah Washington singing Clyde Otis’s "This Bitter Earth" in this scene.
Ask students how they reconciled Dinah Washington’s electrifying voice with the lyrics of the song she’s
singing and the emotions of the slow dancers we see. Perhaps show them another instance of a filmmaker using
Dinah Washington’s voice to communicate a couple’s relationship in the space of the song, the scene between the
sad policeman and his flight attendant girlfriend in Wong Kar-Wai’s
Chungking Express
(1994). The film’s Hong
Kong setting might lead into a discussion of different copyright conventions in different parts of the world.
Matthew Porterfield’s 2010 film
Putty Hill
ran into similar difficulties securing music rights for the song star Sky
Ferreira sings after a funeral; the scene had to be reshot when they got the rights for her to perform Dolly
Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” instead.
2. The production values make it clear that this is a low-budget film. How does the scene make meaning from its
limited means?
Students might focus on the long take or how the light from the window behind the dancers literally
illuminates the growing space between them. Ask them about the effect of the dancers going in a circle. What
does that symbolize? Focus too on the sentiment in the final lyric, Washington’s unexpected and
heartbreaking high note, and the physical movements of Stan’s wife as we see only his impassive back.
FILM IN FOCUS: Citizen Kane
Toward the conclusion of Citizen Kane, Kane and his wife Susan Alexander have isolated themselves in the palatial
Xanadu, surrounded by magnificent spaces and cut off from the world.
1. Focusing on this sequence, consider how its details and actions might be seen (and perhaps understood)
differently in different exhibition contexts, such as on a large screen versus a computer monitor. Which details might look
similar across different exhibitions? Which might look different?
Students might choose to answer this prompt by talking about fireplaces, forced persective, and jigsaw
puzzles, but what about the physical figure of Charles Foster Kane himself. Perhaps contrast this clip with the
scene set in Susan’s apartment when their relationship began and the one from the butler Raymond’s story of
Kane trashing Susan’s Xanadu bedroom after she walks out on him. Which details—the snow globe?leap out
on a larger screen?
2. How might the exhibition history of Citizen Kane inflect or alter how this sequence is perceived? How might
audiences in 1941 have understood it differently than audiences today?
If students struggle with time traveling back to
’s compromised premiere, ask them to think about a
movie they first saw when they were young. For example,
Romeo + Juliet
were received
differently by their contemporary audiences at the height of Leo mania than they would be by a first-time
viewer today. Now Di Caprio is a serious, Oscar-nominated actor who, like Welles, evolved from boy wonder to
jowly middle-aged man.
FILM IN FOCUS: The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick 1999) is an influential, low-budget example of what would
become known as transmedia storytelling, with the story told in the film framed and supplemented by online marketing, a
comic book, and other media.
1. In this clip, how is the emblem of the film’s marketing campaignthe stick figureintroduced to the filmmakers
within the film in a manner that underscores the different levels of narration?
Students will probably be reminded of other viral, is-it-real-or-fake media moments like
(“documentary” or cable television version) or even the
Paranormal Activity
movies. Ask them why or
whether it matters that a movie is “real” and how something like the stick figure plays into that uncertainty.
2. How does the film’s use of low-budget amateur formats attempt to authenticate its marketing story and its claims
to novelty?
The handheld cinematography and the poor image quality will likely dominate students’ answers. Some other
responses might involve our glimpses of the camera crew at the end of the clip or even their constant casual
swearing and audible breathing on the soundtrack.
FORM IN ACTION: Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009) builds on audience familiarity with the Maurice Sendak’s classic
picture book and curiosity about its adaptation to a feature-length film. In this clip Max has journeyed to the land of the
wild things and found that he hasn’t escaped the challenges of everyday life.
1. What themes are present in the clip? What does the scene say about Jonze’s interpretation of the book? What
pictorial choices characterize this adaptation and establish its mood and point of view?
Students may have fond memories of Maurice Sendak’s book and spend time talking about the look of the wild
things in Jonze’s version and the sound of their voices as well as the decision to give them names. You might also
want to point out how many rules of continuity editing are broken here, which may be a way of communicating
2. Watch "trailer 1" for Where the Wild Things Are on IMDB or iTunes (link:
http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/wb/wherethewildthingsare/). How does the trailer use music to give it continuity and
to indicate the film’s sensibility? Does the trailer seem aimed at a child audience? Watch "trailer 2." How is the
child’s perspective highlighted in this trailer? Does the trailer portray the land of the wild things as preferable to life
at home?
Students can talk about how the face of Max is the first thing we see in trailer 1, and even though his eyes are closed,
the implication is that subsequent shots are attached to his point of view. Trailer 2 starts with his voice and then his
whole body in the snowy “real world,” which gives way to images of his preferred world as
described in his voiceover. You may want to ask them to watch both trailers without sound and see whether it
changes their interpretations of who the intended audience is for each clip.
VIEWING CUE: Gilda and Rome Open City
The end of World War II marked a distinct change in world film history. In 1946, when Gilda (Charles Vidor) was
released, movie attendance reached its highest level in the US, with more than 90 million weekly admissions, only to
drop off sharply with the coming of television and other challenges to the studio system. In Italy in 1945, the vast
movie studio complex Cinecitta was occupied by refugees, and Roberto Rossellini filmed Rome Open City on
1. Compare and contrast the depiction of gender in these two films, both in terms of the styling of the female star and in
terms of the idea of gendered spaces.
A useful concept for discussion would be the notion of glamour. There is little that could be called glamorous
about post-war Rome. Ask how setting either augments or plays against the images of the actors in each clip.
Encourage students to talk about “masculine” versus “feminine” spaces in each film.
2. Gilda is an example of film noir, which introduced dark themes to studio era Hollywood, and Rome, Open City is an
example of neo-realism, which would influence later filmmaking worldwide. Give examples of stylistic
differences in the clips. Are there any similarities due to the films being made at the same time?
Lighting may be the most obvious difference between the two clips, while students may be able to draw
similarities across the films in terms of gender roles. They might want to talk about the male gaze in each
sequence as well.
NEW VIEWING CUE: Beyond the Lights
Beyond the Lights is a 2014 romantic drama about the music business and the toll it takes on a talented young singer.
The film was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, a black woman in a largely white-male-dominated industry.
1. How do dialogue and form position the black woman protagonist? How do you think this relates to the unique
perspective of a black woman director behind the camera?
Students may find that the scene, on its surface, has relatively traditional construction, alternating shots of
the female and male leads as they have a conversation. But Prince-Bythewood subtly gives more attention to
her female lead, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, by lingering on shots of her, even when she’s just silently reacting. Even
in an earlier shot from further away, with Mbatha-Raw’s back to the camera and her taller co-star standing
in the frame, she dominates her partner in the scene, visuallythe camera draws attention to her, rather than
him. There’s a care and attention to the way that she’s photographed that is unusual for Hollywood films,
which still have lamentably few black female lead characters.
2. In what ways does this clip represent a traditional Hollywood film? In what ways does it represent something less
traditional and more uncommon?
The content of the dialogue between the two characters is not especially new or memorablethey’re talking about
their relationship, and another relationship that the female character is still involved in, much to her love
interest’s chagrin. In the way, it comes across as a traditional romantic drama. But by focusing on two black
characters, the movie achieves a kind of intimacy not often seen in a mainstream film.
Moonlight is a 2016 film that looks at its main character, Chiron, at three points in his life: as a pre-teen, a teenager, and an
adult. In all three sections, he struggles with his identity as a gay black man. This landmark film, directed by Barry
Jenkins, won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
1. How is Chirons sense of cultural identity affirmed in this sequence?
Students may not know this without the context of the full movie, but the Chiron character has been growing up
without a father, and with an unreliable, drug-addicted mother; that may need to be clarified before they watch
the clip. But either way, the gentle (and father-like) attention he receives here from Juan, a black male adult,
makes Chiron feel less alone, as a quiet, somewhat reticent young black male. The story Juan tells at the end of the
clip imparts a lesson to Chiron that he has to make his own decisionsaffirming his identity as an individual, not
just a product of his environment.
2. In what ways does this scene reflect on black masculinity? How might this be different from depictions of black
masculinity in films from earlier points in history?
This scene is so quiet, and while Juan has been shown earlier in the film as a “tough” character, he shows a
different kind of toughness herehe’s firm but gentle and nurturing with young Chiron, and the scene is
touching without getting too mawkish or cute about it. It departs from typical leading roles for black men in
Hollywood thrillers and comedies, whereas with most protagonists in that systemthe characters are drawn
more broadly.
FILM IN FOCUS: Taxi Driver
In this scene from Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976), Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) practices pulling his gun in front
of a mirror.
1. How do elements of film form create a sense of malaise that then comes to seem characteristic of post-Vietnam War
urban America?
Students will likely focus on how Travis’s monologue lacks reverse shots in the first half of the clip and how his
language becomes internalized after he says, “Well, I’m the only one here.”
2. What aspects of Robert De Niro’s performance bring the viewer too close for comfort to his unbalanced
The modesty of the mise-en-scène will likely prove a good jumping-off point. Talk about the discordant notes
struck but his uniform against the jerry-rigged kitchen setup and the laundry drying on a line hung inside.
FILM IN FOCUS: Within Our Gates
A dramatic flashback within Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920) shows the history of violence against
African Americans in a powerful antidote to the distortions of D.W. Griffith’s much more famous The Birth of a
Nation (1915). Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) has escaped from the lynch mob that has killed her uncle and aunt only
to be threatened with sexual violence. Micheaux’s film uses melodrama as effectively as Griffith’s Sylvia will be
1. What is your response to the unfamiliarity of this film’s imagesits historical form and its subject matter? Why
might the film have seemed dangerous? Do you think it would have made a difference in film history if the film had
not been lost?
Students may be reluctant to speak about this clip at first, particularly because it ends without us finding out
whether Sylvia escapes her attacker. Focusing on the unusual montage decisions and the pacing of the crosscutting
between Sylvia in the kitchen and the mob around the bonfire may help students open up.
2. How does cross-cutting, a mode of editing mastered by Griffith, contribute to the scene’s effect?
Most of the comments may be about Sylvia’s daylight struggle and the temporal confusion caused by the
cross-cutting to the nighttime bonfire. Encourage them not to overlook the low-angle shots of hands handling and
cutting rope on what is presumably a gallows.
In Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012), a young man survives a disastrous shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean, adrift with a
Bengal tiger through a series of fantastical episodes.
1. This sequence contrasts two spaces within its mise-en-scene, the small lifeboat and the vast ocean surrounding it. How
does the sequence use these two spaces to generate its dramatic tensions and energies?
One likely subject for student responses will be the color schemes. The boat is visually divided into human space
and tiger space. Long shots of the tiny boat in the ocean may also come up, as well as the unexpected and
random assault by the school of flying fish.
2. Would you describe this mise-en-scene, including its use of the tiger and the remarkable explosion of fish, as
realistic in some ways? If so, how and why does it push the notion of realism in new directions?
Students may skip past the how realistic is it that a human and a tiger can share a small boat and straight to how
“real” the tiger looks versus the fish we subsequently see. Ask them whether and how much it matters that it’s
“real” and what “real” even means when we all know about CGI.
In this early scene from Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese), the audience is taken on a tour of the title character’s world
inside a Paris train station. The movie is set around the dawn of cinema and has its fictional characters intersect with
some real ones.
1. As discussed in Chapter 3, there are a variety of elements to mise-en-scène, including lighting, costumes, props, actors,
make-up, and more. Which elements of mise-en-scène are most immediately noticeable in this clip from Hugo? Watch the
clip again. Which elements are present, but perhaps not as noticeable upon first viewing?
The set design is probably one of the most immediately noticeable elements, with an intricate combination of real
and computer-generated imagery. One element that’s very present but may not be noticed mostly
immediately is actually the actors, who are conveying points of view and emotion without much dialogue, but may
not be initially as noticeable because the sets and visual effects are so impressive.
2. This scene from Hugo comes very early in the film. What does its mise-en-scène establish about the movie you’re about
to watch? How does it affect the viewer?
It establishes the world of the movie, which is a mix of the historical and the fantastical, and also a tone of
wonderment with some degree of grit (the sights
is seeing are often amazing, but may not seem that way
to him as a lonely orphan). You might suggest that it both puts the viewer in Hugo’s place (looking at this
world through his point of view) while also maintaining a little distance, allowing viewers to see this
fantastical cinematic creation as something more awe-inspiring than what Hugo sees as a resident of this train
FILM IN FOCUS: Do the Right Thing
In this climactic sequence from Do the Right Thing, the mise-en-scene of Sals pizzeria explodes with significance.
1. Which are the key featuresprops, costumes, lighting, or some other elementof this sequence, and why are they
Likely student responses will focus on Radio Raheem’s boombox, and the wall of fame but what about the
characters’ clothing? Or the combination of fluorescent and pendant lighting in Sals? Not to mention the
visual reminder of the heat evident in the churning of the ceiling fan mounted to the pressed tin ceiling of the
2. Consider the significance of the photos on the "wall of fame." How would you describe their material relationship
to Radio Raheem’s boom box? How does the showdown between the two utilize very different conceptions of
Students might discuss the static nature of the photographs versus the kinetic energy of the Public Enemy song
pumping from Raheem’s radio. Again, suggest how the tin ceiling amplifies the sound as the bodies of Sal and
his employees and the angry people from the neighborhood absorb it.
FILM IN FOCUS: Bicycle Thieves
In this clip from Vittorio DeSica’s Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, 1948), Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) tries
to recover his stolen bicycle, accompanied by his friends and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola).
1. Describe elements of the naturalistic mise-en-scene of post-war Rome in this clip. What are some of the effects of
shooting on location in the crowded marketplace?
One naturalistic element that may jump out at students is the shabby but far more formal than now clothing
of the passers-by in the market. Another is the play of light and shadow on the faces of Antonio, his son, and
his friends.
2. How do editing and the score contribute to the emotional resonance of the objects onscreen?
The various bike parts are on display and brought to our attention by eyeline matches. How many bike parts
do you need to make a bike. Metaphorically, Antonio’s bicycle is much more than saddles, tires, and pumps.
FORM IN ACTION: Fantastic Mr. Fox
In Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) the animals living underground are under siege by a group of farmers.
1. How do characters and objects complement each other in the mise-en-scene? Are there aspects of the setting that tell
the story?
An opossum not only plays the piano (“Night and Day,” with flourishes), he also wears piano key suspenders.
Students will likely remark on the suggestion that these animals, far from being animalistic, wear clothes, use
china, and seem to have mobile phones, as Anderson’s tracking shot reveals. It might be helpful to show the
similar shot from
Grand Illusion
where Renoir shows the different groups of prisoners rehearsing for the
variety show.
2. How do other elements of film language like editing and camerawork work to foreground mise-en-scene in this
Again, students will definitely pick up on Anderson’s signature long-take tracking shot. Ask them about how it
allows us to take in costumes and props as we glide by various vignettes. Anderson also expands the
offscreen space by having characters move in and out of the frame. To explore the effect of the camera
pausing on Ash and reframing on him, Kristofferson, and Agnes, consider showing Uguarte’s similar
entrance into Rick’s in
VIEWING CUE: Touch of Evil
In the concluding sequence of Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) the partner of corrupt cop Quinlan (Welles) is
wearing a wire to collect evidence for honest cop Vargas (Charlton Heston).
1. While much of the film uses tracking shots, this sequence uses editing to show the difficulty of tracking Quinlan.
Make sketches of two sets of more juxtaposed shots. How are angles and compositional elements used to relate
frame to frame?
Canted angles, mobile reframing, and deep focus will all likely catch students’ eyes. Suggest they examine
inserts of Vargas’s radio/recording device with the shots that immediately precede and follow them. What do the
high- and low-angle shots tell us about whom to root for?
2. The name film noir was given to a cycle of postwar films whose themes were as dark as their lighting schemes.
Comment on cinematographer Russell Metty’s use of darkness in this scene.
Grotesque figures loom out of the darkness. Ask students about the effect of Quinlan saying “Soon you’ll be
flapping your wings like an angel” as a shadow moves across and obscures his face.
VIEWING CUE: Rear Window
With the exception of a single shot, the entirety of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) is filmed from the
apartment window of L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart). By this point in the film Jeffries is convinced that he has
witnessed a murder across the courtyard and is looking for clues within the hubbub of everyday life.
1. Describe the moving camera in this shot. Is camera movement "motivated"? Is it "invisible"?
Students will focus on the final shot of the clip as a way to answer this question. Have we been sharing Stella’s point
of view? She seems to be more focused on what’s happening inside Jeff’s apartment. And how does the realization
that the camera is
Jeff’s point of view retroactively affect its focus on the sculptress, Miss
Torso, and the woman who owns the dog “who knew too much”?
2. Describe how the view could be shown with several different shots. Would the effect of cutting change the way we
experience the film’s primary theme of looking?
Students might focus on the women we don’t see in this sequence. If it was a montage of shots instead of a
long take with mobile reframing, would there be one of Anna Thorwald’s empty window, perhaps? Would
editing foreshadow what we learn has happened to Anna’s body by cutting the image into discrete pieces?
viewing cue: Battle of Algiers
A fiction film with a documentary look, The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) describes the war between the
French and the Algerian resistance during the 1950s, recreating an important episode in that struggle. This scene
immediately follows a devastating French attack on the casbah. In it, three Algerian women prepare to serve the
revolutionary cause by carrying explosives into the French quarter.
1. How does black-and-white cinematography contribute to the authenticity of the film?
Some students may have never seen a black-and-white film before, but they’ve seen cable news footage. Ask them
if the footage seems familiar or distant and historical because of the lack of color. How does that differ from
war-zone infrared footage we might see on the news or online?
2. How does lighting contribute to the drama of transformation?
Students may be surprised when a scene of feminine primping is revealed to be in the service not of vanity but of
strategic and deadly ends. Ask them how three-point lighting techniques usually reserved for soft-focus Hollywood
glamor heightens their shock.
In this wordless scene from Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), private eye Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) follows his
college friend’s wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) on her mysterious wanderings.
1. Explain in as much detail as possible how the framing shapes the meaning of this sequence. What does it say about
Scottie’s point of view and Madeleine’s position as object of that point of view?
Poor Scottie. We know he is a private detective, but students might still invoke concepts like “stalking,” no
matter how romantic the strings on the soundtrack sound. Pause on the way Scottie’s shadow coats the beveled
glass in the door as he opens it just before the one-minute mark and ask students how that image would read if
we were sharing Madeleine’s point of view, not his.
2. Towards the conclusion of the sequence, the image contains a remarkable “double image.” Why is this shot so
disconcerting and complicated?
Students may be upset with Hitchcock for implicating them in the stalking-style gaze, even though they share
Scottie’s desire to see Madeleine. Get them to talk about how startling it is to have Madeleine centered in the shot
and seemingly walking right to the camera/us. Will Scottie/we be discovered? Encourage them to
examine how the shot is both a glimpse into Madeleine’s subjectivity and a way to compromise Scottie’s point of
view as something they’d want to be aligned with.
We learn in the first few minutes of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) that a child murderer is terrorizing Berlin. As the opening
sequence unfolds, we return to the flat where Elsie Beckman's mother is expecting her daughter’s return.
1. M was made early in the development of the sound film. How does cinematography play off sound and silence in this
scene to enhance the mood?
Ask students to characterize the tone of the mother calling “Elsie!” against the ominous silence of the
subsequent shots. Students should have no problem identifying the horror in the domestic space that is
marked by Elsie’s absence. They will likely talk about the stairs with no one to break up with their fearful
symmetry, the laundry hanging in the eaves with no bodies inside them, the empty chair and place setting, the ball,
and the balloon. Encourage them also to engage with the mechanized nature of the cuckoo clock at the beginning of
the clip.
2. What point of view does the camera assume, especially in shots without people in them?
The omniscient point of view is part of what will unnerve students about this clip. Encourage them to express
exactly why that is.
The unsettling moods of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are established through expressive cinematography. Shot
primarily on large format, highly color sensitive 65mm film, The Master (2012) tells the story of unstable World War II
veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who drifts from place to place before falling in with the Cause, led by the
charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This sequence starts with Quell being chased off a farm after
poisoning another migrant worker with his moonshine and ends with his stumbling across Dodd’s yacht. The surreal
passage is conveyed without words by cinematographer Mihai laimare, Jr.
1. A radical change in setting occurs between two scenes shot primarily in darkness. How is the greater image area
allowed by 65mm utilized to convey the impact of the transition between settings though different values of light?
Students will likely focus on the unremitting geometry of the furrows relative to Freddie’s constantly re-
centered figure and jagged exhalations. The lens flares after the cross-fade have their own rhizomatic
symmetry that resolves into deep focus before blurring again as Freddie falls out of the frame into the
offscreen space. Ask students about how the visuals in both parts play against the human voice and then the
music coming from, we presume, the boat.
2. The filmmakers did not use a digital intermediate in the postproduction process to adjust color values and other
aspects of the image, taking care to capture depth and clarity in shooting and then faithfully render the
photochemical process onscreen. Describe the expressionist use of color in this scene. How does the quality of the image
convey Quell’s subjective experience?
It should be pretty easy for students to talk about the color shifts from darkness to blue barren field. How
does the electric light piercing the night’s darkness in the second part seem to suggest the boat as a welcoming
VIEWING CUE: Chinatown
Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974) is a tribute to the way the filmic language of 1940s film noir conveyed urban
menace and corruption. A twisted chain of events is set off when Mrs. Mulwray (Diane Ladd) enters the office of
detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicolson).
1. Do a shot-by-shot breakdown of this scene by counting the number of shots and noting the subject, camera
distance and camera movement in each. How is the spatial relationship between shots established by editing?
There are a lot of rhyming shots in terms of lighting, framing, blocking, and depth of field here, which should yield
lively conversation about the equivalencies they seem to suggest. How do the shadows from the venetian blinds tie
this clip to its cinematic ancestors?
2. What is the motivation behind each cut? If you notice a change in the pattern of cutting, what do you think it
Many of the cuts seem to adhere to classical Hollywood shot/reverse shot techniques, while subtly
undermining them. Ask students why Polanski might do such a thing and what it means to have Jake and the first
Mrs. Mulwray occupy the same location in their respective frames. Maybe also talk about the moment when
Jake’s associate and frame-shared says, “Chief engineer?” Is it comic relief?
VIEWING CUE: The General
The dynamism of Buster Keaton’s silent-film comedy arises from the coordination of physical movement with the spatial
and temporal manipulation of editing. The plot of The General (Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman,1926) is set in motion
when Union soldiers steal his steam engine, the General.

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