Coursework and Exam

As we are drawing closer to the end of this Hollywood cinema module, we have to write an essay as well as do a timed exam.

The Essay

The essay includes, 1500 words looking a 5 minutes of an American film. This includes looking at how the shot is framed, how the camera moves etc….. colour, black and white, special effects etc…. with a little exciting cinematically to give you something extra to write about. For this I have decided to write my essay on the film, The Haunting in Connecticut (2009, Director Peter Cornwell, USA, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492044/).

The Haunting in Connecticut Film Poster
The Haunting in Connecticut Film Poster

I have writen my first draft and overall, I am pleased with what I have writen. Although I haven’t quite managed to hit the required word count of 1500 words, I have kept withing the 10% allowed word count.

The Exam

I have revised for this exam for the past week so I am feeling fairly confident. My main concern is the usual exam stress.

The paper will be in two halves, one half will be two questions that require a few paragraphs, and the other half will be questions that require short simple answers. The pass mark on any piece of work is 40%, as for the module and the year.

Wish me luck!

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Semiotics and Issues of Representation

Semiotics

Definition of semiotics – language used as a signifying system.  Meaning is arbitrary and changeable. Context is key as words change all the time – for instance ‘gay’ has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.

Christian Metz says the film is a language system. Narrative structures (sequences) and visual symbols (shots). Film is a saturated medium, we see television, film, games etc… all the time, and so we learn this visual language and all the symbols, and then it becomes second nature. So the language becomes transparent. Semiotics conveys values – not just a narrative technique. The visual codes embody values. For instance – what colour does a villain wear? Black, usually.

Representation

Cinema is a kind of mirror for the world. When we see a film we see the world reflected back to us, but the image that comes back is slightly tilted/distorted. Semiotics help create a world on screen that look so real, but it is of course constructed.

We must be passive in order to enjoy the film; we must accept what is on screen. If you disengage from a horror film, it will not have the same effect.

Key areas of representation

Gender – what are the men like on screen, what masculinity is in the film. What are the women like in the film? How is this film embodying what it is to be female.

Ethnicity – how are african-american actors portrayed in the film.

Sexuality – is it heterosexuality that is represented? How is homosexuality portrayed?

Class – think of Hugh Grant. How are working/middle class people represented in films

National identity – what is a British/Welsh representation?

Work, violence, age, students, universities? – are these aspects portrayed correctly.

Stereotyping is a big aspect of representation as the use of broad characteristics which can be identified very quickly. This is also used when identifying genre conventions when people chose the type of film they want to watch.

Overall, this was a good lesson which I felt like I learned a lot. I also feel confident when I have to mention representation in the end of module exam.

Looking at Hitchcock

Looking at Hitchcocks, ‘The Rear Window’ (1954, Directed by Hitchcock, USA), we can clearly see Hitchcock found it amusing that you could manipulate the audience into feeling all kinds of things that they may be ashamed of afterwards.

Voyeurism – in some films we even watch someone watching others so it’s double voyeurism.

In Hitchcock’s films the woman is sometimes half naked or in suggestive poses etc… therefore supporting the theory of a male dominant ideology. The film is often read as a metaphor about the nature of film itself. In what way is the film The Rear Window a metaphor for cinema? He watches stories which he enjoys and then goes away when he has had enough, sometimes he likes the story so much he comes back again and again. At one point he realises he is being watched and comes towards us, the audience, and asks “what do you want” and even though we find out it is actually to another character, we still feel like he is asking us.

Do we like the things that the people on the films are doing even if they are wrong, why do we like the horror and tenseness in films. Do these things allow us to have a cathartic experience? Are women just passive, do they enjoy not liking the films? Or does everyone enjoy films on many different levels?

Spectatorship – The Audience and Their Involvement.

Who watches films? – gender, ethnicity, age, class. Where are films watched? – national or regional contexts. What time period are we referring to? – Historical placement e.g. War films. What does the audience enjoy and why? – Personal experience?

These are the key questions when it comes to spectatorship. There are traditionally two ways of looking at audiences:-

1. Empirical research – quantitative research, ask the audience, compiling data etc… questionnaire, interview, focus groups. The important thing is that you are collecting data that you can use. But remember that people lie and change their mind. The person doing the survey can affect the data, and the data can be interpreted in so many different ways.

2.  Textual analysis – look at the film itself closely, look at how it’s made, see what the filmmakers are trying to do and make a fair guess as to how it will affect the audience. Less time and money required than the first approach. However it’s only your opinion in the data.

Films and dominant ideology

Christian Metz explains how films communicate values of dominant ideology, endorsing capitalism and gender roles. The values are embedded in the story and characters – the hero is male usually, he claims the princess, the women are there to look good. He says that the audience is passive, and becomes indoctrinated. Very susceptible due to being such a willing victim.

Apparatus theory are the posters, advertising, popcorn, trailers, the whole process of preparing you to enjoy yourself.

Textual system theory  is the individual is being encouraged to accept these values as normal, popular culture keeps reinforcing this.

Feminist Film Theory

Laura Mulvey“Visual pleasures and narrative cinema”

She uses psychoanalysis techniques for a political purpose

‘The male Gaze’ – the film industry is male dominated, the audience is also male dominated, as are the films, the filmmakers assume their audience is mostly male, therefore the audience accepts the role of a male view in order to enjoy the film.

Therefore women in films will be the way that men want to see them. Women can be a source of anxiety. The woman is not real, unobtainable object of desire, she has power over you and you are vulnerable. This is why at the end of the film the guy gets the girl on your behalf to make you feel better.

An Introduction to Cinematic Techniques

In this lecture, we learned some cinematic history. We learned about the French Lumiere brothers and their demonstration with their first cinematograph which was released 28 December 1895 in Paris. We also learned about the persistence of vision which was discovered using a Zoetrope also known as a flip book. We later were taught about the protain ascape which is a follow on from the Zoetrope. Basically a flip book stretched out. This gave Kodak the idea to create the first strip of film.

Back in the early days, people went to the cinema purely for the attraction and the novelty value thanks to the Lumiere brothers.

An example of one of the most famous short film with a narative is, The Great Train Robbery, 1903. 

This film infact made the audience panic and fled in the cinema as they believed the train was heading straight for them in the cinema.

Later, a man called Georges Melies invented camera tricks by pausing the film and enlarging images on film strips.

Cinematic Techniques

We learnt about a few important cinematic techniques such as:

  • Static shots
  • Panning
  • Angles
  • Distance shots
  • Zoom
  • Movement (Crane shots, helicopter)
  • Steady cam

Mise-en-scene

We also learnt about something called Mise-en-scene which is a french theatrical term for whats on the set

  • Composition
  • Set design or location
  • Props
  • Costume design
  • Makeup
  • Behaviour of figure
  • Lighting
  • Sound

Both these cinematic techniques will prove to be more than useful through this course.