A Response to Timothy Corrigan’s “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing”


In “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing,” Timothy Corrigan explains many different vocabulary terms and ideas relating to film and film-making that he believes are crucial for a viewer to have an informed opinion of what they are seeing. It is not so much the concrete definition of the terms that he thinks are important to know, but rather how the terms relate to film and how they are used within it. As Corrigan says on page 36, “Every discipline has its own special language or use of words that allows it to discuss its subject with precision and subtlety.” This applies to film in that an understanding of the different uses of these terms within a film can completely change the mood of the film, or the way in which the viewer is supposed to interpret it. There are a few key terms that Corrigan feels are essential for the base knowledge in analyzing film.

Theme – What is the film about?
Narrative – 3 parts: a) The actual storyline; b) The plot; c) The narration (perspective from which the narrative is told)
Characters – Are they main or minor? How do they relate to one another?
Point of View – Does the point of view from which the movie is being explained affect how you interpret the movie? Would another point of view change the movie?
Mise-en-Scène – Everything that is visible on scene (gestures, positioning, lighting, costumes, etc.). How do these objects, and their relation to each other, affect your interpretation of the film?
Realism – How does the story match up with the actual world? Is it supposed to?
The Shot – How do the actions presented, and the order they are presented, affect how you see the film? Is there a reason the camera focuses on specific characters, images, or places during a scene?
Moral – What is the specific morality associated with the story? (i.e. Does good defeat evil?)
Editing – Was the scene edited to convey a specific message? Was in used in the correct context, or out of context, to prove a point? This is especially important to consider when viewing film, because it completely shapes what we see, as well as when and how we see it.
Sound – What sounds were used, and were they used to enhance the visuals? Does the sequence in which the sound was presented affect the film? Does the sound match what is going on in the scene, or does it distract from it?

All of these terms, according to Corrigan, are important in understanding and analyzing film. By viewing each of these terms within a film in isolation, it is easier to draw a deeper understanding and meaning from the decisions made in making the film, and the message that was trying to be portrayed. In the last dance scene in Black Swan, for instance, there is a very intense moment with the main character. In this scene, the camera switches back and forth between the dancer’s face and her mother’s face, both of which are crying. Very dramatic classical music plays in the background, with no words exchanged between the two women. Then, the music stops as the pained dancer falls from her podium to end the dance. The way that the camera uses close-up images of both women, in conjunction with the bellowing, suspenseful music in the background, creates a very intimate, nerve-wracking scene for the audience. Because the entire movie had led up to this dance, it is a very suspenseful moment already, but the way that all of the elements came together during this scene (the dramatic lighting, the music in the background, the focus on the two women only) made this scene that much more heightened, and confirms Corrigan’s idea that a better understanding of these terms leads to a better interpretation of the film. This scene can be seen here at the 1:00 mark:



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