Film AnalysisA movie is a medium that is composed of visual, aural, and linguistic components. These components are maneuvered in a variety of ways to give a unifocal effect. So to interpret a film requires a multi-focused approach. This approach further amalgamates an acute observation, acquired knowledge and critical thinking.
To interpret the meaning of any particular film or sequence of film, we need to consider not simply “what happens” in the film (e.g. narrative, action, plot), but how it is filmically constructed. In order to locate the meaning of the movie, following constituents must be taken into consideration:Themes/tropes are the most significant parts of a movie. This means the basic themes and thematic expressions that are established in the mind of the viewer recurrence of technical and linguistic means throughout the film. These means are denoted as tropes. Another component that established the meaning of the movie is the “Intent”.
Sometimes the theme of the movie is apparent but this does not manifest that the message of the moviemaker is clear. Most of the time, this intended message become misted up due to various other factors. Another potential dilemma with the message is that moviemaker intends one message while audience interprets it the other way. Additionally, a movie critic must take account of metaphors and other symbolisms. This figurative techniques capacitates the critic to understand the subtexts i.
e. ironies, contradictions, interesting juxtapositions.Some other basic elements of the movie i.e. title, story, plot, narration, characterization, dialogue, motifs etc. are also supportive in analyzing the movie.Titles characterize a basic theme and message of a movie. So a critic must consider alternative titles and compare it with the original title.
He must further ponder over the relevance of that title to the movie. Opening credits is another element that helps the critic to check the initial tome of the movie.Narrative structure of a movie is the most obvious and easily comprehensible element of the movie.
Traditionally, story or plot is considered the fundamental structure of a movie. This contains all the required information about the story. The world represented in a movie is known as diegesis. Mostly these diegesis are based of fictitious elements that captivate the viewers. Plot is a regular sequence of incidents that provides the cause and effect relations to the whole story. It is further comprised of “suspense, surprise, and fulfill expectations.” Dialogues not only move the plot but also illustrate important information about the characters. So a critic must be aware of audio-visual clues about the characters.
How their movements, tone of their voice show their psychological motives and intricacies.Chronological narrative order is considered standard. So a critic must locate that whether movie has followed a chronological order or not? How time is utilized as an important factor. He must further recognize the elements that push the story forward. Tempo of the narrative is also important aspect that enthralls the viewers. Consistency or vicissitude in the tempo and pace of the narrative in the later parts of the movie must be taken into consideration.
Characterization also plays an important role in overall analysis of a movie. Critic must distinguish between major and minor characters, stereotypes, individual and universal characters and thinly or fully drawn characters. He must further explore why characters are such drawn and who in the audience is meant to relate to which characters, and what sort of emotion (fear, pleasure, anxiety) are audience members meant to feel because of this identification? He must further explore the emotionalism i.e. how characters depict a particular emotion and feeling. The psychological interaction between characters and their value representation must be analyzed within a particular frame of reference. The contextual framework or film’s perspective must be taken into consideration as it provides the point of view of the writer, director and/or a character. He must locate that whether perspective is emotional or intellectual, visionary or “realistic”?There is a third set of components that must be taken into consideration while making a movie analysis.
This set is known as MISE-EN-SCENE and includes Setting and sets, Acting style, costumes and lighting. An analysis of setting includes how the overall manufactured or constructed environments are integrated with the action and other requirements of the story. What ideological or symbolic information is conveyed through these particular setting.This includes the aura of style attached to particular actors and actresses. An analysis of style must take individual recognizable style or types. Whether the individual style of the actor or actresses is mannered in classical style or in a natural way? Whether a particular star fulfilled the expectations and emotional psychological requirements of the specific character? Costumes are important ingredients that attach grace and style with the actors and actresses. Particularly in a historical movie, contemporary costumes must be designed. So a critic must observe that whether the costumes fulfill the requirements of the story line and are appropriate to the setting and background.
Then comes the CINEMATOGRAPHY that is comprised camera work that records the mise-en-scen. Cinematography includes tone, came angel, frame and shot composition. Tone depicts the brightness, use of colors, and how these specifications are used in the picturization of shots and what they symbolize? Film speed is another characteristic of cinematography i.e. slow of fast motions, reversal of speed.MONTAGE means cuts within scenes and in the film in general, creating continuities and discontinuities, juxtapositions, and narrative structure.
The standard Hollywood practice is to make cuts “invisible,” and thus they are often difficult to pick up within a scene. “Montage” is also the term used for a series of quick cuts from a variety of locations that cohere narratively or thematically. Gerald Mast Writes in his famous work “Film Theory and Criticism, An Introductory Readings”;D.W Griffith, he great American Director of the movie The Birth of A Nation …was not important because he took better pictures than anybody else. He was important for having discovered montage, the fluid integration of camera’s total range of shots, from extreme close-ups to distant panorama, so as to produce the most coherent narrative sequence, the most systematic meaning, and the most effective rhythmic pattern.
(Mast, 1)Innovations in technology, computer graphics and animation, screen size and shape, special effects, sound effects, etc. continue to build and modify the possible ways in which films are constructed. Watch and listen for any additional elements you discover beyond those listed here.
Despite all these specification, mostly critics keep in mind the story, its various manifestations but they overlook the technicalities and art of movie-making.The Birth of a Nation is considered one of the most controversial films ever made but is regarded also as an emblem of technical innovations and creative art. Film scholars hold the view that this movie is definitely one of the most significant contributions in nurturing cinema’s role as an art form. (Goad, Craig M. 1979; Silvia, Fred.1971) The Birth of a Nation portrays some of the most chaotic and turbulent conflicts of American History. The post civil-war period is pasteurized with colors of racial discrimination and African American are depicted as the cause of all socio-political and economic problems of the Reconstruction era.
(Goad, Craig M. 1979; Silvia, Fred.1971)This film is an attempt to epitomize the historical justification for racial segregation. The movie tried to disperse the notions that Reconstruction was a disaster and African American can never be assimilated into white society. It further propogates the ideas that Ku Klux Klan emerged to restore the dominancy of whites in South that was at stake by uncontainable blacks. The film’s considerate depiction of whites lynching activities and emergence of Ku Klux Klan as messiah affirms the racial descriminations and notion of blaming the blacks for all evils in American society at that time.
The Birth of a Nation further explores the two other themes related to post war era i.e interracial sex and marriage, and the empowerment of blacks.Unfortunately, this film not only depicts an anti-black agenda in theme but the making of the movies also reinforces this idea as white actors and actresses were used to play the major black role to avoid racial pollution. Griffith’s portrayals of black characters are mere “types” and perpetuate racial stereotypes, for example Senator’s mulatto mistress and the mulatto politician brought to power in the South were stereotypically depicted and played by white actors. (Litwack, 1996 & Stern, 1965)Despite of its controversial and explicitly racial theme The Birth of A Nation remains a hallmark in America filmmaking history due to its cinematic innovations, technical advancement and artistic touches. Griffith introduces many new movie-making techniques like use or ornate title cards, the close-ups, the use of natural outdoors backgrounds, the wide-angle shot and panoramic long shorts. He further implied the amazing technique of parallels actions in a single sequence for example Gus’ endeavor to rape Flora and Ku Klux Klan salvage of Elsie and Margaret.
He pasteurized the battle scenes in a way that hundreds of extras appeared as thousands. Billy Bitzer, the cameraman of the movie further introduced the night cinematography with the help of Magnesium flares and the technical effects by camera iris i.e.
expansion and contraction of camera’s circular masks. (Dirk, 2006)Furthermore, cinematography and montage takes a new shape in the scene of Little Colonel’s homecoming;The scene of the Little Colonel’s return to his ruined home is touching and poignant – and one of the greatest scenes in early film history. Weary, Ben arrives at the front fence of his devastated home, pausing to notice its disrepair.
As he stands there, his Little Sister and other family members expectantly await his arrival inside. Ben slowly enters the fence gate and approaches the front porch. Younger sister Flora bounces joyfully out of the front door – but then hesitates when she sees his anguished expression. They both feign happiness at first, and he notices the raw cotton wool that she is wearing to imitate ermine. Both succumb to grateful tears and the two sadly embrace on the front porch. He kisses her hair, offering a mournful look in his eyes. She guides him into the front door.
From a side view (a camera angle change), the tender hand of his unseen mother reaches out from behind the door and gradually draws him inside. She enfolds her child to herself, welcoming him home. (Dirk, 2006)The figurative Epilogue forecasts the advent of the “Prince of Peace.”Dare we dream of a golden day when the bestial War shall rule no more. But instead – the gentle Prince in the Hall of Brotherly Love in the City of Peace.
Film fades to its final subtitle:”Liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever!”Gone With The Wind (1939) is another movie that has sentimental intent like The Birth of A Nation but the former used Old South wartime only as a background for a love epic. Although it depicts the pathos and miseries of Civil War years when Scarlett O Hara took refuge at Tara’s plantation and defended herself and her family against the carpetbaggers and Union soldiers but the main theme remains the love-hate conflict. The chracter of Prissy i.e. an incarnation of a dim-witted slave girl, indicate the depictions of blacks as “types” but this effect is counter-balanced by other incidents in the movie Scarlett slapped Ashley and Rhett but she never punished Prissy. The later war movies like Wings (1927) and All Quiet on The Western Front (1930) presented the horror of wars with great technical prowess but these were unable to innovate anything new and just enhanced the technical effects of The Birth of A Nation with the help of better technology and advanced cameras.
ReferencesGoad, Craig M. (1979.)The birth of a nation: film as epic and archetype. Northwest Missouri State University studies. 38. 2. Maryville, Mo.
: Northwest Missouri State University.Litwack, Leon F. (1996). “The Birth of A Nation,” in Mark C. Carnes, ed.
, Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies ,Henry Holt and Co.Silvia, Fred. (1971)Focus on The birth of a nation.
Film focus. A Spectrum book. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
: Prentice-Hall.Stern, Seymour. (1965)”The Birth of a Nation,” in Film Culture, 36, Spring-Summer.;