The Critical Introduction to Film… (Part 2)

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 2: The Orchestration of Detail

Continuing from the last blog post regarding interpretation and expectations, the next focus is detail. Motifs and parrallels are details placed to enhance understanding and ensure themes are brought to the forefront of the story. Wallis and Pramaggiore state “Motifs can also encourage spectators to compare and contrast characters, plot events, objects of situations”. The book refers to Citizen Kane and the motif of ‘rosebud’. Further to this, you could add to the list of important motifs other examples such as the graffitied cement-section in Mystic River, the triangular formation that is built obsessively in Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. These motifs focus our attention on what is important – and what we should think about. For example, what is important about the cement-section in Mystic River? The connection to childhood, the rebellious aspects of their youth dictating their adulthood – the moment whereby their lives changed forever through Dave’s abduction.

Motif’s signify multiple reminders of a theme, whereas parrallels may simply be the same sequence repeated or a shot which clearly asks for a comparison between two characters. So, we can consider the repeated tracking shot in Shaun of the Dead as Simon Pegg walks from his house to the newsagent – in the first instance people act like zombies, though the second time people actually are zombies. Another parrallel may be how the shot that finishes Smokin’ Aces forces you to see the two comatose-criminals sat on either side of Reynolds character and we compare the two – are they important? No? Then pull the plug Reynolds. (Note how it then zooms in on Reynolds as the two criminals are not important – it is Reynolds who is important). Wallis and Pramaggiore finish this section by noting how “paying attention to repetition, motifs and parrallels can help viewers to recognise a film’s deeper structure”.

The details often take place at important points – such as contrasting the start and end of a film (the feather in Forrest Gump). Sometimes they structure specific turning points in the film (Every time Cobb exits a dream, again, he checks his Totem in Inception). But even camerawork can dictate the end of sequences – potentially fading out to signal the end of a sequence (I find this happens alot when huge-chunks of time separates each section, following the fade out with text “Massachussets, 1895” before continuing with the story)
Having just mentioned ‘huge-chunks of time’, sometimes the non-chronological structure of a story is set-up to focus your attention on different aspects. The repetition of a feature often beginning these sequences to clarify the time-period and where the sequence takes place.

Its fair to say that, at the moment, anything presented on the screen is not a happy-accident. Filmmakers choose to set-up different parrallels and motifs to make meaning and ensure that the film is structurally poetic. Having said that, there is many articles on how Tron:Legacy has much more depth to it than what may first be the case – comparing the Sam Flynn/Kevin Flynn storyline to Hamlet. Personally, it is worth being wary that meaning can be found in film, despite not beng originally intended. I don’t think this is too much of a problem, as an audience, we can interpret Art in whatever way we believe is appropriate and once a film is made and exhibited, it is out of the personal domain and in the publics hands. Though meaning may not have been intended, there may be subconsious themes that speak through the film that the filmmaker was unaware of. 

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  1. Alright man, keep these coming, I have done this in the past, during my degree; it really helps to grasp the concepts if you're actively summarising them and applying the relevantly. I really like the way you have taken the theory and placed it in very contemporary examples; shows you really understand what is being said and gets the point across of a whole chapter for those such as I who won't get round to reading it.

  2. Hopefully, in the process I'll learn something too! I have also gotten into the habit of writing in the margins of all my books when I read them! Great way to keep notes!

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