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Filmmaking Analysis: an Art Form in Itself

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Filmmaking Analysis:
An Art form in itself
Robert Haskins
ENG 225: Introduction to Films
Hannah Judson
28 June 2010

Filmmaking Analysis: An Art form in itself
The art of motion pictures have been compared to other forms of expression art, but what makes it unique is that other art forms are incorporated into motion pictures. Through moving pictures, a story can be told with fluidity and rhythm, like music. Much like a sculpture molds clay or stone into something beautiful; a filmmaker can show us their vision or perspective of a story. Motion pictures have a way of influencing us to change the world, make us laugh and make us cry. This powerful medium has altered our world and has helped shape our culture. Analysis and evaluation is only natural, as humans will always strive to understand why this form of art has made such a lasting impact. To use the techniques to analyze a film, one must first familiarize themselves with the literary elements. By recognizing what the theme is in a motion picture, it becomes easier to see the filmmaker’s intention to the motion picture. Soundtrack and musical score also has the ability to add texture and depth to the experience of watching motion pictures. Just as we place symbolic meaning to other forms of expression, we do the same for motion pictures. Each of us have a different perspective in viewing motion pictures just as no one can see the same piece of art the same way. The style and the way characters are presented are just a few examples of the many different pieces that most analyze motion pictures. The interpretation and evaluation of the art of making motion pictures can help give a better experience to viewing films.
The first steps in analyzing a film must be made by identifying the theme. This “refers to the unifying central concern of the film, the special focus that unifies the work” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 20). The theme of any motion picture consists of five elements that filmmakers use to broaden their ideas into specific emphases. Although some motion pictures use all five elements, it is more than likely only one element will dictate the idea. These elements are plot, emotional effect, character, style and an idea “that helps to clarify some aspect of life, experience, or the human condition” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 24).
When filmmakers focus around the plot to the structure of the theme, it usually intended to emphasis the action of the story. Many films like the Indiana Jones (Spielberg, 1981) and Terminator (Cameron, 1984) series uses this to provide the viewer to escape from their normal lives. Another element is the focus on emotion or mood. The motion pictures that use this element direct its attention to specific emotions to explain the story. Many suspenseful and psychological thrillers use this focus. Plot plays a significant role, but it is the mood that is created that is important. Such movies like When a Stranger Calls (Walton, 1979) and Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) uses this element superbly. The third element that a theme uses is the focus on a unique character. Again, the plot is important in this element, but it is the focus of the personality of the main character “and what separates them from ordinary people” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 23). Another element filmmakers use to focus the theme on is style and texture, or structure. It is not done often, but some filmmaker’s style dominates the motion picture. Whether it is through camera angels or the rhythm and organization, Quentin Tarantino has a particular style that is recognizable in each of his motion pictures. Last, but certainly not the least effective element used by filmmakers is a focus on a number of ideas that tells the story of the human experience. These ideas can range from moral statements to environmental issues and the truth of human nature. Motion pictures in which the filmmakers depict these ideas try to show us different aspects of the way we live. The elements that filmmakers use to focus our attention to a specific theme are important to enable the viewer to better understand what it is they are trying to convey in the story.
Once the theme is established, recognizing the literary elements is another step in knowing how motion pictures are structured and why. Nonetheless the dominate element to the theme, the story is the plot or “storyline that contributes to the theme” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 42). The plot is the continuous rhythm of action from the beginning exposition to rising action, from conflict to climax, to falling action or dénouement. The structure of the plot can be either linear or nonlinear. Linear structure is simply that, it follows the story from one sequence of action to the next. A nonlinear structure to the plot can have the opening exposition begin in the middle of the story and uses flashbacks to fill in the gaps with information that the viewer is unaware of. Flash-forward is another technique filmmakers use to scramble the chronological order. Whether these techniques are useful or not, the flashback has become a valuable tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal to give the viewer information at their discretion.
Symbolism is introduced into film making because of its power to project images into the viewer’s mind. It allows the viewer to interpret meaning to certain things that only they can decipher from their own knowledge or beliefs. In some ways, this gives expression to the motion picture art form. Just as Joseph Boggs and Dennis Petrie (2008) explains symbolism in the text, “a symbol is something…that stands for, suggest, or triggers a complex set of ideas, attitudes, or feelings and thus acquires significance beyond itself” (pg. 72).
Another piece of filmmaking that requires analyzing is the musical score and sound effects. The musical score is an integral part of motion pictures; it stirs up emotions and gives the film structure to build on. The importance of a musical score was realized in the earliest silent films to give dramatic emphasis on events and actions that are going on. Film music is divided up in two groups, mickey mousing and the generalized score. (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 294) Mickey mousing is when the music proceeds along with the action the viewer is seeing. The generalized score is created to capture the emotions of a specific time or events.
The musical score of modern motion pictures have many different uses. Music can be used to describe certain periods or geographical places. You could not imagine hearing an upbeat jazz tune in the movie Gandhi (Attenborough, 1982) or a western player piano song being played during a close-up scene in Gladiator (Scott, 2000); it just would not fit into the motion picture. The musical score can also build dramatic tension to heighten the atmosphere and give the viewer an indication of something important is about to happen. A leitmotif is a specific kind of instrumentation to announce the appearance of a character. (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 299) Another way filmmakers use music is in transitions from one scene to the next or signaling a change in location. Music can also create a diversion from a particular weakness in the film, whether it is the set design, the dialog, or the acting. (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 307) The various uses of the musical score are essential for the cohesion of the motion picture.
The complexity of sound effects in modern motion pictures can be over whelming. Ever since sound was put into motion pictures, the importance of the sound effect has been loud and clear. Sound effects are either visible or invisible. Visible sound is when the sound that is coming from something that is being seen in the frame. Invisible sound is the sound that is created from off screen. (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 262) Both types of sound have an important role in creating the realism for the scene. Just as there are cinematic viewpoints for the visual effects, being objective or subjective, the same goes for sound effects. An objective viewpoint, from the standpoint of sound, is when we are casual listeners from an external point. A subjective viewpoint would then be what the character is hearing and the filmmakers make it possible for the viewer to become more involved in the action of the scene.
Dialog is just another form of sound effects, but it uses the spoken word. This too, has many different uses to enhance the motion picture experience. Voice-over narration can be used to give a background to the plot or characters. “It is perhaps most commonly used as an expository device to convey necessary background information or fill in the gaps for continuity that cannot be presented dramatically” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 275). Voice-over narration can also be used in direct contrast to the action on the screen. The over use of this technique could damage the overall effect of the motion picture.
The purpose behind a filmmaker’s effort of making a motion picture can be from a variety of different reasons. However, more importantly is how the viewer interprets these reasons by using the symbolic overtones implanted by the filmmakers. It is the same in every art form, the creator of the art wants the person experiencing it to use symbols to evoke associations that the person already understands. We can find and interpret meaning in motion pictures by using these preconceived symbols, but the filmmaker may also want us to see more of what they want us to understand.
Filmmakers will attempt to create the symbols they want us to see by using four principle methods to charge these symbols and they are; repetition, placing value on an object by a character, an object or image placed in context, and visual emphasis “through dominate colors, lingering close-ups, unusual camera angles, changes from sharp to soft focus, freeze frames, or lighting effects” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 76).
The use of metaphors is another way filmmakers attempt to create symbolic meaning to the motion picture. Extrinsic and intrinsic metaphors are two types that filmmakers use. The extrinsic metaphor is the part of a metaphoric scene that does not have any logical reason being in the scene other than to show the context of the metaphor. The intrinsic metaphor is what “emerges directly from the context of the scene itself and [is] more natural and usually more subtle than extrinsic metaphors” (Boggs, Petrie, 2008, pg. 79).
When it comes to evaluating and interpreting a motion picture, most people do not grasp the intricacies of what has gone into a film and the effort the filmmakers put into trying to give the viewer an overall good experience. Those that do have the knowledge of what it takes to create a motion picture and why certain things are done the way they are would have a different interpretation from those that are unaware of such things. Just as any art form we evaluate, interpret, and see the symbolism, people will see it differently from one another. People first choose the motion picture by picking a genre depending on the mood that fits them at the time. Then by evaluating the theme and how it fits their mood, they will either like it or not. Some will look at how the director has displayed his or her view and judge them by the content. People would take the plot and attempt to feel the rhythm by which it flows and if the characters they are watching are convincing enough. Often people would also evaluate the writing and how the dialog fits in what they are seeing on the screen.
Evaluating and interpreting motion pictures has grown into an art form and it has given the viewer a better experience in viewing films. By understanding the cinematic elements and the ability to identify the theme through plot, characters, mood, style or structure, and the director’s intentions, the experience of watching motion pictures can be more enjoyable. The development of the musical score and sound effects has on motion pictures gives realism and emotion to a 2-D visual story. The ability to use symbolism and metaphors to create symbolic meaning helps the filmmakers by giving us subtle hints to what the message is or what they want to convey. Through learning more about how to evaluate and interpret the reasons why filmmakers go through all the trouble to show their art, people can analyze a motion picture on their own without the so called experts or critics because just like beauty, motion picture art is in the eye of the beholder.

Attenborough, R. (producer & director). (1982). Gandhi. [Motion Picture]. India & United Kingdom: Columbia Pictures.
Boggs, J., and Petrie, D. (2008). The Art of Watching Films (Ashford Custom 7th ed.). Mountain View, CA Mayfield.
Branko, L., Franzoni, D., Wick, D. (producers). Scott, R. (director). (2000). Gladiator. [Motion Picture]. USA: DreamWorks & Universal Studios
Chapin, D. (producer). Walton, F. (director). (1979). When a Stranger Calls. [Motion Picture]. USA: Columbia Pictures.
Daly, J., Gibson, D., Hurd, G. A. (producers). Cameron, J. (director). (1984). The Terminator. [Motion Picture]. USA: Orion Pictures.
Hitchcock, A. (producer & director). (1960). Psycho. [Motion Picture]. USA: Paramount and Universal Studios.
Kazanjian, H., Lucas, G., Marshall, F. (producers). Spielberg, S. (director). (1981). Raiders of the Lost Ark. [Motion Picture]. USA: Paramount.

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