Film Exam- November 6
Film form and Narrative Form (weeks 3 & 4) Week 3, Sept 18th: Chapter 2 Week 4, Sept 25th:
Classical Hollywood Narration (week 5, Oct 2) 97-99
Mise-en-Scne (week 6, Oct 9th) 112-54
Editing (weeks 7-9) Week 7, Oct 16th: 218-32; Week 8, Oct 23rd: 232-55, 406-10; Week 9,
Oct 30: 255-61, 476-79, 410-415
Film form and meaning, Week 3
Notes from the reading, Chapter 2
Narrative elements form a pattern, story. Various stylistic elements also form patterns.
Form vs. Content
People often think of form as the opposite of content; however every component functions as part
of pattern, big or small, that engages the viewer. What we might call the content is governed by the
films formal context
In general, surprise is a result of an expectation that is revealed to be incorrect. Comedy often
depends on cheating expectations and creating surprise.
Sometimes a film will cue us to think about what might have come before the start of the film. In other
words, F.M. can arouse curiosity about earlier events. Some other example of possible ways a F.M.s
creative decisions about form can engage us: a F.M can cue us to make expectations and then gratify
them, or they may wait while before fulfilling our expectations, OR the F.M may set up expectations
only to undercut them, creating surprise. The F.M. may choose to disturb our expectations, using
conflict tensions and shock. Experimental films may jar people instead of soothe them. Yet even
when they disturb us, FM still arouse and shape formal expectations.
Conventions and Experience
One guide to your expectations is your prior experience. Films are human creations, and the F.M
lives in history and society and as a result the artwork will relate in some way to the other works and
to aspects of the world. A tradition, a dominant style, a popular form-element like these will be
common to several different artworks. These common traits are called conventions. For example the
first few scenes of a film often explain background information about the characters and the action,
this sort of exposition is a narrative convention.
Form and Feeling
Emotion plays a large role in our experience of form. To understand this role, distinguish between
emotions represented in the film and an emotional response felt by the spectator. If an actor 2
grimaces in agony, the emotion of the pain is presented within the film. Emotions represented within
the film play particular roles in the films overall form.
Form and Meaning
Film like all art forms engage us in active interpretation, shapes and guides our expectations.
Like emotion, meaning is important to our experience of artworks. As viewers were are constantly
testing the work for larger significance, for what is says or suggests.
There are 4 types of meaning,
Referential meaning: Drawing upon pre-existing notions of the world, places, things eras (old
movies in Hugo)
Explicit Meaning: Very in your face and easy to see, straight forward meanings, e.g. Hugo
fixes broken things through the film, what is broken can be fixed it an explicit meaning of
Implicit Meaning: Meaning that is harder to see or find, implied but not stated, more abstract
Symptomatic (Ideological) meaning: Movies can convey social meanings, sometimes they
can be sexist or prejudice or even racist, religious beliefs, political opinions
Five Principles of Film Form
1. Function: If form is a pattern of elements, we would expect that those elements fulfill
functions. Always consider functions of each formal element we observe. For example, in
Hugo, we are repeatedly drawn to Gustaves leg brace. How does this invite us to think about
Gustave as character, what formal role(s) is he playing in the film? The word motivation
meanings we are asking what justifies anything being in the movies or taking the shape it
does, motivation point so functions. Motivation is so common in films the viewers take it for
2. Similarity and Repetition: Always consider any significance of things that are similar or
repeat F.M. rely on repetition constantly, making the main character reappear, the dialogue
reiterates main points about conflicts, goals and themes. More subtly, are motifs. A motif is
any significant repeated element that contributes to the overall form. It may be an object,
colour, place, a person or sound. For example, the taxi drivers postcard in Collateral. Motifs
are fairly exact repetition but a film can chart broader similarities between its ingredients.
Motifs can help create parallels among characters and situation.
3. Difference and Variation: We should consider the importance of any difference and variation.
For example, Hugos first arrival vs. his final departure from the station, he arrives shaken up
just having lost his dad, but he leaving he is happy, moving on towards a better life.
Differences among the elements are most apparent when characters clash. Motifs will be
repeated, but often not exactly, variation will appear. Not all differences come down to this vs.
4. Development: One way to notice how similarity and difference operate in the film form is to
look for principles of development from part to part. E.g. in Hugo, his first encounter with
Melies (the films present) and Rene tabards (the film historian who is a huge fan) in Tabards
flashback, Melies is so nice to him vs. how Melies is rude to Hugo earlier in the film, what is 3
the film trying to show? F.M often treats formal development as progression moving from
beginning through middle to end.
5. Unity and Disunity: When all the relationships we perceive within a film are clear and
economically interwoven, we say that the film has unity. A unified film is often referred to as
tight. Unity is a matter of degree. Happy ending vs. unhappy ending, are all the questions
answered? Any closure? An example of unity is the ending scene of Hugo with all the
characters seen happy and smiling, having found happiness.
Week 4, Narrative Form
Narrative: A chain of events linked by cause and effect and occurring in time and space. A narrative is
what we mean by the term story. The narrative develops for an initial situation of conflict, through a
series of events caused by the conflict, to the resolution of the conflict. Causality, space and time are
all important to narrative form. Narrative form makes use of other forms as well. Parallelism: the
similarity among story elements.
Some specific agent who purports to be telling us the story
Non-character narrator (Morgan freeman in March of the Penguins)
Fiction vs. film, telling vs. showing
Inferred Events: Events not seen on screen but are implied through action or dialogue, or setting,
etc. For example, In North by Northwest, you see bustling New York and a man in suit dictating to a
woman who appears to be his secretary as they come out of the elevator. It is inferred, that they are
coming out of his office, and hes a busy man and its a busy day.
The total world of the story action is sometimes called the films diegeis (Greek for recounted story).
The traffic, streets and skyscrapers we see in the opening of North by Northwest all are diegetic
because they are assumed to exist in the world that the film depicts. An example of non-diegetic
would be the credits and opening music in a film, because they are not a part of the story world
because they characters cannot see/hear them, they do not exist to the characters.
Characters as Causes
By triggering and reacting to events characters play causal roles within the films narrative form.
Characters create causes and register effects, within the films overall form, they make things happen
and respond to events. Film characters have physical body (most times) as well as traits: attitudes,
skills, habits, tastes, psychological drives and any other qualities that distinguish him or her.
Casual motivation: often involves the plating of information in advance of a scene. Its most common
in detective narratives, however any films plot can withhold causes and this arouses our curiosity.
Horror and science fiction often leave us in the dark about what forces lurk behind certain events.
Story and Plot in a Classic Detective Film 4
a) Crime conceived