You can easily watch a movie in the cinema. Or analyze it like a professional film critic. Film analysis has a special appeal: it sharpens the eye for the dramaturgical craft of filmmaking and allows creative insights into the director’s brain. That is why you will find here a guide to it.
Every language has its grammar. This is also true for motion picture design and therefore in film and video production. The cinematic language is composed of conscious and subconscious choices made. They are all subject to one goal: to tell a story in the most exciting way possible for the audience. With a film and scene analysis, you get the key to film reviews and to assess the director’s work.
Film critic rules for analyzing movies
- What to the right of the camera is located, looks more positive than if it is positioned on the left side. This also applies to movements. What moves from left to right seems natural to us.
- The distinction between right and left even applies when it comes to the future or the past. Past is usually to be found on the left side. The future lives on the right side.
- Likewise, what’s in the Foreground The effect on the viewer is much stronger than the effect of the people or things in the film Background. Also, what’s in the bottom half of the image moves us much less than anything in the top half of the image.
- Diagonals our brain corrects automatically when we tilt our head. Shots in which the camera is not oriented to the horizon therefore seem unnatural to us. The world has gone off the rails in footage like this.
- Movements, this is where the power of the film comes from, they are undoubtedly stronger than static shots. Even if the camera shifts only imperceptibly, it thus gives the film image spatiality. A principle, which can be observed in high-quality feature films and series in almost every scene.
- Easy to understand not only for film critics is also that a camera looking down on a person, this obviously diminishes, while a position below the eye line makes a person appear taller, but possibly also more dangerous. If the camera goes extremely high, the human being becomes a beetle or an ant and is condemned to near insignificance. In contrast, the frog perspective turns persons into godlike giants.
- It becomes more demanding with the Lighting Design. The film viewer is indeed more attracted to brighter areas. But this requires dark image zones. The resulting contrast, however, can also act as a frame that directs our gaze. Possibly to low-light zones far in the background.
Analysis means understanding film
The great privilege of film and video is that they can be viewed without prior knowledge or analysis. It does not need a manual to be able to understand moving pictures. Unless it is a highly artistic, or content-wise unsuccessful and therefore incomprehensible, work. Or one writes as a film critic for a living.
- position to the camera?
- Lighting design?
Chart 1: Elements of film analysis according to film critic Roger Ebert
Because movies are made for people, their perceptual mechanisms follow the way we perceive, feel, and classify moving images. These are the patterns that film analysis tries to detect.
Against this background, even the well-known rules such as the Golden Section or the so-called two-thirds rule emerged. They all share the intention of reinterpreting a felt regularity into a generally functioning rule.
Rules of thumb, perception and strong axes
The positioning of a person in the film image or the camera’s point of view are good examples of how perception and creative rules of thumb interact in a film review.
- An actor who does something right of center in the picture, is perceived by the cinema audience as a ideal positioned.
- At the same time, a person appears right from the camera axis, as friendlier (or more positive) compared to a positioning to the left of the image center.
- Conversely, a person who has learned exactly centered is more objective.
- If two people are standing in the picture, the person on the right side dominant in front of.
The well-known U.S. film critic Roger Ebert therefore also refers to the right side as the "right side" strong axis. He was the first to put down on paper and outline in words the film rules presented in this article in an easy-to-understand way as a reading guide for films and reviews.
Of course, filmic regularities claim none absolute validity. Rules in the entertainment business follow a mixture of experience, feeling, and one’s own perception in analysis.
Nevertheless, an astonishingly high number of these rules can be observed again and again.
The majority of directors and filmmakers use them to direct the effect of moving images very specifically. The more films and video you analyze, the more often you will discover the mechanics of film perception described here in everyday life and behind film reviews.
Why analyze films?
If you know these rules of movie making and analyze movies and videos regularly, various good things happen not only to a movie critic:
- First, you will see videos with new eyes and realize that there is much less randomness than you think.
- Secondly, you will easily acquire a key to get inside the head of the film critic Director or cameraman’s immersion.
- Thirdly, you always come up against narrative meta levels, that remain hidden from the normal viewer.
No rule without exception also for film critics
In conclusion, it may be stated for the design film works: There are no principles that can’t be turned on their head. This can create a particularly strong effect.
It is important to keep in mind that each Rule breaking should always be done in context with the action.
Film Criticism and Analysis:
- Every movie, every movie critic and every filmmaker follows rules. You can recognize this by means of an analysis. Consciously or unconsciously, our feelings tell us to an astonishingly high degree what is right (or wrong) in film making.
- Because the majority of directors and cinematographers follow these basic rules when staging, you can draw conclusions from them. A film analysis gives you insight into the "construction" of a film and opens up new understanding and perspectives.
- The seven most important rules of image composition can be found here in this article along with a quick guide to analyzing movies and videos.
- Roger Ebert: Your Movie Sucks
- Understanding Movies, Book by Louis D. Giannetti
- Film Art: An Introduction, book by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
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