Film Form 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Film is governed by principles.
Assumes that perceivers of art are actively engaged. They detect patterns
and make sense of them.
Second it assumes that the artwork actively draws us into these activities.
Art and its perceiver exist in an active interdependent relationship.
Work of art is not random and unordered, but is presented actively on
Form: Definitions and Operations
What is Form?
The manner in which the parts fit together to make a whole. It involves
systems. Just as the relationship between the artwork and perceiver is
codependent, so are the different elements as part of film form. Systematic
“Overall system of relations that we can perceive among the film elements in
the whole film.” (Film Art, p. 55) Definition must always combine both the
artwork and its beholder.
Form is the dimension of the artwork where its relationship with the
perceiver occurs. All art strives for a total experience.
Viewers constantly holding hypotheses, art fills these expectations.
Every film relies on form. Audiences rely on form. We expect patterns to
occur. If the audience has no idea what is going to occur they would not be
able to focus. When art creates boundaries it encourages us to watch it in a
certain way. For example, leaving an open ending confuses our conventional
way of viewing. Part of this course is experiences unconventional elements
No art is totally formless. It may not be according to a familiar system,
but it is not formless.
Form governs response (emotional reaction, intellectual assessment)
Context (formal choices: music, narrative, camera angle, etc.) determines
how we respond.
An artwork should not be reducible to one meaning. The HOW is more
important then what the film is about. Form is the ongoing shaping of how
the material is presented. There is a range of meanings in artwork.
CITIZEN KANE About a man who wants love, has love, looses love, etc. but this does
not do justice to the film.
The formal choices in the film reinforce the idea that a man is not
reducible. The multiplicity of perspectives shows this.
Why are some films more respected than others? Why is Romeo and Juliet
for example held up as a greater love story than others?
- Because some have more formal complexity than others
The process of how a film creates the meanings that it does is more
important than the meaning itself.
Principles of Film Form
Five Principles Guiding Film Form:
They direct the patterns and relationships that guide a films form.
Function: Any given function of an element in a film can be multiple. For
example, “rosebud” in the movie Citizen Kane is a psychological touchstone
in the story, it is a mystery for the viewer, and it is a tool in the narration.
Repetition: Necessary for the viewer in narration, in visual images, and
other elements. For example, the function of the repetition of newspaper
headlines, statues, in the film, help to describe nature of the representation
of characters in the film. Sometimes parallels, sometimes contrast…
Variation: Keeps viewer intrigued. In citizen Kane the same setup in each
interview, which helps the viewer focus on the difference in the content of
each interview (Susan‟s reluctance versus other character‟s eagerness).
Development: Elements often change in an artwork, which helps to confirm
the dynamism of formal processing. First interview with Susan is at night,
she is reluctant; second interview during day she is more cooperative.
Unity/Disunity: Viewers like when elements fit, however sometimes film
present some misplaced elements, however this does not mean form no longer exists. There is still a systematic logic to disunity. Principle of unity is
being employed differently.
Different Formal Systems
Two Large Scale Formal Systems:
Either a narrative system, or a non-narrative system
Style - film specific elements
Narrative is always affected by style; Style and narrative are mutually
At the beginning of Citizen Kane, we are given a series of disconnected
images. Given enough information to think all of these images have
something in common, but not enough to know how.
For ex. Opening sequence with the light in the window, why are we drawn to
the light in the window. An example of a stylistic element is the placement of
the light in the window in the frame. Think about it bitch. Stylistic images
like this aid in the build-up to the “ah-ha” moment. Narrative Principles and Construction 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Narrative should not be confused with fiction. Because not all fiction films
are narrative. Fiction and narrative are NOT wholly synonymous
Narrative logic essential to understanding the story being told
Narrative Logic and The story/Plot Distinction
Casualty must be defined for story to make sense, to link plot together.
Narrative: a “chain of events linked by cause and effect occurring in time
and space.” (Film Art, p. 79)
Story: entire narrative of the film, including events depicted and inferred
Plot: events as they occur or are presented in the film; what we construct
from what is provided
Plot: events as they occur or are presented in the film; actual arrangement
of narrative as film makes it available to us. What the filmmaker crafts from
For example, we infer that the trip to Armenia took place a year before the
events in Toronto (Egoyan in his home).
Citizen Kane Plot: consists of the pieces of information presented at different
breakfast seatings, the Story: the marriage is deteriorating.
Most obviously there is an ongoing process of “hypothesis formation”
where you take what the plot gives you and try to process it into a story.
**Arguably the greater the deviation between story and plot, the more work
the viewer has to do
As a formal system, narrative depends upon the viewer constructing
story from plot.
Calendar and Citizen Kane, story and plot are NOT synonymous
Diegesis: created story space of the film; narrative films depend on a
fictional world. Most of the elements depend on diegesis. Non-diegetic
material does not belong to created story space.
Examples of Non-Diegetic material: voice over, “The End”, credits, fireworks
Story: presumed and inferred events, explicitly presented events
Plot: explicitly presented events, added non-diegetic material
Causality in Narrative Causality binds together narrative events; characters serve as primary
Films play with cause and effect to stimulate viewer interest.
In Calendar, the film refuses to reveal the final effect of his wife‟s confession
Effect preceding cause example is when a detective finds a dead body at the
beginning of a mystery film. The protagonist is presented in a particular
instance of disarray, and the cause of this disarray is then presented if the
viewer continues watching.
Time in Narrative
Organized according to three temporal factors
1. Order – placement of narrative events with regards to chronology
2. Duration – how long does the story/plot/running time of the film last?
3. Frequency – do story events recur?
*** Disagreement with Textbook: story is Kane‟s entire life, plot duration in
Citizen Kane point of Kane‟s death to end of the search. Textbook argues
differently say plot and story last roughly same amount of time.
Plot in Calendar is very similar to story, the events that occur through the
entire generation of the film.
Always be aware of how the film is structured narratively, via the plot
The journey, goal oriented (for ex. finding the treasure)
Loosely defined, no exact goal (for ex. road trip!)
The Calendar‟s plot is marked off temporally and spatially (calendar and
location of the churches, isolation in Toronto apartment)
Close attention to structure of narratives, what kinds of invitations are given
to viewer. Having a similar beginning and ending allows you to contemplate
what has changed, what is different. Mise-en-Scene 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Style involves the patterned and systematic use of elements from the
i. Mise-en-scene – putting in place
ii. Cinematographic Properties
Mise-en-scene means, “put into place” and involves everything placed before
the camera: Setting (décor, props); Costumes/makeup; Figure Expression
and Movement (performance; staging) and lighting.
These elements are adopted from theatre, but change in medium has the
potential to transform these elements substantially. (for ex. ability to show
an entire freeway, as opposed to a section). Expressive quality of objects on
stage is different then in film. They have a bigger expressive capacity
because film can play with size of the objects, etc. The actors are acting for
a camera as opposed to a live audience. Lighting, and other elements can
also be played with.
**There is a range of functions different m-e-s elements can preform.
What is emphasized and how? AND what is the function of these elements?
Category #1: SETTING
Nature and origin of the set does not dictate its effect. You can have what
seems to be a stylized real location, or a constructed, artificial location.
Verisimilitude - degree of realism that invites your belief in what you see.
Just realistic enough so you believe in what you see.
Constructed sets attempt to appear as real sets and some real sets that
attempt to appear constructed. (For the ladder, example is the costume
matching set; this is not a realistic element)
A. DECOR PROPS: Western for example, key objects like the hat and gun are
meant to be remembered. Another example is the paper weight, in
Category #2: COSTUME/MAKEUP
Can themselves be props. Coordinated to work in concert with the setting.
Can provide important story information.
Category #3: FIGURE EXPRESSION AND MOVEMENT
A. Modes of Performance: Don‟t limit yourselves to thinking actors are
only “acting”, they can be used in many different ways. Blank
expression of Kane‟s mom in Citizen Kane while Thatcher gives a more
animated playful expression.
B. Staging: How the actor is placed and arranged in space.
Category #4: LIGHTING
How illumination appears on the screen, works in conjunction with
Quality - intensity
o Hard Lighting (stronger shadow, harder edges)
o Soft Lighting (diffusion effect)
Direction - Where the light appears to becoming from
o Front Lighting
o Side Lighting – tends to sculpt the image
o Back Lighting – foreground objects much darker
o Under Lighting – lights from below (“ghost story” lighting)
o Top Lighting – creates shimmer effect
o Visible/diegetic source of lighting
o Key light(chief source of illumination, adds to intensity of visible
source of light) o Fill Light (makes up for key light; more use, softer the image
o Proportion of fill to key is quite high)
o Low key lighting = less key, sharp edges and long shadows
o Effect is created by changing something on the light source
When analyzing a film do not concentrate on mise-en-scene elements to the
exclusion of other stylistic aspects. Cinematographic Properties 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Just as many mise-en-scene employed elements originally found in the
theatre cinematographic properties derive largely from photography.
*Cinema moves in ways photography cannot.
3 distinct components of Cinematographic Properties
1. The Photographic Image
2. Framing - Boundaries of the Image
3. Duration of the Image
1. The Photographic Image
Range of tonalities (includes film stock)
Speed of Motion
Perspective (includes lens choice)
Special Effects [next term]
Range of Tonalities: how the choice of film stock effects look of a film and
audience‟s response (effect)
Washed out grainy stock: if film is low budget, they couldn‟t afford
betters tock. If in a documentary, film seen as “authentic”, Or for
ex. the news real in Citizen Kane made to look real
Technicolor process: creates particular mood and sensibility (as
seen in Meet Me in St Louis)
A particular film stock, in conjunction with light levels and lens choice, can
produce specific focusing effects.
Speed of Motion: essential uniformity of speed (filming, shooting,
projection). How speed of motion appears in the finished film “depends on
the relation between the rate at which the film was shot and the rate of
projection” (Film Art, p. 172) Old films before sound, they are sped up
because they were cranked. Some films will deliberately create a
discrepancy between shooting and projection. Mise-en-scene at hand of
Perspective: focal length of a lens (distance from lens‟s center to the point
where light rays converge to form a point of focus) can drastically alter
viewers perception, contained within frame.
Lens range: i. Wide-angle (short-focal-length; less than 35mm; „fish-eye‟ effect,
exaggerated depth) (Citizen Kane)
ii. Normal (middle-focal-length; 35-50mm)
iii. Telephoto Lens (long-focal-length; flattens out perspective, what is real
distance or depth is collapsed) (Midnight Cowboy)
iv. Zoom – not popularized till late 50s - 60s. Approximates camera
movement (of lens, not camera body itself), changes scale of shot while
bringing object into closer view. Perspective does not change.
**Depth of field: actual amount of space that any given lens can produce in
sharp focus. (Unlike deep space, a mise-en-scene property, it is a property
Wide-Angle Lens has greater depth of field. If everything is in equal
focus, multiple planes of focus, this is a considerable amount of
„depth of field‟.
If focus shifts, depth of field is limited, because still it goes from
unequal focus to equal focus.
Deep Space but limited depth of field: Boudu Saved from Drowning
Rack Focus: Not simultaneously in focus, therefore limited depth of filed
2. Framing: frame size and dimensions (includes aspect ration and
Onscreen and offscreen space
Frame Dimensions and Shape:
Widescreen - no sustained use of this until 1950s
Masking (includes iris) – many different shapes
Split-screen – often used for comical effect
Alteration of stock and lens has resulted in variety of frame sizes, also you
can adjust masks for lens.
The frames of the image serve as borders, designating the onscreen space;
beyond them exist six zones of possible offscreen space. You always have
onscreen space, always possibility of offscreen space beyond what you can
Angle, Level, Height and Distance of Framing
Straight on Angle (Rules of the Game 1939)
High Angle (Citizen Kane 1941) Low Angle (used typically to depict power of the subject, however in
used in Citizen Kane 1941 to show powerlessness)
Canted Angle (The Conformist 1970)
Low Camera Height (Early Summer 1951)
Shot Scale – not always possible to tell what the shot scale is
Extreme Long shot: can‟t see human figure amongst landscape
(Days of heaven 1978)
Long Shot: human figure seen prominently
Medium Long Shot: human figure seen from knee up
Medium Shot: human figure seen from waist up
Medium close up: chest up
Close up: the face or an object same size as face featured
prominently in shot
Extreme Close up: one prominent body part or particular detail
Analyzing Frame: What is the function of the different angle, height, or
Movement of the camera can render the image‟s frames mobile; Camera can
move from fixed position on axis, or move freely in space.
Panned – on fixed horizontal axis (straight across)
Tilt – vertical movement on horizontal axis
Tracking shot - mounted on a track, d1olly or crane. Can go anywhere
you can imagine. Sensation on screen is quite different. How to tell
difference from zoom: you should feel yourself moving in space. With
a track, literally lay a preset track, more prescribed movement; dolly
has more flexibility. If camera moves above the camera into the air,
this extends mobility of the camera to n up and down motion, then
there is a crane. Track to pan as crane to tilt.
Deliberate shaky hand held camera to promote realism
Steady camera extremely smooth (seen in The Shining)
**There can be combination, a track and slight panning adjustment, but
track is DOMINANT 3. Duration of the Image: the province of cinematographic properties as
long as that duration is uninterrupted. Discrepancy between story and
film duration proves that it is not only a product of editing.
Long Take: a shot which exits for a considerable amount of time
(typically in excess of 30-45 seconds) without any break in filming (Do
not confuse with long shot which has to do with shot scale not duration)
Necessary condition for extensive figure movement, however they are
sometimes deliberately static.
Sequence Shot: long take which possesses its own internal logic and
seems self sufficient. An entire sequence of a film happens in one take.
** Challenge for a filmmaker. Shows that film is a time dependent
medium. Requires the filmmaker to gamble the capacity of that shot.
***Protects integrity of performance i.e. in dance numbers.
The Long Take Examples:
Story/plot duration exceeds screen duration: Lone Star (1996)
A static long take/intensifying the mise-en-scene: Citizen Kane (1941)
Long take with extensive mobile framing: Children of Men (2006) Editing 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Editing is both additive (shots are strung together) and subtractive (one shot
must give way to another). Edting affects the structure of the presented
material rather than actual content of image.
Types of Transtitions
Dimenstions of Film Editing
o Graphic relations
o Rhythmic relations
o Spatial relations
o Temporal relations
Types of Transitions:
1. (Straight) Cut
3. Dissolve: remains of the first shot linger into next shot (overlap)
Dimensions of Film Editing
Editing can control four different kinds of relations between a shot and shots
1. Graphic Relations
Editing can emphasize similarities or differences in graphic relations from
shot to shot. Contrast or repetition in shots is highlighted by editing
Anything within a shot that is noticeable.
Graphic Match: deliberately emphasized link between an aspect of shot
A and a similar aspect of shot B
2. Rhythmic Relations
Determined by the temporal duration of the shots; brief shots edited
together typically create a quick tempo (staccato effect)
3. Spatial Relations
Editing can create relationships among spaces that don‟t really exist
For ex. Exterior of a building shown, and then the interior
Called “creative geography” by the Russians
Crosscutting: allows editing to forge a relationship between two (or
more) separated spaces (Often a temporal relationship as well, or
causality) 4. Temporal Relations
Most films shown in linear sequence, however it is not uncommon for
timeline to be mixed up
Flashbacks or Flash-forwards: jumble the temporal order
Elliptical: compress time/duration. Takes out unnecessary narration
Overlapping: extend time/duration
Designed to ensure that editing does nto disrupt the smooth progression of
images, a system of editing principles has been devised to produce
Works to minimize any breaks in time and space that might disturb the
Mise-en-scene elements and cinematographic properties can also be
controlled to ai in ensuring continuity, but editing is permanent
a. Spatial Continuity
180-degree rule: One observes this rule by filming all action on
one side of an imaginary axis that bisects the shooting space.
Retention of 180-degree rule is essential to ensuring the viewer‟s
easy comprehension of spatial relations
Obeying the 180-degree rule helps to ensure the viewer‟s easy
comprehension of spatial relations.
Filmmakers build on the 180-dgree rule by employing numerous
o Establishing shots
o Shot/reverse shot
o Eyeline match//glance-object cut
o Match on action
Continuity editing is explicitly designed to disguise its own operations
b. Temporal Continuity
Manipulation of temporal order and duration tends to be limited,
and clearly conveyed as such
Alternatives to Continuity Editing Various film forms deliberately do not employ continuity editing principles.
For example in Avant Garde films, French New Wave filmmakers.
How might filmmakers deliberately flout continuity principles?
Emphasize discontinuity on the graphic level
Break the 180-degree rule
Create impossible matches
Draw attention to ellipses
Jump Cut: involves (arbitrarily) excising a portion of time and space
between shots so as to emphasize the cut. Different from discontinuous
editing, which pieces together different shots that don‟t logically follow or go
together. Sound 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Film existed for around 30 years before sound added. Prior live music such
as orchestra, piano would accompany the moving pictures.
Sound is possibly the element that people recall the best, however many
regard it as secondary to video images. Many films are dialogue heavy,
which depends on people listening, arguably more important because people
can divert their yes away from the screen, relying on what they hear.
Notoriously difficult to identify.
Despite the important role sound plays within any film‟s formal system, it is
extremely difficult to analyze (sound cannot be „frozen‟ in time, as the image
can; oftentimes, individual elements of sound cannot be distinguished one
- Most realistic element
- Resists analysis
The Functions of Sound
Sound can function as a cue directing viewer attention.
For ex, point in Meet Me in St. Louise when crystals chime, and
Judy garland starts humming/singing.
1. Acoustic Properties
i. Loudness (volume and perceived distance)
ii. Pitch („highness‟ or „lowness‟ of sound)
iii. Timbre (tonal quality)
2. Selection, Alteration & Combination
Films typically make use of three types of sound: speech, music and noise
(or sound effects) and may employ and one type exclusively or in
combination with others. With the image track, sound is not simply
reproduced but represented – even in the simplest sound may be a result of
extensive blending of different sounds, subject to mechanical alteration.
Because sound is often mixed, volume pitch and timbre can all be modified
within the mix. There is a modification of aural elements, choose to highlight
Dimensions of Film Sound
A. Rhythm – contributes to the pace and accenting of sound; sound‟s
rhythm can interact with the rhythm produced by the other aspects of style. All matters of sound can have rhythm, from living means or
machines. Speech pattern, music, speed of sound etc.
B. Fidelity – relates to the faithfulness of a sound to its perceived source; it
is assured that the sound heard originates from its purported (depicted)
source. Gap between sound you expect to hear and what is actually
heard, comedic affect. Must have genuine belief that sound is coming
from perceived source.
C. Space – three types of spatially determined sound-image relationships
i. Diegetic/non-diegetic (does the sound originate from the created
story space or not?) Examples:
Diegetic sound: character from a film speaking
Non-diegetic sound: music playing over a scene (not coming
from a source in the created story space),
Voiceover narration can be diegetic** if the narrator is
somehow related or had some attachment to the given
characters. If the narration is omnipresent then it is non-
Just because something is off-screen, does not necessarily
mean it is non-diegetic.
ii. Onscreen/off-screen (does the sound originate from a depicted
source or not?)
iii. External/internal (is the sound produced physically by elements
from within the story space or does it originate from within a
Any sound can be defined according to each of these sound-image
relationships (e.g. when you see and hear a door slamming on screen, it
is diegetic, onscreen and external).
D. Time – temporally determined sound-image relationships to be
understood in terms of viewing time (screen duration) and/or story time
and plot time:
i. SCREEN DURATION: Synchronous/asynchronous (is the sound
running in sync with the image track vis-à-vis viewing time, or
ii. STORY/PLOT DURATION: Simultaneous/ non-simultaneous
(does the sound issue from the same temporal moment as the image in terms of story and plot, or does the sound occur within a
With non-simultaneous sound, the sound may be occurring at a
time earlier in the story the image onscreen or later.
** Non-Simultaneous Sound:
a. Sound occurs earlier in story than image does (e.g. sound from
past appear on soundtrack while character in present remains on
b. Sound occurs later in story than image does (e.g. character‟s voice
in present remains on soundtrack while images from past appear on
Sound bridge – a device that relies on non-simulataneous sound
to link two successive actions by bleeding over the sound from one
timeframe onto the imagery of another.
The fluidity of sound as a component of film style means that its use may
often change categorical distinctions. The diegetic sound may often interact
with the non-diegetic. Style 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
The Concept of Style
Style is the selection of various medium specific elements and the
deployment of these elements for particular purposes in a systematic
Style can be used to identify the artworks of individuals or groups of artists.
We can recognize artists by their stylistic choices.
What constitutes a film‟s style? Need any given film‟s style be uniform
throughout its running time? How does one analyse film style?
Analyzing Film Style
1. Identify the stylistic elements employed (and which ones are not)
2. Identify the dominant elements. What is their effect on the other
elements often aid each other, longer takes allow for more mobility
3. Explain how the elements interact.
4. Propose patterns that are generated through the interactions you have
observed. Identify the functions they serve.
**For assignment this week: Film you‟re seeing is from 1913, cusp of
development of continuity system, but this system is not fully developed. Do
not say stuff like “they did not figure it out yet, what a shame” think about it
as a filmmaker trying to make a spatial and temporal world, so that it is
Classical Style: involves the systematic deployment of various elements,
all working together in an interdependent manner, to enhance understanding
of the narrative. It is a norm of filmmaking practice; some filmmakers
deliberately deviate from this form. Narration 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
process by which story information is made available to us
process whereby story information is made available via the plot.
process whereby plot and style interact to promote viewer‟s
construction of the story
the distribution of story information, facilitated by the
arrangement of selected narrative events (plot). The
distribution of that information will happen in a unique way
because of the stylistic choices made.
How does the plot render story information?
STYLE (selection of medium specific elements, and the deployment
of elements in a systematic fashion)
Plot provides pattern, while style provides realization.
Categories of Distribution
A. Knowledge (range and depth): how much information does the narration
profess to possess? Narration actually possesses all knowledge, however
what does it choose to “pretend” to possess.
Range: restricted (limited to one character) or unrestricted
(broader than that possessed by any one character). Can be
determined by asking, “Who knows what when?”
o For example “A Man Escaped” is restricted narration. Most
films are not like this, instead they gravitate between two
poles, where there are key moments where you are given info
the characters don‟t know (dramatic irony)
o Knowing laughter or Surprised laughter; Surprise and
Depth: Subjective or Objective (do we know a character‟s thoughts
and/or perspective or not? Do we share the character‟s point of
view; do we see what she thinks?)
B. Communicativeness: communicative (does the narration „willingly‟
supply information when it is available?) or uncommunicative (does it
withhold information deliberately?)
For example, Calendar is uncommunicative because we don‟t
explicitly see the photographer talking to the escort service for his psychosexual drama. If the narration were communicative, it would
not be as restricted.
C. Self-consciousness: Does the narration announce recognition of its own
address to the viewer? How overt is the process of information delivery?
Dynamic camera work displays self-consciousness (emphasizes the drama
of the movement). “Means of presenting information to the viewer.”
When the camera has a “life of its own” then there is greater self-
consciousness to the narrative.
Narrative information in end scene of Citizen Kane (dramatic music,
search for sled, close-up of rosebud): unrestricted, highly
communicative, and very self-conscious. Movie does not end at
rosebud, however it ends with image of “NO TRESPASSING” and
“K” in front of Xanadu – leaves you knowing nothing, again.
**Linking style to narrative strategies. Documentary 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Documentaries often adopt a form of organization that differentiates then
from narrative films; when they do, that form is typically:
Categorical – breaks down subjects into parts or types of parts
Rhetorical – presents an argument and lays out evidence to support
*some do organize themselves as narratives (as opposed to these non-
narrative systems) Narrative or lack there of is NOT a definition for
Not all narratives are documentaries, but documentaries can be narratives.
(narrative – chain of events together by causal logic)
A Documentary is…
a film that explores the world
the representation of actual events and people on screen
a film that tries to educate or persuade viewers about something
that exists in the world
a film that offers up a representation of real, existent things in the
a film in which what is seen and heard is not created for the film
but resembles what you and I might have seen and heard had we
been present when the events occurred.
a sequence of sights and sounds that create a self-contained,
but these can (and do relate to the world we know
however, fictional cinema does require a willing suspension of
disbelief at some point
factual material (when used) is often subordinated to the fictional
exigencies of the text
Involves a series of sights and sounds that refer to the pre-exiting
world outside of the text
It cannot e a purely fictional form There is an attempt to represent something that is part of the pre-
It may contain fictional elements, but they must be subordinated to
some systematic record of the intrinsic world we know
Documentaries do more then just document. They are not neutral records of
the events they record. It is the “creative treatment of actuality” – John
Grierson (The National Film Board of Canada)
About our expectations and beliefs about what documentary should do
Viewing the Documentary
Documentaries make claims about the world that we assume to be true
A documentary is a work that could, in principle, be perceived to lie.
Documentaries have an “institutional framework” – you know before you
watch that it is going to be a documentary.
Time and the “Indexical Quality” of the Documentary Image
In terms of time, documentaries are assume to be a record of time involved
in their making.
We believe in the documentary image because that image appears to be an
index of what happened; reality leaves its imprint on that image, much like a
footprint in the sand.
Believability of documentary has different emotional impact. For example
death in documentary is a much different effect then death in fictional film. Animation 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
The only difference between Hollywood and independent films is funding.
Independent films can still be conventional.
Animation through production levels, and relation to live action.
- they differentiate from live-action for two main production reasons:
1. Animated films tend not to use photographically-rendered imagery
Imagery may be drawn, Molded out of clay, Out of paper, Scratched
on celluloid, Digitally created
Leads people to perceive these films differently than live action
2. Movement is created through the succession of distinct, single-frame
Even if the image comes from photographic images, things still don‟t
move as they would in real life
“Animation is not the art of drawings that move. But rather the art of
movements that are drawn. What happens between each frame is more
important than what happens on each frame.” – Norman McLaren
“cell animation” – filming different scenes with slight movement in each one.
Movement only comes once they‟re strung together. Different than live-
action. In animation, in-animate objects can move, but not in reality.
Therefore these things do not exist beyond the film realm (mickey mouse
compared to Tom Hanks). Leads people to approach animation differently
When animation attempts to look like real world, that usually involves
parody, because we recognize immediately that it is NOT real. For example
thriller with clay penguin.
**The unique nature of animation‟s creation of movement invites a distinct
response from its viewer. Avant-Garde & Experimental 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Hard to define cause the can be just about anything. What can be described
is their “means and aims”
Experimental films are made outside the mainstream of film production.
Avant-Garde filmmakers typically view themselves as independent, self-
expressive artists. These films virtually never enter into the realm of
commercial distribution, not made with the intention of making money. They
are aimed at a limited, specialized audience (like poetry).
1. Abandonment or radical questioning of narrative
a. Many not remotely narrative (abstract) refuse that films are made
b. Some may adopt some, but change them so that film becomes
challenged. Deforming narrative seen in Short Fuse (different shots
could have formed a narrative in a different context. Here they are
just “fragments” of a narrative)
2. Exploring the potential of the medium
a. Short Fuse systematically creates a film based on rhythmic and
graphic properties. May rely on totally formal properties.
b. Film has capacity to show us the world on visual variation; many
avant-garde films explore this by rearranging everyday objects
c. Testing out different filters; challenging how we see things on the
screen. Screen Velocity‟s purpose is to systematically deform what
3. To shock, to disturb, or to question social norms
a. Does not have same limitations put on commercial films. They can
question and make radical claims using radical means.
b. Sometimes filmmakers aim to alienate EVERYONE (including avant-
garde film goers)
4. To construct personal mythologies
a. Because they know less people will see the films, avant-garde
filmmakers tend to make them more personal.
These films often operate as a mediation on the medium (in terms of its
potential for artistic expression, its defining capacities, or its status as an
instrument of vision). The Classical Film 9/20/2011 9:15:00 AM
Not limited to American films however, strongly associated to Hollywood,
and the studio era between 1920-1960
Films marked by predictability and consistency. Many critics contribute this
to the construction of films done by studios. The “magic of movies” involves
the studios doing a lot of work behind the scenes to produce „magical‟ films.
The highly developed formal system in which Hollywood films tell their story;
done in a way to seem effortless, though a lot of effort goes into them
The goals of the classical film is “to deliver the story as powerfully as
possibly without interrupting the flow of the intrusive marks or signs that
might betray the fact that the story is itself a product of careful
The classical style = elaborate system to belie its own existence
Principles of Classicism
Strong correlation exists between the regulated manner of production typical
of the studio system and the formal principles that studio-based filmmakers
adopted. Limited number of companies who adopted similar method of
making feature-length films. There was unified purpose between studios, so
it was easy to make sure producers honored production standards.
General Characteristics of Any Classical Art
3. Formal harmony
4. Respect for tradition
5. Self-effacing craftsmanship (i.e. tale over teller)
6. Mimesis (i.e. imitation of an assumed reality)
7. Cool control of the beholder‟s response
Seven Features of The Classical Film
1. Stringent limits on individual contributions
o Emphasis is on production procedures and product, over
contributor. Most duties assigned to departments, and even the role of the directors is interchangeable. Everyone seen as a „cog in a
wheel‟. For ex. the great film Gone With the Wind had 3 directors
o The strength of Hollywood‟s method during this period insists
consistency in the films of the time. Depends on a SYSTEM
2. Telling a story (economically and effectively) as the basic concern
o Diminishes importance of competing. Visual always governed by
narrative. Story being told is focus over how the film looks. This
does not mean visual is unimportant, just it should never overpower
narrative. Viewer doesn‟t ask “look at that shot” but instead “what
is happening now?” Work should never call upon itself
o No pausing, no ellipses, nothing to confuse the story. All elements
should serve evident function. Citizen Kane pushed this limit,
because many stylistic attributes called to themselves.
3. Basic attribute of unity
o All elements should work together towards a common goal
o Unity from scene to scene
4. The film purports to be ‘realistic’ and satisfies standards of
o Believable and/or probable
o Sets designed in a way to meet standards of believability, but not
5. Overt stylization to be avoided
o Satisfies need for verisimilitude.
o Don‟t telegraph to the viewer that the work is not constructed at all
for the viewer. Technique is MYSTIFIED. The mechanisms of film
are not apparent, don‟t remind the viewer that what is seen is
delivered through technique. Style serving narrative only (NOT style
serving style) Continuity editing is KEY
6. The film should be immediately comprehensible and unambiguous
o Every viewer should be able to comprehend the purpose of each
moment in the film in the story. There could be subtext but on the
level of what is presented, everything should be clear
7. The film possesses a fundamental emotional appeal
o Classical films are designed as commercial enterprises, also
conceived as pleasurable. No attempt to shock viewer, because they are dependent upon being dependable and predictable
entertainment. Viewer should understand AND enjoy.
The Systematic Nature of the Classical Film
Classical films rely on formal conventions to ensure a consistency of
narrative and style. Style is subservient to the narrative, which is most
important in delivering the story of a film.
Classical narratives are fueled by causality, supplied by the actions of goal-
oriented protagonists. Cause and effect chain of narrative is dependent upon
protagonist meeting antagonists. (EQUALIBRIUM)
Thwarted desire propels the narrative forward, but the imposition of
deadlines and the scheduling of appointments shape story time. Must seem
as though characters are pushing narrative forward (as opposed to the
The systematic nature of the classical style operates to facilitate viewer
orientation; to foreground character; and to ensure comprehension of the
For example, in The Kid Brother, Harold (protagonist) has three
demonstrated goals: getting the girl, defending his father‟s name and get
the town‟s funds back. Harold‟s actions resolve this conflict at the end, which
is expected and provides a “feel good ending”. He cannot be inexplicably
heroic; the character attributes must be established at the beginning, but
not so much to overwhelm narrative with realistic attributes (keep classical
characters 2D; easy to understand – Kane is not 2D enough, no one can
figure him out). Pressure for Harold to find money in time is key in the
narrative of the film (forces him to rush off). Emphatic pleasure because
loose ends tied up (gets the girl, wins father‟s affection, etc. = COMMERCIAL
APPEAL) In Psycho, the failed appointment of the detective, causes the victims sister
and lover to go looking at the Bate motel (failure ALSO pushes the narrative
STYLE of Classical Narratives depend on:
1. Viewer Orientation
Backgrounds designed to seem realistic to maintain verisimilitude.
Space is homogeneous and undistorted.
Silent classical films lasting for several years, once sound was introduced
efforts made to still maintain verisimilitude, sound effects must be
2. Centrality of Character
3. Comprehension of Narrative
Classical style is an elaborate system of procedures designed to be self-
A Flexible Cinema, An Ideological Cinema
Classical cinema is designed to capture audience interest. Sociologically
designed to interest a large group of people
Andre Bazin: “[The Hollywood system] has been able, in an extraordinarily
competent way to show American society just as it wanted to see itself.”
In the classical system designed to make the ideological positions adopted
seem as „natural‟ as the style adopted?
“Hollywood cinema confirms the theoretical speculation that ideology is most