(cited verbatim from http://www.neatorama.com/2006/08/29/the-wonderful-world-of-early-photography/)
The grainy picture above is the world's first photograph called "View from the Window at Le Gras" (circa 1826), taken and developed by French photographer pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. He called this process "heliography" or sun drawing - it certainly was a long process: the exposure time was about 8 hours.
(cited verbatim from http://www.neatorama.com/2006/08/29/the-wonderful-world-of-early-photography/)
A VERY abridged synopsis:
Teacher sketches a pinhole camera on board, complete with inverted image on the back wall. Then, teacher illustrates how a 35mm film camera is just a pinhole camera with gears. Review idea of "camera obscura" in art and the development of photography from 1826 to the present.
Then, illustrate how a movie camera works, taking 24 photos per second. Calculate the number of frames in a full-length movie. Discuss terms "OVERCRANKING" and "UNDERCRANKING" as production terms for distortions of time.
Briefly explain the amazing chemistry involved in film, developing film, and printing. Then draw an eyeball over the entire illustration to show that the camera is modeled after the human eye.
Students brainstorm a huge list of film terms. Then, teacher draws a 3-column grid on the board with columns labeled LITERARY (what film share with books & literature), DRAMATIC (what film shares with live theater), and CINEMATIC (those things that are exclusive to film). Give students time to put each of their brainstormed concepts into the appropriate columns.
Check out www.metacritic.com and download & print a full-length review. Read it over, then mark the review (with a highliter, perhaps), labeling where the author addresses LITERARY, DRAMATIC, and CINEMATIC elements of the film reviewed. LDC is a framework through which we can discu
Open up any Short Story textbook, and you'll see some discussion of the plot paradigm. I don't like it, really. It doesn't work for short stories, and it's not the best model for film. So we'll tweak it a bit. I can't draw on this blog, nor do I have the time to sketch, scan, upload, and post an image, so I'll describe the pertinent terminology.
The bottom line represents non-diegetic time, usually around 2 hours. This 2 hours is divided into usually 3 acts.
An angled line rises from the left, and some fool called it "Rising Action." That's fine if the action is always rising, but it's not always rising. So my line is crooked. It's filled with PLOT BUMPS which represent those events in a film to which characters need time to react. It happens every 6-8 minutes or so, by my guess. Remember Hakuna-Matata? Definitely not rising action -- more of a chilling out, leveling out.
All of this does culminate in the CLIMAX of the film, the point of highest action which will lead to our conclusion and resolution. And that final line angling down to the end of the movie? Certainly NOT "falling action." We'll call it DENOUEMENT. Say it like you're French. It's that resolution that puts a big fat bow on the gift of the movie. It's Luke and Han and friends receiving medals for saving the Universe (for now!). It's Simba taking the throne and making a cub (sing with me now... "The Circle of Life.") It's the visual answer to the ESSENTIAL QUESTION.
The ESSENTIAL QUESTION is asked at the beginning of the film and related directly to the goals of the protagonist. In Little Shop of Horrors, it's about Seymore wanting to not be poor. In Independence Day, it's about our protagonist getting engaged to his girlfriend. Note that in neither movie is it about defeating aliens.
The early part of the movie (in the 1st act) is called EXPOSITION. It's basically all the background stuff we need for the plot to launch. We get the ESSENTIAL QUESTION, and we also get some character development from our main characters to find out what makes them tick and to make their reactions to later situations somewhat predictable (in a good way). Of course, the most important thing we are exposed to in EXPOSITION is the SETTING, which is the time and place (A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away...).
Here's a bonus for you students who actually read this stuff. There is an old theater idea of a GREEK CHORUS. It was a group of 3 women who would stand at the side of the stage and direct the audience in how to feel. They, like us, are observers of the action and only minimally participate in the action, if at all. Remember the mice from Babe? Greek chorus. Or the annoying radio announcer from The Fifth Element? Or Mr. Senor Love Daddy from Do the Right Thing? Or the doo-wop girls from Little Shop of Horrors? Or the very literal Greek Chorus from Hercules? There you have it; all Greek Chorus. Some would convincingly argue that a movie's non-diegetic music is a modern Greek Chorus. When Batman comes crashing through a window, the music tells us "This is really big and scary!"
Almost all films tweak time, either expanding or constricting time.
In The Sound of Music, we hear a church bell while Maria is on the hill. Later, when we see the nuns in the chapel we hear the same exact bell, only this time it sounds much closer. We just experienced a TIME EXPANSION, although we didn't know it until we heard the bell. The director, Robert Wise, could have used PARALLEL EDITING (sometimes called CROSS CUTTING) to show both actions happening at once -- We see Maria for a bit, then cut to the nuns, then back to Maria, etc.
Children's movies are almost always chronological, without flashbacks. Time jumping tends to confuse the wee ones. But those movies often compress time, making leaps forward. In The Lion King, we actually see Simba grow from a cub to an adolescent as he crosses a log. We see this because a sudden change in Simba's appearance would confuse the little ones; they would wonder who this other lion is.
Many movies are told in flashback, with a present narrator (seen on screen) telling a story. Think Titanic or Amadeus. Forrest Gump does this to great effect, with our protagonist beginning on a park bench telling a stranger his story, then flashing back to see it. It bounces back and forth several times into various episodes of his life (hence the term EPISODIC). Notice with all of these films that the narration (the part in flashback) is still chronological. Forrest Gump doesn't begin by telling us about his college years; he starts on the first day of school as a child.
This type of storytelling, where we constantly jump back and forth between time (and sometimes between reality and storytelling as in Big Fish and The Princess Bride) is called ELLIPTICAL STORYTELLING. It works for films of any length or genre, except for children's films.
Rarely, films intentionally do not expand or constrict time. Most of the film Dog Day Afternoon takes place during a 2-hour bank robbery gone wrong. We are with the character, and in our seats, for the same two hours. These films are called REAL TIME. Other notable real time movies are Hitchcock's Rope, High Noon, and Twelve Angry Men. NOTE: There is a movie called Russian Ark which we will look at later. It is all shot in one long take, and the narrator is with us in real time. But since the movie literally walks us through history (room to room in a museum where actors portray eras of Russian history), I can't really call it diegetically real time.
Watch the intro to The Sound of Music.
Editing - Even the Fade In at the beginning is an editing choice. Editing is about the length of the shots as much as it is about the cuts. This film is an example of Classical Editing: It tries to hide the edit from the attention of the audience.
How to hide an edit if you are Robert Wise:
1. Keep the camera moving the same direction.
2. Keep the camera on a similar subject.
3. Keep the camera moving at a similar rate.
4. Hide the edit in a cloud. Yes, really.
5. Mask the edit with continuous sound/music.
Types of edits:
1. Fade: Fading into or out of a scene to a particular color, usually black.
2. Dissolve: Blending over time across two different shots. The length of time matters.
3. Cut: The direct juxtaposition of two different shots.
4. Continuity Edit: A cut which matches the action across the two shots.
5. Match Cut: A match cut which matches the action across SCENES (oooh! fancy!). Not in The Sound of Music.
Other Vocab: M.O.S. - A production term of dubious origin. It means that you don't record sound, just the visuals. Sound may be added later. It could be derived from Fritz Lang's German accent saying "Ve vill film zis Mit out Sound!"
Also, we have ADR which stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement. It's where the actors come into the studio in post-production to overdub their own voices for clearer sound.
And we have the FOLEY ARTISTS who create much of the sound (not sound effects, per se, but just the basic everyday diegetic sounds) we hear in film.
Draw a single horizontal line across the board. On the left, label it "Realism" and the right is "Formalism"
This is a continuum onto which any film can fall.
Start discussion by asking students to define "realism" and how that shows up in film. Ss will offer up documentaries, war films, etc. Ask "What is the most realistic media?" News? Documentary? Nope. Security camera footage, live and unedited. Boring. But, as soon as someone selects part of that to show on the news (a store robbery, for example), an editor gets involved. And bias. And subjectivity. It loses just a touch of its realism.
Proceed to move down the continuum, discussing examples. How is news realism? How is it not? What about documentaries? Discuss how reality TV uses much editing to craft the narrative, how "March of the Penguins" is only a documentary in the sense that the main actors are unpaid, etc. Move on to historical films ("Bridge Over the River Kwai" "Matewan"), biopics (Walk the Line, Ray, JobsI), then films with a historical setting ("Titanic" "Pearl Harbor" and "Cold Mountain" come to mind).
Move on down to more Formalistic films such as "Pan's Labyrinth," animated films, Sci-Fi, etc. The only truly formalistic films which students regularly encounter are music videos or Disney's "Fantasia." Formalistic films are more interested in form than narrative. Most experimental or avant garde films are formalistic, and may include such techniques as manipulating the actual film (with acid, paint, sandpaper, etc) or simply displaying colors.
Almost every film the students have ever seen falls into the umbrella category of "Classicism" which means that is follows a traditional plot paradigm, even if the editing is elliptical -- even "Memento" and "Pulp Fiction" fall under classicism, though their editing is far from traditional. Movie theaters rarely show films that are truly formalistic or too realistic (live broadcasts, sports events, or news, etc.)
HW: Students draw a line and place 5 films (NOT any discussed in class) on the continuum. Then, below that, they defend each film's placement at that location. For example: "Minority Report is a bit more realistic than Star Wars because the setting is in the near future in America, while Star Wars is A Long Time Ago In a Galaxy Far Far Away. Many things in modern life can be seen in MR, whereas Star Wars seems to relish in showing us the new, unusual, and unexpected."
Students share their lists of quintessential films from each genre. Compare their lists to those of their parents.
Break down the conventions of a genre into categories such as:
1. Visuals (camera aspect)
4. Trappings (props and things)
5. Sounds (diegetic and non-diegetic, orchestration, etc)
6. Plot expectations and conventions
7. Gender roles
Go through the Western genre with the class for each category. Then, each group in the class is assigned another primary genre. They discuss the conventions of th