History Film Review Assignment Sheet

MOVIE ASSIGNMENT

OVERVIEW

With storytelling, it's important to think about not only the story itself (content: plot, setting, character) but also about how the story is being told and who is actually telling it.  As with most things in life, asking who, what, when, where, why, and how will take you deep and wide. Ultimately, you can only make sense of the story if you examine the perspective from which it’s being told.  But, as with life in general, we are easily swept away by the plot and characters and seldom ponder the narrator's point of view.  In film, many times the viewer will literally look through a particular character’s eyes, forging an instantaneous but potent psychological affinity with that particular character. 

  • What is the difference between a story narrated from a first person point of view and a story told from a third person point of view? 
  • What’s the difference between a third person limited and a third person omniscient point of view? 
  • How close are we to the characters in each case?
  • Think about the effect of a hero telling his own story as opposed to another person who witnessed the heroic deed telling the tale.

If art is a creative expression that intentionally emotes a response from the viewer, then many films are works of art.  Film is a unique artform. Probably the most distinctive quality about film as an artform is the fact that it is, by its very nature, a creative collaboration whose creators are its screenwriters and composers, actors and cinematographers, directors and producers, make-up artists and other technicians…The list goes on and on, as you well know if you've ever sat through the entire list of credits at the end of a film! In the end, however, what does it tell us about a particular film to say that it is a Hitchcock or Tarantino film as opposed to a Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt box-office-blockbuster?

 

FILM CODES & TECHNIQUES

Sound-- How do the music/sound effects manipulate your emotions or mood?Instruments? Lyrics? Volume? Intensity? Tempo? Rhythm? Background or foreground?
Diagetic sound is sound that is natural to the environment of the scene: birds chirping, dialogue between characters, traffic and street noises, gravel crunching beneath feet, music playing on the stereo, etc. Nondiagetic sound is sound that is not within the scene, such as voiceover narration or background music.

 

Mise-en-scene--whatever appears within the frame of the shot (organization of things like stage props, acting, movement, lighting, makeup, costumes, etc.)

 

Lighting—can be used various ways and varying degrees to create particular moods; can be used symbolically

·         High-key lighting: brightly lit scene; creates cheerful, light atmosphere

·         Low-key lighting:  illuminations create contrast and a chiaroscuro effect; creates a mysterious, suspenseful, eerie, or ominous mood

·         Front lighting—softens or flattens; may suggest innocence by casting a halo effect

·         Bottom lighting—casts shadows from below; eerie, ghoulish, sinister effect

·         Side lighting—casts images in light or shadow

Camera Angles:

·         Low angle shot from below—shows power or status of the subject or object viewed from that angle, and conversely, the possible vulnerability or powerlessness of the POV the camera is reflecting (this can be the viewer or a character in the story).

·         High angle shot from above—shows weakness or vulnerability or an objective overview, i.e., God's eye view.  If you're looking into a small space, like a jail cell, it intensifies the claustrophobic feel of the cramped space.

·         Dutch angle shot tilted sideways on the horizontal axis--creates a sinister or distorted effect that skews the view of a character and perhaps indicates a distorted viewpoint or confused state.

·        Eye-level angle shot (90-95% of all shots used)--camera is level with the key character's point of view

Framing/Shots:  what the camera sets as the perimeter of our view.  What's in and what's out?

·         Establishing shot:  shot taken from a distance that establishes important locations or situates/contextualizes important characters in place, time or in relationship.

·         Long shot:  shot from far away; gives overview and is often used in establishing shots at beginning and final shot.

·         Medium shot: shot that's neither near nor far

·         Close-ups: used to impart an emotion, to show us inside a character's thoughts,  or to emphasize a particular aspect of something/someone.

·         Matching shot—change from one scene to the next by matching images and placement.

·         Pan—the stationary camera moves from left to right or right to left

·         Tilt—the stationary camera moves up or down

·         Tracking or dolly shot —the camera itself moves in or out by traveling rather than using the zoom feature

·         Following shot—the camera keeps pace with a moving figure

·         Crane shot—the camera is attached to a crane and moves up or down

·         Hand-held shot—the camera is carried or strapped onto a character or camera operator

Transitions:

·         Fade in and out

·         Jump cut—most commonly used transition where the camera shot jumps from one thing to another without benefit of fading or superimposition

·       Smash cut—abrupt, unexpected cut without transition with the intention of perplexing or startling viewer; usually occurs at seminal moments in scene; shifts radically from one type of scene to another; can be frenzied to tranquil; a very versatile type of transition.

·         Dissolve—one image fades out over another image that is simultaneously fading in—sometimes used to show the unfolding or condensed passage of time.

·        Wipe one image appears to wipe over another, replacing it; this can also be done with black or white or colored screens and can also be horizonal, verticle, diagonal, or circular.

·         Rack (or pulling) focus—an obvious shift in focus from foreground to background or vice versa.  This shifts your attention from one thing to another and directs your focus. Shifts in perspective.

·         Eye-line match —a shot that begins with what the person is looking at that then shifts to what they are seeing; usually followed by a response or reaction to what they have just seen.

·         Crosscutting—cutting back and forth between actions that happening simultaneously; also known as parallel editing

·         Montage sequence—events are connected by circumstance, theme, or idea but are disconnected physically; spliced together to show movement toward one another or parallel or converging events unfolding.

NOTES:

Pay careful attention to

· Costumes & props

·         Film technique/codes

·         Movement on the set / camera movement / body movement and facial expressions

·         Rhythm and timing of actions and events (real time, condensed time, elapsed time--how are these shown?)

·         Color—visually imparts emotional, symbolic, and cultural perceptions

·         narrator/point of view character, allusions, symbolism, character development, passage of time, names, setting (historical, cultural), circularity.

 

Contemplate these questions:

What is the generating circumstance leading into the story?

What is the plot structure--what parts of the story comprise beginning, middle, end?

How do films reflect and inform culture?

How do films translate stories from page to screen?

How do filmmakers deal with the rhythm and passage of time within the narrative flow of the story?

What qualities does film have that literature does not and vice versa?

What is the mythic quality of film?

What is it about particular films that qualify them to be considered works of art?

 

ESSAY

·         Your essay should be a movie critique that is approximately 5-7 pages: typewritten, double-spaced with one inch margins, 12 point normal font

·         Your plot summary should only be no more than two paragraphs.

·         The lion's share of your discussion should focus on the scene you select as the keystone of the film.

·        This paper must contain the following elements: 
1) Introduction: overview of what the film is about and brief plot summary;
2) Identify what you consider to be the most important scene in the film and explain why;
3) Describe, analyze, and interpret the composition and design of the key scene using the film codes detailed above.
4) Conclusion: Briefly discuss what you consider art to be and then evaluate this film as a work of art. and evaluation/judgment.

·        Be sure your title is clever as well as meaningful.

1)      No writing is complete until it has undergone revision!!! It’s a good idea to give your paper a couple days’ rest between your final draft and your revision.

2)      When you think you’ve done your best, read your paper aloud and see if it really says what you mean to say.   Wherever you get tongue-tied, stammer, or stumble over the words, mark the spot and work it over in your revision.

3)      Every major point you make needs to be illustrated with specific examples to show how what you say is true.  Whatever you assert, you must demonstrate. (Remember that too many details make writing seem boring, and too few details make it confusing &/or unconvincing.)

4)      Organization and interpretive analysis are key. Be analytical and organized, brief yet eloquent.

5)      Always spellcheck before you print.

 

 

From the editor: As our thoughts turn back to teaching, Not Even Past turns back to some of our posts from 2013-14 about new and best teaching experiences. (JN, August 15, 2014)

As the school year comes to a close, we end our series of monthly features on teaching history with a creative assignment devised by one of our US History professors. Instead of assigning only written or oral work, Robert Olwell was one of a handful of History faculty who asked their students to make video essays on specific topics related to the course. On this page, Olwell tells us about the assignment and we include some of the best of the videos his students created. Below we link to the instructions Olwell gave to the students. And throughout the month of May, we will post video essays our students produced in other History Department courses. (JN, May 1, 2014)

by Robert Olwell

In the fall of 2013 I taught the first half of the US history survey course (HIS 315K), which offers a treatment of the major themes of American History from 1492-1865. There was nothing unusual in this. I have taught 315K at least once a year (and often twice) since I came to UT twenty years ago. The course is designed as a lecture course, with assigned readings, and four in-class essay exams. The enrollment is generally 320 students. This time however, my enrollment was capped at only 160. The relatively small number allowed me to conduct a pedagogical experiment. In addition to their individual written essay exams, I assigned each of my students the task of working with three classmates to create a short “video essay.” Their task might fairly be described as a producing a brief research report in which they present their findings not on paper but on the screen. My hope was to enlist students’ familiarity and fascination with digital media in the cause of history and pedagogy.

In order to keep control of the project, I made several command decisions. First, I divided the class into forty teams of four students each. I allowed students no choice of partners but simply used the class roll and the alphabet to make the groups (hence team members’ last names often start with the same letter). Second, I gave the groups no choice as to their topic. I created a list of forty topics that I deemed suitable (i.e., could easily be presented in a four-five minute video) and assigned one topic to each group.

Communicating important news with ringing bell and wall newspapers. From the animated video essay, New Amsterdam.

As the rubric that I posted for the assignment indicates, by far the most important part of their task was the first one: writing the “script.” In late October, my Teaching Assistants and I poured over the forty, ten-page- long scripts. (Each TA looked at ten scripts and I looked at all of them.) Our aim was to offer historical critiques and suggestions, and to make sure the students were on the right track as regards sources, bibliography, and so on. We acted more as “historical consultants” to their projects than as producers. Having never made or posted a video myself, I could offer them little or no assistance in that regard. Instead, I relied on the students’ own facility with visual and digital media to carry them through. (Having watched my two teen-aged daughters produce videos both as school projects and for fun, I rightly suspected my students would be more than capable of fulfilling this part of the assignment on their own.)

From the video essay, The Book of Negroes, about colonial slaves of African descent who fought for the British in return for freedom.

Overall, I would judge the “video essay” project to have been a great success. In their peer evaluations most students agreed; some wrote that it was the most interesting thing they had ever done in a history class. The standard of the finished videos was quite high (the average grade was a B+). There were some difficulties, of course. Some of the groups did not work well together and some students did not pull their weight. The final part of the assignment, peer evaluation, was included to address this possibility. However, most groups did cooperate effectively and I used the peer evaluations as often to reward those students acknowledged by their teammates to have been project leaders, as to punish the slackers.

Would I do it again? Yes, but. Next time, I would probably make the project optional (perhaps replacing one of the written exams), and allow students to make their own teams and choose their own projects.

Here is the assignment sheet and rubric  that I handed out to the students.

And here are the six video essays that I deemed the best of the forty produced by my students last fall.

Cahokia 
by Valerie Salina, Jeffrey A. Sendejar, Victor Seth, and Sharmin Sharif

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment (1863-65)
by Madeline Christensen, Nathan Cliett, Rebecca Coughlin, and Corbin Cruz

Anne Hutchinson
by Justin Gardner, Rishi Garg, Yanni Georghiades, and Rachelle Gerstner

The Book Of Negroes
by Will Wood, Anfernee Young, Qin Zhang, and Sally Zhang

Dr. Josiah Nott
by Salina Rosales, Felipe Rubin, and Hunter Ruffin

New Amsterdam
by Evan Taylor-Adair, Oliver Thompson, Kimberly Tobias, and Reynaldo Torres Arellano

 

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