practice a “close reading” of cinematic texts.

practice a “close reading” of cinematic texts.
You are to select two brief sequences or scenes from two films to analyze it in great detail. Your goal is to understand how each and every detail of the cinematic text combines to make the meaning of the whole film.

Here is how to do this assignment. You must use two of the first four films from the course: Birth of a Nation, Body and Soul, The Jazz Singer, or Salt of the Earth. Then pick your sequences carefully. In my experience, less is often more and shorter is usually better: your chosen sequences must be between 5 to 20 shots. Don’t feel like you need to pick the most dramatic, symbolic or complicated parts in the film. Often the simplest and seemingly least significant moments are the best ones for a segment analysis, because you will find that the real drama is always latent in such moments. Next, watch the segments over and over and over again, and with each viewing take notes on different aspects of the film’s form: mise-en-scene, camera angles, cutting patterns, blocking and movement, sound and music. Then consider how these components work together to build the scene. Then consider how the two scenes compare stylistically to each other.

In writing your paper, do not use evaluative language, you are not writing a movie review nor is it your job to convince us that Body and Soul is a good or bad movie. Your job is to look closely at a few thousand frames from two different movies and understand what and how they communicate.

Your paper should be clearly structured into four parts. This is not a narrative essay but an interpretive exercise. Use the proper cinematic terminology as provided in the handout “Useful Terms for Film Analysis.”

1. Introduction: Situate your clips by giving a very brief synopsis of where your clips appear during your chosen films (you can assume that your reader has seen the film). Narrate your chosen clips in only a sentence or two and suggest its larger meaning. Your introduction needs to present a clear argument about how each film presents a particular style, but how these stylistic choices speak to the larger issues presented in the films themselves. This should be no more than a short paragraph.

2. Shot Chart: Using the chart (below) clearly list every shot (again only between 5 and 20 shots) in your chosen sequences and fill out the required information. Within the chart, indicated shots basic elements including time signature, camera distance, height and angle, any camera movements, depth of field, shot compositions, characters and blocking. Make note of the transitions from one shot to another using the proper terms, most will be simple cuts, but make note of special devices such as match cuts, cross cutting, dissolves, etc. Include intitles in this list but do not record dialogue, stick to the visual. You must use the chart attached for this section.

3. Analysis of Each Clip: Write up your analysis of the segments’ styles by observing not only what the segment says or does, but how it is communicated in your chosen clip. For example: Consider how mise-en-scene is used to create tension or mark racial difference? How does the camera movement accentuate the motion of the actors? What overall effect does the cutting pattern create? Your analysis should give evidence to the fact that the formal and visual aspects of film are as important as the story it tells. Focus only on the visual elements; do not discuss the films’ dialogue or music.

4. Comparison and Conclusion: By way of a conclusion, you should draw the larger interpretive connections between the few minutes of film you obsessed over and the film text as a whole – how does the style and vision of the selected parts illuminate the meaning and ideology of the whole film. And further, how these choices, styles and narratives can be compared between texts, and how this comparison helps underscore the political, racial and social significance of the two films.