Archive for category Intensive Film Study

What is “Intensive Film Study”? What is the Process?

This blog is designed for me to improve my knowledge of film.

I will watch a selected movie for an entire month. Analyze it by watching the movie with sound for an entire week, absorbing whatever story or point it tells. Then watch the film without sound for a week. Then, if there is commentary, I watch the film with commentary for a week. If there is no commentary, splice the film between watching it with sound and in silence. Watch all the special features that come with the movie.

During this time, I will also be reading critics reviews of the film. I will go to great lengths to get as much information as I can on the selected film.

I will write about my findings here. I will write about camera techniques, acting styles, music techniques, editing techniques, storytelling/point-telling techniques, the script, production techniques, special effects, and all things in between, on this blog.

Remember the importance of this blog. Remember the cine-clubs of the French Impressionist and Dada movements. Remember how they got together, watched, analyzed and studied film to create new ways of filming. Remember the Russian workshops and how they studied a particular film until they got at its roots and exploited its editing techniques. This would go on to create montage.

Keep reminding yourself how important this blog is, and you will succeed in the film realm.

However,I’m still debating how I should go about this “Intensive Film” process, but I think I should do it this way:

When I watch a selected film, I only watch it once a day. The guidelines on how I watch it have already been written out. So the question lies therein, how do I write about my findings.

The more I think about it, the more I think I should write my findings in three parts:

  1. My General Interpretation: This is were I simply review the film on the whole. I will only write this general interpretation once, and it will be reviewed at the end of the month when the “intensive film study” has come to a close. I will write about what I learned overall.
  2. My Strict Analysis: This is were I become extremely analytical. I review each important scene as defined by the story/point the film tries to make. I take a deep look into the mise-en-scene, the editing, the acting and the music, as well as any other things that contribute to whats on the film. I’m considering analyzing these techniques when a sequence is completed. How many sequences I do depends on how may I can get done with in roughly an hours time. More than an hour is pushing it.
  3. The Research: This is were I try to dig up as much as I can on the film in question. I dig up reviews, insights, production notes, etc. I’ll dig up articles on weekends only, if I can, and write about them on here. Some of the acceptable research will include: interesting tidbits from commentary, (written down of course), and special features and notes seen and listened to, (also written down and blogged).

So with that said, I expect to write down my findings in two parts per-week, (The Strict Analysis and The Research), with a General Interpretation at the end of the month. That should be enough.


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From the Set: Spielberg on Acting

Despite the most obvious commentary that production on Jaws has been a disaster. (Example: Shooting at sea is much more difficult than shooting on land). Spielberg made an interesting comment on how he chooses, and works with, his actors. Good actors are first found in the casting process, but one looks for immense emotional and physical output. Then, when Spielberg works with his actors on set, he asks them to give him too much. Then he tinkers with them from there, working them down from that state as he sees fit.

Remember also, as a side note, what John Cassavetes would ask of his actors in the casting process. He would “test” their emotional and physical output by asking them to laugh for 30 seconds to a minute. This test of stamina tests the strength of the actors before he would work with them.

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April 2008: Jaws (Research Findings)

In the month of April 2008, I examined Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, here is what I found:

Despite the fact that Jaws uses camerawork to portray the shark instead of effects is obvious. This is mostly due to the fact the shark didn’t work on set. However, according to the BBC’s film review, Spielberg used long-shots to help convey isolation of the sharks victims and also to give the impression that the shark had god-like hunting powers. The BBC also noted that the music in Jaws was used sparingly but the tone of the music contributed more to the terror of the beast than the actual beast itself. Finally, the BBC noted that, like Hitchcock movies, the pace of the film is calm and steady. This relaxes the viewer in the movie then, when the viewer is calm, Spielberg terrorizes the viewer with fear. In a way, it is very much so “relax, build up, release,” much to that of Hitchcock’s Psycho.
According to John-Paul Stephenson, the point of view shots allow the audience to imagine what the beast of the deep looks like, rather than be shown out-right. Stephenson quotes W.H. Rockett, “Sublime terror rests in the unseen – the ultimate horror.” He makes note that the opening shots are in darkness. Most people are terrified by darkness, the fact that we, as humans, are not aware of our surroundings usually puts us in a state of unease. We should also be aware that, in the beginning sequence, the two characters that play out the seen go from “being in a tight group” to “running out on their own” this juxtaposition creates a sense of isolation which is consistently used in the film. Isolation, when confronted with the shark itself, is what creates much of the terror. Neil Sinyard quotes, “…an initial humorous tone is then replaced by an atmosphere of heavy menace, this is then followed by attack.” Again, “relax, build up, release.” There is also a sense that innocence is in danger. The free-loving, nude, flower-child is killed in the beginning. The second victim is Alex Kintner, a small boy. The third victim is an apparent “mentally slow” man who is rowing in the pond. The message is simple, “everyone is a possible victim.” Stephenson points out symbolisms in the opening sequence such as nature, (the flower-child’s nudity), and rape, (the shark taking liberties with her body).
Tim Dirks writes, “Jaws is a visceral suspense/horror movie that taps into our basic primal fears – the unseen.” Once again, it is linked to Hitchcock’s Pyscho; Jaws did for the ocean what Pyscho did for the shower. Both should be analyzed carefully, but two common themes are innocence/helplessness and isolation. Interestingly, we do not get to “know” our enemies until much later in both films. Norman Bates was not seen until about thirty minutes into the film, and even then it wasn’t established that he himself was the murderer until the last moments of the movie. With Jaws we have a similar feat, the shark isn’t really seen until we reach the hour mark. Outside these resemblences, Dirks notes that Jaws seems to comment on the time it was made. When there were imposing dangers and the mayor, covering up the towns problems, is sly and devious. This seems to relate to the Watergate scandal of the seventies.
Roger Ebert comments that Jaws not only plays out as a suspence/horror picture, but also an action/thriller. This mix between genres creates a movie that is suitable for entertainment and fun, and not just horror, (like it’s peer The Exorcist). Ebert notes that the main character, Chief Brody, is supposed to represent us in a way. He fears the water as much as we do as we progress through the film. With this established connection, there is an important bond between the audience and film. Hopper in the film is supposed to support our fears of sharks. He appears well informed on the subject, and he solidifies the danger of them at almost any given moment. Quint is the arrogant sea captain who has his own past about sharks. His colleagues on the USS Indianapolis were mere food to the sharks that lay in the water. This seems to explain his distaste for them. However, his arrogance gets the better of him in the end, and he suffers the same fate as his crew. Quint’s death reminds us that this shark is a force to be reckoned with. Jaws then seems to be built up and comprised three-ways. Brody, represents ourselves. Hopper supports the fear, Quint solidifies the fear, which Brody, ourselves, needs to overcome and defeat. Ebert notes that these fears and thrills come with sparing use of violence, making it acceptable for most people to take in.
Critic Vincent Canby makes the statement that “…in the best films, characters are revealed in terms of the action.” This can be applied to all three characters Brody, Hooper and Quint. Brody is introduced when he wakes up in the morning and looks out onto the water, which he fears. Quint is introduced as he scratches his hands over a chalkboard with a shark drawn on it. Hooper is introduced in response to a shark attack. He quotes, “They are at its service.”
James Berardinelli relates the story of Jaws and puts it in modern times. Had the shark been cheap CGI and thus shown frequently, it wouldn’t have been as effective. One should understand this knowledge clearly, as there have been many Jaws take-offs that have not been as successful. Think of the Jaws sequels, and if we should apply it to more modern times, think of the recent Deep Blue Sea. Again, we see, anonymity is perhaps the best way to achieve true fright. Berardinelli states that if Jaws had been reversed somehow, had we seen the shark jump onto the orca first thing in the movie, we would have laughed at the silliness of the unrealistic shark and never thought much of the film afterward, this could be true of all things.

Jaws works on three primal fears: Darkness/Fear of the Unknown, Helplessness, and finally, Isolation. With these three elements working together, a sense of terror is established. The terror is confronted with character action, or action as it were, to create a movie which builds up terror, the releases it with the final sequences which includes the shark’s demise. Jaws is a mix between the horror genre and the action genre, which may contribute to it’s success. The audience is frightened by the terror that lurks beneath the Dark/Unknown, (primal fear), sea. The audience is as Helpless and Isolated as the characters on screen, (the other two fears), they want a release, they want the menace that has terrified them throughout the movie to be vanquished from the Earth, (on screen). So once again there is a “relax, build up, release” in the viewers experience. Relax before the film, Build Up the primal fears during the film, and Release them in one final explosion at the end… and our fears, one of our basic emotions, has been overcome for a time being. That is the success of Jaws, Spielberg managed to root out our primal fears, hold it up to a mirror, (the screen), and enabled us to realize that fear can be overcome. Good will triumph over Evil. And when things look impossible, there is always possibilities/options for us… a light at the end of the dark tunnel. These tales go right to the heart of people, and that is what a good movie can do.

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