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There is a direct correlation with, say, Henry Hill's cocaine abuse and the increasingly rapid cuts between shots. Faster-paced narrative parallels quicker-moving shots. When viewers finally see the film in the theater, the finished product reads like a cohesive narrative when in fact the filmmakers strung together disparate shots and cuts and combined them later after thousands of hours of painstaking labor. Analyzing a movie must therefore include respect for the editorial prowess of the post-production crew.
Editors must be intimately familiar with the screenplay they work with, especially in films that do not have a linear narrative. For instance, Christopher Nolan's 2000 film Memento describes one man's struggle with memory degradation. Relying on a non-linear plot, the filmmaker depended on the post-production crew to adequately convey the disjointedness of amnesia. Other elements like dramatic irony, in which the audience is privy to information that protagonists do not have access to, are crucial in filmmaking. Such literary elements require not just a well-constructed screenplay but also an editing crew that understands the director's vision.
One of the most important aspects of film analysis is political and social context. While many films do not attempt to convey any deeper meaning and only seek to entertain, others offer the viewer a depth of experience. In the same way a great novel reverberates in the public consciousness, so too does a powerful film leave an indelible memory.
Rentschler & Kaes (nd) point out the importance of social and historical background: the "economic and political factors that conditioned" the making of a movie. While this may seem like over-analyzing a film, for some movies such historical context may be crucial. For instance, documentarians like Michael Moore rely on kairos, releasing films at opportune moments to create political awareness and galvanize activism. The rhetorical tools used by Moore and other politically-minded documentarians can be analyzed in their own right. For instance, Moore presents one-sided arguments and yet his films also aim for an emotional more than a cerebral impact. Moore's movies can also be considered as quintessentially American because of the way the arguments are packaged -- with maximum sensationalism. This can be viewed as a "national pattern of expression," (Rentschler & Kaes nd). Similarly, French cinema has its own unique feel that reflects cultural patterns of expression.
Dramas like Traffic explore social issues within a fictitious framework. Likewise, movies like Wag the Dog, the Insider, and Erin Brockovich all address social and political problems and therefore send a message to viewers. The writer and director use film as a media for social change, raising awareness about important issues. How effectively a filmmaking crew achieves consciousness-raising objectives depends on a slew of factors including screenplay, cinematography, editing, sound, and of course, acting and casting.
The casting crew and the actors selected for a film are the most obvious vehicles for film analysis. Acting can make or break a movie. Casting requires a deep understanding of the screenplay as well as the director's intentions. Lesser-known actors are valuable for fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter because the nature of fantasy requires a surrender of disbelief. Well-known actors who attach themselves to films are effective marketing tools and also lend an air of credibility to a movie that might not otherwise receive publicity. The casting can change the entire tone of a movie. For instance, many viewers wondered why Keanu Reeves was chosen as the star in Little Buddha. Reeves lacked believability as Buddha. On the contrary, Adam Sandler is typically cast in silly comedies but his role in Punch Drunk Love revealed a surprising depth that a skillful casting director would have seen.
When analyzing movies it is important to place them in the greater context of the actor's or director's portfolio. An actor may demonstrate maturation over the course of a career; alternatively, some actors allow commercialism to pull their careers in degrading directions. Directors also make important decisions in the films they choose to make, as the dictates of studio profits sometimes overpower the ability to create meaningful movies.
Film analysis takes into account the various manifestations of cinematography, sound, writing, and acting. The arrangement of visual elements on the silver screen is the most immediate encounter a viewer has with the movie. Acting also imparts the obvious dimensions of drama and marketability. However, more subtle and less obvious elements of filmmaking are equally as important to analyze because they ensure that the message is embodied in the media. Film editors piece together shots and creates thematic continuity, even in films that have a nonlinear plot line. Sound and music go a long way towards creating mood and ambiance. Finally, the social and political context of a film contribute to its value and impact on audiences.
Bellour, R. (2000). The Analysis of Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Bertolucci, B. (1993). Little Buddha. Feature film.
Brown, B. (2002). Cinematography: Theory and Practice. USA: Elsevier Science.
Cameron, J. (2009). Avatar. Feature film.
Coen, J. Coen, E. (2000). O Brother, Where Art Thou? Feature film.
Coppola, F.F. (1979). Apocalypse Now. Feature film.
Coppola, F.F. (1972). The Godfather. Feature film.
Inarritu, a.G. (2006). Babel. Feature film.
Jackson, P. (2001). The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Feature film.
Nichols, M. (1966). Who's Afraid…[continue]
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