This week’s reading assignment is Chapter Five “The Shot: Cinematography”, which focuses on the photographic element of filmmaking. Over the next two weeks, we will study cinematography and editing. These are the most crucial chapters for developing your skills in film analysis, so be sure to read these chapters, as well as review the modules and PowerPoints!
To begin, remember we are studying a language. The good news is that none of us are starting “cold” on this study. For example, if this were a class on Latin, I would have to imagine that a healthy number of us are not walking into the classroom already fluent in Latin. In contrast, most everyone in this class can already “speak” basic film language. All of us have been watching films our entire lives. Most, if not all, of us, can pretty much watch any commercial film and explain the meaning. We have learned film language at a subconscious level our whole lives and now we are bringing that subliminal education to the surface for a closer look.
In our formal education, we are trained to be active interpreters of our verbal and written language. In grade school, for example, we toiled away on how to break down the building blocks of the English language (or your native language) through reports, presentations, papers, and essays.
Cinematic language, however, was typically relegated to the level of entertainment. We watched films then much as we watch them now – to escape and relax. As a result, we have been trained to be passive viewers of film. Therefore, while we all can understand what is happening in a film, our formal education often does not provide the skill set needed to properly articulate and describe what we are watching and understanding at an analytical level. This class is attempting to develop that skill set and transform students from passive observers into active participants in the exchange of visual communication.
Cinematography is one of the most significant aspects of cinematic language, if not the most significant. It is important to think about cinematography as the basic building blocks of meaning in a film. The individual camera shots that comprise a film are very much like individual words in a sentence. Some “words” are obviously more complex than others, but they all combine in a sequence or scene through editing, (and you can think of editing as the visual equivalent of a syntax), to communicate something of significance to the viewer.
The text does an excellent job of providing a lexicon or dictionary of camera shots, such as a close-up or wide shot, so I do not want to repeat that here. Instead, I will be providing a few video examples of how different artists use cinematography as a tool to express thoughts, concepts, and ideas in dramatically different ways.