Ask students to conduct an online search for Technicolor industrial films. Have them locate an
illustration of the human eye in cross-section. Ask if any photographers in the class could explain f-stops. Screen
excerpts from the cinematography documentary Visions of Light (1992).
It may help to place 3-D in the context of gimmick cinema (like William Castle’s The Tingler )
and to discuss these innovations as the film industry’s response to the threat posed by television.
Consider showing makingof footage or stills from Star Wars (1977) in class. Show how the
Steadicam moves smoothly over the surface of the model-scaled Death Star’s surface to capture Luke’s point of
view from his X-wing fighter. Or show scenes from Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess (2013), shot using Sony
AVC-3260 vacuum tube video cameras that were cutting edge during the early 1980s, when this period film takes
1990s to the Present:
It can be difficult to talk about our current digital moment critically.
It surrounds us! To
illustrate in class the advantages and disadvantages of the shift to digital images, you may want to consider this
observation Adam Cook made about Transformers: Age of Extinction for the movie site Daily Notebook: “One of
the first scenes takes place in an abandoned moviehouse. After coming upon a dusty poster of Howard Hawks' El
Dorado, a character remarks that he ‘loves that one’. This nostalgic scene was endearingly clumsy and cheesy and I
found myself moved by it. It opens up a mini-thread of the film elaborated on in a scene that takes place in
Monument Valley, where the good robot Autobots hop around on the sandstone buttes we inevitably associate wit h
John Ford's mise en scène. Wahlberg and the transformers project footage onto the side of one of the landforms, a
private screening. This almost criminal butchering of a sacred cinema landmark doubles for me as offensive and
beautiful, a strange thing to articulate, but something that characterizes all of Bay's work. He links the dated
technology of celluloid and that abandoned cinema to the traditional values of the American middle class, both of
which he sees as threatened by rapid advancement of tech and its irresponsible harnessing by the powers that be.
The film seeks to reconcile these values with technology, a harmony of man and machine that has defined the
extinction) Ask students whether they agree with the assertion that celluloid somehow represents traditional
American values now superceded/threatened by technology. Another useful resource is Hito Steyerl’s essay in e-flux
journal, “In Defense of the Poor Image.” She says, “The poor image has been uploaded, downloaded, shared,
reformatted, and reedited. It transforms quality into accessibility, exhibition value into cult value, films into clips,
contemplation into distraction. The image is liberated from the vaults of cinemas and archives and thrust into digital
uncertainty at the expense of its own substance. The poor image tends toward abstraction: it is a visual idea in its
very becoming.” (http://indexofpotential.net/uploads/46385/Steyerl,%20Hito%20-
%20The%20Wretched%20of%20the%20Screen.pdf) Invite students to share their own favorite “poor images.”
From a Formal Perspective
To help students distinguish aspect ratios, screen the same sequence from a movie in both the
letterboxed and full-screen versions. Discuss what gets lost in the latter version of the film. Or try to track down
versions of Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977) to see the effects of panning-and-scanning an image composed
and shot to take advantage of a widescreen aspect ratio.
One way to explain masks is to make analogies to present-day masking techniques that draw viewers’
attention to something in the frame using binoculars, or maybe a car’s rearview mirror.
Another approach to explaining how masks work is to discuss how Renaissance perspective—diagonal lines
converging at a vanishing point—can also direct our attention within a frame. (The Lord of the Rings trilogy relies on
related techniques to make the hobbits appear smaller than other actors and objects on the screen.) Ask a
colleague in art history (or a student who is well versed in the subject) to speak to the class on the topic or provide
examples of specific works of art that demonstrate the technique.
Consider getting students on their feet and having them act out the different camera distances
shots—long, medium, and close-up.
Again, asking students to get up and demonstrate where cameras would be positioned for low-
angle, high-angle, and crane shots of the classroom can add a kinetic memory to their comprehension of new
Depth of Field:
It might help to relate deep and shallow focus to how the world looks to people without their
glasses on. For example, a rack focus could be someone with bifocals switching from the bottom to the top of the
lens. Consider bringing in a couple of pairs of drugstore reading glasses or magnifying glasses and passing them
around the room.