Reading Film (Fall 2011)

a qwriting blog for ENG 110

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Words, Cinema, and YOU!

September 18th, 2011 by Tom Schalk · 1 Comment · 1 Diagramming Difference, Prof Ferguson

Words, Cinema, and YOU!

(I assume you’ll be looking at the diagram printed?)

I’d like to welcome you, Professor Hubert Farnsworth, Doctor Emmett Brown, and Proffesor Rodney Dangerfield. Thank you for taking the time to come here. As clearly presented by your appearance, you’ve heard of the recent attempts by the students of Queens college to create a “Film Club.” It is understandable how you view literature as the truest form of recreational media. The novels presented within our education are indeed rich with depth, lessons of morality, and messages for individual interpretation. However, we believe that having the option to view and analyze cinema would present students with as much of an opportunity to study the arts within media as they would if they read a novel. Are they the same? Some what. Does that mean they’re different? Yes, but that should most certainly not shut down the idea of a Film Club. These are two forms of media that may only have a few similarities, but their differences is what makes them both equally respectable. The works of fiction, seen or read, is a work of art regardless.
Take notice of the webbed chart before you. We can conclude that literature and cinema have a set of mechanics. Both can tell a story. A beginning and an end is present, where in the center lies a compelling adventure, a curious mystery, or a forming romance. Common mechanics seen between them is their ability to engage the reader in a story. One film will entice the audience with an introduction scene, such as “Citizen Kane,” in which one word triggers a mystery. It is not unlike the prologue of a novel, which is intended to intrigue and capture the reader’s attention. Both novels and films have the ability to take one into a far away place. The setting shot of a film can be seen as the equivalent as a descriptive passage of a setting in the beginning of a chapter.

True, they have a formula for creation, but the crucial difference between the two is how the story is told. By that, I refer to the use of their mechanics. Films opt for visuals while novels leave it for the imagination of the reader. Keep this in mind, because it is what truly separates cinema and literature in most cases. If you remember in “Citizen Kane,” unless if you have not seen it, then I will tell you for the first time, the cinematography was outstanding for it’s time. One scene involve the primary character, Charles Foster Kane, seeming distant from his first wife. Remember, those who have seen it, that a montage occurs during this sequence. Over time, you notice his companionship with his wife is weakening. One morning, he is talking to her sweetly over breakfast on a small kitchen table. As time moves on, Kane’s arrogant personality separates him from his wife to the point that they don’t talk anymore. They just read their newspapers at a a long dinning table across from each other. A novel would have to tell you that their relationship has weakened for someone to understand right away. However, the film have perfected the emotion without ever saying it.

Speaking of the example provided, it is an example of a theme. In this case, the loss of the humble due to power. As you can see in the chart, films are capable of projecting themes and metaphors, a trait that originates from literature. Studying film individually allows us to take notice of the impact literature has had on other forms of media. In this case, I refer to the ability to create metaphors and symbols to present an idea to a viewer or reader. Think of the color red. The color of power, love, war, anger, and even adultery. I ask those who have red the book to remember The Scarlett Letter, when the protagonist, Hester Prynne, was forced to wear a red “A” on her chest, standing for “Adultery.” Red is also related to sin, which at a time the story was set in, adultery was as horrid a sin as murder. Associating the color with the sin can be represented as an image within film and as imagery within a novel.

Film can, however, demonstrate themes and symbols in ways that literature cannot. This is all thanks to the mechanics of filmmaking. Again, I will refer to “Citizen Kane.” A scene early in the film demonstrates the film’s notorious use of deep focus within frames. The protagonist, Kane, his father, mother, and another character are all in frame from different depths and, most importantly, within clear focus. Characters are placed at certain distances from the camera with closer figures being more significant. Kane’s mother, we can conclude, has the most authority of the group simply by associating her physical dominance in the frame. This is a foreign concept to novels. There is no frame. No angles to take into account. No depth to recognize. The scene is how it is said to be. The imagination of someone reading a novelization of “Citizen Kane” may or may not create the intended symbols and themes as fluently as the film version. The film club we desire sets out to introduce this new formula for demonstrating themes outside of mere words and descriptions.

I ask you one more time, professors, to look at the diagram. You’ll notice so far that the key similarities of cinema and literature are also their own differences. How they create their atmosphere using their respective mechanics and  manage to handle elements such as symbols is unique for each form of art. The last item we have is imagery. This is key to both a film and a novel. We need a world to be drawn into. Movies, such as “Star Wars,” have introduced whole new worlds and species to audiences for a generation, all while teaching basic principles of morality. Novels, such as 1984, created a futuristic world of socialism and oppression, one that mankind would learn to resist. Recreational media strives from creating unique characters and settings that we can escape into. Limiting the study of fictional works to one irritation of art is literally cutting the possibility of studying all works in half.

The differences between the two arts concerning imagery can be studied among works of adaptation. I ask those of you who have seen it to remember the film, “Jurassic Park.” It was quite a visual spectacle, and it was a fun film for many ages to watch. The novel, however, presents much more graphic and violence imagery than the film. Which version is at fault? Did the film do the novel justice by making the overall tone more suitable for younger audiences? Did it undo the intentions of the source material from such as change? This is one of the debates a film club could help bring an answer to. We all can agree that grammatical idiosyncrasies are common place for film adaptations, but readers and viewers alike, with such a club, could come to an understanding as to where change to the content is enough to suite the film without losing the message of the novel. How do you picture the character Hamlet? Is he blonde? Does he have facial hair? We all have a vision as to what he looks like based on reading the screenplay of his titular name. However, there are a vast amount of adaptations of the play. Which version is the correct way he should look or act? Imagery on film adds challenge, especially those of adaptation, because they must work hard to achieve the character Hamlet as close to the original as the film will allow. His complexity as a character cannot be portrayed by a stiff actor. The screenplay only gives us that he is ever complex, so as filmmakers, we must be able to discover which version of the character is best.

Cinema has a lot of credit to give to literature. The two are very similar when it comes to mechanics, presenting of imagery, and distribution of themes, symbols, and metaphors. However, there are differences in how each form of art handles them. What I ask you to see is that the differences should be embraced and analyzed. What form should a certain story take? Film or novel? What atmosphere does it suite best? While studying works of literature in regular English class, we can further answer this question in a Film Club. Should a film version of a book exist, or, as the saying goes, is the book better?

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Kevin L. Ferguson

    Hi Tom,

    One really noticeable strength of your essay is that you really take the idea of audience seriously; I can tell in your writing that you are thinking of the specified audience and are speaking to them appropriately. Harvey would call this “stance,” and in particular would applaud the time you spend orienting your non-expert reader and not using too much specialized language. Another place this is apparent is in your organizational structure–you start to do a good job of this at the beginning, but I think you could do more. For example, the penultimate (second to last) sentence of your first paragraph is almost a thesis, and is a good opportunity to more clearly tell your reader your structure. You have “These are two forms of media that may only have a few similarities, but their differences is what makes them both equally respectable.” But notice how you don’t actually name the similarities or differences here? You say there are differences, which is the first step, but the next step is to name them–because otherwise a reader wonders why you’re keeping a secret. Harvey would say you should make better use of keyterms–and some that I see you use later would be “mechanics,” “imagery,” “themes & metaphors,” and others from your chart. By the time I get to the sixth paragraph I begin to feel a little lost, structure-wise. You didn’t give readers an earlier roadmap, and the first third of ¶6 seems like an aside (until you get to the topic/transition sentence “the last item we have is imagery”). When you’re revising, consider how using keyterms in your thesis can also help strengthen the structure, making it so that readers are able to understand how you’re not just listing facts, but are developing a progressive order of ideas. You could also rewrite your last paragraph to more clearly show the ending point you arrive at–you’re not just repeating what you already said, but you’re taking those rhetorical questions you’ve posed and showing how they stem from the discussion you just undertook.

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