ABOUT THE COURSE: This class will introduce you to the basic methods and concepts of film and cinema studies. By the end of the semester, successful students will: 1) be fluent in the basic vocabulary of film form, 2) recognize variations of mode and style within the dominant modes of cinematic production (narrative, documentary, and experimental), and 3) comprehend the relationship between formal analysis and questions of interpretation. Lectures and viewings will provide a detailed introduction to the basic terms of film scholarship, and to some critical issues associated with particular modes of film production and criticism. Clips and films will supplement your introduction of these terms and ideas, while also allowing us to discuss examples of major formal and theoretical gestures vital to a greater understanding of cinema as an art form.
Who: Professor Jay McRoy
Where: CART/RITA 228
REQUIRED TEXTS: There is no specific textbook for this class. Instead, we will watch a series of video essays that provide the same information as a conventional film studies textbook, but do so at no cost and with moving images deliberately selected to illustrate the ideas being discussed. These videos are archived on a website I have designed for this class. This website is available through the “teaching” link on my personal web page (www.thejaymcroy.com) or directly at https://jaymcroy.wixsite.com/introtocinema/syllabus
In addition, we will be watching the feature film, Fish Tank (2009). This film is available for rent at amazon.com.
2 Critical Responses (approx. 800 words - 50% each)
These “Critical Responses” will require you to apply the terminology we will be studying this semester to the analysis of a cinematic text. These terms are at the end of this document, and as a .pdf on the course’s Canvas site.
Grading Scale for Critical Responses:
Critical Responses will be graded according to the following criteria:
A or A- (Excellent): These papers consist of a thoughtful and carefully articulated thesis statement supported by well-organized paragraphs that make use of solid examples or textual citations. “A” papers demonstrate advanced critical thinking skills, highlighted by the presence of keen, thorough, and informed insights. In addition, ideas must be developed logically. The writing should be crisp, with active sentences, and contain no grammatical errors.
B (Quite Good): These papers contain a solid thesis statement supported with well-organized paragraphs that elaborate with detail upon your major points. These papers demonstrate strong critical thinking skills and have only a few grammar and syntax problems. In other words, these papers are solid works by engaged thinkers and writers.
C (Solid Effort): These papers meet the requirements for the assignment. They contain a discernable main point and provide supporting paragraphs. Grammar and syntax problems exist to the extent that they risk alienating your readers at times or obscure what you intended to say.
D (Underwhelming): These papers meet some of the requirements for the assignment, but are disorganized and demonstrate minimal effort regarding their construction (including the presentation of the main ideas).
F (Failing): These papers do not meet the requirements for the assignment or fail to convey ideas in a clear and logical manner.
*N.B.: Plus and Minus Grades may also be given (e.g. B+, B-, etc.)
Module One (10/24): INTRODUCTION & MISE-EN-SCENE
Module Two (10/26): MISE-EN-SCENE Watch the following video essays:
Module Three (10/31): CINEMATOGRAPHY
Watch the following video essays:
Module Four (11/2): EDITING
Watch the following video essays:
Module Five (11/7): EDITING (Cont.) Watch the following video essays:
Module Six (11/9): CLOSE VIEWING - Watch Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
Module Seven (11/14): MIDTERM ESSAY
Critical Response to Fish Tank Module Eight (11/16): SOUND
Watch the following video essays:
Module Nine (11/21): FILM FORM
Watch the following video essays:
Module Ten (11/28): FILM GENRE Watch the following video essay:
Module Eleven (11/30): FILM ANALYSIS
Watch the “Recital Scene” from Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)
Module Twelve (12/7): FINAL ESSAY DUE
TERMS FOR MIDTERM ESSAY: Mise-en-scene - French term originating in the theatre, it means, literally, "placement in the scene." For film, it has a broader meaning, and it refers to almost everything that goes into the composition of a shot, including the composition itself; framing, movement of the camera or characters/objects, lighting, set design, etc. Producer - The person who is responsible for all of the business aspects of making and releasing a film. Director - The person responsible for overseeing all aspects of the making of a film. Cinematographer - Or director of photography (sometimes shortened to DP or DOP) is the chief over the camera crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece and is responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image.
Fast Motion - (accelerated motion) Movements on the screen appearing more rapid than they would in actual life. For example, a man riding a bicycle will display legs pumping furiously while he flashes through city streets at the speed of a racing car. A filmmaker achieves fast motion by running film through their camera at a speed slower than the standard 24 frames per second; subsequent projection of 24 frames per second speeds up the action. Slow Motion - Movements on the screen appearing slower than they would in actual life. For example, a diver will seem to float to the water gently rather than fall at the speed dictated by gravity. A filmmaker achieves slow motion by running film through their camera at a speed faster than the standard 24 frames per second; subsequent projection at 24 frames per second slows down the action. Time Lapse - A method of filming where frames are shot at a very slow rate, allowing action to take place between frames and giving the appearance of the action taking place much faster in the finished product; often done for nature filming (the blooming of a flower, the movement of clouds, etc.), it allows the viewer to witness the event compressed from real time into a few seconds (e.g. one frame shot every 30 seconds over 24 hours of real time would equal two minutes of film time). Persistence of Vision - The optical illusion that what you are seeing when watching a film is actual motion when, in reality, it is a series of still shots flickering past at 24 frames per second. Blocking - The movement of characters, objects, and cameras through a set (or within the frame). Implied Proximity - The implied distance between the subject and the camera. Static Shot - In this kind of shot, the camera is absolutely still. Wide Shot - A video or film recording made with the camera positioned to observe the most action in the performance. Tight Shot - A shot in which the camera appears to be very close to the subject, as in an extreme close up. Hand Held - When the camera is physically held by the operator's ... er ... um ... hands. Steadicam - A mechanism for steadying a hand-held camera, consisting of a shock- absorbing arm to which the camera is attached and a harness worn by the camera operator. Jib/Crane Shot - A shot using a crane. This kind of shot allows for the camera to be raised and lowered, as well as moved throughout the environment like a dolly.
Zoom - a single shot taken with a lens that has a variable focal length, thereby permitting the cinematographer to change the distance between the camera and the object being filmed, and rapidly move from a wide-angle shot to a telephoto shot in one continuous movement; this camera technique makes an object in the frame appear larger; movement towards a subject to magnify it is known as zoom in or forward zoom, or reversed to reduce its size is known as zoom out/back or backward zoom Dolly/Tracking Shot - A moving shot taken from a dolly. A Dolly-In moves the camera toward the subject, while a Dolly-Out moves the camera away from the subject. A dolly shot creates a sense of movement through space by capturing changes in perspective. Dolly Zoom - The effect is achieved by zooming a zoom lens to adjust the angle of view (often referred to as field of view, or FOV) while the camera dollies (moves) toward or away from the subject in such a way as to keep the subject the same size in the frame throughout. In its classic form, the camera angle is pulled away from a subject while the lens zooms in, or vice versa. Costume - Attire worn by the performer in a shot. High Key Lighting - This kind of lighting is bright. It is often used for Hollywood comedies or musicals. Low Key Lighting - This kind of lighting creates pronounced shadows and dramatic contrasts; it is frequently used in horror films and in film noir. Hard Lighting - Hard light is found where the lighting is direct, undiffused, and is not bouncing or scattered by local objects or conditions. Soft Lighting - Refers to light that tends to "wrap" around objects, casting diffuse shadows with soft edges. Soft light is when a light source is large relative to the subject, hard light is when the light source is small relative to the subject. Chiaroscuro - Literally, the combination of the two Italian words for "clear/bright" and "dark"; refers to a notable, contrasting use of light and shade in scenes; often achieved by using a spotlight; this lighting technique had its roots in German Expressionistic cinematography; aka high-contrast lighting or Rembrandt lighting; flat lighting or TV lighting (bright and flat lighting with no shadows) is its opposite Ambient Lighting - Lighting that emerges from the natural, on-location environment. Motivated Lighting - A lighting style in which the light sources imitate existing sources, such as lamps or windows. (Lighting) Unmotivated Lighting - A lighting style in which the light sources emerge from non- existent sources (within the world of the film).
Prop - An object used by a performer in a shot. Set - This term refers to the actual construction/environment in which the actors are film. Set Dressing - Set dressing is everything on stage that isn't handled by the actors, but that serves to make the space look more full. Setting - The location in which a scene transpires. Three Point Lighting - This kind of lighting set-up consists of a key light, a fill light, and backlighting. Key Light - The brightest and most important light. Fill Light - Any source of illumination that lightens (fills in) areas of shadow created by other lights. Most often, fill light is used to lighten the shadows created by the main (key) light. Back Light - Illumination from behind. Back Lighting - When the primary light emerges from behind the characters or objects in the frame. Top Lighting - When the primary light source comes from above. Compositional Stress - When a character in a shot is on one side of the screen and looking toward the opposite side of the screen (across "negative space"). The character's eye-line evokes anticipation on the part of the viewer. Pan - A shot in which a stationary camera turns horizontally, revealing new areas. Tilt Shot - A shot taken by angling a stationary camera up (tilt-up) or down (tilt-down). Close Up - A certain feature, such as someone's head, takes up the whole frame. Two Shot - A shot with two people in it. Extreme Close Up - This kind of shot is so tight on the subject that only a detail of the subject, such as someone's eye (or eyes) is seen. Establishing Shot - Generally an extreme long shot from a high or an extreme high angle, this kind of shot allows viewers to get a sense of the overall environment in which a scene or series of shots is to transpire. In other words, it provides a spatial relationship for a given scene. High Angle - A shot taken from above a subject, creating a sense of "looking down" upon whatever is photographed/filmed.
Neutral Angle - This is the most common view, being the real-world angle that we are all used to. It shows subjects as we would expect to see them in real life. Low Angle - A shot taken from below a subject, creating a sense of "looking up to" whatever is filmed/photographed. POV Shot - Shots simulating what a character actually sees; audience, character, and camera all "see" the same thing. Much subjective camera involves distortion, indicating abnormal mental states. Shots suggesting how a viewer should respond are also called "subjective" (for example, a high-angle shot used to make a boy look small and helpless). Dutch/Canted Angle - A shot where the camera is tilted off to one side so that the shot is composed with vertical lines at an angle to the side of the frame. Depth of Field - The area within which objects are in focus; a large depth of field allows a great range of objects to be in focus simultaneously, while a shallow depth of field offers a very limited area in focus. Depth of field normally depends on how far "open" a lens is (a lens works much like an eye, with the pupil opening or contracting to control light). An "open" lens (for example, f 1.4) creates a shallow depth of field while a "stopped down" (contracted) lens (for example f 16) creates a large depth of field. Aspect Ratio - This term refers to the proportions of the frame (examples include 1.33:1, 4:3, 16:9, 1.85:1, 2.35:1). Deep Focus - Keeping images close by and far away in sharp focus simultaneously. Shallow Focus - In this kind of shot, the figure or figures in the foreground are in sharp focus, while the objects in the middle and back ground are not in focus. Frame - A single image on the strip of film; the size and shape of the image on the screen when projected; the compositional unit of film design. Wide Angle Lens - In photography and cinematography, a wide-angle lens refers to a lens whose focal length is substantially smaller than the focal length of a normal lens for a given film plane. Shot - A series of frames, that runs for an uninterrupted period of time. Rule of Thirds - One of the main "rules" of art and photographic composition, this "rule" stems from the theory that the human eye naturally gravitates to intersection points that occur when an image is split into thirds vertically and/or horizontally. Full Shot - A shot of a subject that includes the entire body and a small portion of the environment. Elliptical Editing - With this style of editing, events are seemingly omitted or elided. These events may be important or unimportant. Editing - The process of splicing individual shots together into a complete film. Editing (as opposed to Montage) puts shots together to create a smoothly flowing narrative in an order making obvious sense in terms of time and place. Shot/Reverse Shot - an editing technique where one character is shown looking at another character (often off-screen), and then the other character is shown looking back at the first character. Since the characters are shown facing in opposite directions, the viewer assumes that they are looking at each other. Over-The-Shoulder Shot - A shot in which the implied camera position is directly behind the performer, "looking" over the performer's shoulder. Jump Cut - An elliptical cut that appears to be an interruption of a single shot. It occurs within a scene rather than between scenes, to condense a shot. Wipe - A transition in which one image seemingly pushes another image off of the screen. Dissolve - A method of making a transition from one shot to another by briefly superimposing one image upon another and then allowing the first image to disappear. A dissolve is a stronger form of transition than a cut and indicates a distinct separation in action. Dolly - A platform on wheels serving as a camera mount capable-of movement in any direction. Sequence Shot/Long Take - An uninterrupted shot that lasts much longer than the conventional editing pace either of the film itself or films in general, usually lasting several minutes. Fade - A transitional device in which either an image gradually dims until the viewer sees only a black screen (Fade-Out) or an image slowly emerges from a black screen to a clear and bright picture (Fade-In). A fade provides a strong break in continuity, usually setting off sequences. Focus Pulling - This technique manipulates the audience's attention within a shot through focus shifts among foreground, middle ground, and/or background planes. Editor - The person responsible for assembling the various visual and audial components of a film into a coherent and effective whole. Frame - A single image on the strip of film; the size and shape of the image on the screen when projected; the compositional unit of film design.
Tinting - The process of adding color to black-and-white film, usually by means of soaking the film in dye and staining the film emulsion. The effect is that all of the light shining through is filtered, so that what would be white light becomes light of some color. Color Grading - The process of altering and enhancing the color of a motion picture, video image, or still image either electronically, photo-chemically or digitally. The photo- chemical process is also referred to as colortiming and is typically performed at a photographic laboratory. Cut - An individual strip of film consisting of a single shot; the separation of two pieces of action as a "transition" (used when one says "cut from the shot of the boy to the shot of the girl"); a verb meaning to join shots together in the editing process; or an order to end a take ("cut!"). Rack Focus - The act of changing focus on the camera lens during the shot. Saturation - The intensity of a color, expressed as the degree to which it differs from white. Color Palette - The range of colors in a shot or film. Graphic Match - This is achieved when two successive shots reveal a strong similarity in compositional elements like color and shape. Deep Space - When more than one plane of the image is in focus. Crossing the Axis - When a performer violates the 180 Degree Rule by intentionally crossing the Axis of Action. 180 Degree Rule - A basic guideline regarding the on-screen spatial relationship between a character and another character or object within a scene. An imaginary line called the axis of action connects the characters, and by keeping the camera on one side of the axis for every shot in the scene, the first character will always be frame right of the second character, who is then always frame left of the first. Match on Action - An editing technique for continuity editing in which images before and after cuts are linked by a kinetic gesture within the frame; it portrays a continuous sense of the same action rather than matching two separate things. Match Cut - A cut intended to blend two shots together unobtrusively (opposed to a Jump Cut). Continuity Editing - Gives the viewer the impression that the action unfolds with spatiotemporal consistency.
ADDITIONAL TERMS FOR FINAL EXAM: Diegetic Sound - Sounds emerging from within the world of the film. Direct Address - When a character or characters in a motion picture gaze directly into the camera and, in essence, speak directly to the viewer. Distribution - The process of marketing a film and supplying copies to exhibition venues. Dubbing - The process of matching voice with lip movements of an actor on the screen; dubbing also refers to any aspect of adding or combining sounds to create a film's final soundtrack. Exhibition - The process of screening a film. Explicit Meaning - The apparent surface meaning or point of the plot. Fidelity - Faithfulness to a source. Flashback - A segment of film that breaks normal chronological order by shifting directly to time past. Flashback may be subjective (showing the thoughts and memory of a character) or objective (returning to earlier events to show their relationship to the present). Flash Forward - A segment of film that breaks normal chronological order by shifting directly to a future time. Flash forward, like flashback, may be subjective (showing precognition or fears of what might happen) or objective (suggesting what will eventually happen and thus setting up relationships for an audience to perceive). Form - The overall system of relationships among parts of a film. Foley Artist - This is the job title for the person who creates sound effects for a film. These effects are created and recorded during sessions with a sound engineer. Genre - A loose category of artistic composition. Genre Conventions - The specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their sub-genres. Ideology - A relatively coherent system of values, beliefs, or ideas shared by some social group and often taken for granted as natural or inherently true. Implicit Meaning - Moving beyond the immediately obvious meaning of a narrative,
event, or character, this kind of meaning is uncovered through interpretation. Loudness – Volume Motif - An element in a film that is repeated in a significant way. Motivation - The justification given in the film for the presence of an object, image, or action. This may be an appeal to the viewer's knowledge of the real world, to genre conventions, to narrative causality, or to a stylistic pattern within the film. Musical Theme - Part of the film's overall score, these aural arrangements within a film most frequently accompany certain characters or locations. Narrative - The story. Narrative Digression - This term refers to a passage or section of a film's narrative that departs from the central theme or plot. Narrative Form - A type of filmic organization in which the parts relate to one another through a series of causally related events taking place in time and space. Narration - The act or process of telling a story or describing what happens. Non-diegetic Sound - Sound whose source is neither visible on screen nor has been implied to be present based upon the narrative's action. Examples include third person voice-over narration, score music, and overtly artificial sound effects added for dramatic or comic effect. Non-diegetic sound is sourced outside of the story space. Non-synchronous Sound - Sound which is variably indigenous to the action but not precisely synchronized with the action. Also known as asynchronous sound. Overlapping Dialogue - When two or more conversations are presented simultaneously, with the characters speaking over one another and, thus, competing for the spectator's attention. Pitch - A sound's perceived "highness" or "lowness." Plot - In narrative cinema, this term refers to the film's actual presentation of the story. Production - The process of actually shooting a film. Score - The musical component of a movie's soundtrack, usually composed specifically for the film by a composer. Soundtrack - Every sound that we hear in a film.
Sound Bridge - When the scene begins with the carry-over sound from the previous scene. Sound Effect - This term refers to sound recorded and presented to make a specific storytelling or creative point without the use of dialogue or music; they provide an overall sense of the environment depicted within the frame. Sound Mixing/Sound Mixer - The process, during a film's post-production stage, in which the collection of recorded sounds are combined into one or more channels to form a portion of the film's sound track. Story - In narrative cinema, all of the events that we see and hear, plus all of those that we infer or assume to have occurred, arranged in chronological order and according to a logic based upon causality. Storyboard - A series of sketches (resembling a cartoon strip) showing potential ways various shots might be filmed. Style - The repeated use of film techniques characteristic of a single director, group of directors, film, or group of films. Synchronous Sound - Sound coordinated with and derived from a film's visuals; when the sound in a film exactly matches the film's action, as when dialogue corresponds to lip movements. Systemic Meaning - This kind of meaning locates the film within a larger cultural, political, or aesthetic trend within a culture. Timbre - A sound's harmonic resonance. Theme - A broad concept addressed implicitly within a film's narrative. Voice-Over - Any spoken language not seeming to come from images on the screen. Dialogue - Conversations between characters in a film.