Focus FilmsBoth of our focus films were directed by Stanley Kurbrick.Kubrick is ranked as one of the greatest ever filmmakers.This module focuses on the ways in which popular film produces powerful sensory andemotional responses in the spectator.The module is essentially concerned with the interaction of elements of film constructionwith the spectator.Its focus is on what goes on at the interface between the viewer and the filmFull Metal Jacket(1987)A Clockwork Orange(1971)He created more than movies. Hegave us complete environmentalexperiences that got more, not lessintense the more you watched them
FILM AS A COMMUNICATION PROCESSFilm is fundamentally a form of communication, and as such it could be said to involvetransmission of messages with senders encoding, and receivers decoding thosemessages. In other words, there is an attempt by the sender of the message(director/producer) to influence in some way, the state of mind of another person(spectator).From this perspective a certain meaning or message is placed in to the text by its author,and it is the job of the reader (spectator) to discover that meaning and share something ofthe same understanding of the world as the author.Another way to look at film is as an ‘Interactive’ process. In this sense the reader(spectator) becomes a key factor in the production of meaning.Meaning is not a singular and clearly defined idea by the author; it is plural and created inthe relationship between the text and the individual (spectator).CINEMATIC LANGUAGEWhatever approach we adopt to cinema we aredependent upon the idea of there being some sort ofshared knowledge of the medium, a language held incommon between the sender and the receiver.Without this shared language there can be nocommunication!Working with one other person, choose a film you bothknow well and, without discussing your ideas bothwrite down what you would see as the ‘centralmessage’ that has been placed in this film by thefilmmakers.Compare your written responses.Are they the same?Similar or different?Discuss your ideas and see if you can come to anagreed definition of the main authorial message.Invasion of the BodySnatchers(1956) generated severalresponses and can be read aseither:Anti-McCarthyAnti-CommunistFear of Communist infiltrationThis section of the exam is essentially concerned with the interaction of elements of film construction(Micro elements, Narrative, Genre & Representation) with the spectator. SECTION B’s focus is on whatgoes on at the interface between the viewer and the filmLow-Angle shots implydominance – cinematiclanguage understood byfilmmakers and audiences alike
FILM LANGUAGEFilm operates as a language; it communicates with spectator through the use of imagesand sounds. In the opening of Star Wars IV: A New Hope the director communicateseverything the audience needs to know to understand the power relationship between the‘Empire’ and ‘The Rebels’ without the need for dialogue or exposition.We do not need the opening of Star Wars IV explained to use in words because it has beenexplained using the language of cinema.The Rebel spacecraft looks small,vulnerable and isolated in the giantgalactic backdrop. The ship is fleeingsomething informing us the rebels areloosing and are not in control.The Giant Imperial Star Destroyerenters the shot. The low angle impliesdominance and the ship dwarves thatof the rebellion; informing us that theempire is a vastly superior andtechnologically advanced force. TheImperial ship seems to have no endand is able to stretch across the entirescreen – combined with the low angleshot the dominance and control of theEmpire is clear for all to see!This simple opening shots provides all of the information the audience require to understand therelationship between Empire & Rebels. The Empire’s size, power and unlimited reach is representedby the low angle shot of the Star Destroyer that seems to go and on and on… The Rebels are clearlya small group, under equipped and constantly on the run from the evil empire.The CINEMATIC LANGUAGE conveys all of this information with a single word spoken.
It is the way in which visual indicators are combined within a single shot andfrom shot to shot within a carefully arranged sequence that is critical to thecreation of visual meaning. It is the combination of spoken word, sound effects and musicsoundtrack that works to create meaning with the film. More significantly perhaps is thevisual indicators chosen.It is the combination of Visual Indicators and Aural Indicators that make up the ‘CinematicLanguage’FILM AS CONSTRUCTSAbove all we should remember that what we see on a screen is not ‘the real’ itself, but a ‘re-presentation’ of ‘the real’ – a construct.Films are ‘built’ by filmmakers from a series of component parts (Shot types, editingtransitions, Special effects, nuance in performances, sounds, music etc) that we canidentify.As students of film we must ‘de-construct’ these component parts and examine HOW theyhave been put together. By exploring the choices of the filmmaker we can identify possiblemeanings that could be created as ‘spectators’ interact with the film text before them.Both our response to a film and the meanings we take from it can only be created from one source.Therefore, if we are to be able to ‘read’ a film with any confidence, we need to explore the nature ofthe ‘CinematicLanguage’ in some detail.Watch the opening of Blade RunnerWhy can we learn about this futuristic world?How does Ridley Scott use mise-en-scene to create meaning?How significant is the music in understanding this world?
Films are made by the industry for a specific target audience. If the distribution company’smarketing strategy works effectively, members of the target audience will be drawn to thecinema to consume (with others) the product on offer. We will be expecting (or hoping) thatthis experience will give us sensual, emotional, intellectual pleasure.If we are fans of a movie series of which the film is a part, or of the genre, star or director,we will be anticipating the event in a particularly strong fashion.Henry Fonda (1905-1982) was a major star of theGolden Era of Hollywood. He spent most of his longcareer playing the noble hero and cinema audiencesgrew to love him.In 1968 Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in theWest’, Fonda was cast as the films antagonist‘Frank’.The character of Frank is not just a antagonisthowever, he is one of the lowest villains in filmhistory; in his first scene he murders an entirefamily as a young child watches. After seeing thatthe child has heard his name, he gives a slight smileand kills him too.HENRY FONDAThe casting of Fonda as ‘Frank’drastically altered the audiences’response to the film. Seeing a man theyloved and usually saw as a hero murderchildren without remorse was shocking.Casting Fonda ‘against type’ effectivelychanged the meaning the audience readin to the film and gave the entire film anddepiction of the ‘old west’ a more brutaland tragic sensibility.
As members of the audience we will at moments be so engrossed in our own pleasure thatwe will become oblivious to the presence of others. But, equally we will remain part of thecrowd so that we will often be aware not only of our own enjoyment but also that of otherswho are present.We will be conscious of the fact that we are in some way sharing our emotions andexperiences with others. Often we will go to the cinema with others, whether family orfriends, in a deliberate attempt to share these moments of intensity. And often, our choicesof who to accompany to particular films will be governed by our knowledge of their likesand dislikes; we go with them because we know they are already, or could become a fan.We are more likely to enjoy a comedy film if watched with otherswho share a similar sense of humour. Our individual responsewill be heightened as we take pleasure from laughing along withfriends/family and ‘sharing the experience’.Our experience may also be ruined or diminished if we watch acomedy film with people who do not share our own sense ofhumour. Their response will alter our own response to the film.Alternatively,Watching a Horror film at night, whilst home alone mayheighten the scare or ‘fear factor’ created by the film. We mayempathise with the characters and the spooky, isolatedenvironments of the film may seem more threatening as aresult. Viewing a horror film in the middle of the day withfriends or a group of people may not be as terrifying as weknow we are safe and sharing the experience, instead ofexperiencing it alone.
List people with whom you have been to the cinema and the films you have seen withthem.How did you make the choice to go to particular films with particular people?Was it on the basis of their known or presumed like and dislikes?Are there particular types of films you watch on DVD with particular people?Do you have conversations with particular people about particular types of films?When you are doing these things do you see yourself operating as a fan?Part 1List your favourite Genre, favourite film star and your favourite film of the year.Beneath each explain in as much detail as possible the emotional response each hasdrawn from you.You must now write a 200 word answer about how certain films/stars/genres havegenerated a strong emotional response in you.Use these questions as a guide:(How do you respond emotionally to the typical situations and typical characters found in yourfavourite genre?Are there emotions you know you will be experiencing when you sit down to watch thesegenres of film?How do you respond emotionally to the types of roles played by your favourite star?What are you emotional expectations when you see their name attached to a film?What was the range of emotions that your favourite film of the year made you feel?Are there particular scenes, or exchanges between characters, you can recall that made youfeel certain emotions?)Part IITo what extent do you think it is the emotional response you have had to this particulargenre, star and film that had made each of them a favourite to you?
Before we look at the factors that affect our response to a film we must define thedifference between ‘The Audience’&‘The Spectator’.SPECTATORSHIP THEORY suggests that our ‘personal response’ to film draws upon ourentire psychological make-up. Including:A SOCIAL SELF – We can make meanings in ways not different from others with a similarideological formationA CULTURAL SELF – We make particular inter-textual references (to other films, kinds ofimages/music/sound) based on the media texts s/he posses and consumes.THE PRIVATE SELF – We carry memories of our own life experiences and may findpersonal significance in a film in a very different way from othersA DESIRING SELF – We bring our conscious and un-conscious desires to the film that havelittle to do with the film’s ‘surface’ content – e.g. Fantastical films offer a chance ofEscapismAn Individual.An individual experience characterised bycertain personal connections to the text.A spectator will build a personal and specificresponse to a film based on many factors,including gender, personal experience, andcultural experiences.A groupA group who share the same experience and takethe same, or similar meanings from a film.As an audience we are encouraged to share theexperience our response to the film may bealtered. We are more likely to take a sharedreading and our own individual responsediminished.
Other factors that can affect our personal response to a text include:Our relationship with a text can depend entirely on our gender. It isgenerally assumed that men and women are attracted to different typesof film; men are attracted to films that offer visual and aural sensation (Sci-Fi, Action etc)whilst women are attracted to more personal films (Romance, Drama etc). This is asimplistic view and based on stereotypical representations of men and women.Our response to films can depend on HOW our own gender is represented.This concerns how our ‘situation’ – our daily lives, routinesand relationships – can affect how we respond to films. (Refer back to page 6 for more info)This is how our culture – our upbringing, experiences andbeliefs – affect our response. This also relates toourunderstanding of the world and our own ideological framework.Think of AT LEAST one cinema experience for each of the previous four pointsWhat films/sequences have appealed to the four different ‘selves’ identified above?Watch the ‘Home Invasion’ scene from A Clockwork Orange and note down your ownpersonal response to the sequence.How has your gender influence your response?How do you think the opposite gender may respond?00:08:51 - 00:12:50
Watch Martin Scorsese’s short film ‘The Big Shave’(this can be found on Youtube)Make notes on your own personal response to the filmHow does the film make you feel?What do you think this film ‘means’?How have the micro elements been used to illicit an emotionalresponse?Why did you respond to the film this way?Compile your own list of the various types of emotional responses film might elicit fromthe spectatorNow compare your list with another student, compare the similarities & differences, andadd to your list if possible
One emotional response that should be on your list ofemotional responses to film would be ‘SHOCK’. Films, likebooks, plays, paintings and other forms of culturalproduction, have always been seen to have the ability toshock an audience. The nature of this shock can cover awide range of possibilities.The early audiences for films in Paris in 1895 wereapparently ‘shocked’ simply by the sense of‘realism’created by the film image of a train moving towardsthem.It might ‘shock’ some people to see surrealist orexpressionist film because they have never thought of thepossibility of there being alternative forms of cinema andnarrative.Most people’s initial response to this topic is too see‘shock’ as graphic violent content andsexual violence.Films considered ‘Shocking’:List the different ways in which you see film as being potentially ‘shocking’, and try togive an example for each.Compare your list with your classmates and is possible, discuss the similarities anddifferences
After carrying out the task on the previous page you should have become aware of the wayin which ‘Shock’in film can be talked about in terms of either the CONTENT (subject matter)or the FORM (style/technical attributes) of the film under discussion.When you think about films and scenes that create an emotional shock, always make sureyou are considering both CONTENT AND FORM. Try to decide on the nature of the shockexperienced and the intensity of that shock. Is it a physical shock that affects your bodilyresponse in some way?The opening ‘Eye-slicing’ scene from Salvador Dali’s UnChienAndalouis clearly shocking, but so too is theCONSTURUCTION OF THE SCENE:A series of Close up’s & Extreme Close-up’s are used to showthe eye being cut. The editing, from the blank face of thewomen with her eye being held open to the actual eyeball-cutting is shocking in its own right.In contrast, Reservior Dogs generates shock in other ways. The‘Cop Torture’ scene generates ‘Shock’not only through the FORM(graphic torture and violence, blood etc) but CONTENT also.The intention of the Mr Blonde and the helplessness of thePolice officer make the scene more shocking than just the FORM.“Michael Madsen had difficulty filming the torture scenes. He wasparticularly reluctant when he was required to hit actor KirkBaltz. When the cop, pleading for his life, says that he has a childat home (a line not in the script), Madsen, himself a new father atthe time, was so disturbed by the idea of leaving a child fatherlessthat be couldn’t finish the scene”
It is useful to place the idea of ‘shocked’ emotional response to film into some sort of‘HISTORICAL CONTEXT’, recognising that certain forms of shock can continue to remainshocking over time.However, you must remember that it is a mistake to believe that the events,characters and character relationships that filmmakers have tried to show onfilm have simply become progressively more shocking over time.The opening ‘Eye-slicing’ scene from Salvador Dali’s UnChienAndalouremains shocking to modern audiences due tothe form and content of the scene.Others films, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psychomay, over time,lose their ability to shock as audiences become used to moresophisticated cinema.GROUP TASKView as much of ‘Freaks’ (Tod Browning, 1932) asyou can.Make notes throughout on our emotional response atvarious points – also make a note of how otherpeople respond to the filmDiscuss your responses with othersUsing the internet research the history of the film (itwas banned in the UK for 30 years)
Alterations over time in what is seen as shocking may bebrought about as a result of changing social values thatlead to accompanying adjustments in what is deemedconventionally acceptable in film. For instance, ratherbizarrely one might think, Hitchcock was apparentlypleased to get a shot of a toilet pan past the censors andinto Psycho (1960).Filmmakers have always attempted to gain some sort ofemotional response from the spectator, and for their partspectators have always responded emotionally to film.More than that, spectators have always attended thecinema in order to have their emotions aroused and withthe expectation this will take place.This may take the form of Horror films, Romance, action,titillation etcPsycho opens with a Romanticlunch time rendezvous in ahotel room between a marriedman and hismistress.At the time thiswasseen tobepushing the boundaries ofacceptability.