Anda di halaman 1dari 5

h t t p : / / u w p . a a s . d u k e .

e d u / w s t u d i o

VisualRhetoric/VisualLiteracy:WritingAboutFilm
Thishandoutdiscusseswaystoapproachfilmasavisualmedium.Itofferssuggestionsforfocus,
prewritingtips,andguidanceonhowtothink criticallyaboutamediummanyofusthinkofaspopular
entertainment.Itdoesnotinclude acomprehensive listoftechnicalfilmterminology,althoughitdoes
providelinkstoseveralsourcesthatdo.Thishandoutdealswithdecodingfilmasaviewer,considering
howthefilmappearsratherthanhowitwasmade.
Overview:WhatareVisualRhetoricandVisualLiteracy?
Thesimplestdefinitionforvisualrhetoricishow/whyvisualimagescommunicatemeaning.Note that
visualrhetoricisnotjustaboutsuperiordesignandaestheticsbutalso abouthow cultureandmeaningare
reflected,communicated,andalteredbyimages.Visualliteracyinvolvesalltheprocessesofknowingand
respondingtoavisualimage,aswellasallthethoughtthatmightgointoconstructingormanipulatingan
image.
MovingfromPassivetoActiveViewing
Howdowegetfromimagesonascreenandsoundfromaspeakertothevarietyofimpressionswith
whichapowerfulfilmleavesus?Weareallabletorecounttheplotofafilm,usuallyafterwatchingit
onlyonce.Itismoredifficulttoexplain how theimagesandsoundspresentedmakeupsuchanarrative,
communicatingmeaningnotjustthroughthecharactersactions,butalsothroughframing,camera
movement(reframing),editing,opticaleffects,lenschoice,sound,andanumberofothertechnical
elementsthatoftengounnoticedbyviewerslookingfortheplot. Throughcarefulattentiontowhatison
thescreen(andhowitgotthere),youcan identifythevisualstrategiesemployedbyafilmtoelicita
certaineffect.The bestwaytodothisaccurately,andagoodstartingpointforunderstandinghowany
filmworks,istowatchitcarefullyandobservantly,totakenoteswhilewatching,andtowatchitmore
thanonce.
Thelistofthingsthatgointoanysinglefilmcanbedaunting.Tomakethe taskofapproachingfilmfrom
ananalyticalviewpointmoremanageable,thishandoutaddressesthreebasiccomponentsoffilm:
Image
Movement
Sound

Image
MiseenscneandFraming
OneofthebestthingsaboutDVDtechnologyisthatitiseveneasiernowthanitwaswithvideotogeta
clearstillimage,whichisagoodplacetostarttothinkabouthowfilmbuildsimagesintomeaning.The
twomainthingstopayattentiontoinafilmicimage are miseenscneandframing.Miseenscneisa
Frenchtermmeaningliterallyputinthescene,anditwasoriginallyadaptedfromthetheater.Itrefers
toeverythingthatgoesintoafilmbeforeitisphotographed,includingsetdressingorlocation,costumes,
lighting,actors,blocking (actorlocationsandmovement),anddialogue.Ifyoulike,itiswhatyouwould
haveseenifyouweretherewiththecrewwhenthesceneswerebeing filmed.Thecameraaddstothis
framing(settingtheboundsoftheimage,usuallyinarectangle)andcameramovement(reframing).The
latterisdiscussedinthenextsection,butframingisasimportantforstillphotographyasitisforfilm,
sinceitworkswith miseenscnetodeterminetheoverallcompositionoftheimage.
MovingfromDescriptiontoAnalysis
Herearethreedescriptionsofthesameimage:
1. K.isaskingtheAdvocateforhelp.
2. K.isframedinthecenteroftheshot,with
theAdvocatedominatingtherightsideof
theframe.Thesettingisfancybut
dilapidated,andtherearetwoprominent
lightsources,onefromthedeepspace
behindK.andanotherlightingthefacesof
thetwofigures.
OrsonWelles,TheTrial (1962)

3.AlthoughK.isframedinthecenteroftheshot,thereisnodoubtastowhohasthepowerhere.The
Advocatetowersoverhim,interposinghimselfbetweenK.andthecameraanddominatingtherightside
oftheframe.HecastsashadowonK.schest,reinforcing,asdoesthehighanglecameralookingdown
onK.,K.slackofpowerrelativetothemanwhosehelpheisseeking.Thelocationofastronglight
sourceinthedeepspacebehindK.remindstheviewerofK.sdistancefromhisgoal,andcombineswith
thefabrichangingfromthechandeliertocreateasurrealeffect,settingthetonefortheentirescene.
Ofthethreedescriptions,thefirstdescribeswhatishappeningintheshot,butpayslittleattentiontowhat
isactuallyonthescreen.Thesecond givesaformaldescriptionoftheimage.Itisnotexhaustive,butit
coversseveralsignificantpoints(framing,setting,andlighting).Itdoesnotmove,however,from
descriptiontomeaning(althoughtermslikedominatinganddilapidatedgestureinthatdirection).The
thirddescriptiondealswiththesamevisualtraits,butalso explainshowthosetraitscreatemeaning.
Thepointisnotjusttoshowthreeexamplesofincreasing detail,butto considerthese asstepstoward
visualanalysis.Adescriptionofwhatishappeningisafineplacetostart,sinceyouwillneedtoknow
howanimagefitsintothefilm asawhole.Fromthere,trytolistallthevisualqualitiesoftheimagethat
youcan,focusingonbothframing(cameraangleandimagecomposition)and miseenscne(actorsand
blocking,costume,setting,lighting).Somewillbemoreimportantthanothersforanygivenshot,butthe
importantthingatthisstageistolistallthatyoucan.Finally,takethislistandtrytoexplaintheeffects

thedifferenttraitsyouhavelistedhaveonyouasaviewer.Thereisnosetruleforthis,soyouwillhave
tobecreative.Dontjustmakethingsup,thoughtrytosticktowhatsonthescreenandwhatyoucan
inferfromthatwithconfidence.Youwillbesurprisedhowmucheasierinterpretationisonceyouhavea
finitelistoftraitstodescribeanimage.Ifthisstill seemsdaunting,youmightwanttocheckoutour
handoutonphotography,whichgoesintomoredetailonanalyzingstillimages.
Movement
Sofar,thisisntvery differentfromanalyzingphotography.Butfilmisntjustphotography,butaseries
ofphotographsshowninsuccession(atarateof24framespersecond)to create theillusionof
movement.Thissectionofferssuggestionsforhowtotalkaboutamovingimage.
Therearetwomaintypesofmovementinfilm: continuous and discontinuous. Theformerinvolves
charactersand/orobjectsmovingwithintheframe,eitherasaresultoftheirmovementorofthecameras.
Thelatterisaresultofediting,inwhichtwodiscontinuousbitsoffilmaresplicedtogether(themost
basicformisacut,butthisalsodescribesdissolves,wipes,etc.).Youwillwanttokeeptheseseparatein
yourmind,sincetheydescribedifferentaspectsofthefilmmakingprocess(filmingandediting).
Herearesomebasicquestionstoaskwhenthinkingabouttheroleofmovementinthevisuallanguageof
film:
Whatisthepacinglike?Arethingsmovingquicklyorslowly?
Arethecharactersinsynch,orisoneshuttlingaroundthe framewhileothersremainstationary?
Oraretheyallstationarywhilethecameramovesaroundthem?
Ifthecameradoesmove,howdoesitmove?Isitquick,slow,jerky,orsmooth?
Howlongaretheshots(thetimebetweentwocuts)?Youcaneventime these bythesecond,or
seehowmanythereareperminute.Youmightalsowanttothinkabouttherelativeshotlengthof
twodifferentscenes.
And,thecrucialquestion,whateffectdoesallthishave?
Tips for Analyzinga FilmforItsVisualQualities
Aswithstillimages,thereisnosimplekeyfordecodingtheeffectsdifferenttypesofmovement
canhave.Oneofthebestwaystostartinterpretingthe meaningofmovementistothinkabout
yourownreactiontothefilm andthentrytofigureoutwhatitisinthefilmthatmakesascene
feelcalm,frantic,exciting,depressing,etc.
Ifitishardtoisolatethevisualaspectsofafilmfromtheplot,trywatchingascenewiththe
soundoff.Especiallyifthenarrativedependsondialogue,watchingitinsilentmodewillhelp
youfocusonthevisual.Theoppositecanalsohelpyoutoanalyzethefunctionofsound.
Sound
Itmayseemstrangetodiscusssoundinavisualliteracyhandout,butthereisnogettingaroundthefact
thatmostfilmsyouwillseehaveasoundtracktoaccompanytheimagetrack.Thisisusuallymadeupof
threemaincomponents:
Dialogue
Soundeffects
Music

Oneormoreofthesewillbemoreimportantthantheothersforanygivenscene,buttrythinkingaboutall
ofthemwhenyougotoanalyzeascene.Often,theabsenceofoneofthesewillbeasimportantasits
inclusion.Forexample,alongsceneofdialoguewithoutbackgroundmusicmaymakeafictionfilmseem
morereal.Ontheotherhand,alongdialoguesceneinacrowdedrestaurantwithoutbackgroundmusic
ornoisemaybedeliberatelyunrealistic,focusingtheviewersattentionontheintimacyofthe
conversationratherthanthesetting.Forademonstrationofhowimportantsoundisforafilm,evenand
especiallywhenyoudontnoticeitwhilewatchingcasually,trywatchingthescariestpartofahorrorfilm
withoutthesound.Then,listentothesamescenewithoutwatchingtheimages.Howscaryareboth
versions,howdotheyeachcomparetothecombinedimage/soundexperience,andwhatdoesthattell
youabouthowthefilmcommunicates?
RecommendedTexts
Corrigan,Timothy.AShortGuidetoWritingAboutFilm.NewYork:Longman,2001.
PartoftheLongmansShortGuideseries,Corrigandiscussesdifferentapproachestofilmand
providesusefultipsonwaystobeginwritingaboutfilm.Thebookincludesaglossaryof
technicalfilmterms,andasectionofthebookdealswiththesetermsinmoredetail.Italso
featuressampleessaysandasectiononconductingfilmresearch.
Bordwell,DavidandKristenThompson.FilmArt:AnIntroduction.NewYork:McGrawHill,2006.
Firstpublishedin1979andupdatedeveryfewyears,Bordwell&Thompsonsbookhasbecome
thestandardtextbookforfilmcourses.Althoughtheauthorspayattentiontogenre,history,
production,anddistribution,thebookismostusefulforitsattentiontostyleandhowformal
aspectsoffilmscreatemeaning.Itisabitmuchtogetthroughforasinglepaperonfilm,butisa
usefulresource,featuringaglossaryofdisciplinespecifictermsandclearlydelineatedchapters
ondifferentaspectsoffilmanalysis.
UsefulLinks
InternetMovieDatabase(IMDb)
www.imdb.com
Forquickinformationaboutafilm,director,actor,producer,orproductioncompany,IMDbcant
bebeat.Itisnotanidealplacetoend yourresearch,butitisafineplacetostart.
DartmouthWritingProgramHandoutonFilm
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/student/humanities/film.shtml
Thishandoutismorefocusedonthewritingaspectofwritingaboutfilmthanonvisualliteracy,
anddiscussesdifferentapproachestofilm(filmhistory,ideologicalanalysis,cultural
studies/nationalcinemas,andauteurtheory)notaddressedhere.Italsofeaturesashortglossary
offilmterms.
YaleFilmAnalysisGuide
http://classes.yale.edu/filmanalysis/index.htm
AmoredetailedwebresourcethantheDartmouthhandout,theYalesiteisaneasilynavigable
guidetofilmtermsthatincorporatesexamplesthroughcolorstillsandevenbriefwmvfiles.The
guidealsofeaturesexamples(in theAnalysissection)ofshotby shotanalysesofscenesfrom
ViscontisRoccoandhisBrothers(1960)andAntonionisIlGrido(1957),whicharequiteuseful
forfiguringoutwhatnotesonfilmmightlooklike.

HandoutsintheVisualRhetoric/VisualLiteracySeries
Overview:VisualRhetoric/VisualLiteracy
WritingaboutComicsandGraphicNovels
Writing aboutFilm
Writing aboutPaintings
Writing aboutPhotography
WritingwithMaps
UsingPowerPointandKeynoteEffectively
CreatingScientificPosterPresentations
CraftingandEvaluatingWebSites
Thebannerimagesatthe beginningofthishandoutareallfromOrsonWelles,TouchofEvil(1958).