[Note: refresh your webpage occasionally to see an updated post and to see your peers’ comments.]
We need to start thinking about an adapted film to watch for the last day. So far, some suggestions you’ve given have been: “a chick flick,” American Splendor, My Own Private Idaho, Stranger than Fiction, Dark Knight/“something comic book-y.” I’d add to the list: Ghost World (Zwigoff), Beau Travail (Denis), and two by Catherine Breillat: Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard.
Leave a comment with 1 or 2 suggestions (or even “genres of adaptation”) you’d propose the class watch together. We’ll try to winnow the list down over the next few weeks.
Part 1: (to come at 4:40)
You know what we HAVEN’T talked about yet this semester? Good old-fashioned film analysis.
As English graduate students, you have already become very good at literary analysis–you know how to identify a juicy quotation from a novel, read its symbolism or imagery, discuss how it works to establish a larger character arc or narrative, and come to an argument about a text’s real meaning based on these and other details.
But what you (probably) haven’t practiced as much is how to do that to a film. Take a look at this pdf link to a handout on basic analysis of a shot/scene in a film:
This handout was drawn from an online slideshow on mise-en-scene. Spend 10 or so minutes and walk yourself through the slide show here, seeing how the different “options” filmmakers have at their disposal can be used to analyze a scene in a film:
Part 2: (to come at 5:00)
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some basic film terms, let’s practice on a shared example. First, watch this short excerpt from Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000). Then, leave a comment to this post where you make 3-4 observations about how ONE of the film analysis elements works in the shot that I made a screen capture of (it’s OK if you write more of a list or even find yourself saying “obvious” things). Hopefully we’ll not all pick “dominant” to write about….
Again: the elements are: The Dominant, Lighting Key, Shot and Camera Proxemics, Camera Angle, Color Values, Lens/Filter/Stock, Subsidiary Contrasts, Density, Composition, Form, Framing, Depth of Field, Character Placement, Staging Positions, Character Proxemics
Write about one of the 15 mise-en-scene elements in this shot (that’s Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern in the frame):
Part 3: (to come at 5:20)
Now, refresh the website and take a look at your peer’s comments. Select two of them to quote along with your own thoughts and write a paragraph of 5-6 sentences that analyzes this shot. Start your paragraph by completing this sentence:
Michael Almereyda uses specific elements of mise-en-scene in adapting Hamlet in order to convey _____________________.
Part 4: (to come at 5:45)
Robert B. Ray is one of my favorite film writers and I love two of his books especially: How a Film Theory Got Lost and The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy.
What I like about Ray is how he helps us resurrect an alternate version of film theory very different from the one that is most dominant (which, not surprisingly, is the one we’ve been studying most this semester).
This is not unlike the argument Christian Metz raised–“The basic formula, which has never changed, is the one that consists in making a large continuous unit that tells a story and calling it a ‘movie.’ ‘Going to the movies’ is going to see this type of story” (Christian Metz, qtd. in McFarlane, 12). Similarly, film theory has come to mean a particular kind of appreciation of movies based on that kind of narrative impulse.
But that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case! Say no to path dependence! Ray ends his first chapter with his own example of a different kind of film from the most common one, on the Andy Hardy movies.
But first let’s first try to sort out the two film traditions Ray describes. Leave a comment to this post with the 4-5 most important “opposites” that describe, explain, or are analogous to the two film traditions Ray juxtaposes. For example, the first one I notice in Ray’s essay is on page 2:
magic vs. positivism (2)
??? vs. ???
??? vs. ???
??? vs. ???
??? vs. ???
Part 5: (to come at 6:00)
Here’s my list of juxtaposed film tradition terms just from the first few pages:
magic vs. positivism (2)
photogénie vs. semiotics (2)
enchantment vs. mass production (2)
a vehicle of revelation vs. a means of argument (3)
Impressionist-Surrealist vs. Eisenstein (3)
Ray points out how the second column has become the dominant one, and he wants to resurrect the first column: magic, enchantment, photogénie, revelation, Impressionist-Surrealist. The technique for doing this is another pair: heuretics vs. hermeneutics (13). Here’s what he says:
A heuretic film studies might begin where photogénie, third meanings, and fetishism intersect: with the cinematic detail whose insistent appeal eludes precise explanation. Barthes maintained that third meanings, while resisting obvious connotations, compel an “interrogative reading.” In doing so, he was implicitly suggestion how Impressionist reverie could prompt an active research method resembling the Surrealists’ “Irrational Enlargement,” a game in which players generate chains of associations from a given object. Here are the instructions for such a project: Select a detail from a movie, one that interests you without your knowing why. Follow this detail wherever it leads and report your findings.
As you can see, this heuretic approach is very different from the one we practiced earlier with mise-en-scene analysis. Rather than try to uncover evidence for a “means of argument,” heuretics offers a “vehicle of revelation,” asking us to contribute meaning to the text more than try to find a hidden one.
Let’s practice this on that clip from Hamlet. We’re going to focus on:
the cinematic detail whose insistent appeal eludes precise explanation.
Watch the clip again, and then follow Ray’s instructions:
Select a detail from a movie, one that interests you without your knowing why. Follow this detail wherever it leads and report your findings.
Leave a comment with your findings.
Part 6: (to come at 6:20)
Whew, that’s it! Hang in there, conserve gas, and I’ll see you next Thursday. In the meantime I’ll compile a list of our final film suggestions.