Reading Films Critically
Films, like literary texts, can be decoded or “read” to uncover multiple levels of meaning.
While cinema uses language to communicate meaning, it also adds visual imagery,
movement and sound. The rhetoric of film becomes more complex than the rhetoric of
literature; “figures of speech” become “figures of speech, image, sound and movement.”
Like literary texts, motion pictures employ different narrative styles and use punctuation
devices to create meaning by linking and separating parts of the film.
To enrich you understanding of the language of motion pictures, this (very brief, very
incomplete, but hopefully somewhat useful) guide names and describes some central
elements of the rhetoric of cinema. This is meant to make you more aware of the things
that are taking place on the screen so you will be more likely to see and hear them, and
can be useful shorthand for you in describing what you see.
ELEMENTS OF FILM
In literary texts, we speak of the contributing part as words, phrases, sentences,
paragraphs, chapters. In film, we speak of:
: A single photograph from a strip of film. A “freeze frame” is a shot that is
reprinted a number of times on the filmstrip which, when projects, gives the illusion of a
): A single unedited, uncut strip of film; images are recorded continuously
from the time the camera starts to the time it stops.
: A unit of film composed of a number of interrelated shots, joined by an editor. A
scene is usually unified by a location, incident or minor dramatic climax.
: A unit of film usually composed of a number of interrelated scenes, and
leading to a major climax.
THE CAMERA: FRAMING, ANGLE, POSITION AND FOCUS:
: The use of the edges of the film frame to select and compose what will be
visible on screen.