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Kings College London Marie Antoinette Film Give us an Heir Sequence Analysis

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Reading a Film Sequence The inventory of the following worksheet for the most draws attention to formal concerns, to matters grounded in the work of the text. Every text, though, is a function of at least two contexts: the context in which it was made, the context in which it functions. Every text speaks in a number of different ways, i.e., it recycles the givens of tradition, engaging various forms of discourse, putting them together in a way to produce an aesthetic entity. These texts are something like a stringing together of quotations, of reworking conventions, of adding together a number of impulses from the world in which one lives, appropriating various elements in a way that leads to something different, and in that sense, new. The work that goes into ferreting out the different voices in a text involves, among other things, an awareness of historical situations, the assumptions and background of an artist and his/her team, the motivation (s) behind a certain production. Beyond that, to talk about a filmic text means that we engage in a dialogue that brings us into the scene as a participant in an exchange: we make certain assumptions, both methodological and theoretical ones. Even the statement “I didn’t like this film” carries with it a sizable amount of implicit assumptions. Any thorough analysis of a film involves studying the following: • • • • • • • • • the socio-historical background to the film, economic and political factors that conditioned its making and explain its existence; the traditions out of which a given film arises: cultural quotations it partakes of, the conventions it makes use of, the degree to which it participates in specifically national patterns of expression; the institutional positioning of a given film: its reception in the public sphere; the director/author’s larger body of work; the “work” of the text itself, never forgetting, though, that films issue from a larger extrafilmic whole; the question of a film’s reception in time and how this has pre-shaped our own expectations as well as the film’s place in history; the relation of a text to certain intertexts; these can be directly suggested by a film or they can be creative associations suggested by the spectator. I. Narrative 1. What is the function of this sequence within the larger narrative action: exposition, climax, foreshadowing, transition, etc? Does the sequence encapsulate the major oppositions at work in the film? What are the underlying issues in the sequence? What is the selected sequence “really” about? What aspect of the story does it establish, revise, develop? How do the visuals express it? 2. How is the story told? (linear, with flashbacks, flash-forwards, episodically?) What “happens” on the level of the plot? How do plot and story differ, if at all? 3. Can the sequence be divided into individual segments (indicated, for instance, by shifts of location, jumps in time, intertitles, etc.)? How many simultaneous narratives (substories) does the sequence contain? 1 4. How do the various channels of information used in film–image, speech, sound, music, writing–interact to produce meaning? Does one of the channels dominate in this sequence? 5. Is there a recognizable source of the narration? Voice-overor off-screen commentary? What is the narrator’s perspective? 6. Does the film acknowledge the spectator or do events transpire as if no one were present? Do characters look into the camera or pretend it is not there? Does the film reflect on the fact that the audience assumes the role of voyeurs to the screen exhibition? 7. Does the film reflect on its “constructedness” by breaking the illusion of a self-sufficient “story apparently told by nobody? “Are there intertitles, film-within-film sequences, obtrusive and self-conscious (“unrealistic”) camera movements calling attention to the fact that the film is a construct? 8. How does the narrative position the spectator vis-a-vis the onscreen events and characters? Are we made to respond in certain ways to certain events (say, through music that “tells” us how to respond or distances us from the action)? How are women portrayed? Are they primarily shown as passive objects of the male gaze? Does the camera transfigure them (through soft-focus, framing, etc.)? 9. Does the narrative (as encapsulated in the sequence) express (indirectly) current political views? Does the film sequence conform to, affirm, or question dominant ideologies? Does the filmmaker (unconsciously) subvert the expression of minority or non-conformist views by recourse to old visual cliches? II. Staging The filmmaker stages an event to be filmed. What is put in front of the camera? How does the staging comment on the story? How does it visualize the main conflicts of the story? 1. Setting: On location or in the studio? “Realistic” or stylized? Historical or contemporary? Props that take on a symbolic function? Are things like mirrors, crosses, windows, books accentuated? Why? How do sets and props comment on the narrative? 2. Space: Cluttered or empty? Does it express a certain atmosphere? Is the design symmetrical or asymmetrical? Balanced or unbalanced? Stylized or natural? Open form: frame is de-emphasized, has a documentary “snapshot” quality; closed form: frame is carefully composed, self-contained, and theatrical; the frame acts as a boundary and a limit. Is space used as an indirect comment on a character’s inner state of mind? 3. Lighting: What is illuminated, what is in the shadow? Lighting quality: hard lighting (bold shadows) or soft (diffused illumination)? Direction: frontal lighting (flat image), sidelighting (for dramatic effect), backlighting (only the silhouette is visible), underlighting (from a fireplace, for example)? “Realistic” or high contrast/symbolic lighting? High key/low key? Special lighting effects?
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