Reading Film (Fall 2011)

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Diagramming Difference

September 18th, 2011 by Jeen Kim · 1 Comment · 1 Diagramming Difference

Jeen Kim

19 September, 2011

Diagramming Difference

Film and Literature: The Similarities and Differences

            Literature is one of the most timeless mediums of this world. But you know that. We are here to discuss if cinema, a relatively newer medium, is worthy enough to be grouped alongside literature. It is indeed questionable whether or not a film club belongs in the English Department, but the similarities (or differences) might surprise you.

Probably the most obvious and “in-your-face” difference is general form. As we know, reading is an individual experience where the words on paper manifest into settings, places, characters, behaviors, colors and all the other little aspects of literature that make our minds the ultimate place to go to while enjoying a good book. In cinema, however, images and sounds are created for us, limiting and rendering our imagination useless. This form is, in a way, viewing only one of the infinite ways the story can be seen if it were literature. These two forms are virtually exact opposites; one is created with imagination and the other is created for us.

However, despite these contrasting aesthetics, both forms potentially fulfill their purpose which may convey identically. Most literature conveys meanings, feelings and themes, and raises questions and issues. Film can do this too. For example, both the play and film of “12 Angry Men” conveyed this message of reasonable doubt. On the other hand, a cinematic version of literature may have completely different meaning from the original work. This is the reason for the word “potentially.”

Take a work of literature and its cinematic counterpart. When comparing film and literature it is essential to look at the process. When an author writes a book, it is his/her own ideas being recorded. Then the reader reads and his/her imagination comes into play. In creating a film, it takes several people to work together to produce a film. Each individual has their own responsibility and if everyone is talented at their job, a cinematic masterpiece is created. This is why it is more difficult to create a film as great as the literature out there; there is a larger margin for error. I say this just to eliminate any premature opinions/decisions; so some do not see a few terrible films and automatically believe film can never be as good a medium as literature. Film can have the potential to be equivalent to literature.

You are probably familiar with Sergei Eisenstein and Andre Bazin. Eisenstein distinguished film into cinema and cinematography. Similarly, Bazin made a parallel distinguishing literature into grammatical idiosyncrasies and prose style. According to Eisenstein, cinema can be described as the aesthetics: the industry, actors, directors and the like. Cinematography, on the other hand, is the way the film is presented to the viewer. According to Bazin, grammatical idiosyncrasies are sort of the signature, or brand, of the character(s) and/or writer(s) that are repeated which make it their own. Conversely, prose style is the overall essence of the work that is associated with it no matter how many times a story is recycled, changed, or touched up. Cinema goes hand in hand with the idiosyncrasies as does cinematography and prose style. It is phenomenal how these aspects correlate perfectly with each other. When dissected like this, it is one of the most important similarities between film and literature.

Another principle of Eisenstein is his idea of montage. Basically he states different shots of a film should be put in such a succession as to provoke the viewer. In his terms: “product” and “collision.” This can be applied to literature too, if conflicting paragraphs or sentences adjacent to each other make the reader think about what he/she just read. This montage in film and literature can also be thought about as a part of structure.

As you know, there is a certain structure to writing. In the same way, there is a structure to film. Each segment of footage, like sentences, should connect progressively in a coherent manner. According to Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay”, “there should have a direction of development or complication…” This too can pertain to film and taken out of context, no one could differentiate if this were about film or literature.

Both the similarities and differences are what make film and literature so great. Substantial similarities make these medium similar enough to understand and familiarize with but different enough to respect the unique tastes of each. The educational value of film is for you to evaluate with the preceding information.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Kevin L. Ferguson

    Hi Jeen,

    One thing that really stands out about your writing is the ease with which you help ORIENT (Harvey’s term) your readers. This helps establish your own STANCE towards the topic. For example, the first sentence of your second paragraph begins from a general “obvious” point, which has the effect of bringing your readers gradually into your argument, rather than overwhelm them from the beginning. The beginning of the next sentence, “as we know” likewise enables your reader to follow your point and begin to feel like they are being taken into consideration.

    This sentence begins your third paragraph: “However, despite these contrasting aesthetics, both forms potentially fulfill their purpose which may convey identically”. It sounds smart but it’s also confusing me! What I like about it is that it demonstrates what Harvey called STITCHING, where you connect your paragraphs (and by extension your structure/argument) together with linking words or phrases. What I’m not sure about, though, is exactly where you are going (that is, I see you are going somewhere new, but can’t follow your point).

    For revision, one area to strengthen would be what Harvey calls STRUCTURE. I start to wonder, around the second half, the logic behind how your paragraphs are ordered. Remember, you want to avoid a repetitive order (this and this and this) and instead have a sense of “direction of development or complication.” We’re missing that with the paragraphs that begin “Another principle of Eisenstein is . . .” and also the next paragraph, which doesn’t seem to link at all to what comes after or before.

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