Film as Art

We don’t usually think of film as art.  Most of the time we go to the movies simply to be entertained. But this doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a film on other levels as well.  A great movie can be as beautiful and profound as any work of art.  After all, they are called “motion pictures.”

You can use the tools you’ve already acquired to help you appreciate a film: Formal, Iconographic, and Contextual Analysis.  Films are broken down shot by shot, scene by scene, by the screenwriter, art director, editor, and, of course, by the director himself.   In a good film, every angle is considered, every action, every prop, every bit of music or dialog is important.  Films are a very expensive art, and every part better contribute to the whole.

And if the film is well crafted, it sends you from  the theater a slightly different person than when you went in.  I remember seeing Fargo on a hot July day, but leaving the theater, I was cold.

People have wondered about the power of theater for thousands of years.  It’s strange that it exists at all.  Why do we have the need to tell public stories?  Why do grownups put on elaborate, expensive “make believes?”  Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was one of the first to try and pin down why we do it, and what makes it good.  No one has really come up with anything better.

We’ll use his system to take a quick look at Napoleon Dynamite and The Matrix. Could any two films be more different?  Then, just for fun, we’ll apply it to a small work of genius, The Wrong Trousers.

Aristotle’s Six Parts of a Theatre

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Thought (theme, idea)
  4. Diction (Language)
  5. Music (sound)
  6. Spectacle

1.  PLOT: What happens in the story.

  1. Exposition: Everything that the audience needs to know to understand the play.  This includes Antecedent action: (everything that has happened before the play begins).
  2. Conflict:  the clash of opposing forces (man vs. self, man, environment, natural  forces, group, God, or group vs. group)  There is usually an Inciting incident:  (or “initiating incident”): the event that occurs to begin the conflict .The ensuing Complications include discoveries, reversals, sub plots and major and minor conflicts.
  3. Climax:  The point at which one or the other of the forces is favored; the point at  which events must turn in one direction or another. Not necessarily the “high point.” 

  4. Resolution / Denouement:  This comes after the climax. 
Not always resolved  satisfactorily.  Beware of devices like  the “deus ex machina” (god from the machine) a contrived or unbelievable resolution.

2.  CHARACTER: Human behavior, including physical, social & psychological traits.

  1. Protagonist: agon” = struggle; the pro side of the struggle — often used to refer to the lead character in a tragedy:
  2. Antagonist — the anti side of the struggle — often the bad guy, but could be anyone / thing that struggles against the protagonist:
  3. Foil: reveals some aspects of the main characters by having similar or different circumstances or by behaving similarly or differently.
  4. Stock characters: exemplify one expected characteristic, such as “Nerd,”  or “Dumb Blonde.”

3.  THOUGHT: The idea or theme of the work.

4.  DICTION / LANGUAGE: Speech reveals character, mood, directs attention, tempo.

5.  MUSIC / SOUND: Music, dialog, rhythm, pace, mood, sound effects.

6.  SPECTACLE: Sets, props, lighting, makeup, overall look.