Film Techniques: How to Analyse a Cinematic Text

Posted on April 26, 2016 by Matrix Education

Films take us on journeys; we become immersed in worlds beyond our own. The best films lead us to ask questions about our world as well as ourselves. However sometimes it can be difficult to translate our reactions to film into meaningful English analysis. The table below provides some of the key film techniques for writing about cinematic texts.

 

Important Cinematic Techniques

sound effects, dialogue, music, silences and voice-overs. Like music, sound can be divided into diegetic (occurring in the world of the film) and extra-diegetic (occurring outside the world of the film).

Film Technique

Explanation

Example

Angles

Camera angles refer to the tilt of the camera in relation to the scene and characters. Unusual camera angles can emphasise an action sequence, disorientate the audience, and suggest the relationship between characters.

The main angles are: Low, Eye-Level, High, Worm’s Eye, Canted, Bird’s Eye.

Analyse a Cinematic Text Angle Types

Colour

Colour, especially the choice of colour palette or scheme, can reflect the mood of the piece. Colour in a scene can also be enhanced through lighting.

For example, in The Great Gatsby (2013), the use of a vibrant colour scheme reflects the opulent lifestyle of New York elites in the 1920s.

You can learn more about colour symbolism at Studio Binder.

Cinematic-Techniques-Colour

Colour Palette Analysis by Movies in Color of Baz Lurman’s The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros. 2013), Cinematographer: Simon Duggan

Cucoloris

Cucoloris is a lighting technique where an object is placed between the light source and the subject in order to create a patterned shadow. A staple of film noir. Techniques-for-Analysing-cinematic-texts-cucloris

Filter used for Cucloris. Image and device by Henry Nelson.

Dialogue

Conversation between two characters is called dialogue. Written by scriptwriters to convey the film’s plot, dialogue is also useful in conveying character.

Editing Sequence

The order of each shot and how they have been put together to create a scene. This is usually based upon the storyboard used by the director.

However, some directors such as Werner Herzog refused to use storyboards, and shoot many scenes which they edit together by trial and error.

Flashback

Images that refer to previous events in the characters` lives. Flashbacks can be used to foreshadow future events.

Intertitle

Text which is printed on a background and placed between filmed scenes through editing. In silent films, intertitles can convey dialogue and exposition. how-to-analyse-cinematic-text-intertitle

Intertitle from Metropolis Dir. Fritz Lang (1927)

Lighting

Lighting contributes to the mood of a film and suggests interpretations of character. Low key lighting emphasises the shadows in a shot, while lighting from above or below can suggest that a character possesses sinister qualities. Analyse a Cinematic Text lighting from below

An example of a sinister cat, lit from below.

Analyse a Cinematic Text Low Key lighting

An example of shadows from Low Key Lighting.

Mise en scène

Mise en scène translates as ‘what is put into a scene’. This French expression refers to the composition of a scene, including placement of characters, costume, makeup and setting.

Montage

 A montage is a type of editing sequence where a series of shots play rapidly to create a narrative. Often a montage will be accompanied by a unifying piece of music to convey the dominant mood connected with the sequence. Analyse a Cinematic Text Montage

A GIF of a montage from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

Mood

Mood refers to the feelings suggested by the combination of all the elements on the screen and the accompanying sound. Another way to refer to the mood is to discuss atmosphere.

Music

Music can convey the theme, mood and atmosphere. There are different types of music in films. The score is extra-diegetic music composed for the film, designed to evoke the film’s desired mood for the audience. Music heard by the characters in the film is called diegetic music.

Setting

The place where the action of the film occurs.

Shot type

Shot types indicate how close or far the camera is from the characters. Shot types range from Extreme Long Shot (XLS), where the characters may be very small and embedded in a landscape, to Extreme Close Up (XCU), where part of the character’s face makes up the whole shot.

The shots are: Extreme Long Shot (XLS), Long Shot (LS), Medium Long Shot (MLS), Medium Shot (MS), Medium Close Up (MCU), Close Up (CU), Super Close Up (SCU), Extreme Close Up (XCU).

Analyse a Cinematic Text Shot Types

Sound

Symbolism

 An object used to suggest ideas in addition to, or beyond, their literal sense. For example the glass slipper in Cinderella symbolises the opportunity that Cinderella has to live a different life. Watch films carefully to spot symbols and their potential meaning to the plot. If a symbol recurs throughout the film it is a motif. Analyse a-Cinematic-Text-Symbolism

The GIF above is from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999).

The dancing plastic bag symbolises how beauty is found in things that are often discarded. The bag is rubbish to many, but its dance in the wind is beautiful.


 

 

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