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Film Analysis

This handout contains information on cinematic techniques, cinematography, film theory, as well
as a list of additional resources, both online and in our libraries.

Cinematic techniques-general concepts


Cinematic techniques are methods employed by film makers to communicate meaning,

entertain, and to produce a particular emotional or psychological response in an audience.
Cinematographic techniques such as the choice of shot, and camera movement, can greatly
influence the structure and meaning of a film.

Distance of shot
The use of different shots can influence the meaning which an audience will interpret:
Close-up: May be used to show tension;
Extreme close-up: Focuses on a single facial feature, such as lips;
Medium shot
Long shot
Establishing shot: Mainly used at a new location to give the audience a sense of locality.

Camera angles
These are used extensively to communicate meaning and emotion about characters:
Low angle shot: Looking up at a character or object, often to instill fear or awe in the
Straight angle shot
High angle shot: Looking down on a character, often to show vulnerability or weakness;
Canted or Oblique: The camera is tilted to show the scene at an angle. This is used
extensively in the horror and science fiction genre. The audience will often not consciously
realize the change.

Mise en scene
"Mise en scene" refers to what is colloquially known as "the Set", but is applied more generally
to refer to everything that is presented before the camera. With various techniques, film makers
can use the Mise En Scene to produce intended effects.

Movement and expression

Movement can be used extensively by film makers to make meaning. It is how a scene is put
together to produce an image. A famous example of this, which uses "dance" extensively to
communicate meaning and emotion, is the film, West Side Story.
Cinematography-specific teminology

Provided in this list of film techniques is a categorized (and then alphabetized) list of techniques
used in film (motion pictures).

Camera view, angle, movement, shot

Aerial shot "Evangelion" Long shot Sequence shot

American shot shot Long take Shot
Bird's eye shot Follow shot Low-angle shot Shot reverse
Close up Forced Master shot shot
Crane shot perspective Matte Talking head
Dolly zoom Freeze frame Medium shot Tracking shot
Dutch angle shot Pan shot Trunk shot
Establishing Full shot Point of view Two Shot
shot Head-on shot shot Video frame
High-angle Reaction shot Whip pan

Lighting technique and aesthetics

Background High-key Low-key Rembrandt

lighting lighting lighting lighting
Cameo lighting Key lighting Mood lighting Stage lighting
Fill light Lens flare Pool hall Soft light
Flood lighting lighting

Editing and transitional devices

Cross Establishing Point of Wipe

cutting shot view shot Clock wipe
Cutaway Flashback Split screen Heart wipe
Cut in Montage Talking Matrix wipe
Dissolve head Star wipe

Special effects (FX)

3-D film for movie history Computer-generated imagery (CGI)

3-D computer graphics Special effects
Bluescreen/Chroma key Stop trick
Bullet time Stop motion
In cinematography, the use of light can influence the meaning of a shot. For example, film
makers often portray villains that are heavily shadowed or veiled, using silhouette.
Techniques involving light include backlight (silhouette), and under-lighting (light across a
character form). Other aspects of Mise en Scene include:

Costume Use of color, and its emotional

Use of motif, and associated meaning; response; and
Sound is used extensively in filmmaking to enhance presentation, and is distinguished into
diegetic ("actual sound"), and non-diegetic sound.

Diegetic sound: It is any sound where the source is visible on the screen, or is implied to be
present by the action of the film:

Voices of characters;
Sounds made by objects in the story; and
Music, represented as coming from instruments in the story space.
Music coming from reproduction devices such as record players, radios, tape players etc.

Non-diegetic sound: Also called "commentary sound", it is sound which is represented as

coming from a source outside the story space, ie. its source is neither visible on the screen,
nor has been implied to be present in the action:

Narrator's commentary;
Voice of God;
Sound effect which is added for dramatic effect;
Mood music; and
Film Score

Non-diegetic sound plays a big role in creating atmosphere and mood within a film.

Sound effects
In motion picture and television production, a sound effect is a sound recorded and presented to
make a specific storytelling or creative point, without the use of dialogue or music. The term
often refers to a process, applied to a recording, without necessarily referring to the recording
itself. In professional motion picture and television production, the segregations between
recordings of dialogue, music, and sound effects can be quite distinct, and it is important to
understand that in such contexts, dialogue and music recordings are never referred to as sound
effects, though the processes applied to them, such as reverberation or flanging, often are.

Techniques in interactive movies

New techniques currently being developed in interactive movies, introduce an extra dimension
into the experience of viewing movies, by allowing the viewer to change the course of the
In traditional linear movies, the author can carefully construct the plot, roles, and characters to
achieve a specific effect on the audience. Interactivity, however, introduces non-linearity into the
movie, such that the author no longer has complete control over the story, but must now share
control with the viewer. There is an inevitable trade-off between the desire of the viewer for
freedom to experience the movie in different ways, and the desire of the author to employ
specialized techniques to control the presentation of the story. Computer technology is required
to create the illusion of freedom for the viewer, while providing familiar, as well as, new
cinematic techniques to the author.

Film Theory

Film theory debates the essence of the cinema and provides conceptual frameworks for
understanding film's relationship to reality, the other arts, individual viewers, and society at
large. Like traditional literature, critical theories also apply to films. Here are some theories
specifically built around film, and discussions of traditional ones as they relate to film. All
information here is from: <>. Please feel free
to investigate on your own.

Apparatus theory
Apparatus theory, derived in part from Marxist film theory, semiotics, and
psychoanalysis, was a dominant theory within cinema studies during the 1970s. It
maintains that cinema is by nature ideological because its mechanics of representation
are ideological. Its mechanics of representation include the camera and editing. The
central position of the spectator within the perspective of the composition is also

Apparatus theory also argues that cinema maintains the dominant ideology of the culture
within the viewer. Ideology is not imposed on cinema, but is part of its nature.

Auteur theory
In film criticism, the 1950s-era auteur theory holds that a director's films reflects that
director's personal creative vision, as if he or she were the primary "auteur" (the French
word for 'author'). In some cases, film producers are considered to have a similar
"auteur" role for films that they have produced.

Auteur theory has had a major impact on film criticism ever since it was advocated by
film director and film critic Franois Truffaut in 1954. "Auteurism" is the method of
analyzing films based on this theory or, alternately, the characteristics of a director's
work that makes her or him an auteur. Both the auteur theory and the auteurism method
of film analysis are frequently associated with the French New Wave and the film critics
who wrote for the influential French film review periodical Cahiers du cinma.

Feminist film theory

(Also extended to gender theory which looks at either or both genders and their function,
or portrayal in film.)
Feminist film theory is theoretical work within film criticism which is derived from feminist
politics and feminist theory. Feminists have taken many different approaches to the
analysis of cinema. These include discussions of the function of women characters in
particular film narratives or in particular genres, such as film noir, where a woman
character can often be seen to embody a subversive sexuality that is dangerous to men
and is ultimately punished with death.
In considering the way that films are put together, many feminist film critics have pointed
to the "male gaze" that predominates in classical Hollywood filmmaking. Laura Mulvey's
essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" gave one of the most widely influential
versions of this argument. This argument holds that through the use of various film
techniques, such as the point of view shot, a typical film's viewer becomes aligned with
the point of view of its male protagonist. Notably, women function as objects of this gaze
far more often than as proxies for the spectator.

Formalist Film theory

Formalism, at its most general, considers the synthesis (or lack of synthesis) of the
multiple elements of film production, and the effects, emotional and intellectual, of that
synthesis and of the individual elements. For example, let's take the single element of
editing. A formalist might study how standard Hollywood "continuity editing" creates a
more comforting effect and non-continuity or jump-cut editing might become more
disconcerting or volatile.

Or one might consider the synthesis of several elements, such as editing, shot
composition, and music. The shoot-out that ends Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western
"Dollars" trilogy is a valid example of how these elements work together to produce an
effect: The shot selection goes from very wide to very close and tense; the length of
shots decreases as the sequence progresses towards its end; the music builds. All of
these elements, in combination rather than individually, create tension.

Formalism is unique in that it embraces both ideological and auteurist branches of

criticism. In both these cases, the common denominator for Formalist criticism is style.

Psychoanalytical film theory

The concepts of psychoanalysis have been applied to films in various ways. However,
the 1970s and 1980s saw the development of theory that took concepts developed by
the French psychoanalyst and writer Jacques Lacan and applied them to the experience
of watching a film.
The film viewer is seen as the subject of a "gaze" that is largely "constructed" by the film
itself, where what is on screen becomes the object of that subject's desire.

The viewing subject may be offered particular identifications (usually with a leading male
character) from which to watch. The theory stresses the subject's longing for a
completeness which the film may appear to offer through identification with an image; in
fact, according to Lacanian theory, identification with the image is never anything but an
illusion and the subject is always split simply by virtue of coming into existence.

Screen theory
Screen theory is a Marxist film theory associated with the British journal Screen in the
1970s. The theoreticians of this approach -- Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath or Laura
Mulvey -- describe the "cinematic apparatus" as a version of Althusser's Ideological
State Apparatus (ISA). According to screen theory, it is the spectacle that creates the
spectator and not the other way round. The fact that the subject is created and subjected
at the same time by the narrative on screen is masked by the apparent realism of the
communicated content.

Socialist realism
For other meanings of the term realism, see realism (disambiguation).
Socialist realism is a teleologically-oriented style of realistic art which has as its purpose
the furtherance of the goals of socialism and communism. Although related, it should not
be confused with social realism, a type of art that realistically depicts subjects of social
Structuralist film theory
The structuralist film theory emphasizes how films convey meaning through the use of
codes and conventions not dissimilar to the way languages are used to construct
meaning in communication.

An example of this is understanding how the simple combination of shots can create an
additional idea: the blank expression on a man's face, a piece of cake, and then back to
the man's face. While nothing in this sequence literally expresses hungeror desire
the juxtaposition of the images convey that meaning to the audience.

Unraveling this additional meaning can become quite complex. Lighting, angle, shot
duration, juxtaposition, cultural context, and a wide array of other elements can actively
reinforce or undermine a sequence's meaning.


Online resources (you may have best luck when searching the web or databases,
if you search for motion pictures.)

Analyzing and Writing about Film

Google has a good links page to film theory and criticism
Googles links to Online Journals:
Yales film analysis guide:
Watching and writing about film:
A Checklist for analyzing movies: http://www.kenney-
Dartmouths page on writing about film:

Movie information and scripts

The Internet Movie Database, lists movies, actors, directors, etc. Good place to
find background and technical information on films:
SimplyScripts - links to hundreds of free, downloadable scripts:
Drews Script-O-Rama:
Movie Scripts Archive:
The Movie Turf (Scripts):

Sample criticism/writings
Good sample with visuals so that you can see how a film analysis is developed
A good sample critical article about Land of the Dead from the Film Journal
Resources in our library
The Filmmaker's Handbook : A Comprehensive Guide For The Digital Age /
Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus ; Transmountain; TR850 .P54 2007
Film Classics. Transmountain; REF PN1994 .F43835 2006
Cinemachismo : Masculinities And Sexuality In Mexican Film /Sergio De La
Mora. Northwest, Transmountain ; PN1993.5.M4 M67 2006
Science, Literature, And Film In The Hispanic World / edited by Jerry Hoeg and
Kevin S. Larsen.; Transmountain ; PQ6046.S39 S39 2006
Allegories Of Cinema : American Film In The Sixties / David E. James.
Transmountain ; PN1993.5.U6J27 1989
American Dissident : The Political Art Of Michael Moore / Francois Primeau.
Transmountain ; PN1998.3.M665P74 2007
Forgive Us Our Spins : Michael Moore And The Future Of The Left / Jesse
Larner. Transmountain ; PN1998.3.M665 L37 2006
Hollywood, The Pentagon And Washington / Jean-Michael Valantin. Mission del
Paso; PN1995.9.P6 V35 2005
Make-Believe Media : The Politics Of Entertainment / Michael Parenti.
Valle Verde; Call number: PN1995.9.P6P37 1992
Speeding To The Millennium Film & Culture, 1993-1995 / [Electronic Resource]
Joseph Natoli. c1998 Electronic Book
Endless Night [Electronic Resource] : Cinema And Psychoanalysis, Parallel
Histories / edited by Jane Electronic Book c1999
Ideology And The Image : Social Representation In The Cinema And Other
Media / Bill Nichols. PN1995.N48 1981 BOOK c1981
Movies As Social Criticism : Aspects Of Their Social Psychology / by I. C. Jarvie.
Valle Verde; PN1995.9.S6J297 BOOK 1978
The Power Of Movies : How Screen And Mind Interact / Colin McGinn. Mission
del Paso; PN1995 .M3785 2005
Film As Social Practice / Graeme Turner. BOOK 1999 Valle Verde;
PN1995.9.S6 T87 1999
Life the movie : how entertainment conquered reality / Neal Gabler. Mission del
Paso; PN1995.9.S6 G32 2000 BOOK 2000
Movies And Mass Culture / edited and with an introduction by John Belton. Rio
Grande; PN1995.9.S6M68 1996
Gender, Ethnicity And Sexuality In Contemporary American Film / [Electronic
Resource] / Jude Davies And Carol R. Smith. 1997 Electronic Book
Generation Multiplex : The Image Of Youth In Contemporary American Cinema /
by Timothy Shary ; Foreword By David Considine. BOOK 2002 Valle Verde;
PN1995.9.Y6 S53 2002
Kings Of The Bs : Working Within The Hollywood System : An Anthology Of Film
History And Criticism / edited By Todd McCarthy And Charles Flynn. BOOK
1975 Valle Verde; PN1993.5.U6K48
Masters Of The American Cinema / Louis Giannetti. BOOK c1981 Valle
Verde; PN1993.5.U6G49 1981