How to analyse a film

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How to analyse a film

  1. 1. How to analyse a filmIn this article I am going to describe and explain how to analyse film, one of the most popularmediums in the world. There are two different ways in which to analyse film, the first is genreanalysis, the definition of this is that the analyst is working on the basis of seven points, these sevenpoints define a films genre and can be ticked off through watching a film, to define the films genre.This is a basic and easy way to analyse very conventional genre oriented films. A few examples ofgenre based films are films like Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster – 2008) The Terminator (JamesCameron – 1984) and Super Bad (Greg Mottola – 2007). The other type of film analysis is auteurtheory, this refers to the director having a specific artistic vision which is analysed by makingaccurate theories on to what certain moments, objects, reasons for doing something, mean in thefilm. For example, Pulp Fiction is a highly regarded, popular auteur film in that the way in which PulpFiction is presented and shown, shows many references to being auteur. For example the film Leon(Luc Besson - 1994) is also an auteur film, with its unusual theme of the two central charactersuncomfortable relationship. Other auteur films include Gran Turino (Clint Eastwood – 2008) andLooper (Rhian Johnson – 2012). Looper being called an auteur film could be seen as debatable, thereason I believe that it is an auteur film is that the sci-fi story of time travel is not an unusual one initself, but rather, the mixture of crime, time-travel and action have come together to make a filmthat is not genre specific and raises moral questions and peoples beliefs, which is something notreally developed in an action film where everyone is gun fodder. Furthermore the exploration of thecharacters personality, the changes that he goes through and how they delve into how he changesthrough the space of time and why is something that is usually not explored in action, or sci-fi(possibly briefly) and is only usually mentioned to help give some background, whereas here it is themain backbone of the film itself. Morally ambiguous questions and questionable motives are themain area of this film, followed quickly by character development, backed up with great action.Genre analysis is defined by the seven main areas of analysis that takes place within this form, codesand conventions, setting, character, themes, narrative, iconography and ideological message. Thecodes and conventions, what this means is the codes and conventions of a specific genre, forexample action films usually have guns in them, and car chases, horror can have gore and shockingmoments. What this means is that through these distinctive parts of the film, it adds to the overallfeel and look of the film, giving it its “genre status”. By conventions it means what is conventionallyused, shown, in the film. The next part of the analysis is setting, what setting does is give the film ageneral feel, before you even see the characters it is usually a statement as to the sort of film it is,for example in sci-fi you will see hover cars, robots etc. Whereas in a fantasy film you will see thingsnon-existent in the real world, this gives the film another lot of its genre jigsaw. Another part of itwould be character, an important part of the genre defining process, the reason being is that thereare certain stereotypical characters within film. For example in action films there is the “hard man”action hero, who believes in personal justice and does no wrong. Or the femme fatale in crimethrillers, a woman who is dangerous and sexualised for the audience. Character can be definedthrough their personality, their humour and subtle things such as their gestures, for example a“good guy” would help others, for example if someone fell, in the film they are more likely to helpthem up whereas if it were a bad guy and someone offered their hand to shake they would not, theywould be more arrogant and cruel. After these three defining qualities, there is theme, the ideals
  2. 2. behind the film, hate, love, guilt, greed. Are all popular themes, hate being a theme of DjangoUnchained, love being a theme of Twilight and greed being a theme of Wall Street. Other themescan be literal things such as water, which was a theme in Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes – 2002), agangster crime thriller starring Tom Hanks and Jude Law where water is always present during ascene that includes killing, a part of the mise-en-scene of the film itself, as seen here.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZphC0_XpDp4And also where Michael kills Connor, Connor is in a full bathtub.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L8JIN9_K-8The narrative of a film is also distinct in analysing a film for its genre, the reason being is that manydifferent films use different narrative styles for different reasons, the reason being is to get a distinctfeel to the film itself, for example with Quentin Tarantinos Pulp Fiction, it was done in this waybecause if it wasn’t it would be boring and some parts wouldn’t make sense, what this means is thatthere would be characters involved who we know nothing about. Other films that have used adifferent narrative style include (500) Days of Summer, Reservoir Dogs, Sin City and Layer Cake.Another style of narrative used includes the use of flashbacks films such as Oceans Eleven andCowboys V Aliens. Iconography of a film is important for the generic qualities of a film because it canusually be attached to a certain time period, for example if it is set in London or New York then youcan tell it will be modern day, but if it is a futuristic city then you will know that it is a sci-fi. Or if it isset in a city that looks 15th century for example, then you know it will be a period drama. Forexample in Skyfall, most of the film is set in London, and also a ruined city which sets it up to be anaction film, whereas something like Looper, is set in a futuristic city where there are hover bikes andholographic signs. Furthermore the ideological message of someone helps to fit a genre because itusually has something to do with the genre, for example with Bond films the message is that of anAlpha male, a big, physically powerful man, also about British dominance, through the use of the facthe is a British spy who beats foreign “bad guys”. Furthermore the use of the Aston Martin (it being aBritish car) is an example of being British and British dominance. Furthermore in other films such asCaptain America there are other ideological messages such as American dominance, whereas in afilm like Trainspotting an ideological message in that could be through the scenes of seeing thecharacters drug abuse, that drugs are bad no matter how good they make you feel. And the samegoes for Looper, a message in that could be that no matter how much you want to change things,you can’t or that you might actually make things worse.A genre that I am a fan of is comedy, a film I saw recently was This is 40, about a middle-agedmarried couple who are having a crisis concerning growing older. The film does not stick to theconventions of romantic comedy in that it is not about a “boy meets girl” story, it is set during themiddle of a marriage with two daughters and the introduction of middle age. There is no voiceoverexplaining the two characters as they were introduced in Knocked Up, the film is not from oneperson’s perspective but from a third person perspective as a way to show how both of them aredealing with daily life. Another comedy is TED, which sticks to comedic conventions in some aspects,with their being a voice over and from the perspective of the one character, a teddy bear called Ted.Although it strays from these conventions when it is about the relationship between a man and Ted,
  3. 3. but also in that there is a romantic comedy aspect to it through the man’s relationship with hisgirlfriend.Furthermore another genre could be action and a film could be Quantum of Solace, this is a goodexample of a generic action film because of the way in which it is made, with all of the genre specificconventions, settings and characters. For example James Bond is portrayed as a physically strong,charming, man. The settings are exotic and the women are beautiful and in every film he “gets thegirl” and defeats the bad guy. The women in the Bond films are always represented as beingbeautiful and seductive, but their character is never usually explored in depth, leaving us with abeautiful woman, but a hollow character, who is always prone to falling for Bonds charms. Thisobjectifies the woman without giving us a sense of why they like Bond and why they are the waythey are, usually just being their purely for the benefit of the male audience which does objectifythem. This can be considered a convention of action films for example in Top Gun, CharlotteBlackwood, being the main woman in that film.In the film Leon (Luc Besson – 1995) the opening sequence is similar to that of Quantum of Solace inthat it has the same tracking shot, but this is the only time where they are similar, the reason beingis that they both share Arial shots, the same tracking shot and establishing shot, they also haveviolence in them and portrays a “one man against many” scenario, with the use of close ups andguns while portraying them both as skilled killers. The films are different in that while Daniel Craig isportrayed as a tall muscular, handsome man, whereas Leon is portrayed as an average looking man,silent, tall and gangly, you barely see his face and he looks more like a bad guy because of the use ofhis glasses. Luc Besson, the director of Leon, can be considered an auteur director because he is themain creator of the work, the reason being is that he directed and wrote the story himself, whilealso paralleling this with the use of his technical skill bringing the story to life through the use of this,and also because of the “controversy” with the young female lead Natalie Portman possibly being a“lover” or insinuated as being one, this puts his artistic needs before the commercial needs of thefilm, the film also has a unique style, whereas Quantum of Solace is a very run of the mill action film.Another auteur director is Quentin Tarantino, who has been making films for the past twenty years,from his highly praised Reservoir Dogs through to the controversial spaghetti western DjangoUnchained. The reason I believe that Quentin Taratinos films have been successful is that his filmsare very original, the reason being is that, even though they stick to conventions in some ways, a lotof the time they break the rules and create their own little set of rules. For example Pulp Fiction is acritically acclaimed crime film that starts, at the end and finishes in the middle of the film, whereashis film Kill Bill Vol 1 is a homage to Japanese revenge films, albeit being set in the modern day in amore westernized world. Furthermore his film Inglorious Basterd is an imaginative re-imagining ofthe second world war, where there are a group of soldiers who are dropped into Nazi occupiedFrance to wreak havoc on the Nazi forces. His films also having an over the top view on stylizedviolence and gun violence.It can be argued that Rian Johnson the director of Looper is not an auteur director, whereas I believethat he is, not just because he is the director and writer of the film, but also because of his technicalapproach to the film, using a more physical approach rather than a CGI one on the stunts used, andalso because of the artistic merit, which links into the individual style of the film in that he focusesmore on character development rather than action in this sci-fi/thriller. For example how “Young
  4. 4. Joe” develops from a selfish drug addled killer to someone who is selfless, and does things for othersnot just himself, not that he is perfect, but it also questions peoples morals through the entire story,with heart wrenching scenes involving “Older Joe” and his good intentions but rather evil acts tobring about this good intention. His other films “The Brothers Bloom” and “Brick” I think that RianJohnsons other films do not have any similar themes to Looper, but this does not necessarily meanthat he is not an auteur, on the contrary I think this strengthens the argument that he is. In that he isnot afraid to tell a story of hopelessness and then a story of age and time, showing that as a writer,he is artistically flexible and is not afraid of exploring different themes, furthermore I think thatgenre films, have very similar films, this is what makes them genre films, because of the themes theyare able to be pigeonholed whereas with auteur films, they do not stick to the same theme over andover making them a unique film experience.In conclusion I believe that both methods of analysing, even though they contrast each other, alsosupport each other in that with the ‘ticking the right box’ style of analysis helps in some areasallowing for a way to define a films genre, whereas with auteur theory, this then is useful after usingthe genre analysis because it allows for a certain degree of guidance, which can then transform intoauteur theory, which allows for the analysis to further develop and growthe analysis they are tryingto yield the results of. Although these styles of analysis parallel each other I believe that this is astrength because of the different uses they have and the way they support each other up until acertain point, basically going a certain path and then stopping and thinking ‘ok now I need to do thisin order to achieve what I am trying to do’, helping us to develop a full understanding of film.

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