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Ever since film came into being in 1895, there has been a division between two different types of filmmaking. These two types of filmmaking are called Realism and Formalism. First, let’s look at the basic concepts behind these two styles of filmmaking and then we’ll talk about Classicism, which is a combination of these two types. Basic Concepts about Realism The root word of Realism is the word ‘real.’ Have you ever looked at a painting or a drawing and said, “That looks so real”? What you probably meant was that it was painted with such skill and precision that it almost looked like the painting would come to life at any moment. We use the word ‘real’ to talk about things that are lifelike, things that happen naturally, and things that actually do exist or can exist in the real world. By that same token, films that are Realist films are attempting to be life-like, natural, and to make it seem like the events and situations that occur in that film could have actually happened (or that they did happen) in real life. Realist films are trying to reproduce reality. Another goal of Realist films is that they try to be audiencecentered. That means that they encourage the audience to come up with their own personal interpretation for what the film means; Realist films are trying to make their audience think about and care about what’s happening on-screen for themselves. They are more interested in representing (or re-presenting) reality to you and then letting you decide what it means for yourself. Stylistically, a Realist film will aim to be very simple in nature. Ideally, most of the film would be shot on an actual location instead of a studio set. If a Realist film is shot on a set, it will usually be carefully crafted to look as realistic as possible. The camera shots in these films often appear to be put together somewhat spontaneously, seemingly without much thought or artistry—as though the camera just happened to be there to capture the action and the camera operator only had enough time to turn the camera on and start filming. A lot of the shots are shot-in-depth or have a greater depth-of-field. What that means is that the shots often have action occurring on several different planes at the same time: something might be going on in the foreground of the shot, the middle area of the shot, and in the background of the shot all at the same time—just like how reallife would be if you were actually standing there and viewing the action (because if you were there, you’d be seeing the whole picture at once, not just little bits and pieces of the action). Sometimes these shots can seem a bit messy or chaotic, but their purpose is to encourage a more active mental participation from the viewer because it allows the viewer to more fully explore the rich complexity, mystery, and ambiguity which can be inherent in the film image—simply because there’s more on the screen to look at and think about all at the same time. The style of the editing in Realist films is also fairly simple in nature. The editing is usually kept to a minimum and doesn’t get very fancy (if it can be helped). Their shots tend to last for a longer period of time before cutting to the next one because Realist filmmakers want you to have time to explore the inherent meaning within the shot itself. In theory, rapid editing can sometimes be manipulative or force the audience to interpret the meaning of the shots in only one way, so Realist filmmakers tend to avoid using too many cuts. Their editing is simple and functional—they
the word ‘form’ can refer to the style or design of an artistic work. When you watch it. Basic Concepts about Formalism Now.want you to think more about what you are seeing rather than how you are seeing it. have you ever looked at a painting that did not depict anything that you could immediately recognize? Maybe the artist just painted a bunch of shapes and colors and lines on the canvas. Documentaries are usually Realist in nature because they “document” events that actually occurred and they try to portray these events in a fairly straightforward and unassuming manner. When it’s used as a noun. films that are Formalist films are more concerned with their artistic style and design and they often come directly out of the artist’s imagination. It can also refer to the shape or contour of something—as in “the cloud took the form of a rabbit. what about Formalism? Well. you’re supposed to feel like you are actually there as an observer yourself.) True documentaries are also usually more audience-centered because they are interested in inspiring you to care about and think more deeply about their subject material on your own—without necessarily dictating what you should think or how you should feel about that subject matter. You probably figured that what was in that painting just came out of the artist’s own imagination. Observational cinema involves simply taking the camera to an interesting event or place and then just letting it objectively observe the action that takes place like a fly-on-the-wall.” When it’s used as a verb. there is one type of documentary filmmaking called “observational cinema” which is very Realist in nature. they are they are trying to present the artist’s vision of the world. which means that they just let the events unfold spontaneously before the camera without trying to manipulate it or make it look particularly artistic in any way. You won’t typically see a purely Realist film—even documentaries contain some elements of Formalism here and there. These .” In that same mannerism. documentaries are a good example of Realist cinema that you may be familiar with. when you looked at the painting you probably didn’t worry about whether whatever was in the painting actually existed in reality or not. stylization and technique to express the artist’s ideas. The root word ‘form’ has many different meanings. That’s because a painting like that was more concerned with form than reality. That painting would have been more of a Formalist painting than a Realist painting because it came from within the artist rather than from the real world (even though it may have been inspired by real things). Or maybe the artist just painted an everyday object in a different way—stretching.” It can also mean to create or be a part of something—such as “we formed a new committee to deal with the problem of pollution. Whatever it was. For that reason. it can mean to construct or conceive of something in the mind—such as “to form an idea. Formalist films are not at all concerned with trying to re-present reality like a Realist film. (In fact. Formalist films tend to be more artist-centered. Although there are plenty of fiction films which are Realist in style. that the artist was painting something that he or she had only seen in his or her mind’s eye. skewing. whether that is connected to the “real” world or not. An extreme type of a Realist film would probably just feature a camera filming something for a very long period of time without moving or cutting or anything. and distorting it in some way. just as though you were actually there in real time. The people who create purely Formalist films are more concerned with using artistry. It usually only has minimal editing and has little or no commentary from the filmmakers in any way.
Whenever you see such deliberately sharp editing. Often. The editing in Formalist films is also often highly stylized as well. Formalist films often require that the viewer be a little more educated or film-savvy in order to understand all the deep symbolism inherent in a Formalist shot composition. or glamorous as they are performing. these shots will be filmed on elaborate studio sets that are constructed specifically for the film. Some of these movies are completely abstract. Critics of Formalism often describe these types of films as being “chopped into pieces” because they tend to be cut together much more rapidly.types of films care more about what the artist has to express about the world rather than exploring what the audience really thinks about the world. the way some shots are edited together in Formalist films often has a deeper. symbolic meaning that can usually only be understood by the film elite. these films intend for you to come away with a very specific idea that the artist intended to express. Have you ever noticed that we talk about our favorite or the best music videos as being memorable because they have a “cool concept”? That’s because music videos are much less concerned with being realistic (usually they aren’t even trying to be realistic at all) and are much more interested in exploring a “cool concept” and with being experimental or artistic. the better it usually is. these shot compositions are meant to encourage a more active mental participation from the viewer—but instead of encouraging you to come up with your own interpretations. or out-of-the-ordinary. Stylistically. funny. It isn’t very often that you see a purely Formalist film. the camera angles. (We’ll be discussing the meaning of editing choices in more detail later so that you can eventually be numbered among the film elite yourself—aren’t you excited!?) Most music videos (but not all) are Formalist in nature (a Realist music video would just feature the band performing live in front of an audience—without very many special effects. it has the tendency to draw attention to itself. largerthan-life settings. Or. the average viewer won’t always “get” the full significance of what a Formalist filmmaker is trying to say (or they may only understand it subconsciously). They often feature carefully-composed. editing tricks or cool camera angles).) Like Realist films. beautiful. it may be so inaccessible that you wouldn’t be able to understand the film unless the filmmaker were to explain the significance to you directly. Part of the purpose behind this type of editing is to draw attention to the process of editing itself. Formalist films pay much more attention to the design and formulation of the shot composition. Like the shot composition. Studio sets are perfect for Formalist films because it is very easy to control the lighting elements and camera equipment in order to get the exact shot that the filmmakers want. Formalist films are trying to persuade the audience members to see things the way the artist sees them. to constantly remind the audience of the fact that they are watching a film and to never forget that this is a work of art deliberately created by an artist. . if it is truly avant-garde and Formalist. These filmmakers are more interested in telling the audience what to think whereas Realist filmmakers are more interested in showing or revealing the world and then asking audience members to engage with others in a dialogue about what they think about that world. (We’ll be learning more about the specific interpretations for different types of Formalist shot compositions in class over the next couple of weeks. arrangement of objects and people within the shots are often designed to convey a very specific meaning. An extreme example of these types of films might be found in the avant-garde cinema. Music videos often show the band performing in abstract. bizarre or innovative camera shots that make the band members look cool. The types of shots that Formalists create are very controlled and deliberate. The motto of these types of music videos is: the more creative and experimental it is. camera movements. dream-like. Most of the time.
above all. it also has the same care for detail and composition that Formalism aspires to—the difference is that it attempts to be “invisible. but they are not absolutes. Many of the films that come out of Hollywood avoid using either the extremes of Realism and Formalism and try to find a more middle ground—such films can be classified as Classical. fuzzy feeling because you were one of the elite. The images are chosen by their relevance to the story and the characters—style and form are always servants to the content of the story.’ Labels like these can be helpful for understanding general concepts. Although several films will lean more towards one or the other. When a more educated viewer notices the form or composition of a Classical film. Classical Cinema uses elements of Realism in order to maintain the effect that the story could plausibly happen in real-life. colors. You don’t need to be formally trained in film in order to appreciate or enjoy a Classical film. unrecognizable objects) and are frequently very difficult to understand without outside help of some sort. there are also many films that use a combination of both these styles. Almost no film is a purely Realist or a purely Formalist film.” it usually doesn’t draw attention towards itself and away from the story. story-oriented.They often just feature pure forms (shapes. you should be cautious about using the terms ‘Realism’ and ‘Formalism. lines. but it can help you to appreciate the film on a deeper level or just give you a warm. However. it’s more like an added bonus or a special “in-joke” between you and the filmmaker. educated few who can appreciate the film on a deeper level. Classical cinema is. . Classicism: The Two Styles Combined Now.
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