Reading Film (Fall 2011)

a qwriting blog for ENG 110

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Literature vs. Film

September 18th, 2011 by Stephen Mahoney · 1 Comment · 1 Diagramming Difference

Film and literature, two medias of art that can easily go hand and hand as would painting and photography for instance. As a photo can be taken to recreate a painting, a movie can easily be produced to recreate a piece of literature. This is because films and literature for the most part utilize the same ability: they can express express ideas, emotions, and stories throughout the length of each work. All though they both share this ability there are many differences between the two. Some of these difference are obvious, such as: literature is composed of only text (as is this essay for example) while films are composed of many aspects such as images,(may they be still or in motion) audio, and text too. Other differences lay within the structure, presentation, and experience of the two. Many people would believe that a film presents information in a way that the viewer would more likely connect with it, but they do not know that literature can do the same thing with some subtle differences.
Let’s start with the similarity that both film and literature share, that for the most part they are usually in a narrative form or they are trying to convey an emotion or idea. While not every film and not every work of literature does one of these things (for example Bruce Conner’s A Movie) I believe that it is arguable that most films and literature are either informative or follow a narrative.
The obvious difference between the two, the media of which film and literature are composed of. While many people would say that a filmmaker has a harder time composing his work because he has to combine different types of media to convey a common idea, I would argue that by having more forms of media at your fingertips makes it easier for a filmmaker to convey the idea. For instance if a filmmaker and a writer both want their audiance to feel a sense of fear. The film maker can not only can he make use of a sequence of disoriented shots, but can also make use of progressively intensifying audio to build up a feeling of anxiety in his viewer. While a writer only has words at his disposal to convey feelings snd ideas to his audiance. I figure it to be much more difficult to create the same feeling of fear and anxiety in his writing that the filmmaker created. The writer has a dictionary full of words in which he must find the right handful of words to string together to create the same sense of fear that the filmmaker created by chosing a sequence of shots in which he only had to choose from a dozen of variations and throw in an eerie sounding score.
Another difference between these two wonderful art forms is how the information is actually presented to the viewer of the film or literature. While a writer has to depict every new setting and describe every characteristic in some way or another a filmmaker does not have to do so. While it may take a writer a page or two to describe the appearance of a setting a filmmaker can convey the same information in a sequence of shots that may take up only a half of a minute of screen time.
Now for a difference in which the writer has the upper hand, physical limitations. A writer can write literally any scene or action without having to worry how to create it, that is because the reader has the ability to visualize everything in their own mindset while they a reading. But a filmmaker must actually show his viewer everything. For example if a writer wants there to be an explosion in his plot he can describe it using a few sentences. At the same time a filmmaker will actually have to create an explosion in one way or another.
I believe that there is also a difference in the way viewers experience film and literature. Every thing considered I’m assuming for the most part that film is usually experienced with at least one other person, whilst a book is commonly read by oneself. I feel that a movie is more of a group experience where people who view it together can socialize and conversate after a movie. Also while viewing a film in a group setting if one is confused or lost they can discuss the film with the others around them. At the same time literature is experienced at more of an individual level. Two people can read the same peice of literature and both can interpret it completely differently. This being said, this does not always apply to the way people experience film and literature, as a movie can easily be viewed in solidarity and literature appreciated in a group setting.
The final difference I will discuss is how the audience interprets each work. While viewing a film viewers have all the visual information they need presented in front of the on screen. But on the other hand readers of literature only have words presented in front of thus they must render the information into their own personal views during their reading. This again leaves readers of literature to each have individual perceptions that may differ from others. For instance if a book was to describe a red barn, there are infinite ways to picture a red barn in one’s mind. Now if we were to asked two people to illustrate how they depicted said red barn they would most likely have two different barns.
As seen there are many differences between film and literature, from the way viewers interpret each type of work to the the media that each is constructed off to the way each is experienced. I believe that by better understanding film we can better the way we write literature, and by better apprehending literature better films can be produced. Although there are some differences between these two types of art i believe that they can easily go hand and hand.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Kevin L. Ferguson

    Hi Steve,

    One thing I’m missing in your piece is the sense of audience. It’s hard to see what Harvey would call STANCE in the beginning of your writing. When revising, you should consider making your stance clearer, especially in the first paragraph, since it is important for readers to understand their relationship to you. I think the best sentence of your opening paragraph is the third one, where you make a concrete claim that is clearly expressed. I also thought I was getting an early sense of your essay’s STRUCTURE; I expected you to discuss in turn “ideas,” “emotions,” and “stories.” But the following sentences make it harder to see your structure, since you start to get into the “and this” “and this” structure that Harvey warns about. When you’re revising, you might consider reorganizing your opening paragraph so that the first few sentences do the STANCE work, the next few introduce the idea of comparing the two media (the MOTIVE), and the last few say clearly and succinctly the specific points of comparison (which would indicate your STRUCTURE as well as your THESIS). Using KEYTERMS will help greatly; you should be able to easily come up with one word to describe each of the points of comparison. Another way to really help change the “and this . . . and this” structure is to look at the beginning of each paragraph and consider the order you are presenting them to the reader–there should be a logical order that progresses–that pushes the reader to a new understanding. For example, why did you save “audience interpretation” for last? There should be a reason for that choice which is rooted in structure. This may sound contradictory, but: one thing that I thought you did well was that did take into consideration that this is a complex issue. So, you did give both sides of the argument equal consideration (for example, ¶2). It might be, though, that in doing so that you seem too undecided. ¶2 for example seems like you’re going back on what you just said, and because you’re presenting both sides it’s hard to see how this idea fits into a larger whole. Having a clearer sense of MOTIVE and STRUCTURE will help with that.

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