The Critical Introduction to Film …

I am currently reading Film: A Critical Introduction by Tom Wallis and Maria Pramaggiore. As I read each chapter, I shall write the few thoughts I have…

Chapter 1/Chapter 2: An Approach to Film Analysis
The purpose of these posts is to reflect on the chapter recently read. I think by writing my thoughts, it may just sink in deep enough to then affect my writing and criticism.
The initial two chapters attempts to focus upon film analysis from the outset. To first break down a film as a film critic would you would be expected to focus on the following facets: story coherance, technicial innovations and notable performances.
Though Film critics would analyse film in this way – this is not how we all analyse film. Our expectations of what is and is not a film is judged differently depending on our expectations. Finding meaning in a film depends on our backgrounds – our knowledge, cultural experiences, preferences, formal training and expectations.
Films use patterns to reach many expectations. Take genre– a clear example of a style of film that requires specific codes and conventions – patterns – to reach the expectations of the audience. Horror films expect a kill at the start of the film – and so the pattern is set-up. As film fans, we understand these patterns and appreciate how filmmakers either exploit these codes and conventions – Scream, Pulp Fiction – or how filmmakers deviate from these patterns to present something that is new and, potentially, innovative.

Expectations are different between narrative cinema and documentary filmmaking. Documentaries present a film whereby viewers are either shown something persuasive (Michael Moore…) or a film that observes a theme (March of the Penguins). Though these are very simplistic, it is clear that all these expectations can be combined. Documentaries can often have a narrative running through (Catfish) whilst some cinematic endeavours feature a more observant-approach. Personally, Blade Runner, is an incredible film because you can observe a detailed and fully-realised world – the story is less interesting than the context it is filmed within.

This concludes todays lesson … Feel free to comment about the issues discussed – is this what film criticism is?

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  1. I might actually have to pick up this book, as I've been thinking hard about honing my critical skills over the last six months.

    I like this series – be sure to keep it coming!

  2. The first thing I wondered when I saw the cover of that books is whether or not you were reading it for a class (sorry, I have no idea how old you are). If not than I think it is best you stop. I don't say this to be rude of condescending as I have the utmost respect for you and this space but because books like that are more or less worthless. Any book that attempts to tell you how to write criticism is. You hit the nail on the head for yourself: how everyone views film is different and so then how can a book standardize an art form into something everyone should follow?

    I saw if you want to be a better critic first go and read the great novels by Dickens and Tolstory and Dostoyevsky. Being a great writer is half of being a great critic and so much criticism (especially internet) suffers from people who just can't write engagingly or well at all.

    The other half of it is knowing what you're talking about. A lot of bad critcism comes from critics making stupid statements because they have no idea what they are talking about (I recently read a statement where the writer couldn't believe that Natalie Portman would let such a horrible movie come out after such a great one, as if Portman has anything to do with when her movies are released).

    Of course, and I've written this before ( sometimes the best critic is the one who knows nothing of film but everything of art and culture and politics and society and religion because essentially all great critcism is an expression of the person and how they related to a film as opposed to a value judgement on whether or not one should go see a film or not. Hardly anyone, I'd like to think, cares about that. It's all about the personality of the writer.

    And then you know what you should do? Dump this book and go grab some volumes and read as much criticism as you can. Read Pauline Kael and Manny Farber and Andre Bazin and Jean-Luc Godard and Andrew Sarris and so on and then read books about the movie business and soak up everything you can and then put that back into your criticism. That's good criticism. No book can teach it.

    That's just my two cents anyway.

  3. @Mad Hatter – I shall endeavour to 'keep em coming' because…

    @Mike – I do agree with the vast majority fo what you are saying – and I think I am doing myself a disservice by not reding the reviews by the ones you mentioned. Fact of the matter is that, though this book is not perfect, just those initial thoughts about breaking down a film into categories is an interesting start.

    If anything, the clarification of how 'expectations are different' is highlighted from the outset – so i can't be too ignorant of other perspectives, and i guess its a get-out clause for the authors of the book. As I say, these posts will hopefully force me to reflect on what I have read – I don't have to agree with it, but I think considering the approaches will be interesting.

    I'm an Art teacher who acted and studied Theatre Studies but has a strong interest in TV and, currently most importantly, Film. So I completely agree with involving culture and art into question (often missing from many reviews) but I don't see it as too self-destructive to understnad basic reviewing … and then I can adjust it to suit my own style.

    We shall see if you enjoy the next 'reflective' post as it delves deeper into the different forms of reviewing.


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