Writing a Film Essay: A Handy Guide to University StudentsJuly 01, 2019

Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, a renowned professor in American Cinema, once remarked that she liked English Department offering Film Studies. She would have a point, as cinema has more in common with literary studies. You may not be pursuing a career in Hollywood, but this approach is rewarding to say the least.

You're not planning to study cinema and hoping to write an essay on filmmakers who adapt Stephen King's novels, yet you could add a new perspective on King's dislike on Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of "The Shining". It's not hard to figure out that the author, a native of Maine, is offended at Kubrick's lack of respect on his own novel. In this regard, the study of cinema would focus less on Hollywood. It's not that American Cinema is less interesting than World Cinema, but Marx once said that the specter of Hollywood has been haunting Europe, And it had won. Do you agree? The answer to that question could allude to intellectuals making a beeline for a summer blockbuster. It won't be "Crocodile Dundee", that classic fish-out-of-the-water story that became the top-grossing Australian film of all time, but rather a Marvel film. If it seems alarming, it hasn't dawned on you that you could be laughing at the same jokes, shed the same tears, and gasp at the same special effects. Furthermore, you didn't think that the changes that Andy Muschietti made in his big-screen version of "It" would make this adaptation less horrifying than the original text. King doesn't seem to mind it, but this is not what this post is all about.

If studying Modern Literature has taught you anything, the study - and analysis - of films should help you in understanding a literary genre - and writing it better. You know the ideal template, where your essay must have an introduction, body of the argument, and conclusion. This article will focus on analysis exercise. Are you ready?

The Right Approach to Analyse a Cinematic Work

What is the director's intention? The answer is similar to an author's intention in his (or her) book. Adjectives such as intriguing, mystifying, and disarming are expected, and you would associate it with a character or two. It should arouse emotion, often make the audience laugh or cry. This exercise would expect more than that, though. These elements should create an atmosphere, which you must analyse right away. Does it fit into the narrative? If you don't think it is, you wouldn't understand the body of work in its entirety. It doesn't mean that you must watch the movie again, as you need to go to the next item.

Identify the stylistic choice(s). You're not required to be too technical on this one, yet you must be familiar with the following pairs: black and white or color, high or low contrast photography, long or close shot. It would create a perspective, which could be different from what the directors intended. If you're not in the same wavelength as the director's, you need to be more persuasive than you attempt to be. You can look at the other pairs, such as cut, fade or dissolve. This is a technique that has been used one too many, but the purpose varies from one filmmaker to another. The same thing applies to authors, so you don't have to spend lots of time on this one. This would lead to the next one.

How do you make of it? Your answer concludes your argument. You don't end your statement that points to a naturalistic (or stylistic) approach. You must be able to throw your two cents, which should be the argument of your essay. Did you enjoy it? Did it remind you of a past experience? Did it make you wiser? The answers must not be too long.

Notes to Remember

Don’t be tempted to provide your argument with historical background unless it would pique your professor’s curiosity. Your professor should have read countless essays, so there’s pressure on your part. Think of what could make him (or her) force to exclaim “I never thought of that!” or “I agree with that!”, if not “I don’t agree with that, but what a powerful case!”. You don’t have to try too hard, as you state what you think (or feel) clearly. And you must show that you enjoy watching the film. It could be a challenge if you’re writing about a Michelangelo Antonioni film, but you’re not doing an exercise on film criticism. Your instructor would be impressed (if that is the case), but don’t go overboard.

You could see the similarities between film analysis and literary studies. The only difference would be the visual organisation and style, which could be interpreted in many ways. You only need to read your argument, which should give you a cue on what information to support it. One or two paragraphs would be good enough. And you should know that describing it would be far from film criticism. Keep on asking questions until you’re satisfied with your argument and the information to support it. And then your paper would be as good as a film critic’s review.

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