Learning How to Read a Movie

Learning How to Read a Movie

We start this week off by reading an article by Roger Ebert called “How to Read a Movie” which is all about being able to analyze a scene from a movie and draw conclusions from it. In it, Ebert talks about one technique that he would do with film classes. When he would teach these classes, he would show a movie in the class, and allow any of the students to stop it and talk about what they had just seen and anything that stuck out to them. This method began to quickly grow popular, and he took it to larger conferences. Ebert then goes into detail about what he learned from this style of teaching, and that identifying certain techniques is also helpful while talking about scenes from a movie. He then goes into explaining these techniques.

Ebert says that he had not taken a single film course, but instead taught himself by reading about them in many different books he found. One specific technique he learned this way was that certain “visual compositions have ‘intrinsic weighting'” meaning that some shots will cause the audience to feel certain emotions. He explains this as the positioning of characters on screen, and how positive or negative that position is, and what that means in regards to the character.

After reading this article, I then watched some videos of similarities between several scenes created by certain directors. For instance, Stanley Kubrick frames most of his scenes using one-point perspective, meaning he keeps the same angle of perspective in most of his shots. Another is Quentin Tarantino, and his use of low angle camera shots, looking up to a character. These kinds of changes in perspective act as a sort of signature for a director, and are also done to invoke a certain feeling from the audience.

I also learned that the context of a scene, and the editing of the cuts and transitions can change how the audience views a specific character or concept. An example of this was in the short clip of Alfred Hitchcock, where he explains that one shot can change what the audience sees and thinks of a character. He proves his point by showing a shot of a man looking sideways, then showing a mother and child, then back to the man smiling, showing that the man is a kind-hearted gentleman. He replaces the shot of the mother and child with a woman in a bikini, thus changing the context of the scene, and now changing the view of the man to look like a creepy old man.

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