Film analysis is the process in which film is analyzed in terms of semiotics, narrative structure, cultural context, and mise-en-scene, among other approaches.
Film analysis is the process in which film is analyzed in terms of semiotics, narrative structure, cultural context, and mise-en-scene, among other approaches. The analyzing film, like analyzing literature (fiction texts, etc.), is a form of rhetorical analysis—critically analyzing and evaluating discourse, including words, phrases, and images. Having a clear argument and supporting evidence is every bit as critical to film analysis as to other forms of academic writing.
Unlike literature, the film incorporates audiovisual elements and therefore introduces a new dimension to analysis. Ultimately, however, the analysis of film is not too different. Think of all the things that make up a scene in a film: the actors, the lighting, the angles, the colors. All of these things may be absent in literature, but they are deliberate choices on the part of the director, producer, or screenwriter—as are the words were chosen by the author of a work of literature. Furthermore, literature and film incorporate similar elements. They both have plots, characters, dialogue, settings, symbolism, and, just as the elements of literature can be analyzed for their intent and effect, these elements can be analyzed the same way in film.
Here are common approaches to film analysis, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:
Semiotic analysis is the analysis of meaning behind signs and symbols, typically involving metaphors, analogies, and symbolism.
Narrative structure analysis is the analysis of the story elements, including plot structure, character motivations, and theme.
Contextual analysis is analysis of the film as part of a broader context. Think about the culture, time, and place of the film’s creation. What might the film say about the culture that created it? What were/are the social and political concerns of the time period? Or, like researching the author of a novel, you might consider the director, producer, and other people vital to the making of the film. What is the place of this film in the director’s career? Does it align with his usual style of directing, or does it move in a new direction?
Mise-en-scene analysis is analysis of the arrangement of compositional elements in film—essentially, the analysis of audiovisual elements that most distinctly separate film analysis from literary analysis. Remember that the important part of a mise-en-scene analysis is not just identifying the elements of a scene, but explaining the significance behind them.
What effects are created in a scene, and what is their purpose?
How does the film attempt to achieve its goal by the way it looks, and does it succeed?
Audiovisual elements that can be analyzed include (but are not limited to): props and costumes, setting, lighting, camera angles, frames, special effects, choreography, music, color values, depth, placement of characters, etc.
In writing the film analysis, please watch the film again for the nuances that you might have missed in the first time of watching. Think about the cultural, historical contexts we have discussed so far and formulate a thesis with focus on one film. Please do not give lengthy summary of plot. The argument should be analytical, and not descriptive. You should also provide specific analyses of the film to support your argument.
Again, it should be helpful to consult basic readings of film listed in our syllabus for terminologies in film analysis.
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