If someone spends his entire day reading, he might be perceived as scholarly or cultured, but if he spent the last 48 hours binge watching a TV series, he’d probably be viewed as some sort of degenerate couch potato.
People buy books just to appear smart, but people aren’t running out to red-box to impress others, are they? Film and television are considered the lesser storytelling mediums – low-brow fodder for the masses. This is not a new sentiment.
In 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minow delivered a scathing speech, lambasting television, calling it a “vast wasteland,” composed of a “procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families… mayhem, violence…and cartoons.”
While parts of Minow’s quote ring true, certain films and television series are valuable, not vacuous.
Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is a beautiful, sprawling masterpiece that explores existence and man’s relationship with God. “House of Cards” is a modern Shakespearean take on the immorality and corruption in politics. Wes Anderson’s films have such balance and symmetry that any still of an Wes Anderson film could be hung in an art museum.
Despite popular opinion,watching a film or television can be is an intellectual pursuit, depending on how one engages with the medium.
Good films and television shows are more than entertaining; like any good work of fiction they teach. They reflect reality back onto itself; they highlight the altruistic and the nefarious aspects of humanity; they are created to be beautiful and enriching.
There is a reason lifetime movies don’t have the same affect on a viewer as “Good Fellas.” There is a reason why shows like “Mad Men” and “House of Cards” are more memorable than shows like CSI: Miami. Understanding elements of film and their uses can explain why certain works last, while others fade. “Good” films have a mastery over technical elements of filmmaking build a more fulfilling and substantive “worlds” within their films.
The purpose of a film is to tell a story, but unlike literature, film is a visual medium.Directors have a number of elements at their disposal to enhance their ability to tell a story, from dialog, editing, sound, score, lighting, color and composition. Every aspect of a film should enhance the director’s ability tell a story or deliver a message to the audience. Each choice should be deliberate. How effective a film is at using these elements to build a cohesive and story determines to a great extent how “good” a film is considered to be.
in film, only a small fraction of the story is apparent to the viewer on screen, the rest must be discovered by the viewer. Because film is mostly a visual experience, internal realities must be represented with external cues or images.An active audience members are aware of these cues. Improving one’s ability to engage with film, enhances one’s ability to understand storytelling and appreciate film and television as an art form.
By training oneself to be an observant audience member, film will become an active experience. Audience members will beyond surface appearances and seek out messages and deeper meanings. They move beyond being affixed to your couch and move into engaging in a dialog with the medium they are watching.
Active audiences pay attention to what is in a scene, the objects placed within a scene and where they are within a frame. Objects within a scene are usually there for a reason. .Some objects are symbolic, others are foreshadowing devices — like the sled in Citizen Kane, for example. Without spoiling the film, the sled is not just a toy, it represents childhood and innocence lost.
Most importantly, the setting and the objects surrounding a particular character can reveal who they are as a human being. Much like how one choses to decorate his living space, the spaces created for characters and designed to reflect who they are as human beings. A methodical detail oriented character may have a spotless house, whereas a down-on-his-luck struggling artist may live in a scant apartment that’s littered with paint and cigarette butts.
In the opening scene of “Citizen Kane,”there is a slow, push-in shot leading up the the main characters mansion — Xanadu. As the camera continues to push-in towards the estate, more of the setting is revealed. From the large fence surrounding the property, to the stone walls of his fortress, to the massive an ornate fireplace seen within the building, audience gets a sense of who Foster Kane is — a wealthy, guarded, and lonely man.
Colors can give films a cohesive look and can also reflect internal moods or overall themes of the films. David Fincher masterfully uses color to enhance his works. The director of “The Social Network,” “Fight Club,” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” remake, often uses blue tones or green tones to give his works a somber, unsettling feel.
“Fight Club” is one of the most yellow and greenish films ever made. While yellow is often viewed as a cheery color, when it is mixed with high contrast and dark colors, it gives a sickly impression. The presence of yellow fits with the films gritty themes, and it does tie into the films twist ending.
“Girl with the dragon Tattoo” is filmed almost entirely in a bleak, blue hue, with high contrast. Not only does this give the film a cold, dark air but it compliments the winter elements in the film and showcases the protagonists struggle to connect and relate to those around her.
For some directors, external colors can reflect internal character changes. Nefarious and evil characters are often shown wearing darker colors. The showrunner of “Breaking Bad” made some interested choices in terms of Walter White’s wardrobe color. As the show progressed, White’s attire become progressively darker in the series.
In “American Beauty,” a film which explores and critiques the cliched idea of the American Dream, the shades of red are present in almost every shot. Red, which can symbolize passion, lust, and violence, acts as a foreshadowing device about what vices my overtake the film’s main protagonist and unroot his American dream.
Overall, watching a film or television series is an intellectual pursuit, if one watches actively. By observing, evaluating, and critiquing the elements of a film, people experience intellectual growth and simulation. Overtime, by engaging in this process, storytelling elements become more clear and more is gleaned from the surface of films.
Not only will one’s understanding of film be enhanced, but the skillset of critically engaging with materials is transferable between mediums. Improving one’s ability to observe, appreciate, and critique storytelling methods in film, may improve one’s ability to pick up on cues and deeper themes in literature.