I’ve already put up a post looking at Media Studies which gives you guys a quick walk through some of the elements to look at. I was discussing the indie romance 500 Days of Summer with a few of the fourth year studentsand I mentioned the short that accompanies the feature titled Bank Dance. The story features Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as two characters who randomly meet in a bank. There is no dialogue to the piece, just the song ‘Why Don’t You Let Me Stay Here’ by Deschanel’s band She and Him. See what you make of this super-sweet and quirky piece:
I like films and I like analysing them. I like discovering all the little references or throwbacks or echoes of other works you might have seen or read. However, for this to work properly you need to read and watch and be interested in a lot of different things.
Film at its most basic is a series of still images played in a sequence which creates the illusion of a moving image. Feature films are usually an hour or longer in length. A short film is pretty much what it says it is – a film that is short. These can be any length up to about forty minutes. Some of the best ones to watch are the ones produced by Pixar which are shown before their feature films. There are several things you can study in a short film or any type of film. Let’s have a look at the type of questions you might be asked:
Who would want to watch this film?
Every film made is aimed at some sort of audience because the film-maker presumably wants someone to see their work. This is one of the first things we can consider. When thinking about audience it can be simpler to break it down into smaller questions answered in sweeping generalisations:
~Is the film aimed at boys or girls or both sexes? (A film like Reservoir Dogs is more likely to appeal to a male audience which contrasts with the girl-friendly Mean Girls.
~Is the film trying to target a specific age group? (Finding Nemo is aimed at young children while Pulp Fiction is for adults)
~Is it for people with a specific interest? (The Matrix was aimed primarily at science fiction geeks whereas The Devil Wears Prada was for women interested in journalism)
An example answer on audience using Toystory might look like this:
Toystory is a film aimed at both males and females as the story is a fantasy one which follows the adventures of some toys that come alive. The film could be considered more appealing to boys simply because the two main characters, Woody and Buzz, are male. The film’s target age group is children as there is a fair amount of slap stick comedy throughout the film, also the film is about toys which would appeal more to young people. It is every child’s fantasy that their toys come alive when they aren’t there and this is exactly what happens in the film. The film is also an animation and this form of film tends to be aimed at children rather than adults.
What happens in the media text?
You need to give quick summary of what happened in the film covering the key events. Try not to go into too much detail though it should just be an outline of what has occurred.
Again if we take Toystory as an example:
In Toystory the human Andy receives a new toy, Buzz Lightyear, for his birthday which makes his old toy, Woody, incredibly jealous. Whilst out on a day trip with Andy, Woody and Buzz get into a fight and end up lost in the big bad world. They must work together to make their way back to Andy before his family moves house and in doing so they forge a strong friendship.
How does the director influence the audience?
A director uses a vast array of resources to create their finished film. All of these details we “read” subconsciously to take in the final product. Some of the easiest ones to identify are the following.
CAMERAWORK & EDITING (shots, angles and movements)
~ Extreme long shot (landscape scenes) long shot (whole bodies), medium shot (people seen from hips up and also over the shoulder), close-up shot (usually focuses on a person’s face), extreme close up (focuses on a specific detail).
~ birds eye view (taken from directly above), high (taken from above), low (taken from beneath), eye level (taken in line with the subject), canted/oblique (camerea is tipped on its side).
~Pans (camera moves from side to side) Tilts (camera moves up and down), Dolly shots (camera moves along tracks i.e. filming a car chase), Crane shot (filmed from a crane to get a high up wide shot), zoom lens (either closing in on a subject or out from a subject), aerial shot (taken from the air usually in a helicopter i.e. Mariah spinning around in the valley in The Sound of Music).
COLOUR & LIGHTING
~ Has the director chosen to use a certain lighting to affect the mood or tone of their work i.e. soft lighting can make the mood romantic whereas bright, hard lighting can cool the tone.
~ Directors may also decide to saturate shots with colours to change the atmosphere of a scene. In the film The Matrix the colours red and green are used to represent the living and the computers. Green is used to represent life whereas red is used to show danger.
DIALOGUE & ACTING
~ What do the actors actually say to each other to convey the story? Consider their body language as well as this can reveal relationships between the characters in the story.
COSTUME & PROPS
What does what the characters wear reveal about the story. Costume can be used to inform the reader about the setting. If the film is an historical drama then the clothing can reveal whether it is set in the dark ages or Renaissance Italy. If it is set in the future then how does the costume show us that the characters are in a futuristic age? Perhaps the story is a medieval fantasy or Victorian steampunk? Maybe it is just a simple Drama? The colours and cut and choice of clothing can reveal factors of the characters’ personalities. Props also work in a similar manner. They reveal hobbies or choices that characters have made or will make.
Which character do you sympathise with?
This is as simple as it sounds – it might be easier to think of it as which character is your favourite and what do they do that makes you side with them? You still need to remember to back your answer up with evidence and analysis to explain your choice.
So let’s take another look at Toystory:
The character I sympathised with was Woody. Woody had always been Andy’s favourite and I think he felt a little lost when Buzz Lightyear turned up. You could see this in his face when there is a close-up of Woody’s sad eyes at Andy choosing to play with Buzz rather than him. Also when Woody and Buzz become lost Woody shouts at Buzz “If you hadn’t shown up with your stupid little cardboard spaceship and taken away everything that was important to me…” This shows just how much Woody feels he has lost. He describes Andy as his “everything” showing that Andy means the world to him. This made me feel sad as I could tell how depressed and angry Woody was at this point.
Why was the film made?
Films are really just super fancy works of art. They can be made for several reasons. If the film is a documentary then it is being made to inform the viewer about a certain subject or persuade the viewer to hold a certain view. Most films though are made to entertain the viewer by telling them a story. So ask yourself this question: does it inform me, does it persuade me or is telling a story?
Would you want to see more of the film?
Be honest when answering this question and remember to support it with reasons. Maybe you didn’t think a character was very well written. Maybe you felt the acting was really poor. Was the genre one that you had little interest in? On the other hand perhaps there was a storyline you wanted to see developed? Maybe you thought the actors had been incredibly well cast?
So that’s been a whirlwind look at film and short films and has at least introduced you to the basics of film study, Try looking at the following short films and then have a go at answering the questions.
Sea Bathing – Victorian Style from A History of EverydayThings by M Quennell (adapted from Secondary Certificate English textbook).
Sea bathing in Victorian times, was not quite the light-hearted amusement that it is today. There was no running down from the hotel to beach in a bath robe, no sunbathing, or lying about on the sands in bathing-dresses after the dip. Everything had to be done in an orderly and extremely decorous manner. Mixed bathing was not allowed anywhere. Men and women each had their separate part of the beach, and they were not supposed to meet in the water.
Bathing clothes were also carefully regulated. Men usually wore simple bathing-drawers and no more, but women were obliged to wear thick, cumbersome serge garments that covered them completely from head to foot. These satisfied the demands of modesty, but they must have been extremely uncomfortable for swimming.
Even thus decently covered, women were not supposed to show themselves on the beach whilst in bathing-attire. They had to wait their turn for the bathing-machine, a sort of wooden cabin on wheels which was drawn right down to the water’s edge by horses. On its seaward side a sort of hood or canopy projected outwards and downwards over the water, completely screening the bather until she was actually in the sea. There was a bathing-woman in attendance, part of whose duty was to dip – in other words, to seize the bather as soon as she emerged and dip her forcibly under water two or three times. This was supposed to be for the benefit of her health, and no doubt it was all right in the hands of the gentle. But most bathing-women were the reverse of gentle, and to be dipped by them must have been a decidedly strenuous form of exercise.
In course of time, however, those ideas changed. The hood disappeared when it was no longer thought shocking for a girl to be seen on the steps pf the machine in bathing-dress. Then towards the end of the century some daring individual conceived the idea of using small coloured tents which could easily be set up and taken down, and which also did away with wearisome waits because they were not hired but were the property of the user.
1. Briefly explain the meaning of each of the following: decorous manner, carefully regulated, cumbersome serge garment, demands of modesty (4)
2. What peril awaited the Victorian bathing ‘belle’ when she stepped from her bathing machine into the sea? (2)
3. What was the main reason for having bathing-machines on Victorian beaches? (1)
4. Briefly list five reasons which must have made bathing unpleasant for women (5)
5. What do the phrases ‘decently covered’ and ‘daring individual’ suggest to you about the writer’s attitude to what they are describing? (3)
6. What was the principal drawback of bathing-machines? (1)
7. What do you learn about the Victorians in this passage? (4)
Mr Winkle Prepares for Skating from The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (adapted from Secondary Certificate English textbook)
Old Wardle led the way to a pretty large sheet of ice and the fat boy and Mr Weller, having shovelled and swept away the snow which had fallen on it during the night, Mr Bob Sawyer adjusted his skates with a dexterity which to Mr Winkle was perfectly marvellous, and described circles with his left leg and cut figures of eight, and inscribed upon the ice, without once stopping for breath, a great many other pleasant and astonishing devices, to the excessive satisfaction of Mr Pickwick, Mr Tupman and the ladies…
All this time, Mr Winkle, with his face and hands blue with cold, had been forcing a gimlet into the soles of his feet, and putting his skates on, with the points behind, and getting the straps into a very complicated and entangled state, with the assistance of Mr Snodgrass, who knew rather less about skate than a Hindoo. At length, however, with the assistance of Mr Weller, the unfortunate skates were firmly screwed and buckled on, and Mr Winkle was raised to his feet.
“Now then, Sir,” said Sam, in an encouraging tone; “off with you, and show ‘em how to do it.”
“Stop, Sam, stop!” said Mr Winkle, trembling violently, and clutching hold of Sam’s arms with the grasp of a drowning man. “How slippery it is, Sam!”
“Not an uncommon thing on the ice, sir,” replied Mr Weller. “Hold up, sir!”
This last observation of Mr Weller’s bore reference to a demonstration Mr Winkle made at the instant, of a frantic desire to throw his feet in the air, and dash the back of head on the ice…
“Now, Winkle,” cried Mr Pickwick, quite unconscious that there was anything the matter. “Come; the ladies are all anxiety.”
“Yes, yes,” replied Mr Winkle, with a ghastly smile. “I’m coming.”
1. Give a word or short phrase that could be used her in place of each of the following: dexterity, inscribed, devices, observation, unconscious (5)
2. Explain why Mr Snodgrass’s knowledge of skates should be compared with that of a Hindoo. (1)
3. Give a word or phrase explaining the force of the adjective in each of the following: Excessive satisfaction, unfortunate skates, ghastly smile (3)
4. What technique is being used in the “clutching hold of Sam with the grasp of a drowning man” and how is it effective? (3)
5. Explain briefly what Mr Pickwick meant when he said “the ladies are all anxiety”. (1)
6. Why might you find Mr Winkle’s preparations for skating humorous? (2)
Sherlock Holmes Visits the Scene of the Crime from A Study in Scarlet by A. C. Doyle (adapted from Secondary Certificate English textbook).
Number 3, Lauriston Gardens, wore an ill-omened look. It was one of four which stood back some little way from the street, two being occupied and two empty. The latter looked out with three tiers of vacant melancholy windows, which were blank and dreary, save that her and there a ‘To Let’ card had developed into a cataract upon the bleared panes. A small garden sprinkled over with a scattered eruption of sickly plants separated each of theses houses from the street, and was traversed by a narrow pathway, yellowish in colour, and consisting apparently of a mixture of clay and gravel. The whole place was very sloppy from the rain which had fallen through the night. The garden was bounded by a three-foot brick wall with a fringe of wood rails upon the top, and against this wall was leaning a stalwart police-constable, surrounded by a small knot of loafers, who craned their necks and strained their eyes in the vain hope of catching some glimpse of the proceedings within.
I had imagined that Sherlock Holmes would at once have hurried into the house and plunged into a study of the mystery. Nothing appeared to be further from his intention. With an air of nonchalance which, under the circumstances, seemed to border upon affectation, he lounged up and down the pavement, and gazed vacantly at the ground, the sky, the opposite houses and the line of the railings. Having finished his scrutiny, he proceeded slowly down the path, or rather down the fringe of grass which flanked the path, keeping his eyes riveted upon the ground. Twice he stopped, and once I saw him smile, and heard him utter an exclamation of satisfaction. There were many marks of footsteps upon the wet, clayed soil, but since the police had been coming and going over it, I was unable to see how my companion could hope to learn anything from it. Still I had had such extraordinary evidence of the quickness of his perceptive faculties, that I had no doubt that he could see a great deal which was hidden from me.
1. Briefly explain the following phrases: refer especially to the adjectives used: an ill-omened look, melancholy windows, bleared panes, a stalwart Police-constable, the vain hope. (5)
2. How does the writer’s word-choice convey an impression of wretchedness and drabness in his first paragraph? (4)
3. Explain the meaning in each of the following:
“an air of nonchalance which, under the circumstances, seemed to me to border upon affectation”
“I had had such extraordinary evidence of the quickness of his perceptive faculties” (4)
4. Give a word or short phrase that might be used in place of the following: eruption, craned, lounged, vacantly, scrutiny. (7)
5. Dr Watson is narrating here. What sort of a man do you imagine him to be judging from the way he speaks and using evidence from the text. (4)
The Big Feet of Eggbert, the Screamer Bird from The Drunken Forest by Gerald Durrell
Eggbert’s feet were the bane of his life. There was so much of them, and they would get tangled together when he walked. Then there was the danger that he would tread on his own toes and fall down and make an exhibition of himself, as he had done on the first day. So he kept a very close watch on his feet for any signs of insubordination. He would sometimes stand for as long as ten minutes with bent head, gravely staring at his toes as they wiggled gently in the grass, spread out like the arms of a starfish. Eggbert’s whole desire, obviously, was to be disassociated from these outsize feet. He felt irritated by them. Without them, he was sure, he could gambol about the lawn with the airy grace of a dried thistle head. Occasionally, having watched his feet for some time, he would decide that he had lulled them into a sense of false security. Then, when they least suspected it, he would launch his body forward in an effort to speed across the lawn and leave these hateful extremities behind. But although he tried this trick many times, it never succeeded. The feet were always too quick for him, and as soon as he moved they would deliberately and maliciously twist themselves into a knot, and Eggbert would fall head first into the daisies.
His feet were continually letting him down, in more ways than one. Eggbert had a deep ambition to capture a butterfly. Why this was we could not find out, for Eggbert could not tell us. All we knew was that screamers were supposed to be entirely vegetarian, but whenever a butterfly hovered within six feet of Eggbert his whole being seemed to be filled with blood-lust, his eyes would take on a fanatical and most un-vegetarian gleam, and he would endeavour to stalk it. However, in order to stalk a butterfly with any hope of success one has to keep one’s eyes firmly fixed on it. This Eggbert knew, but the trouble was that as soon as he watched the butterfly with quivering concentration, his feet, left to their own devices, would start to play up, treading on each other’s toes, crossing over each other, and sometimes even trying to walk in the wrong directions. As soon as Eggbert dragged his eyes away from his quarry, his feet would start to behave, but by the time he looked back again the butterfly would have disappeared.
1. Give a word or short phrase that means the same as the following: bane, insubordination, disassociated, maliciously and blood-lust. (5)
2. Explain each of the following phrases: these hateful extremities, with quivering concentration, left to their own devices. (3)
3. What is meant by the words “he had lulled them into a false sense of security”? (1)
4. Comment on the effectiveness of the words, “ the airy grace of a dried thistle-head”? (1)
5. How does the writer convince us that Eggbert feels his feet don’t really belong to him? (2)
6. Briefly explain the phrase “make an exhibition of himself”. (1)
7. Explain the meaning of “his eyes would take on a fanatical…gleam” (1)
8. What do we learn about the writer Gerald Durrell in this piece of writing? (1)