Great Movie- 10 Pages

Table of Contents

Great Movie

do 10 pages, follow instructions 

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Option A

Great Movie

Provide an auteurist analysis of one film from a filmmaker of your choice. You should argue how this particular film fits (or deviates from) this filmmaker’s typical style. How do the elements of film we’ve studied combine to produce a certain visual and aural style in this film? Are these stylistic effects typical in this filmmaker’s work?

Note that this will not be a comparative essay where you analyze multiple films—instead, you’re focusing deeply on just one film. However, you will need to provide some context for what this filmmaker’s typical style actually is. To do so, you should consult at least two reputable sources to lay the foundation for your argument.

These sources may come from academic film studies journals or reputable journals of film criticism (Cinema JournalFilm Quarterly, The Velvet Light Trap, etc.) or scholarly books from the library. You will need to identify a filmmaker who you can find some existing research on, so keep that in mind as you select the film and filmmaker you want to analyze. I’m happy to discuss options with you, help you brainstorm, and guide you as you research your filmmaker.

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Option B

Great Movie

Choose one of the films from our syllabus and identify its genre. There are a wide range of different types of film genres: detective, action/adventure, mystery, science fiction, horror, gangster, romance, comedy, musical, comedy, animation, detective, or spy thriller. Often, a movie may contain elements reflecting different genres. In this paper, you should argue how this particular film fits (or deviates from) its genres.

How do the elements of film we’ve studied combine to produce a certain visual and aural style in this film? Are these stylistic effects typically used in this genre? How may this film be subverting expected generic traits to produce something new? Bring in outside research as needed to help support or contextualize your claims.

Helpful Tips:

Watch the movie. Then watch it again. Take notes during the first viewing and, if you are analyzing a movie that is available on DVD, be ready with your remote control to pause and rewind. Writing an effective film analysis is best accomplished if you don’t have to rely on your memory of events, dialogue or cinematic techniques.

Critically engage with the movie so that you can effectively produce a strong essay. Focus on a single thematic concept related to the film. Ideas for essays taking this route could include an analysis of how the film is photographed, how the movie relates a historical event in a dramatic way without compromising the facts or how a single sequence within the film relates to larger cinematic concepts, like overlapping dialogue or the utilization of dramatic irony.

Introduce the film and its major participants, such as the actors and director. Include the name of another technician on the film if your analysis will be focusing on that aspect. For instance, cite the name of the cinematographer if you are going to be writing about the importance of shadows to film noir, or include the name of the composer of the movie’s score if you are writing about the importance of background music to the emotional tone of the film.

Provide a brief overview of the story, but avoid the temptation to pad your word count by writing what amounts to a synopsis of the story rather than analysis. Reveal plots twists or the ending of the film only if they relate directly to your analysis.

Familiarize yourself with technical jargon related to the art of filmmaking. Learn the difference between a cut and a dissolve. Write about subjective camera work if the analysis is dealing with a part of the movie shot from the point of view of one of the characters. Properly utilizing filmmaking terms will strengthen the authority of your essay.

Writing Tips:

Great Movie


For any formal essay, you should follow the formatting guidelines of the profession style in the field – in this case MLA style . That means you should have

· a heading (your name, the course, &c.),

· a “header” (your last name & the page number, which you can add using functions under the Insert tab in your word‐processing program), and

· an original, relevant title.

Use italics for the title of any feature‐length film.

Essay Rubric

Great Movie
Excellent (A)Good (B)Fair (C)Poor (D)Failing (F)
TopicHighly relevant & original.Very relevant w/ personal touches.Marginally impor‐tant or original.Somewhat insig‐ nificant; derivativeNot relevant or original.
ThesisExceptionally complex.Very complex.Some complexity, but fairly straightfwd.Not very complex.Very simplistic.
BodyLots of detail; ex‐ tensive developmentGood detail, examples, coverage.Some detail and effort on developm.Speaking mainly in generalizations.Too short; no concrete detail.
LogicAirtight reasoning.Sound reasoning; few lapses.Okay, but wavering on a few points.Pattern of faulty logic & emotional appeals.Illogical; off track.
ResearchVast effort on finding sources.Good sources; interesting variety.Some sources; lacking in variety.Little effort on sources; sloppy bibliography.Virtually no citations.
OrganizationSeamless flow of informationGood structure; major components in place.Basic structure in place, but bland presentation.Components out of place or transitions hard to follow.Seriously lacking in structure.
StyleVital, original, energetic prose.Good, sound English expression.Somewhat bland.Awkward, incon‐sistent language.No energy.
Grammar, Punctu‐ ation, mechanicsEssentially free of errors.Free of major sentence errors, but some minor ones.A smattering of sentence infractions.Significant major sentence errors.Variety of errors.
Manuscript form (or spoken delivery)Following Server documents; con‐ fidently delivered.Most guidelines, followed; good presence.Some lapses in form; good humor.Disregards fomat rules; lackluster performance.No knowledge of required formats; poor attitude.







RICHARD BARSAM (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at Hunter College, City Univer- sity of New York. He is the author of Nonfiction Film: A Critical History (rev. and exp. ed., 1992), The Vision of Rob- ert Flaherty: The Artist as Myth and Filmmaker (1988), In the Dark: A Primer for the Movies (1977), and Filmguide to Triumph of the Will (1975); editor of Nonfiction Film:

Theory and Criticism (1976); and contributing author to Paul Monaco’s The Sixties: 1960–1969 (Vol. 8 in the History of the American Cinema series, 2001) and Filming Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story: The Helen van Dongen Diary (ed. Eva Orbanz, 1998). His articles and book reviews have appeared in Cinema Journal, Quarterly Review of Film Studies, Film Comment, Studies in Visual Com- munication, and Harper’s. He has been a member of the Executive Council of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the Editorial Board of Cinema Journal, and he cofounded the journal Persistence of Vision.

DAVE MONAHAN (M.F.A., Columbia University) is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Film Studies at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His work as a writer, director, and editor includes Things Grow (2010), Ringo (2005), Monkey Junction (2004), Prime Time (1996), and Angels Watching Over Me (1993). His work has been screened internationally in over fifty film festivals and has earned numerous awards, including the New Line Cinema Award for Most Original Film (Prime Time) and the Seattle International Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Animated Short Film (Ringo).



To Students xvii Preface xix Acknowledgments xxiii

CHAPTER 1 Looking at Movies 1 Learning Objectives 2

Looking at Movies 2 What Is a Movie? 3 The Movie Director 5

Ways of Looking at Movies 6 Invisibility and Cinematic Language 6 Cultural Invisibility 10 Implicit and Explicit Meaning 11 Viewer Expectations 13 Formal Analysis 14 Alternative Approaches to Analysis 19 Cultural and Formal Analysis in The Hunger Games 22 Analyzing Looking at Movies 32 Screening Checklist: Looking at Movies 33 Questions for Review 34 Student Resources Online 34

CHAPTER 2 Principles of Film Form 35 Learning Objectives 36

Film Form 36 Form and Content 36

Form and Expectations 39 Patterns 41 Fundamentals of Film Form 45 Movies Depend on Light 45 Movies Provide an Illusion of Movement 46 Movies Manipulate Space and Time in Unique Ways 48

Realism and Antirealism 55 Verisimilitude 58


viii Contents

Cinematic Language 59

Looking at Film Form: Donnie Darko 61 Content 61 Expectations 61 Patterns 62 Manipulating Space 63 Manipulating Time 64 Realism, Antirealism, and Verisimilitude 64 Analyzing Principles of Film Form 65 Screening Checklist: Principles of Film Form 65 Questions for Review 66 Student Resources Online 66

CHAPTER 3 Types of Movies 67 Learning Objectives 68

The Idea of Narrative 68

Types of Movies 71 Narrative Movies 72 Documentary Movies 73 Experimental Movies 77

Hybrid Movies 83

Genre 85 Genre Conventions 88

Story Formulas 88 Theme 89 Character Types 89 Setting 89 Presentation 89 Stars 90

Six Major American Genres 91 Gangster 91 Film Noir 93 Science Fiction 96 Horror 99 The Western 102 The Musical 105

Evolution and Transformation of Genre 108

What about Animation? 111

Looking at the Types of Movies in The Lego Movie 115 Analyzing Types of Movies 119 Screening Checklist: Types of Movies 119 Questions for Review 120 Student Resources Online 120


CHAPTER 4 Elements of Narrative 121 Learning Objectives 122

What Is Narrative? 122 Characters 126 Narrative Structure 130

The Screenwriter 135

Elements of Narrative 136 Story and Plot 136 Order 141 Events 142 Duration 143 Suspense versus Surprise 147 Repetition 148 Setting 148 Scope 149

Looking at Narrative: John Ford’s Stagecoach 150 Story, Screenwriter, and Screenplay 150 Narration and Narrator 152 Characters 153 Narrative Structure 153 Plot 154

Order 154 Diegetic and Nondiegetic Elements 154 Events 155 Duration 155 Repetition 155

Suspense 155 Setting 157 Scope 159 Analyzing Elements of Narrative 161 Screening Checklist: Elements of Narrative 161 Questions for Review 162 Student Resources Online 162

CHAPTER 5 Mise-en-Scène 163 Learning Objectives 164

What Is Mise-en-Scène? 164

Design 173 The Production Designer 173 Elements of Design 176

Setting, Decor, and Properties 177 Lighting 179 Costume, Makeup, and Hairstyle 181

International Styles of Design 188

x Contents

Composition 196 Framing: What We See on the Screen 197

On-screen and Offscreen Space 197 Open and Closed Framing 199

Kinesis: What Moves on the Screen 202 Movement of Figures within the Frame 203

Looking at Mise-en-Scène 204 Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow 204 Analyzing Mise-en-Scène 209 Screening Checklist: Mise-en-Scène 209 Questions for Review 210 Student Resources Online 210

CHAPTER 6 Cinematography 211 Learning Objectives 212

What Is Cinematography? 212

The Director of Photography 212

Cinematographic Properties of the Shot 215 Film Stock 215

Black and White 217 Color 219

Lighting 222 Source 222 Quality 223 Direction 223 Color 227

Lenses 229

Framing of the Shot 233 Implied Proximity to the Camera 235

Shot Types 236 Depth 238 Camera Angle and Height 242

Eye Level 243 High Angle 243 Low Angle 245 Dutch Angle 246 Aerial View 247

Scale 247 Camera Movement 248

Pan Shot 249 Tilt Shot 249 Dolly Shot 249 Zoom 251 Crane Shot 251 Handheld Camera 254 Steadicam 254

Framing and Point of View 255

Speed and Length of the Shot 258


Special Effects 261 In-Camera, Mechanical, and Laboratory Effects 262 Computer-Generated Imagery 263

Looking at Cinematography: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood 265 Analyzing Cinematography 269 Screening Checklist: Cinematography 269 Questions for Review 270 Student Resources Online 270

CHAPTER 7 Acting 271 Learning Objectives 272

What Is Acting? 272 Movie Actors 273

The Evolution of Screen Acting 279 Early Screen-Acting Styles 279 D. W. Griffith and Lillian Gish 279 The Influence of Sound 281 Acting in the Classical Studio Era 282 Method Acting 286 Screen Acting Today 287 Technology and Acting 292

Casting Actors 293 Factors Involved in Casting 294

Aspects of Performance 295 Types of Roles 295 Preparing for Roles 297 Naturalistic and Nonnaturalistic Styles 299 Improvisational Acting 301 Directors and Actors 302

How Filmmaking Affects Acting 303 Framing, Composition, Lighting, and the Long Take 304 The Camera and the Close-Up 307 Acting and Editing 308

Looking at Acting 309 Looking at Acting: Michelle Williams 311 Analyzing Acting 315 Screening Checklist: Acting 315 Questions for Review 316 Student Resources Online 316

xii Contents

CHAPTER 8 Editing 317 Learning Objectives 318

What Is Editing? 318

The Film Editor 320 The Editor’s Responsibilities 323

Spatial Relationships between Shots 323 Temporal Relationships between Shots 324 Rhythm 329

Major Approaches to Editing: Continuity and Discontinuity 333 Conventions of Continuity Editing 336

Master Scene Technique 337 Screen Direction 337

Editing Techniques That Maintain Continuity 342 Shot/Reverse Shot 342 Match Cuts 342 Parallel Editing 345 Point-of-View Editing 347

Other Transitions between Shots 348 The Jump Cut 348 Fade 349 Dissolve 349 Wipe 350 Iris Shot 351 Freeze-Frame 351 Split Screen 352

Looking at Editing 353 Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s City of God 357 Analyzing Editing 361 Screening Checklist: Editing 361 Questions for Review 362 Student Resources Online 362

CHAPTER 9 Sound 363 Learning Objectives 364

What Is Sound? 364

Sound Production 366 Design 366 Recording 367 Editing 368 Mixing 368

Describing Film Sound 369 Pitch, Loudness, Quality 369 Fidelity 370


Sources of Film Sound 371 Diegetic versus Nondiegetic 371 On-screen versus Offscreen 372 Internal versus External 373

Types of Film Sound 374 Vocal Sounds 374 Environmental Sounds 376 Music 378 Silence 383 Types of Sound in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds 385

Functions of Film Sound 389 Audience Awareness 389 Audience Expectations 390 Expression of Point of View 391 Rhythm 392 Characterization 394 Continuity 394 Emphasis 395

Looking at (and Listening to) Sound in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane 397 Sources and Types 398 Functions 398 Characterization 400 Themes 401 Analyzing Sound 402 Screening Checklist: Sound 402 Questions for Review 403 Student Resources Online 403

CHAPTER 10 Film History 405 Learning Objectives 406

What Is Film History? 406

Basic Approaches to Studying Film History 407 The Aesthetic Approach 407 The Technological Approach 407 The Economic Approach 408 The Social History Approach 408

A Short Overview of Film History 409 Precinema 409

Photography 409 Series Photography 410

1891–1903: The First Movies 411 1908–1927: Origins of the Classical Hollywood Style—The Silent Period 414 1919–1931: German Expressionism 418 1918–1930: French Avant-Garde Filmmaking 420 1924–1930: The Soviet Montage Movement 421

xiv Contents

1927–1947: Classical Hollywood Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age 424 1942–1951: Italian Neorealism 428 1959–1964: French New Wave 430

1947–Present: New Cinemas in Great Britain, Europe, and Asia 433 England and the Free Cinema Movement 434 Denmark and the Dogme 95 Movement 435 Germany and Austria 436 Japan 437 China 440

The People’s Republic 440 Hong Kong 441 Taiwan 442

India 442 Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African Cinema 444

Algeria 444 Egypt 444 Iraq 444 Iran 444 Israel 445 Lebanon 445 Palestine 445

Latin American Filmmaking 445 Argentina 445 Brazil 445 Cuba 446 Mexico 446

1965–1995: The New American Cinema 447

Looking at Citizen Kane and Its Place in Film History 452 Analyzing Film History 454 Screening Checklist: Film History 454 Questions for Review 455

CHAPTER 11 How the Movies Are Made 457 Learning Objectives 458

Money, Methods, and Materials: The Whole Equation 458

Film and Digital Technologies: An Overview 460 Film Technology 460 Digital Technology 463 Film versus Digital Technology 464

How a Movie Is Made 466 Preproduction 466 Production 467 Postproduction 468

The Studio System 468 Organization before 1931 468 Organization after 1931 469 Organization during the Golden Age 471 The Decline of the Studio System 473


The Independent System 474 Labor and Unions 476 Professional Organizations and Standardization 476

Financing in the Industry 477

Marketing and Distribution 479

Production in Hollywood Today 483 Audience Demographics 485 Franchises 485 LGBT Movies 486 African American Movies 487 Foreign Influences on Hollywood Films 487 Looking at the Future of the Film Industry 487 Thinking about How the Movies Are Made 490 Screening Checklist: How the Movies Are Made 490 Questions for Review 491

Glossary 493 Permissions Acknowledgments 507 Index 511


The movies, born in 1891, have flourished for 124 years, yet there have always been those who believed that they were a passing fancy, or a poor cousin of the more tradi- tional arts like literature, painting, architecture, dance, and music. In 1996, shortly after cinema’s one hun- dredth birthday, cultural pundit Susan Sontag mused on the state of the art:

Cinema’s 100 years seem to have the shape of a life cycle: an inevitable birth, the steady accumulation of glories and the onset in the last decade of an ignominious, irre- versible decline. . . . the commercial cinema has settled for a policy of bloated, derivative film-making, a brazen combinatory or recombinatory art, in the hope of repro- ducing past successes. Cinema, once heralded as the art of the 20th century, seems now, as the century closes nu- merically, to be a decadent art.1

Yet, 60 years before that, the art historian Erwin Panofsky had a very different insight into the movies as a form of popular art:

If all the serious lyrical poets, composers, painters and sculptors were forced by law to stop their activities, a rather small fraction of the general public would become aware of the fact and a still smaller fraction would seri- ously regret it. If the same thing were to happen with the movies the social consequences would be catastrophic.2

Both, of course, were right. The commercial cinema, driven by the box office, has not fulfilled the promise of cinema’s potential, yet today, we would hardly know what to do without movies. They are a major presence in our lives, and an influential beneficiary of our techno- logical age. Since their invention more than a hundred years ago, movies have become one of the world’s largest industries and the most powerful art form of our time.

1. Susan Sontag, “The Decay of Cinema,” The New York Times, Feb. 25, 1996. 2. Erwin Panofsky, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,” in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Leo Braudy and Mar-

shall Cohen, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 280.

With each new technological development—sound, color, widescreen projection, television, 3-D, computer- generated imagery, DVDs, internet streaming, and dig- itization of the filmmaking process—the movies have changed. Indeed, looking at movies (and the audience that looks at them) has changed as well.

Traditionally, we saw movies in a theater, separated from the outside world—although it was a communal experience, sitting in the dark on seats fixed to the floor and a huge image screen. Today, we see movies wherever we happen to be; with whomever we want to be with (but usually alone); standing with a handheld device, curled up on a sofa, or sitting at a desk; and usually with the lights on. The image can be as large as a home theater or as small as a smartphone screen.

A source of entertainment that makes us see beyond the borders of our experiences, movies have always pos- sessed the power to amaze, frighten, and enlighten us. They challenge our senses, emotions, and sometimes, our intellect; pushing us to say, often passionately, that we love (or hate) them. It’s easy to get excited by movies because they arouse our most public and private feel- ings and can overwhelm us with their sights and sounds. The challenge is to combine that enthusiasm with un- derstanding, to be able to say why we feel so strongly about particular movies while others are easily forgot- ten.

That’s one reason why this book encourages you to go beyond the stories, and to understand how these stories are told. After all, movies are not reality but only illusions of reality, and as with most works of art, their form and content work as an interrelated system, one that asks us to accept it as a given rather than as the product of a process. As you read this book devoted to looking at movies—that is, not passively watching them but actively considering the relation of their form and their content—remember that there is no one way to look at film, no one critical perspective that is inherently better than another, and no one meaning that you can insist on after a single viewing. Indeed, movies are so di- verse in their nature that no single approach could ever do them justice.


xviii To Students

No other art form has had so many lives. The cinema is alive because it is constantly changing as it adapts to technological advances and audience expectations. Cin- ema evolves because everything we see on the movie screen—everything that engages our senses, emotions, and minds—results from hundreds of decisions affect- ing the interrelation of formal cinematic elements, such as narrative, composition, cinematography, editing, and sound, as well as the influence of film producers whose financial decisions determine which films are made and whose advertising decisions make audiences desire what’s new.

Audiences in turn encourage new trends with their ticket purchases and habits of consumption. This book encourages you to look at movies with an understanding and appreciation of how filmmakers make the decisions that help them tell a story and create the foundation for its meaning. After all, in the real life of the movies, it is not historians, theorists, or critics—

important and invaluable as they are—but filmmakers who continually shape and revise our understanding and appreciation of the film art.

If Susan Sontag were alive today, she would prob- ably still lament the decline of thoughtful content in movies. But in an industry driven by what the public wants, the movies are doing just fine, and their formal elements, history, business practices, and cultural im- pact remain fruitful fields for further study.

So even as the technology for making movies continues to evolve, and the marketplace in which they are created grows and contracts and expands internationally, the princi- ples of film art covered in this book remain essentially the same. The principles you learn and the analytic skills you hone as you read this book will help you look at mo- tion pictures intelligently and perceptively throughout your life, no matter from which medium you view those pictures.


Students in an introductory film course who read Look- ing at Movies carefully and take full advantage of the ma- terials surrounding the text will finish the course with a solid grounding in the major principles of film form as well as a more perceptive and analytic eye. A short de- scription of the book’s main features follows.

An Accessible and Comprehensive Overview of Film

Recognized from its first publication as an accessible in- troductory text, Looking at Movies covers key concepts in films studies as comprehensively as possible. In ad- dition to its clear and inviting presentation of the fun- damentals of film form, the text discusses film genres, film history, and the relationships between film and culture in an extensive but characteristically accessible way, thus providing students with a thorough introduc- tion to the major subject areas in film studies.

Film Examples Chosen with Undergraduates in Mind

From its very first chapter, which features sustained anal- yses and examples from The Hunger Games and Jason Reitman’s Juno (2009), Looking at Movies invites stu- dents into the serious study of cinema via films that are familiar to them and that they have a reasonable chance of having experienced outside the classroom prior to tak- ing the course. Major film texts from the entire history of cinema are also generously represented, of course, but al- ways with an eye to helping students see enjoyment and serious study as complementary experiences.

A Focus on Analytic Skills

A good introductory film book needs to help students make the transition from the natural enjoyment of mov-

ies to a critical understanding of the form, content, and meanings of movies. Looking at Movies accomplishes this task in several different ways:

Model Analyses Hundreds of illustrative examples and analytic readings of films throughout the book provide students with con- crete models for their own analytic work. The sustained analyses in Chapter 1 of Juno and The Hunger Games— films that most undergraduates will have seen and en- joyed but perhaps not viewed with a critical eye—discuss not only the formal structures and techniques of these films, but also their social and cultural meanings. These analyses offer students an accessible and jargon-free introduction to most of the major themes and goals of introductory film course, and show students that look- ing at movies analytically can start immediately, even before they learn the specialized vocabulary of film study.

Each chapter also concludes with an in-depth “Look- ing at Movies” analysis that offers a sustained look at an exemplar film through the lens of the chapter’s focus. New analyses of Donnie Darko, The Lego Movie, and Boy- hood join existing chapter summations on Citizen Kane, Stagecoach, and City of” God to provide clear models for students’ own analyses and interpretations of films.

Interactive Tutorials New interactive tutorials created by the authors pro – vide students with hands-on practice manipulating key concepts of filmmaking and formal analysis. Stu- dents can work at their own pace to see how elements such as lighting, sound, editing, composition, and color function within a film. Available in the ebook and on the Looking at Movies student website, both found at digital

Video Tutorials A series of video tutorials—written, directed, and hosted by the authors—complement and expand on the book’s analyses. Ranging from 2 to 15 minutes in length, these


xx Preface

tutorials show students via moving-image media what the book describes and illustrates in still images. Help – ful as a quick review of core concepts in the text, these tutorials also provide useful models for film analysis, thus helping students further develop their analytical skills. Available in the ebook and on the Looking at Movies student website, both found at digital.wwnorton .com/movies5.

“Screening Checklists” Each chapter ends with an “Analyzing” section that in cludes a “Screening Checklist” feature. This series of leading questions prompts students to apply what they’ve learned in the chapter to their own critical view- ing, in class or at home.

The Most Visually Dynamic Text Available

Looking at Movies was written with one goal in mind: to prepare students for a lifetime of intelligent and per- ceptive viewing of motion pictures. In recognition of the central role visuals play in the film-studies classroom, Looking at Movies includes an illustration program that is both visually appealing and pedagogically focused, as well as an accompanying moving-image media that are second to none.

Hundreds of In-Text Illustrations The text is accompanied by over 750 illustrations in color and in black and white. Nearly all the still pictures were captured from digital or analog film sources, thus en- suring that the images directly reflect the textual dis- cussions and the films from which they’re taken. Unlike publicity stills, which are attractive as photographs but less useful as teaching aids, the captured stills through- out this book provide visual information that will help students learn as they read and—because they are re- produced in the aspect ratio of the original source—will serve as accurate reference points for students’ analyses.

Five Hours of Moving-Image Media The ebook and student website that accompany Looking at Mov ies offer five hours of two different types of video content:

The twenty-seven video tutorials described above were specifically created to complement Looking

at Movies and are exclusive to this text. The tuto – rials guide students’ eyes to see what the text describes, and because they are viewable in full- screen, they are suitable for presentation in class as “lecture launchers,” as well as for students’ self-study.

A mini-anthology of thirteen complete short films, ranging from 5 to 30 minutes in length, provides a curated selection of accomplished and entertaining examples of short-form cinema, as well as useful material for short in-class activities or for students’ analysis. Most of the films are also accompanied by optional audio commentary from the filmmakers. This commentary was recorded specifically for Looking at Movies and is exclusive to this text.

Accessible Presentation; Effective Pedagogy

Among the reasons that Looking at Movies is consid- ered the most accessible introductory film text available is its clear and direct presentation of key concepts and unique pedagogical organization. The first three chap- ters of the book—Looking at Movies, Principles of Film Form, and Types of Movies—provide a comprehensive yet truly introductory overview of the major topics and themes of any film course, giving students a solid grounding in the basics before they move on to study those topics in greater depth in later chapters.

In addition, pedagogical features throughout provide a structure that clearly identifies the main ideas and pri- mary goals of each chapter for students:

A checklist at the beginning of every chapter provides a brief summary of the core concepts to be covered in the chapter.

Extensive Captions Each illustration is accompanied by a caption that elab- orates on a key concept or that guides students to look at elements of the film more analytically. These captions expand on the in-text presentation and reinforce stu- dents’ retention of key terms and ideas.

“Analyzing” Sections At the end of each chapter is a section that ties the terms, concepts, and ideas of the chapter to the primary goal of the book: honing students’ own analytical skills. This


short overview makes explicit how the knowledge stu- dents have gained in the chapter can move their own analytical work forward. A short “Screening Checklist” provides leading questions that students can ponder as they screen a film or scene.

“Questions for Review” “Questions for Review” section at the end of each chap- ter tests students’ knowledge of the concepts first men- tioned in the “Learning Objectives” at the beginning of the chapter.

Enhanced Ebook

Looking at Movies is also available as an enhanced ebook free with every new copy of the print book. This ebook works on all computers and mobile devices, and embeds all the rich media—video tutorials, interactive tutori- als, and more—into one seamless experience. Instruc- tors can focus student reading by sharing notes in the ebook, as well as embed images and other videos. Re- ports on student and class-wide access and time on task also enable instructors to monitor student read ing and engagement.

Writing About Movies

Written by Karen Gocsik (University of California, San Diego) and the authors of Looking at Movies, this book is a clear and practical overview of the process of writing papers for film-studies courses. In addition to provid- ing helpful information about the writing process, the new Writing About Movies, Fourth Edition, offers a sub- stantial introduction-in-brief to the major topics in film studies, including an overview of the major film theories and their potential application to student writing, prac- tical advice about note-taking during screenings and private viewings, information about the study of genre and film history, and an illustrated glossary of essential film terms. This inexpensive but invaluable text is avail- able separately or in a significantly discounted package with Looking at Movies.

Resources for Instructors

Clip Guide An invaluable class-prep tool, the Clip Guide suggests a wide range of clips for illustrating film concepts covered in the text. Each entry in the Clip Guide offers a quick overview of the scene, the idea, and crucially, time- stamp information on exactly where to find each clip. The Looking at Movies Clip Guide includes suggestions from not just the authors but a wide range of teachers, offering a broad perspective of insightful teaching tips that can inspire and save valuable prep time.

Instructor’s Guide The Instructor’s Guide to Looking at Movies offers a concise overview of each chapter’s main points and key concepts, as well as suggested learning exercises and recommended tutorials from the book’s extensive media ancillaries.

PowerPoints Ready-made lecture PowerPoint presentations for each chapter as well as art and image slides are available for download at Norton’s instructor resource page:

Test Bank Completely revised for this edition, each chapter of the Test Bank includes a “concept map,” and 60–65 multiple-choice and 10–15 essay questions (with sample answer guides). Questions are labeled by concept, ques- tion type, and difficulty.

Coursepacks for Learning Management Systems

Ready-to-use coursepacks for Blackboard and other learning management systems are available free of charge to instructors who adopt Looking at Movies. These coursepacks offer unique activities that reinforce key concepts, chapter overviews and learning objectives, quiz questions, links to the video tutorials, questions about those tutorials and the short films, and the com- plete Test Bank.

xxii Preface

A Note about Textual Conventions

Boldface type is used to highlight terms that are defined in the glossary at the point where they are introduced in the text. Italics are used occasionally for emphasis. References to movies in the text include the year the movie was released and the director’s name. Members of the crew who are particularly important to the main topic of the chapter are also identified. For example, in the chapter on cinematography, a reference to The Matrix might look like this: Andy and Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999; cinematographer Bill Pope). Other relevant information about the films can be found in the chapter itself.


Writing a book seems very much at times like the col- laborative effort involved in making movies. In writing this Fifth Edition of Looking at Movies, we are grateful to our excellent partners at W. W. Norton & Company. Chief among them is our editor, Pete Simon, who has guided us and offered insightful ideas for every edition of this book. Other collaborators at Norton were Sujin Hong, project editor; Andy Ensor, production manager; Carly Fraser-Doria, media editor; Cara Folkman, asso- ciate media editor; Colleen Caffrey, media designer; Kim – berly Bowers, marketing manager; and Emily Stuart and Gera Goff, editorial assistants. Thanks also to Spencer Richardson-Jones. It has been a pleasure to work with such a responsive, creative, and supportive team.

Richard Barsam thanks the friends and colleagues who have assisted and contributed suggestions over the course of five editions, including Kevin Harris Bahr, Luiz-Antonio Bocchi, Daniel Doron, Richard Koss, Emanuel Leonard, Vinny LoBrutto, Peter Maxwell, Gus- tavo Mercado, and Renato Tonelli. I am also grateful to Edgar Munhall for his continuing interest, patience, and companionship.

Dave Monahan would like to thank the faculty, staff, and students of the Film Studies Department at the Uni- versity of North Carolina, Wilmington. My colleagues Mariana Johnson, Shannon Silva, Andre Silva, Tim Palmer, Todd Berliner, Carlos Kase, Nandana Bose, Chip Hackler, Lou Buttino, Glenn Pack, Terry Linehan, Ana Olenina, and Sue Richardson contributed expertise and advice. Film studies student Kevin Bahr excelled as my research assistant. My colleagues Nate Daniel, Glenn Pack, Aaron Cavazos, and Alex Markowski deserve spe- cial thanks for their production and postproduction help with the new video modules I directed for this edi- tion. Nate was our camera operator, colorist, and post- production supervisor; Glenn was our cinematographer, gaffer, and assistant director; Aaron did an amazing job on the animation and motion graphics for the new The Hunger Games tutorial; and Alex provided sound de- sign and the sound module script. A number of talented UNCW students served on the crews that produced the

new modules. Sarah Flores was our producer; Richard Martin, Adam Getz, Kim Szany, Savvas Yiannoulou, Ryne Seals, Patrick Johnson, and Adam Fackelman were the camera and lighting team; and Rebecca Rathier, Christina Lamia, and Tara Lymon-Dobson made up the art department. Cast members include Sarah Flores, Moriah Thomason, Christina Lamia, Chris Keefe, Chey- enne Puga, Kenneth Freyer, Tomasina Hill, Mariah Jar- vis, Mikaela Fleming, John T. McDevitt, Gabby Adeoti, Daniel Adkins, and Adam O’Neill.

I would also like to thank my wife, Julie, for her pa- tience, support, and encouragement; and my daughters, Iris and Elsa, for looking at a lot of movies with me.


We would like to join the publisher in thanking all the professors and students who provided valuable guid- ance as we planned this revision. Looking at Movies is as much their book as ours, and we are grateful to both stu- dents and faculty who have cared enough about this text to offer a hand in making it better.

The thoughtful comments from the following col- leagues and fellow instructors helped shape both the book and media for this Fifth edition: Sandra Annett (Wilfred Laurier University), Richard Blake (Boston College), Laura Bouza (Moorpark College), Aaron Braun (Hofstra University), Derek Burrill (University of Cali- fornia, Riverside), Emily Carman (Chapman University), Megan Condis (University of Illinois), Angela Dancy (University of Chicago), Dawn Marie Fratini (Chap man University), Isabelle Freda (Oklahoma State University), Paul Gaustad (Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody), Michael Green (Arizona State University), David Kreu- tzer (Cape Fear Community College), Andrew Kunka (University of South Carolina, Sumter), G. S. Larke-Walsh (University of North Texas), Nee Lam (Chapman Uni- versity), Elizabeth Lathrop (Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston), Melissa Lenos (Donnelly College), Albert Lopez (University of Texas, San An tonio), Yuri Makino


xxiv Acknowledgments

( University of Arizona), Ste phanie O’Brien (Ashville- Buncombe Technical Community College), Jun Okada (SUNY Geneseo), Mitchell Parry (University of Victoria), Frances Perkins (University of Wisconsin, Fox Valley), Christina Petersen (Eckerd College), George Rodman (Brooklyn College), Rosalind Sibielski (Bowling Green State University), Robert Sickels (Whitman College), Ja- son Spangler (Riverside City College), Suzie Young (York University), and Michael Zryd (York University).

The following colleagues provided extensive reviews of the Third Edition and many ideas for improving the book in its Fourth Edition: Katrina Boyd (University of Oklahoma), James B. Bush (Texas Tech University), Rodney Donahue (Texas Tech University), Cable Hardin (South Dakota State University), Christopher Jacobs (University of North Dakota), Tammy A. Kinsey (Uni- versity of Toledo), Bradford Owen (California State Uni- versity, San Bernadino), W. D. Phillips (College of Staten Island/New York University), Michael Rowin (Hunter College, CUNY), and Nicholas Sigman (Hunter College, CUNY).

The transition from our Second Edition to the Third was an especially momentous revision, and we wish to acknowledge once more the following people, all of whom provided invaluable input during this impor- tant stage in the evolution of Looking at Movies: Donna Casella (Minnesota State University), John G. Cooper (Eastern Michigan University), Mickey Hall (Volunteer State Community College), Stefan Hall (Defiance Col- lege), Jennifer Jenkins (University of Arizona), Robert S. Jones (University of Central Florida), Mildred Lewis (Chapman University), Matthew Sewell (Minnesota State University), Michael Stinson (Santa Barbara City Col- lege), and Michael Zryd (York University).

The following scholars and teachers responded to a lengthy questionnaire from the publisher several years ago, and their responses shaped the early editions of this book: Rebecca Alvin, Edwin Arnold, Antje Ascheid, Dyrk

Ashton, Tony Avruch, Peter Bailey, Scott Baugh, Harry Benshoff, Mark Berrettini, Yifen Beus, Mike Birch, Robin Blaetz, Ellen Bland, Carroll Blue, James Bogan, Karen Budra, Don Bullens, Gerald Burgess, Jeremy But- ler, Gary Byrd, Ed Cameron, Jose Cardenas, Jerry Carl- son, Diane Carson, Robert Castaldo, Beth Clary, Darcy Cohn, Marie Connelly, Roger Cook, Robert Coscarelli, Bob Cousins, Donna Davidson, Rebecca Dean, Mar- shall Deutelbaum, Kent DeYoung, Michael DiRaimo, Carol Dole, Dan Dootson, John Ernst, James Fairchild, Adam Fischer, Craig Fischer, Tay Fizdale, Karen Ful- ton, Christopher Gittings, Barry Goldfarb, Neil Goldstein, Daryl Gonder, Patrick Gonder, Cynthia Gottshall, Curtis Green, William Green, Tracy Greene, Michael Griffin, Peter Hadorn, William Hagerty, John Harrigan, Cath- erine Hastings, Sherri Hill, Glenn Hopp, Tamra Hor- ton, Alan Hutchison, Mike Hypio, Tom Isbell, Delmar Jacobs, Mitchell Jarosz, John Lee Jellicorse, Matthew Judd, Charles Keil, Joyce Kessel, Mark Kessler, Gar- land Kimmer, Lynn Kirby, David Kranz, James Kreul, Mikael Kreuzriegler, Cory Lash, Leon Lewis, Vincent LoBrutto, Jane Long, John Long, Jay Loughrin, Daniel Machon, Travis Malone, Todd McGowan, Casey Mc- Kittrick, Maria Mendoza-Enright, Andrea Mensch, Sha- ron Mitchler, Mary Alice Molgard, John Moses, Sheila Nayar, Sarah Nilsen, Ian Olney, Hank Ottinger, Dan Pal, Gary Peterson, Klaus Phillips, Alexander Pitofsky, Lisa Plinski, Leland Poague, Walter Renaud, Patricia Roby, Carole Rodgers, Stuart Rosenberg, Ben Russell, Kevin Sandler, Bennet Schaber, Mike Schoenecke, Hertha Schulze, David Seitz, Timothy Shary, Robert Sheppard, Charles Silet, Eric Smoodin, Ken Stofferahn, Bill Swan- son, Molly Swiger, Joe Tarantowski, Susan Tavernetti, Edwin Thompson, Frank Tomasulo, Deborah Tudor, Bill Vincent, Richard Vincent, Ken White, Mark Williams, Deborah Wilson, and Elizabeth Wright.

Thank you all.



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2 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

Looking at Movies

In just over a hundred years, movies have evolved into a complex form of artistic representation and commu- nication: they are at once a hugely influential, wildly profitable global industry and a modern art—the most popular art form today. Popular may be an understate- ment. This art form has permeated our lives in ways that extend far beyond the multiplex. We watch movies on hundreds of cable and satellite channels. We buy movies online or from big-box retailers. We rent movies through the mail and from Redbox machines at the supermarket. We TiVo movies, stream movies, and download movies to watch on our televisions, our computers, our iPads, and our smart phones.

Unless you were raised by wolves—and possibly even if you were—you have likely devoted thousands of hours to absorbing the motion-picture medium. With so much experience, no one could blame you for wondering why you need a course or this book to tell you how to look at movies.

After all, you might say, “It’s just a movie.” For most of us most of the time, movies are a break from our daily

obligations—a form of escape, entertainment, and plea- sure. Motion pictures had been popular for fifty years before even most film makers, much less scholars, con- sidered movies worthy of serious study. But motion pic- tures are much more than entertainment. The movies we see shape the way we view the world around us and our place in that world. Moreover, a close analysis of any particular movie can tell us a great deal about the artist, society, or industry that created it. Surely any art form with that kind of influence and insight is worth under- standing on the deepest possible level.

Movies involve much more than meets the casual eye . . . or ear, for that matter. Cinema is a subtle—some might even say sneaky—medium. Because most movies seek to engage viewers’ emotions and transport them inside the world presented onscreen, the visual vocabu- lary of film is designed to play upon those same instincts that we use to navigate and interpret the visual and aural

Movies shape the way we see the world No other movie featuring a homosexual relationship has earned the level of international critical acclaim and commercial success of Brokeback Mountain (2005). The Academy Award–winning indepen- dent film, made for a relatively paltry $14 million, grossed $178 mil- lion at the box office and eventually became the thirteenth highest- grossing romantic drama in Hollywood history. Academy Awards for Best Director (Ang Lee) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Diana Os- sana and Larry McMurtry, from a short story by Annie Proulx) were among the many honors and accolades granted the independently produced movie. But even more important, by presenting a gay re- lationship in the context of the archetypal American West and cast- ing popular leading men (Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal) in starring roles that embodied traditional notions of masculinity, Brokeback Mountain influenced the way many Americans perceived same-sex relationships and gay rights. Since the film’s release, thirty-six states have lifted the ban on gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a nationwide right, and LGBT characters and storylines have become increasingly commonplace in popular films and television. No movie can single-handedly change the world, but the accumulative influence of cinema is undeniable.


After reading this chapter, you should be able to P appreciate the difference between passively watching

movies and actively looking at movies. P understand the defining characteristics that distinguish

movies from other forms of art. P understand how and why most of the formal

mechanisms of a movie remain invisible to casual viewers.

P understand the relationship between viewers’ expectations and filmmakers’ decisions about the form and style of their movies.

P explain how shared belief systems contribute to hidden movie meaning.

P explain the difference between implicit and explicit meaning, and understand how the different levels of movie meaning contribute to interpretive analysis.

P understand the differences between formal analysis and the types of analysis that explore the relationship between culture and the movies.

P begin looking at movies more analytically and perceptively.

3What Is a Movie?

information of our “real life.” This often imperceptible cinematic language, composed not of words but of myriad integrated techniques and concepts, connects us to the story while deliberately concealing the means by which it does so.

Yet behind this mask, all movies, even the most bla- tantly commercial ones, contain layers of complexity and meaning that can be studied, analyzed, and appre- ciated. This book is devoted to that task—to actively looking at movies rather than just passively watching them. It will teach you to recognize the many tools and principles that filmmakers employ to tell stories, convey information and meaning, and influence our emotions and ideas.

Once you learn to speak this cinematic language, you’ll be equipped to understand the movies that per- vade our world on multiple levels: as narrative, as ar- tistic expression, and as a reflection of the cultures that produce and consume them.

What Is a Movie?

Now that we’ve established what we mean by looking at movies, the next step is to attempt to answer the decep- tively simple question, What is a movie? As this book will repeatedly illustrate, when it comes to movies, nothing is as straightforward as it appears.

Let’s start, for example, with the word movies. If the course that you are taking while reading this book is “In- troduction to Film” or “Cinema Studies 101,” does that mean that your course and this book focus on two differ- ent things? What’s the difference between a movie and a film? And where does the word cinema fit in?

For whatever reason, the designation film is often applied to a motion picture that critics and scholars consider to be more serious or challenging than the mov- ies that entertain the masses at the multiplex. The still loftier designation of cinema seems reserved for groups of films that are considered works of art (e.g., “French cinema”). The truth is, the three terms are essentially in- terchangeable. Cinema, from the Greek kinesis (“move- ment”), originates from the name that filmmaking pi- oneers Auguste and Louis Lumière coined for the hall where they exhibited their invention; film derives from the celluloid strip on which the images that make up motion pictures were originally captured, cut, and pro- jected; and movies is simply short for motion pictures. Since we consider all cinema worthy of study, acknowl-

edge that films are increasingly shot on formats other than film stock, and believe motion to be the essence of the movie medium, this book favors the term used in our title. That said, we’ll mix all three terms into these pages (as evidenced in the preceding sentence) for the sake of variety, if nothing else.

To most people, a movie is a popular entertainment, a product produced and marketed by a large commer- cial studio. Regardless of the subject matter, this movie is pretty to look at—every image is well polished by an army of skilled artists and technicians. The finished product, which is about two hours long, screens initially in movie theaters; is eventually released to DVD and Blu-ray, streaming, download, or pay-per-view; and ul- timately winds up on television. This common expecta- tion is certainly understandable; most movies that reach most English-speaking audiences have followed a good part of this model for three-quarters of a century.

And almost all of these ubiquitous commercial, feature-length movies share another basic characteris- tic: narrative. When it comes to categorizing movies, the narrative designation simply means that these movies tell fictional (or at least fictionalized) stories. Of course, if you think of narrative in its broadest sense, every movie that selects and arranges subject matter in a cause- and-effect sequence of events is employing a narrative

structure. For all their creative flexibility, movies by their very nature must travel a straight line. A conventional motion picture is essentially one very long strip of im- ages. This linear quality makes movies perfectly suited to develop subject matter in a sequential progression. When a medium so compatible with narrative is in- troduced to a culture with an already well-established storytelling tradition, it’s easy to understand how pop- ular cinema came to be dominated by those movies de- voted to telling fictional stories. Because these fiction films are so central to most readers’ experience and so vital to the development of cinema as an art form and cultural force, we’ve made narrative movies the focus of this introductory textbook.

But keep in mind that commercial, feature-length nar- rative films represent only a fraction of the expressive potential of this versatile medium. Cinema and narra- tive are both very flexible concepts. Documentary films strive for objective, observed veracity, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t tell stories. These mov- ies often arrange and present factual information and images in the form of a narrative, whether it be a preda- tor’s attempts to track and kill its prey, an activist’s quest

4 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

to free a wrongfully convicted innocent, or a rookie ath- lete’s struggle to make the big leagues. While virtually every movie, regardless of category, employs narrative in some form, cultural differences often affect exactly how these stories are presented. Narrative films made in Africa, Asia, and Latin America reflect story telling traditions very different from the story structure we ex- pect from films produced in North America and Western Europe. The unscripted, minimalist films by Iranian di- rector Abbas Kiarostami, for example, often intention- ally lack dramatic resolution, inviting viewers to imag- ine their own ending.1 Sanskrit dramatic traditions have inspired “Bollywood” Indian cinema to feature staging that breaks the illusion of reality favored by Hollywood movies, such as actors that consistently face, and even directly address, the audience.2

Compared to North American and Western European films, Latin American films of the 1960s, like Land in An- guish (Glauber Rocha, 1967, Brazil) or Memories of Un- derdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968, Cuba), are less concerned with individual character psychology and motivation. Instead, they present characters as social types or props in a political allegory.3 The growing influ-

ence of these and other even less familiar approaches, combined with emerging technologies that make film- making more accessible and affordable, have made pos- sible an ever-expanding range of independent movies created by crews as small as a single filmmaker and shot on any one of a variety of film and digital formats. The Irish director John Carney shot his musical love story Once (2006) on the streets of Dublin with a cast of mostly nonactors and a small crew using consumer-grade video cameras. American Oren Peli’s homemade horror movie Paranormal Activity (2007) was produced on a min- iscule $15,000 budget and was shot entirely from the point of view of its characters’ camcorder. Once received critical acclaim and an Academy Award for best origi- nal song; Paranormal Activity eventually earned almost $200 million at the box office, making it one of the most profitable movies in the history of cinema. Even further out on the fringes of popular culture, an expanding uni- verse of alternative cinematic creativity continues to flourish. These noncommercial movies innovate styles and aesthetics, can be of any length, and exploit an ar- ray of exhibition options—from independent theaters to cable television to film festivals to Netflix streaming to YouTube.

No matter what you call it, no matter the approach, no matter the format, every movie is a motion picture: a series of still images that, when viewed in rapid suc- cession (usually 24 images per second), the human eye and brain see as fluid movement. In other words, mov- ies move. That essential quality is what separates mov- ies from all other two-dimensional pictorial art forms. Each image in every motion picture draws upon ba- sic compositional principles developed by these older cousins (photography, painting, drawing, etc.), includ- ing the arrangement of visual elements and the inter- action of light and shadow. But unlike photography or painting, films are constructed from individual shots— an unbroken span of action captured by an uninter- rupted run of a motion-picture camera—that allow vi- sual elements to rearrange themselves and the viewer’s perspective itself to shift within any composition.

And this movie movement extends beyond any single shot because movies are constructed of multiple individ- ual shots joined to one another in an extended sequence.

1. Laura Mulvey, “Kiarostami’s Uncertainty Principle,” Sight and Sound 8, no. 6 (June 1998): 24–27.

2. Philip Lutgendorf, “Is There an Indian Way of Filmmaking?” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10, no. 3 (December 2006): 227–256.

3. Many thanks to Dr. Mariana Johnson of the University of North Carolina Wilmington for some of the ideas in this analysis.

Narrative in documentary Just because a film is constructed from footage documenting actual events doesn’t mean it can’t tell a story. The Imposter (2012; director Bart Layton) tells the story of Frédéric Bourdin, a French con man who convinces an American family that he is their long-lost son. The film’s interviews, reenactments, and archival footage are structured like a procedural crime thriller: once the impersonation seemingly succeeds, the imposter finds himself in over his head as increasingly skeptical investigators chip away at his masquerade and uncover troubling details about his adopted family.

5What Is a Movie?

With each transition from one shot to another, a movie is able to move the viewer through time and space. This joining together of discrete shots, or editing, gives mov- ies the power to choose what the viewer sees and how that viewer sees it at any given moment.

To understand better how movies control what au- diences see, we can compare cinema to another, closely related medium: live theater. A stage play, which con- fines the viewer to a single wide-angle view of the ac- tion, might display a group of actors, one of whom holds a small object in her hand. The audience sees every cast member at once and continuously from the same an- gle and in the same relative size. The object in one per- former’s hand is too small to see clearly, even for those few viewers lucky enough to have front-row seats. The playwright, director, and actors have very few practical options to convey the object’s physical properties, much less its narrative significance or its emotional meaning to the character. In contrast, a movie version of the same story can establish the dramatic situation and spatial relationships of its subjects from the same wide-angle viewpoint, then instantaneously jump to a composition isolating the actions of the character holding the object, then cut to a close-up view revealing the object to be a charm bracelet, move up to feature the character’s face as she contemplates the bracelet, then leap thirty years into the past to a depiction of the character as a young girl receiving the jewelry as a gift. Editing’s capacity to

isolate details and juxtapose images and sounds within and between shots gives movies an expressive agility im- possible in any other dramatic art or visual medium.

The Movie Director Throughout this book, we give primary credit to the mov- ie’s director; you’ll see references, for example, to James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Zero Dark Thirty (2012; director Kathryn Bigelow). You may not know anything about the directorial style of Mr. Gunn or Ms. Bigelow, but if you enjoy these movies, you might seek out their work in the future.

Still, all moviegoers know—if only from seeing the seemingly endless credits at the end of most movies— that today’s movies represent not the work of a single artist, but a collaboration between a group of creative contributors. In this collaboration, the director’s role is basically that of a coordinating lead artist. He or she is the vital link between creative, production, and tech- nical teams. The bigger the movie, the larger the crew, and the more complex and challenging the collabora- tion. Though different directors bring varying levels of foresight, pre-planning, and control to a project, every director must have a vision for the story and style to in- form initial instructions to collaborators and to apply to the continuous decision-making process necessary in every stage of production. In short, the director must be a strong leader with a passion for filmmaking and a gift for collaboration.

The other primary collaborators on the creative team—screenwriter, actors, director of photography, production designer, editor, and sound designer—all work with the director to develop their contributions, and the director must approve their decisions as they progress. The director is at the top of the creative hier- archy, responsible for choosing (or at least approving) each of those primary collaborators. A possible excep- tion is the screenwriter, though even then the director often contributes to revisions and assigns additional writers to provide revised or additional material.

The director’s primary responsibilities are perfor- mance and camera—and the coordination of the two. The director selects actors for each role, works with those actors to develop their character, leads rehearsals, blocks performances in relationship with the camera on set, and modulates those performances from take to take and shot to shot as necessary throughout the shoot. He

Cultural narrative traditions The influence of Sanskrit dramatic traditions on Indian cinema can be seen in the prominence of staging that breaks the illusion of re- ality favored by Hollywood movies, such as actors that consistently face, and even directly address, the audience. In this image from the opening minutes of Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express (2013), the lonely bachelor Rahul (Shah Rukh Knan) interrupts his own voice-over nar- ration to complain to viewers about attractive female customers who consider him only a “brother. ”

6 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

or she works with the director of photography to de- sign an overall cinematic look for the movie and to vi- sualize the framing and composition of each shot before and during shooting. Along the way, as inspiration or obstacles necessitate, changes are made to everything from the script to storyboards to blocking to edits. The director is the one making or approving each adjust- ment—sometimes after careful deliberation, sometimes on the fly.

On the set, the director does more than call “action” and “cut” and give direction to the actors and cinema- tographer. He or she must review the footage if neces- sary, decide when a shot or scene is satisfactory, and say that it’s time to move on to the next task. In the editing room, the director sometimes works directly with the editor throughout the process but more often reviews successive “cuts” of scenes and provides the editor with feedback to use in revision.

In today’s film industry, a director’s qualifications may vary; she may have previous directorial credits on film or television, be a successful actor in her first po- sition as a film director, or be a recent graduate of a film school. But the changing nature of film production (see Chapter 11, “How the Movies Are Made”) and the increas- ing gender and ethnic diversity among directors makes defining the director’s role a necessarily flexible thing.

Ways of Looking at Movies

Every movie is a complex synthesis—a combination of many separate, interrelated elements that form a co- herent whole. A quick scan of this book’s table of con- tents will give you an idea of just how many elements get mixed together to make a movie. Anyone attempting to comprehend a complex synthesis must rely on anal- ysis—the act of taking apart something complicated to figure out what it is made of and how it all fits together.

A chemist breaks down a compound substance into its constituent parts to learn more than just a list of in- gredients. The goal usually extends to determining how the identified individual components work together toward some sort of outcome: What is it about this par- ticular mixture that makes it taste like strawberries, or grow hair, or kill cockroaches? Likewise, film analysis involves more than breaking down a sequence, a scene, or an entire movie to identify the tools and techniques that comprise it; the investigation is also concerned with

the function and potential effect of that combination: Why does it make you laugh, or prompt you to tell your friend to see it, or incite you to join the Peace Corps? The search for answers to these sorts of questions boils down to one essential inquiry: What does it mean? For the rest of the chapter, we’ll explore film analysis by applying that question to some very different movies: first, and most extensively, the 2007 independent film Juno, and then the blockbuster Hunger Games film series.

Unfortunately, or perhaps intriguingly, not all movie meaning is easy to see. As we mentioned earlier, mov- ies have a way of hiding their methods and meaning. So before we dive into specific approaches to analysis, let’s wade a little deeper into this whole notion of hidden, or “invisible,” meaning.

Invisibility and Cinematic Language The moving aspect of moving pictures is one reason for this invisibility. Movies simply move too fast for even the most diligent viewers to consciously consider every- thing they’ve seen. When we read a book, we can pause to ponder the meaning or significance of any word, sen- tence, or passage. Our eyes often flit back to review some- thing we’ve already read in order to further comprehend its meaning or to place a new passage in context. Sim- ilarly, we can stand and study a painting or sculpture or photograph for as long as we require to absorb whatever meaning we need or want from it. But until very recently, the moviegoer’s relationship with every cinematic com- position has been transitory. We experience a movie shot, which is capable of delivering multiple layers of visual and auditory information, for the briefest of moments before it is taken away and replaced with another moving image and another and another. If you’re watching a movie the way it’s designed to be experienced, there’s little time to contemplate the various potential meanings of any single movie moment.

Recognizing a viewer’s tendency (especially when sitting in a dark theater, staring at a large screen) to identify subconsciously with the camera’s viewpoint, early filmmaking pioneers created a film grammar (or cinematic language) that draws upon the way we auto- matically interpret visual information in our real lives, thus allowing audiences to absorb movie meaning intui- tively—and instantly.

The fade-out/fade-in is one of the most straight- forward examples of this phenomenon. When such a

7Ways of Looking at Movies

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The expressive agility of movies Even the best seats in the house offer a viewer of a theatrical production like Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street only one unchanging view of the action. The stage provides the audience a single wide-angle view of the scene in which the title char- acter is reintroduced to the set of razors he will use in his bloody quest for revenge [1]. In contrast, cinema’s spatial dexterity allows viewers of Tim Burton’s 2007 film adaptation to experience the same scene as a sequence of fifty-nine viewpoints. Each one isolates and emphasizes distinct meanings and perspectives, including Sweeney Todd’s (Johnny Depp) point of view as he gets his first glimpse of his long-lost tools of the trade [2]; his emotional reaction as he contemplates righteous murder [3]; the razor replacing Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) as the focus of his attention [4]; and a dizzying simulated camera move that starts with the vengeful antihero [5], then pulls back to reveal the morally corrupt city he (and his razors) will soon terrorize [6].

8 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

transition is meant to convey a passage of time between scenes, the last shot of a scene grows gradually darker (fades out) until the screen is rendered black for a mo- ment. The first shot of the subsequent scene then fades in out of the darkness. Viewers don’t have to think about what this means; our daily experience of time’s passage marked by the setting and rising of the sun lets us under- stand intuitively that significant story time has elapsed over that very brief moment of screen darkness.

A low-angle shot communicates in a similarly hid- den fashion. When, near the end of Juno (2007; direc- tor Jason Reitman), we see the title character happily transformed back into a “normal” teenager, our sense of

her newfound empowerment is heightened by the low angle from which this (and the next) shot is captured. Viewers’ shared experience of literally looking up at powerful figures—people on stages, at podiums, memo- rialized in statues, or simply bigger than them—sparks an automatic interpretation of movie subjects seen from this angle. Depending on context, we see these figures as strong, noble, or threatening.

This is all very well; the immediacy of cinematic lan- guage is what makes movies one of the most visceral ex- periences that art has to offer. The problem is that it also makes it all too easy to take movie meaning for granted.

The relatively seamless presentation of visual and narrative information found in most movies can also cloud our search for movie meaning. To exploit cinema’s capacity for transporting audiences into the world of the story, the commercial filmmaking process stresses polished continuity of lighting, performance, costume, makeup, and movement to smooth transitions between shots and scenes, thus minimizing any distractions that might remind viewers that they’re watching a highly ma- nipulated, and manipulative, artificial reality.

Cutting on action is one of the most common edit- ing techniques designed to hide the instantaneous and potentially jarring shift from one camera viewpoint to another. When connecting one shot to the next, a film editor often ends the first shot in the middle of a con- tinuing action and starts the connecting shot at some point in the same action. As a result, the action flows so continuously over the cut between different moving im- ages that most viewers fail to register the switch.

Cinematic invisibility: low angle When it views a subject from a low camera angle, cinematic lan- guage taps our instinctive association of figures who we must lit- erally “look up to” with figurative or literal power. In this case, the penultimate scene in Juno emphasizes the newfound freedom and resultant empowerment the title character feels by presenting her from a low angle for the first time in the film.

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Invisible editing: cutting on action in Juno Juno and Leah’s playful wrestling continues over the cut between two shots, smoothing and hiding the instantaneous switch from one cam- era viewpoint to the next. Overlapping sound and the matching hairstyles, wardrobe, and lighting further obscure the audience’s awareness that these two separate shots were filmed minutes or even hours apart and from different camera positions.

9Ways of Looking at Movies

As with all things cinematic, invisibility has its ex- ceptions. From the earliest days of moviemaking, inno- vative filmmakers have rebelled against the notion of hidden structures and meaning. The pioneering Soviet filmmaker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein believed that every edit, far from being invisible, should be very no- ticeable—a clash or collision of contiguous shots, rather than a seamless transition from one shot to the next. Filmmakers whose work is labeled “experimental”—in- spired by Eisenstein and other predecessors—embrace self-reflexive styles that confront and confound con- ventional notions of continuity. Even some commercial films use techniques that undermine invisibility: in The Limey (1999), for example, Hollywood filmmaker Steven Soderbergh deliberately jumbles spatial and chrono- logical continuity, forcing viewers to actively scrutinize the cinematic structures on-screen in order to assem- ble, and thus comprehend, the story. But most scenes in most films that most of us watch rely heavily on largely invisible techniques that convey meaning intuitively. It’s

not that cinematic language is impossible to spot; you simply have to know what you’re looking for. And soon, you will. The rest of this book is dedicated to helping you identify and appreciate each of the many different secret ingredients that movies blend to convey meaning.

Luckily for you, motion pictures have been liberated from the imposed impermanence that helped create all this cinematic invisibility in the first place. Thanks to DVDs, Blu-rays, DVRs, and streaming video, you can now watch a movie in much the same way you read a book: pausing to scrutinize, ponder, or review as neces- sary. This relatively new relationship between movies and viewers will surely spark new approaches to cine- matic language and attitudes toward invisibility. That’s for future filmmakers, maybe including you, to decide. For now, these viewing technologies allow students of film like yourself to study movies with a lucidity and pre- cision that was impossible for your predecessors.

But not even repeated DVD viewings can reveal those movie messages hidden by our own preconceptions and


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Invisible editing: continuity of screen direction Juno’s opening-credits sequence uses the title character’s continuous walking movement to present the twenty-two different shots that comprise the scene as one continuous action. In every shot featuring lateral movement, Juno strolls consistently toward the left side of the screen, adding continuity of screen direction to the seamless presentation of the otherwise stylized animated sequence.

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belief systems. Before we can detect and interpret these meanings, we must first be aware of the ways that ex- pectations and cultural traditions obscure what movies have to say.

Cultural Invisibility The same commercial instinct that inspires filmmakers to use seamless continuity also compels them to favor stories and themes that reinforce viewers’ shared belief systems. After all, the film industry, for the most part, seeks to entertain, not to provoke, its customers. A key to entertaining the customers is to give them what they want—to tap into and reinforce their most fundamental desires and beliefs. Even movies deemed controversial or provocative can be popular if they trigger emotional responses from their viewers that reinforce yearnings or beliefs that lie deep within. And because so much of this occurs on an unconscious, emotional level, the casual

viewer may be blind to the implied political, cultural, and ideological messages that help make the movie so appealing.

Of course, this cultural invisibility is not always a cal- culated decision by the filmmakers. Directors, screen- writers, and producers are, after all, products of the same society inhabited by their intended audience. Frequently, the people making the movies may be just as oblivious of the cultural attitudes shaping their cinematic stories as the people who watch them.

Juno’s filmmakers are certainly aware that their film, which addresses issues of abortion and pregnancy, di- verges from the ways that movies traditionally repre- sent family structures and teenage girls. In this sense, the movie might be seen as resisting common cultural values. But these filmmakers may not be as conscious of the way their protagonist (main character) reinforces our culture’s celebration of the individual. Her pro- miscuous, forceful, and charming persona is familiar


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Exceptions to invisibility Even Juno deviates from conventional invisibility in a stylized sequence illustrating a high-school jock’s secret lust for “freaky girls.” As Juno’s voice-over aside detailing Steve Rendazo’s (Daniel Clark) fetish begins, the movie suddenly abandons conventional continuity to launch into a series of abrupt juxtapositions that dress a generic girl posed like a paper doll in a rapid-fire succession of eccentric accessories. The moment Juno’s diatribe ends, the film returns to a smooth visual flow of events and images. While this sequence is far from realistic, its ostentatious style effectively illustrates the trappings of teenage conformity and the ways that young women are objectified.

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because it displays traits we often associate with Holly- wood’s dominant view of the (usually male) rogue hero. Like Sam Spade, the Ringo Kid, Dirty Harry, and count- less other classic American characters, Juno rejects convention yet ultimately upholds the very institutions she seemingly scorns. Yes, she’s a smart-ass who cheats on homework, sleeps with her best friend, and pukes in her stepmother’s decorative urn, yet in the end she does everything in her power to create the traditional nu- clear family she never had. So even as the movie seems to call into question some of contemporary America’s attitudes about family, its appeal to an arguably more fundamental American value (namely, robust individ- ualism) explains in part why, despite its controversial subject matter, Juno was (and still is) so popular with audiences.

Implicit and Explicit Meaning As you attempt to become more skilled at looking at movies, try to be alert to the cultural values, shared ide- als, and other ideas that lie just below the surface of the movie you’re looking at. Being more alert to these things will make you sensitive to, and appreciative of, the many

layers of meaning that any single movie contains. Of course, all this talk of layers and the notion that much of a movie’s meaning lies below the surface may make the entire process of looking at movies seem unnecessarily complex and intimidating. But you’ll find that the pro- cess of observing, identifying, and interpreting movie meaning will become considerably less mysterious and complicated once you grow accustomed to actively look- ing at movies rather than just watching them. It might help to keep in mind that, no matter how many different layers of meaning a movie may have, each layer is either implicit or explicit.

An implicit meaning, which lies below the surface of a movie’s story and presentation, is closest to our every- day sense of the word meaning. It is an association, con- nection, or inference that a viewer makes on the basis of the explicit meanings available on the surface of the movie.

To get a sense of the difference between these two levels of meaning, let’s look at two statements about Juno. First, let’s imagine that a friend who hasn’t seen the movie asks you what the film is about. Your friend doesn’t want a detailed plot summary; she simply wants to know what she’ll see if she decides to attend the movie.

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Cultural invisibility in Juno An unrepentant former stripper (Diablo Cody) writes a script about an unrepentantly pregnant sixteen-year-old, her blithely accepting par- ents, and the dysfunctional couple to whom she relinquishes her newborn child. The resulting film goes on to become one of the biggest critical and box-office hits of 2007, attracting viewers from virtually every consumer demographic. How did a movie based on such seemingly provocative subject matter appeal to such a broad audience? One reason is that, beneath its veneer of controversy, Juno repeatedly rein- forces mainstream, even conservative, societal attitudes toward pregnancy, family, and marriage. Although Juno initially decides to abort the pregnancy, she quickly changes her mind. Her parents may seem relatively complacent when she confesses her condition, but they support, protect, and advise her throughout her pregnancy. When we first meet Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), the prosperous young couple Juno has chosen to adopt her baby, it is with the youthful Mark [1] that we (and Juno) initially sympathize. He plays guitar and appreciates alternative music and vintage slasher movies. Vanessa, in comparison, comes off as a shallow and judgmental yuppie. But ultimately, both the movie and its protagonist side with the traditional values of motherhood and responsibility embodied by Vanessa [2], and reject Mark’s rock-star ambitions as immature and self-centered.

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In other words, she is asking for a statement about Juno’s explicit meaning. You might respond to her question by explaining:

The movie’s about a rebellious but smart sixteen-year- old girl who gets pregnant and resolves to tackle the problem head on. At first, she decides to get an abortion; but after she backs off that choice, she gets the idea to find a couple to adopt the kid after it’s born. She spends the rest of the movie dealing with the implications of that choice.

It’s not that this is the only explicit meaning in the film, but we can see that it is a fairly accurate statement about one meaning that the movie explicitly conveys to view- ers, right there on its surface.

Now what if your friend hears this statement of ex- plicit meaning and asks, “Okay, sure, but what do you think the movie is trying to say? What does it mean?!” In a case like this, when someone is asking in general about an entire film, he or she is seeking something like an overall message or a point. In essence, your friend is ask- ing you to interpret the movie—to say something argu- able about it—not simply to make a statement of obvious surface meaning that everyone can agree on, as we did when we presented its explicit meaning. In other words, she is asking for your sense of the movie’s implicit mean- ing. Here is one possible response: “A teenager faced with a difficult decision makes a bold leap toward adult- hood but, in doing so, discovers that the world of adults is no less uncertain or overwhelming than adolescence.” At first glance, this statement might seem to have a lot in common with your summary of the movie’s explicit meaning, as, of course, it does—after all, even though a meaning is under the surface, it still has to relate to the surface, and your interpretation needs to be grounded in the explicitly presented details of that surface. But if you compare the two statements more closely, you can see that the second one is more interpretive than the first, more concerned with what the movie means.

Explicit and implicit meanings need not pertain to the movie as a whole, and not all implicit meaning is tied to broad messages or themes. Movies convey and imply smaller, more specific doses of both kinds of meaning in virtually every scene. Juno’s application of lipstick before she visits the adoptive father, Mark, is explicit information. The implications of this action—that her admiration for Mark is beginning to develop into some-

thing approaching a crush—are implicit. Later, Mark’s announcement that he is leaving his wife and does not want to be a father sends Juno into a panicked retreat. On her drive home, a crying jag forces the disillusioned Juno to pull off the highway. She skids to a stop beside a rotting boat abandoned in the ditch. The discarded boat’s decayed condition and the incongruity of a water- craft adrift in an expanse of grass are explicit details that convey implicit meaning about Juno’s isolation and alienation.

It’s easy to accept that recognizing and interpreting implicit meaning requires some extra effort, but keep in mind that explicit meaning cannot be taken for granted simply because it is by definition obvious. Although ex- plicit meaning is on the surface of a film for all to ob- serve, viewers or writers likely will not remember and acknowledge every part of that meaning. Because mov- ies are rich in plot detail, a good analysis must begin by taking into account the breadth and diversity of what has been explicitly presented. For example, we cannot fully appreciate the significance of Juno’s defiant dump- ing of a blue slushy into her stepmother’s beloved urn

Explicit detail and implied meaning in Juno Vanessa is the earnest yuppie mommy-wannabe to whom Juno has promised her baby. In contrast to the formal business attire she usually sports, Vanessa wears an Alice in Chains T-shirt to paint the nursery. This small explicit detail conveys important implicit meaning about her relationship with her husband, Mark, a middle-aged man reluctant to let go of his rock-band youth. The paint-spattered condi- tion of the old shirt implies that she no longer values this symbol of the 1990s grunge-rock scene and, by extension, her past association with it.

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unless we have noticed and noted her dishonest denial when accused earlier of vomiting a similar substance into the same precious vessel. Our ability to discern a movie’s explicit meanings directly depends on our abil- ity to notice such associations and relationships.

Viewer Expectations The discerning analyst must also be aware of the role ex- pectations play in how movies are made, marketed, and received. Our experience of nearly every movie we see is shaped by what we have been told about that movie be- forehand by previews, commercials, reviews, interviews, and word of mouth. After hearing your friends rave end- lessly about Juno, you may have been underwhelmed by the actual movie. Or you might have been surprised and charmed by a film you entered with low expecta- tions, based on the inevitable backlash that followed the movie’s surprise success. Even the most general knowl- edge affects how we react to any given film. We go to see blockbusters because we crave an elaborate special effects extravaganza. We can still appreciate a summer movie’s relatively simpleminded storytelling, as long as it delivers the promised spectacle. On the other hand, you might revile a high-quality tragedy if you bought your ticket expecting a lighthearted comedy.

Of course, the influence of expectation extends be- yond the kind of anticipation generated by a movie’s pro- motion. As we discussed earlier, we all harbor essential expectations concerning a film’s form and organization. And most filmmakers give us what we expect: a relatively standardized cinematic language, seamless continuity, and a narrative organized like virtually every other fic- tion film we’ve ever seen. For example, years of watch- ing movies has taught us to expect a clearly motivated protagonist to pursue a goal, confronting obstacles and antagonists along the way toward a clear (and usually satisfying) resolution. Sure enough, that’s what we get in most commercial films.

We’ll delve more deeply into narrative in the chapters that follow. For now, what’s important is that you under- stand how your experience—and thus your interpreta- tion—of any movie is affected by how the particular film manipulates these expected patterns. An analysis might note a film’s failure to successfully exploit the standard structures or another movie’s masterful subversion of expectations to surprise or mislead its audience. A more experimental approach might deliberately confound our

presumption of continuity or narrative. Viewers must be alert to these expected patterns in order to fully appreci- ate the significance of that deviation.

Expectations specific to a particular performer or filmmaker can also alter the way we perceive a movie.



Expectations and character in Juno Audience reactions to Michael Cera’s characterization of Juno’s sort- of boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker, are colored by expectations based on the actor’s perpetually embarrassed persona established in previous roles in the television series Arrested Development and films like Superbad [1]. We don’t need the movie to tell us much of anything about Paulie—we form an almost instant affection for the character based on our familiarity with Cera’s earlier performances. But while the character Paulie meets our expectations of Michael Cera, he defies our expectations of his character type. Repeated portrayals of high-school jocks as vain bullies, such as Thomas F. Wilson’s iconic Biff in Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future (1985) [2] have condi- tioned viewers to expect such characters to look and behave very differently than Paulie Bleeker.

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For example, any fan of actor Michael Cera’s previous per formances as an endearingly awkward adolescent in the film Superbad (2007; director Greg Mottola) and television series Arrested Development (2003–2006) will watch Juno with a built-in affection for Paulie Bleeker, Juno’s sort-of boyfriend. This predetermined fondness does more than help us like the movie; it dra- matically changes the way we approach a character type (the high-school athlete who impregnates his teenage classmate) that our expectations might otherwise lead us to distrust. Ironically, audience expectations of Cera’s sweetness may have contributed to the disappointing box-office performance of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010; director Edgar Wright). Some critics proposed that viewers were uncomfortable seeing Cera play the somewhat vain and self-centered title character.

Viewers who know director Guillermo del Toro’s commercial action/horror movies Mimic (1997), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), and Pacific Rim (2013) might be surprised by the sophisticated political and philosoph- ical metaphor of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) or The Devil’s Backbone (2001). Yet all five films feature fantastic and macabre creatures as well as social commentary. An ac- tive awareness of an audience’s various expectations of del Toro’s films would inform an analysis of the elements common to the filmmaker’s seemingly schizophrenic body of work. Such an analysis could focus on his visual style in terms of production design, lighting, or special effects, or it might instead examine recurring themes such as oppression, childhood trauma, or the role of the outcast.

As you can see, cinematic invisibility is not necessar- ily an impediment; once you know enough to acknowl- edge their existence, these potential blind spots also offer opportunities for insight and analysis. There are many ways to look at movies and many possible types of film analysis. We’ll spend the rest of this chapter discuss- ing the most common analytical approaches to movies.

Since this book considers an understanding of how film grammar conveys meaning, mood, and informa- tion as the essential foundation for any further study of cinema, we’ll turn now to formal analysis—that ana- lytical approach primarily concerned with film form, or the means by which a subject is expressed. Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand the function of the techniques discussed; that’s what the rest of this book is for.

Formal Analysis Formal analysis dissects the complex synthesis of cin- ematography, sound, composition, design, movement, performance, and editing orchestrated by creative art- ists like screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, ac- tors, editors, sound designers, and art directors as well as the many craftspeople who implement their vision. The movie meaning expressed through form ranges from narrative information as straightforward as where and when a particular scene takes place to more subtle implied meaning, such as mood, tone, significance, or what a character is thinking or feeling.

While the overeager analyst certainly can read more meaning into a particular visual or audio component than the filmmaker intended, you should realize that cinematic storytellers exploit every tool at their disposal and that, therefore, every element in every frame is there for a reason. It’s the analyst’s job to carefully consider the narrative intent of the moment, scene, or sequence before attempting any interpretation of the formal ele- ments used to communicate that intended meaning to the spectator.

For example, the simple awareness that Juno’s open- ing shot [1] is the first image of the movie informs us of the moment’s most basic and explicit intent: to convey setting (contemporary middle-class suburbia) and time

VIDEO In this tutorial, Dave Monahan analyzes the “waiting room” scene from Juno and covers other key concepts of film analysis.

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of day (dawn). But only after we have determined that the story opens with its title character overwhelmed by the prospect of her own teenage pregnancy are we pre- pared to deduce how this implicit meaning (her state of mind) is conveyed by the composition: Juno is at the far left of the frame and is tiny in relationship to the rest of the wide-angle composition. In fact, we may be well into the four-second shot before we even spot her. Her vulnerability is conveyed by the fact that she is dwarfed by her surroundings. Even when the scene cuts to a closer viewpoint [2], she, as the subject of a movie com- position, is much smaller in frame than we are used to seeing, especially in the first shots used to introduce a protagonist. She is standing in a front yard contemplat- ing an empty stuffed chair from a safe distance, as if the inanimate object might attack at any moment. Her pose adds to our implicit impression of Juno as alienated or off-balance.

Our command of the film’s explicit details alerts us to another function of the scene: to introduce the recurring theme (or motif ) of the empty chair that frames—and in some ways defines—the story. In this opening scene, ac- companied by Juno’s voice-over explanation, “It started with a chair,” the empty, displaced object represents Juno’s status and emotional state and foreshadows the unconventional setting for the sexual act that got her into this mess. By the story’s conclusion, when Juno an- nounces, “It ended with a chair,” the motif—in the form of an adoptive mother’s rocking chair—has been trans- formed, like Juno herself, to embody hope and potential.

All that meaning was packed into two shots span- ning about 12 seconds of screen time. Let’s see what we can learn from a formal analysis of a more extended se- quence from the same film: Juno’s visit to the Women Now clinic. To do so, we’ll first want to consider what information the filmmaker needs this scene to commu- nicate for viewers to understand and appreciate this pivotal piece of the movie’s story in relation to the rest of the narrative. As we delve into material that deals with Juno’s sensitive subject matter, keep in mind that you don’t have to agree with the meaning or values pro- jected by the object of your analysis; you can learn even from a movie you dislike. Personal values and beliefs will undoubtedly influence your analysis of any movie. And personal views provide a legitimate perspective, as long as we recognize and acknowledge how they may color our interpretation.

Throughout Juno’s previous 18 minutes, all informa- tion concerning its protagonist’s attitude toward her con- dition has explicitly enforced our expectation that she will end her unplanned pregnancy with an abortion. She pantomimes suicide once she’s forced to admit her con- dition; she calmly discusses abortion facilities with her friend Leah; she displays no ambivalence when schedul- ing the procedure. As she approaches the clinic, Juno’s nonchalant reaction to the comically morose pro-life demonstrator Su-Chin reinforces our expectations. Juno treats Su-Chin’s assertion that the fetus has fingernails as more of an interesting bit of trivia than a concept worthy of serious consideration.

The subsequent waiting-room sequence is about Juno making an unexpected decision that propels the story in an entirely new direction. A formal analysis will tell us how the filmmakers orchestrated multiple formal ele- ments, including sound, composition, moving camera,



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and editing, to convey in 13 shots and 30 seconds of screen time how the seemingly insignificant fingernail factoid infiltrates Juno’s thoughts and ultimately drives her from the clinic. By the time you have completed your course (and have read the book), you should be prepared to apply this same sort of formal analysis to any scene you choose.

The waiting-room sequence’s opening shot [1] dollies in (the camera moves slowly toward the subject), which gradually enlarges Juno in frame, increasing her visual significance as she fills out the clinic admittance form on the clipboard in her hand [2]. The shot reestablishes her casual acceptance of the impending procedure, pro –

viding context for the events to come. Its relatively long 10-second duration sets up a relaxed rhythm that will shift later along with her state of mind. As the camera reaches its closest point, a loud sound invades the low hum of the previously hushed waiting room.

This obtrusive drumming sound motivates a some- what startling cut to a new shot that plunges our view- point right up into Juno’s face [3]. The sudden spatial shift gives the moment resonance and conveys Juno’s thought process as she instantly shifts her concentration from the admittance form to this strange new sound. She turns her head in search of the sound’s source, and the camera adjusts to adopt her point of view of a mother







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and daughter sitting beside her [4]. The mother’s finger- nails drumming on her own clipboard is revealed as the source of the tapping sound. The sound’s abnormally loud level signals the audience that we’re not hearing at a natural volume level—we’ve begun to experience Juno’s psychological perceptions. The little girl’s stare into Juno’s (and our) eyes helps to establish the associa- tion between the fingernail sound and Juno’s latent guilt.

The sequence cuts back to the already troubled- looking Juno [5]. The juxtaposition connects her anx- ious expression to both the drumming mother and the little girl’s gaze. The camera creeps in on her again. This time, the resulting enlargement initiates our in- tuitive association of this gradual intensification with a character’s moment of realization. Within half a second, another noise joins the mix, and Juno’s head turns in res ponse [6].

The juxtaposition marks the next shot as Juno’s point of view, but it is much too close to be her literal point of view. Like the unusually loud sound, the unrealistically close viewpoint of a woman picking her thumbnail re- flects not an actual spatial relationship but the sight’s significance to Juno [7]. When we cut back to Juno about a second later, the camera continues to close in on her,

and her gaze shifts again to follow yet another sound as it joins the rising clamor [8].

A new shot of another set of hands, again from a close-up, psychological point of view, shows a woman applying fingernail polish [9]. What would normally be a silent action emits a distinct, abrasive sound.

When we cut back to Juno half a second later, she is much larger in the frame than the last few times we saw her [10]. This break in pattern conveys a sudden intensi- fication; this is really starting to get to her. Editing often establishes patterns and rhythms, only to break them for dramatic impact. Our appreciation of Juno’s situation is enhanced by the way editing connects her reactions to the altered sights and sounds around her, as well as by her implied isolation—she appears to be the only one who notices the increasingly boisterous symphony of fingernails. Of course, Juno’s not entirely alone—the au- dience is with her. At this point in the sequence, we have begun to associate the waiting-room fingernails with Su- Chin’s attempt to humanize Juno’s condition.

Juno’s head jerks as yet another, even more invasive sound enters the fray [11]. We cut to another close-up point-of-view shot, this time of a young man scratching his arm [12]. At this point, another pattern is broken,


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initiating the scene’s formal and dramatic climax. Up until now, the sequence alternated between shots of Juno and shots of the fingernails as they caught her at- tention. Each juxtaposition caused us to identify with both Juno’s reaction and her point of view. But now, the sequence shifts gears; instead of the expected switch back to Juno, we are subjected to an accelerating suc- cession of fingernail shots, each one shorter and louder than the last. A woman bites her fingernails [13]; another files her nails [14]; a woman’s hand drums her finger- nails nervously [15]; a man scratches his neck [16]. With every new shot, another noise is added to the sound mix.

This pattern is itself broken in several ways by the scene’s final shot. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing Juno look around every time we see her, but this time, she stares blankly ahead, immersed in thought [17]. A cacophony of fingernail sounds rings in her (and our) ears as the camera glides toward her for 3½ very long seconds—a duration six times longer than any of the pre- vious nine shots. These pattern shifts signal the scene’s climax, which is further emphasized by the moving cam- era’s enlargement of Juno’s figure [18], a visual action that cinematic language has trained viewers to associate with a subject’s moment of realization or decision.

But the shot doesn’t show us Juno acting on that decision. We don’t see her cover her ears, throw down her clipboard, or jump up from the waiting-room ban- quette. Instead, we are ripped prematurely from this final waiting-room image and plunged into a shot that drops us into a different space and at least several mo- ments ahead in time—back to Su-Chin chanting in the parking lot [19]. This jarring spatial, temporal, and visual shift helps us feel Juno’s own instability at this crucial narrative moment. Before we can get our bearings, the camera has pivoted right to reveal Juno bursting out of

the clinic door in the background [20]. She races past Su-Chin without a word. She does not have to say any- thing. Cinematic language—film form—has already told us what she decided and why.

Anyone watching this scene would sense the narra- tive and emotional meaning revealed by this analysis, but only a viewer actively analyzing the film form used to construct it can fully comprehend how the sophisti- cated machinery of cinematic language shapes and con- veys that meaning. Formal analysis is fundamental to all approaches to understanding and engaging cinema— whether you’re making, studying, or simply appreciating movies—which is why the elements and grammar of film form are the primary focus of Looking at Movies.

Alternative Approaches to Analysis Although we’ll be looking at movies primarily to learn the forms they take and the nuts and bolts they are con- structed from, any serious student of film should be aware that there are many other legitimate frameworks for analysis. These alternative approaches analyze mov- ies more as cultural artifacts than as traditional works of art. They search beneath a movie’s form and content to expose implicit and hidden meanings that inform our un- derstanding of cinema’s function within popular culture as well as the influence of popular culture on the movies.

The preceding formal analysis demonstrated how Juno used cinematic language to convey meaning and tell a story. Given the right interpretive scrutiny, our case study film may also speak eloquently about social conditions and attitudes. For example, considering that the protagonist is the daughter of an air-conditioner re- pairman and a manicurist, and that the couple she se- lects to adopt her baby are white-collar professionals

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Comparative cultural analysis A comparison of Juno’s treatment of unwanted pregnancy with other films featuring the same subject matter is but one of many analytical approaches that could be used to explore cinema’s function within culture, as well as the influence of culture on the movies. Such an anal- ysis could compare Juno with American films produced in earlier eras, from D. W. Griffith’s dramatic Way Down East (1920) [1] to Preston Sturges’s 1944 screwball comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek [2] to Roman Polanski’s paranoid horror film Rosemary’s Baby (1968) [3]. An alternate analysis might compare Juno with the other American films released in 2007 that approached the subject with a similar blend of comedy and drama: Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up [4] and Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress [5]. A comparative analysis of the independent film Obvious Child (2014; director Gillian Robespierre) [6] might reveal evolving cultural attitudes toward abortion seven years after Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress all concluded with a birth scene.

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living in an oversized McMansion, a cultural analysis of Juno could explore the movie’s treatment of class.

An analysis from a feminist perspective could con- centrate on, among other elements, the movie’s depic- tion of women and childbirth, not to mention Juno’s father, the father of her baby, and the prospective adop- tive father. Such an analysis might also consider the cre- ative and ideological contributions of the movie’s female screenwriter, Diablo Cody, an outspoken former strip- per and sex blogger.

A linguistic analysis might explore the historical, cul- tural, or imaginary origins of the highly stylized slang spouted by Juno, her friends, even the mini-mart clerk who sells her a pregnancy test. A thesis could be (and probably has been) written about the implications of the T-shirt messages displayed by the film’s characters or the implicit meaning of the movie’s track-team motif.

Some analyses place movies within the stylistic or political context of a director’s career. Juno’s young di- rector, Jason Reitman, has made only three other fea- ture films. But even that relatively short filmography provides opportunity for comparative analysis: all of Reit man’s movies take provocative political stances, grad- ually generate empathy for initially unsympathetic char- acters, and favor fast-paced expositional montages fea- turing expressive juxtapositions, graphic compositions, and first-person voice-over narration.

Another comparative analysis could investigate so- ciety’s evolving (or perhaps fixed) attitudes toward “il- legitimate” pregnancy by placing Juno in context with the long history of films about the subject. These movies range from D. W. Griffith’s 1920 silent drama Way Down East, which banished its unwed mother and drove her to attempted suicide, to Preston Sturges’s irreverent 1944 comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and its mysteriously pregnant protagonist, Trudy Kockenlocker (whose character name alone says a great deal about its era’s attitudes toward women) to another mysterious, but ultimately far more terrifying pregnancy in Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby.

Juno is only one in a small stampede of recent popular films dealing with this ever-timely issue. A cultural anal- ysis might compare and contrast Juno with its Ameri- can contemporaries Knocked Up (2007; director Judd Apatow) and Waitress (2007; director Adrienne Shelly). Both movies share Juno’s blend of comedy and drama as well as a pronounced ambivalence concerning abor- tion, but depict decidedly different characters, settings,

and stories. What might such an analysis of these movies (and their critical and popular success) tell us about that particular era’s attitudes toward women, pregnancy, and motherhood? Seven years later, in 2014, Obvious Child was initially marketed as an “abortion comedy.” When the protagonist Donna (Jenny Slate) finds herself preg- nant after a one-night stand, her decision to get an abor- tion is immediate and matter of fact. Unlike all of its 2007 predecessors, Obvious Child! does not deliver a baby in the end. Was director Gillian Robespierre reacting to those earlier films, influenced by evolving attitudes, or simply offering her own perspective on the subject? Knocked Up is written and directed by a man, Juno is written by a woman and directed by a man, Waitress and Obvious Child! are written and directed by a woman. Does the relative gender of each film’s creator affect stance and story? If this comparative analysis incorporated Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu’s stark abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) or Mike Leigh’s nuanced portrayal of the abortionist Vera Drake (2004), the result might inform a deeper understand- ing of the differences between European and American sensibilities.

An unwanted pregnancy is a potentially controversial subject for any film, especially when the central char- acter is a teenager. Any extensive analysis focused on Juno’s cultural meaning would have to address what this particular film’s content implies about the hot-button issue of abortion. To illustrate, let’s return to the clinic waiting room. An analysis that asserts Juno espouses a “pro-life” (i.e., antiabortion) message could point to several explicit details in this sequence and to those pre- ceding and following it. In contrast to the relatively wel- coming suburban settings that dominate the rest of the story, the ironically named Women Now abortion clinic is an unattractive stone structure squatting at one end of an urban asphalt parking lot. Juno is confronted by clearly stated and compelling arguments against abor- tion via Su-Chin’s dialogue: the “baby” has a beating heart, can feel pain, . . . and has fingernails. The clinic receptionist, the sole on-screen representative of the pro-choice alternative, is a sneering cynic with multi- ple piercings and a declared taste for fruit-flavored con- doms. The idea of the fetus as a human being, stressed by Su-Chin’s earnest admonishments, is driven home by the scene’s formal presentation analyzed earlier.

On the other hand, a counterargument maintaining that Juno implies a pro-choice stance could state that

22 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

the lone on-screen representation of the pro-life posi- tion is portrayed just as negatively (and extremely) as the clinic receptionist. Su-Chin is presented as an in- fantile simpleton who wields a homemade sign stating, rather clumsily, “No Babies Like Murdering,” shouts “All babies want to get borned!” and is bundled in an over- sized stocking cap and pink quilted coat as if dressed by an overprotective mother. Juno’s choice can hardly be labeled a righteous conversion. Even after fleeing the clinic, the clearly ambivalent mother-to-be struggles to rationalize her decision, which she announces not as “I’m having this baby” but as “I’m staying pregnant.” Some analysts may conclude that the filmmakers, mind- ful of audience demographics, were trying to have it both ways. Others could argue that the movie is understand- ably more concerned with narrative considerations than a precise political stance. The negative aspects of every alternative are consistent with a story world that offers its young protagonist little comfort and no easy choices.

Cultural and Formal Analysis in The Hunger Games In the preceding discussion we demonstrated that a popular mainstream entertainment like Juno offers am- ple material for analysis. While many film scholars study unorthodox approaches to the movie medium, or explore old or even forgotten films in search of cinematic ori- gins and innovations, many of these same scholars pay special attention to blockbusters and other popular en- tertainments. To begin with, they may seek the answer to an obvious question: Why do audiences like this movie? Or, to take it a step further, what form, themes, and messages does this film contain that contemporary audiences are so eager to receive? The more consumers see a movie—or even just see the advertising and witness public reaction to its success—the more likely that movie is to exert some kind of effect on those consumers’ cul- ture. Any movie capable of influencing society is surely worth a closer look.

For example, the Hunger Games films picked up where the Harry Potter series left off to become the biggest

film franchise of this decade. The first two installments, The Hunger Games (2011; director Gary Ross) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013; director Francis Lawrence), each broke box office records for an open- ing weekend; together, the two films earned $1.5 billion at the box office, a staggering figure that doesn’t even include the additional exposure and revenue generated by DVD and Blu-ray sales, digital downloads, video on demand, and television broadcasts. The $122 million opening weekend posted by The Hunger Games: Mock- ingjay—Part 1 (2014; director Francis Lawrence) was the biggest of 2014 and one of the strongest in box office his- tory.4 Clearly, the Hunger Games series is an influential and important cultural phenomenon. But how can we even begin to explain its popularity?

To start with, unlike the virtually all-male Avengers and Hobbit movies, the Hunger Games features a strong female protagonist capable of attracting the same ticket sales among women and girls that boosted the box office of other recent hits like Maleficent (2014, director Rob- ert Stromberg) and The Fault in Our Stars (2014, direc- tor Josh Boone).5 Katniss Everdeen is an expert hunter and a deadly fighter who takes bold risks and suffers con- sequences with stoic resolve.


5. With a production budget of just $12 million, The Fault in Our Stars earned over $124 million at the box office. Twentieth Century Fox reported

that 82 percent of the audience was female. The Hunger Games generated $161 million in its North American opening weekend alone; an estimated

71 percent of those ticket buyers were female. Globally, opening weekend box office sales for Maleficent topped $171 million; females comprised

60 percent of that audience. (Sources:,,,

VIDEO In this tutorial, Dave Monahan provides a detailed shot- by-shot analysis of a scene from The Hunger Games.

23Ways of Looking at Movies

A cultural analysis of The Hunger Games might ask if the saga’s heroine and fan base qualify the movies as feminist. Unlike a surprising number of Hollywood mov- ies, the Hunger Games films certainly pass the Bechdel test. This test is an evaluative tool, credited to feminist cartoonist and author Alison Bechdel, that qualifies films as woman-friendly only if they (a) have at least two women characters who (b) talk to each other (c) about something besides a man. Katniss Everdeen certainly has plenty of other pressing topics to discuss with her mother, her sister Prim, and the other female tributes she either enlists or attacks in her struggle to survive. And when it comes to romance, Katniss defies most gender roles assigned to female film characters. She plays the role of protector not just for her mother and sister, but for her primary love interest, the passive and love- struck baker boy Peeta.

This combination of feminist tendencies and attri- butes traditionally associated with a male hero might help explain the wide appeal of the Hunger Games mov- ies. They attract female audiences that don’t ty pically at – tend action franchises like The Avengers, and they draw in action-oriented male audiences that normally avoid female-centered fare like the Twilight movies.

But a closer look at the Katniss character could re- veal an even more powerful touchstone with a key de- mographic. Like the teenagers who make up the bulk of her viewers, Katniss embodies a complex set of often conflicting emotions and perspectives. She is both angry and afraid, self-centered and self-hating, antiauthori- tarian and desperate for guidance. Like most high school seniors, she faces an uncertain future that she often feels powerless to control or predict. She is forced to live up to increasingly mounting outside expectations while struggling to discover her own identity. In the arena, she even has to cope with “careers,” the Hunger Games version of jocks and mean girls. No wonder Katniss is so petulant, defiant, and violent. And no wonder teenage viewers flock to participate vicariously in the adven- tures imposed upon her.

A narrative analysis of the Hunger Games films and their resonance with audiences might explore Katniss’s place in a classical storytelling tradition. She is the ordi- nary girl suddenly revealed as a sort of chosen one with extraordinary hidden talents and a special destiny. This secret savior is plucked from obscurity, undergoes train- ing, and is tested by a series of dangerous challenges. In the end, our unlikely heroine defeats a seemingly in- vincible evil. This same description could be applied to characters at the heart of other recent popular serial ad- ventures, including Neo in the Matrix movies, Luke Sky- walker in the original Star Wars trilogy, and Harry Potter. Some scholars maintain that Jesus Christ belongs to the same narrative tradition; others may argue the charac- ter type is in fact inspired by Christ’s actual experience. Regardless of religious beliefs, it’s hard to deny that Kat- niss Everdeen’s behavior and presentation reference the Christ archetype. She’s anointed, questioned, betrayed, and redeemed. At the climax of The Hunger Games: Catch ing Fire, she even sacrifices herself. Ironically, she does so by shooting an arrow at the roiling (and ar- tificial) heavens, which then fall to pieces. Nevertheless, the Christ comparison is explicitly reinforced when Kat- niss, arms splayed in a cruciform pose and swathed in a shaft of white light, is lifted skyward by a giant artificial hand.



Is The Hunger Games feminist? Feminism is a movement and ideology that advocates the social, po- litical, and economic equality of the sexes. The Hunger Games films feature a strong female protagonist who rarely depends on men for anything. On the contrary, Katniss is much more likely to be either at- tacking or protecting her male counterparts. She relies on more than weapon skills and brute strength; her success in the arena hinges on forming bonds and nurturing relationships. She is made an object of beauty for the pleasure and consumption of others, but never will- ingly. On the other hand, Katniss does spend a great deal of time and energy trying to appease the two boys vying for her affections. An analysis might explore how this complex character manages to embody feminist principles and yet also reflect gender stereotypes.

24 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

An analysis studying the appeal of the Hunger Games movies would likely examine the films’ central themes and discuss how those ideas reflect the culture that pro- duced and consumed the popular series. Celebrity is central to Panem: tributes like Katniss and Peeta are transformed by stylists into slick, attractive products, and then tirelessly marketed as stars of elaborate enter- tainments. This ubiquitously broadcast spectacle keeps the masses in check by distracting them from far more serious issues. Sound familiar? A critical analysis might examine the irony of this particular social critique be- ing manufactured, marketed, and capitalized by one of its primary targets: Hollywood itself. It could be argued that the actor Jennifer Lawrence is as aggressively mar- keted and culturally omnipresent as the Katniss char- acter she portrays. Perhaps the timeliness of this theme contributes to the films’ popularity; paradoxically, the same audiences that idolize the stars and spectacle of the Hunger Games may also identify with a struggle against enforced celebrity. In fact, the striking parallels to con- temporary society drawn by post-apocalyptic movies are almost certainly central to the popularity of the genre.

Further investigation into the reception of the Hun- ger Games series could look for political analogies in the movies’ narrative. The districts of Panem are con- trolled by a powerful (and power hungry) centralized government located in a capital city (the Capitol) that is both physically and culturally isolated. This situation reflects the way many conservatives and libertarians view the U.S. federal government in Washington, D.C. Liberal political forces warn that U.S. economic policies

have created a growing gap between wealthy and poor Americans, much like the rift between the Capitol’s priv- ileged, frivolous elites and the Districts’ downtrodden working class. An analysis might attempt to parse the films’ political stance. Is the Hunger Games series a lib- eral indictment of corporate oppression, a depiction of con servative distrust of big government, a sharp satire of commercial media, or a multifaceted reflection of a more collective cultural malaise?

Ultimately, audiences want to see Katniss and com- pany bring down the government that stages the Hunger Games. Like melting the ring in The Lord of the Rings or defeating Voldemort in Harry Potter, the promise of witnessing the eventual destruction of President Snow’s regime is what keeps us watching through multiple mov- ies. But along the way, the Hunger Games movies make us complicit in the sins of the Capitol. We enjoy a good multiplayer fight to the death as much as the citizens of Panem. As much as any of these aforementioned fac- tors, the popularity of the Hunger Games series may be driven by an intoxicating amalgam of the kind of prim- itive impulses that fuel the license-to-kill mayhem of zombie movies and first-person shooter games, and the same competitive instincts that propel sports fandom (and sports movies). We deplore the government that forces Katniss to kill other tributes, but we can’t help en- joying the games while they last.

Like a great athlete in the heat of a big game, Katniss must rely on her instincts to make instant—and often consequential—decisions. She impulsively volunteers to take Prim’s place at the first reaping. In the first games, she uses her last arrow to start an explosive chain re- action that destroys the enemy’s hoarded supplies. At the end of those games, only Peeta and Katniss are still standing. Rather than kill her friend to give the Capitol a lone victor, she suddenly proposes double suicide, a bold choice that forces the Capitol to allow two victors for the first time in the history of the games—and makes Katniss a folk hero capable of sparking revolution. What makes these game-changing actions notable, and partic- ular to this character and this series, is how these rash decisions and their outcomes combine unbridled emo- tion with global significance. One last critical analysis might attribute the success of the Hunger Games movies to this validating vision of teen empowerment.

As you can see, even mainstream crowd-pleasers like the Hunger Games films can offer a multitude of avenues for cultural and critical analysis. But this book is primar- ily dedicated to film form. Let’s close this introduction

Is Katniss a Christ figure? Like the Star Wars, Matrix, and Harry Potter blockbuster franchises that preceded it, the Hunger Games movies reference one of West- ern culture’s most admired and familiar figures. The climactic scene in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire visually associates Katniss with Jesus Christ. After sacrificing herself, she ascends into the heavens.

25Ways of Looking at Movies

The Hunger Games references cultural touchstones Like many speculative works of cinematic science fiction, the Hunger Games films project contemporary problems into a post- apocalyptic future. The movies also exploit powerful ideas and images from the past. The clothes, hairstyles, and settings in District 13 refer- ence famous photographs of Depression-era America. The Capitol parade grounds and President Snow’s podium feature the same spartan symmetry and graphic emblems favored by the Nazis and other World War II–era Fascists.

26 Chapter 1 Looking at Movies

with a formal analysis of one of the game-changers already mentioned—a pivotal scene from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Infuriated by Katniss’s defiance and District 12’s un- precedented team win in the 74th Hunger Games, the sinister President Snow pays Katniss a surprise visit on the eve of her and Peeta’s mandated victory tour. His message is alarmingly clear: if Katniss does not convince all of Panem that she is nothing more than a grateful and lovestruck citizen, everything and everyone she loves will be annihilated. But things go terribly wrong on the tour’s very first stop. District 11, the home of slain trib- utes Roo and Thrush, who both sacrificed their own safety to aid Katniss, is even more oppressed than Dis- trict 12. Shaken by the grim dignity in the faces of their forcibly assembled audience, both Katniss and Peeta go off script. Katniss’s impromptu eulogy to the district’s fallen tributes inspires a forbidden salute from a stoic old man. The crowd joins in the gesture of solidarity, which brings down the wrath of the “Peacekeeper” po- lice. The revolution has begun.

The Hunger Games movies are full of speeches, in- terviews, and presentations. Usually, the action of an audience watching a speech is pretty straightforward.

Speakers speak, the audience watches and listens; the camera need only alternate between two shots to con- vey this simple exchange. But in this case, the partici- pating characters’ evolving thoughts and emotions are complex and narratively significant. Connections are made, perceptions evolve, choices are taken. To convey this complexity, the filmmakers have fragmented the 3 ½-minute scene into 56 shots, each one presenting its own particular cinematic take on the moment it con- veys. While 56 shots is more than we need for the kind of comprehensive shot-by-shot breakdown we did for Juno earlier, we can still learn a lot from analyzing several representative shots and sequences.

As in nearly all films, color is used throughout the Hunger Games series to provide context and evoke mood. Scenes set in the Capitol are dominated by a spec- trum of vibrant hues. Thanks to a combination of pro- duction design and digital visual effects known as color grading that were applied after the movie was shot, the districts are presented as virtually drained of color; what little there is consists of muted browns, grays, greens, and blues.

Katniss and Peeta’s first view of the district [0] is typ- ical of the virtually colorless look used to convey the hopeless hardship of the outer regions. This shot is also emblematic of the highly ordered, symmetrical compo- sition the series employs to evoke the repressive power of the State. This same compositional depiction of au-

Are The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire sports movies? Sports genre movies from Rocky (1976; director John G. Avildsen) to Hoosiers (1986; director David Anspaugh) to Cars (2006; directors John Lasseter and Joe Ranft) all incorporate many of the same story elements that make sports themselves entertaining and compel- ling. An analysis of the first two Hunger Games films might dis- cuss the ways that the post-apocalyptic sci-fi teen action films are also sports movies. Katniss and Peeta are inexperienced underdogs trained by a seemingly unreliable coach who later proves to be wise and caring. They face daunting competition and fall behind early, but cooperation, inner strength, and hidden talents ultimately lead them to victory.

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