A New Angle

Hello, everyone! As we’re focusing on films and film making, this week, it’s worth starting with an article written by the late Roger Ebert, How to Read a Movie.

Mr. Ebert starts his article by describing one of the methods of teaching film analysis back when he taught film at the University of Chicago in 1969; he would pause whatever film they were watching to allow his students, or anyone else who wanted to participate, to discuss whatever occurred to them about that particular scene or the film, as a whole. Mr. Ebert mentions that, when analyzing a film, “it helps to have a grounding in basic visual understanding,” which he admits he didn’t have much of when he was first hired as a film critic by the Sun-Times; this leads him into the main meat of the article, where he begins by describing a concept called “intrinsic weighting,” which he learned from Louis D. Giannetti’s book, Understanding Movies.

Mr. Giannetti’s idea of “intrinsic weighting” refers to the way in which a scene of a film is composed, visually–how the camera is angled, who/what’s in the foreground or the background, etc.–and how that affects the overall tone or mood of the scene. For example, according to both Mr. Ebert and Mr. Giannetti, a character who is standing to the left within the frame might be cast in a more negative light, whereas a character who is standing closer to the right might be cast in a more positive light; a camera angle from above the character or characters makes them appear smaller, more insignificant, while a camera angle from below may make them appear almost god-like; so on and so forth.

Like a few weeks ago, in regards to design and photography, I never really thought that much about why a filmmaker might compose a particular shot the way they do, other than because it simply looks the best, to them. I had an idea about how camera angels and lighting affected the overall tone of a scene, but it never occurred to me how the way a scene might be blocked or weighted might also have that kind of affect. I wish I could say that that kind of thing makes sense, in hindsight, but I never really paid that much attention to how a scene is weighted, when watching movies. But I’ll be sure to be more on the lookout for that, in the future–both when watching movies and when making them.

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