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Film Analysis Paper Guidelines

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For this assignment, you will write a 6-7 page analysis of a single film, demonstrating your mastery of the critical skills and terminology you are learning in this course. Your analysis should extend the skills and terminology used for analyzing our class films in your journal essays, but now you'll combine all of our learned techniques to analyze one film. (Graduate papers require more original thought and critical thinking—not a compilation of someone else’s ideas. So graduate students will complete a longer 8-10 page paper, in which you perform your analysis of one of the assigned films.)

For examples of how to write film analyses, examine the sample analyses in your textbooks: Film Art and A Short Guide to Writing About Film. See my Comments Guide for a key to understanding my comments on your papers and for suggestions on how to write your very best work.

Plagiarism Warnings:

How to Complete the Assignment in Three Steps

STEP ONE: Screen at least one of the following films:

Related image

(Barry Jenkins, 2016, US; 111 min.)

Image result for babadook

The Babadook
(Jennifer Kent, 2014, Australia; 93 min.)

Image result for i will follow movie

I Will Follow
(Ava DuVernay, 2011, US; 80 min.)

Image result for ixcanul Ixcanul/Volcano via Netflix or YouTube
(Jayro Bustamante, 2015, Guatemala; 93 min.)

I recommend that you watch more than one of these films--not only because they're all great films, but also to give you the most options when you choose your paper topic. For your study, you will find a free streaming link to each film on D2L. They may also be on DVD or streaming online through Netflix or other online sources, but be VERY careful about free streaming sources on YouTube and other sites, since the quality is often poor and it may not even be the complete film for which you are responsible. You may wish to purchase the film on your own as well, since you will be viewing it multiple times. You should not need to watch the film you analyze more than 4 or 5 times total. You should begin watching the film this week.

STEP TWO: Analyze and take notes
on the following characteristics of your selected film.

1) Form and Meaning

    a) Take notes on major parallels and motifs.  What outstanding motifs and parallels emerge for the film's plot, settings, characters, etc.? What parallel traits do the characters share? How are they contrasted? How does the film encourage us to feel about and understand them?

    b) Having noted these, you should come to your interpretation of the film's subject, paying attention to its explicit, implicit, and symptomatic meanings. Your entire paper will revolve around your implicit meaning/thesis, so really spend some time thinking through what you think the film is trying to say--the film's message. Then formulate your ideas about this message into a clear thesis: your interpretation of the film condensed into one sentence that argues a definite opinion about the film. Note that to say the film is "about" something is not enough for your thesis; that's the starting point. Then you must take that noun that you think the film is "about" and argue a point or opinion about it. All of your examples from the film in the rest of the paper will then work to illustrate and prove your thesis. For help formulating a solid thesis, see Dartmouth College's Developing Your Thesis; and for general advice for academic writing, see the Dartmouth College Writing Guidelines.

    c) Here’s a tip for honing your thesis statement into a clear, concisely stated implicit meaning for the film: think in terms of fortune cookie language for this sentence. So, for example, you wouldn’t find something like “Love is important” in a fortune cookie; it’s too vague and bland. But you might find something like “Only through love can we find happiness.” While a bit clichéd, this statement clearly makes its point and thus become easy to illustrate with examples from your film.

2) Narrative and Narration

    a) Characterize the overall range and depth of narration as the film progresses, noting whether the film's narration employs generally restricted or omniscient range, objective or subjective depth. Be sure to say why these choices are significant for your implicit meaning. Also, be sure to note when exceptions to the prevailing modes of narration occur and why they're significant.

    b) For your benefit only, segment the film into sections. What are the major unified blocks of action in each film? (Fade-outs and fade-ins will typically punctuate each block of action, though films sometimes use other transitional edits such as cuts, wipes, or dissolves here.) What events transpire in each block, and what new information do we obtain about each character? What kinds of manipulations do you find in the relations between plot and story?
    Note: The information from this segmentation is to help you only; it should not figure prominently in your written analysis. As always, be careful to avoid plot summary in your paper.

3) Film Techniques
Choose at least three film techniques from mise-en-scène, camerawork, editing, and sound that best exemplify your paper's thesis.

    a) Assume that the film you analyze is aesthetically unified and coherent. That is, assume that all the individual elements in the film are there for a reason & that they logically contribute both to the structures and to the implicit meaning you find in the film.

    b) Note in detail how the filmmakers' technical choices express & support your implicit meaning. Every example should clearly illustrate your implicit meaning; if it doesn't, then cut it.


STEP THREE: Organize and write your essay.

This is a more formal paper than your film-response journal entries. You should clearly organize and write your paper within your 6-7 page limit, following these guidelines:

1) Introduction. State a thesis that offers your interpretation of the film's implicit meaning and **briefly** assert how the film's formal and stylistic components contribute to and shape that meaning. Be very clear about your argument/thesis and how you will support it. Your paper's title should reflect your theme; feel free to be clever or witty with your title.

2) The Body of the Paper. Discuss the film's meaning, character parallels/motifs, narration, and techniques categorically in order to best convey your interpretations. That is, discuss parallels among the protagonists & motifs in terms of your implicit meaning, then analyze details of narration, then analyze the details of  mise-en-scène, camerawork, editing, and/or sound to back up your points. For each of these technical categories:
    a) explain the general patterns/motifs over the entire film
    b) describe 2-3 scenes or shots that serve as important examples of that technique
    c) describe any significant deviations from the technique's general pattern
    **Always be sure that your examples clearly support your implicit meaning/thesis in each section.

    Cautions and requirements for this section of your paper:
    a) Avoid trying to discuss the film chronologically. An achronological, categorical, thematic organization will allow you to be more concise and to resist the temptation to simply provide a plot summary. Again, NO PLOT SUMMARY is necessary for this assignment. Get right to your analysis and your interpretation of the film, referring to plot elements only to illustrate and/or situate your examples within the film.
    b) Your primary task in this assignment is to demonstrate your sensitivity to visual and aural techniques as they relate to the film's overall form and meaning. You must demonstrate your mastery of the material by thoroughly employing the terms we've learned.
    c) Do not catalogue all of the techniques and features you noted as you watched the film. Discuss ONLY those techniques that are outstanding and contribute significantly to the meaning of the film. For example, if you find that the lighting in the film has no particular logic or pattern which makes it support your interpretation, do not discuss it in your paper.
    d) Edit all sections of your paper to relatively equal lengths. Don't spend 3 pages on motifs & parallels, leaving room for only one paragraph each on the techniques. Shoot for balance among the sections of your paper.

3) Conclusion. Use your final paragraph(s) to bring to a close your analysis of the film's outstanding stylistic systems. However, do not simply repeat your introduction. Rather, restate your thesis in a conclusive (as opposed to introductory) manner and discuss its broader implications--including the symptomatic meaning(s) you find to be significant--while **briefly** summarizing the evidence you have marshaled in support of your arguments.

For this concluding symptomatic meaning, go bigger than the implicit meaning. The symptomatic meaning should address the ideologies and social values that the film conveys to us. This is much deeper than the implicit level of “Only through love can we find happiness”; instead, the symptomatic level might address, for example, how the film valorizes heterosexual love to the exclusion of homosexuality, which is a **symptom** of hetero-normative ideologies. Think in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, postcolonialism, etc. in relation to your film; what is the film subconsciously teaching us about one, two, or more of these? Or think about why the film was made when it was; what social issues does the film respond to, even if it’s not explicitly or implicitly addressed by the film? For example, is it a war film that surreptitiously supports a more recent or current war? What does the film betray about its social context?

In short, your paper will follow this outline within the 6-7 page limit:
    A) Introduction (thesis/implicit meaning)
    B) Parallels & Motifs
    C) Narration (range & depth)
    D) Film technique 1 of M/C/E/S:
    E) Film technique 2 (one of M/C/E/S)
    F) Film technique 3 (one of M/C/E/S)
    G) Conclusion (symptomatic meaning)

Suggestions and requirements for this assignment:

* Get to work on this assignment as soon as you can. Watching a film 4-5 times at the last minute will not yield as productive a film analysis nor, consequently, as high a grade.

* Your paper is due on time; I strongly discourage late papers, as they will not earn you full credit for your work. For each day past the due date, your paper grade will drop by a letter grade; papers late in class lose 1/3 a letter grade and papers late the same day lose 1/2 a letter grade.

* Draft an outline of your paper within the week that you first watch the film; it will be due shortly thereafter (see date on Schedule page). It should include your interpretation of the film's implicit meaning(s), the outstanding techniques you plan to emphasize, and the specific examples you will use to advance your argument. Don't worry about precision now; you can amend as you go. The goal of this outline is to hone your thesis and the examples from your film that prove it. It is worth 10% of your overall paper grade. Note that ignoring comments on your outline when writing your final paper reduces your grade significantly.

* You are responsible for knowing and correctly phrasing the cast and crew names. For example: "Lisa (Grace Kelly) and Jeff (James Stewart) investigate..." These include the characters' names, the actors who play them, and the major creative talents involved in the film. This information is available in the credits of the film, at www.imdb.com (use ONLY for cast & crew names and NO other research about the film), in my online comments guide, and in your textbooks: FA and SGWF. 

* Submit this assignment on paper and via D2L Dropbox (not a substitute for turning in your paper copy). Be sure to number all pages, and to follow the course policies for format (12-point font, 1" margin, double-spaced, stapled, extra credit for double-sided papers, etc.). Do not artificially shrink your paper length via font size, margins, etc.; you will lose points for page overages if you do.

* Write in active voice. Avoid passive voice and awkward constructions such as "we see," "we get," "this is done to show," "this motif is seen throughout the entire film," etc. by using those terms! You must demonstrate your comprehension of and fluency with our terminology. For suggestions and correct phrasing, be sure to re-read both guides to writing about film and the online comments guide.

* I strongly encourage you to take a rough draft of your paper to The Center for Academic Success in the Library or The Writer's Studio in A&S, particularly if your journal entries frequently earned comments of "PV," "AWK," or other grammatical and organizational errors. The CAA/Writer's Studio will help you write a more coherent, clear, and concise essay--really.

* If you would like feedback/comments on a draft of your paper before you turn in your final version, you may submit the draft a week or two ahead of the due date--NOT the week it's due!

Q & A

*Abbreviations: it's a good idea to use standard abbreviations for terms like CU, POV, etc. throughout; even on the first mention these professional abbreviations are okay. They will save you space and they're professionally recognized, standard abbreviations. But there shouldn't be much abbreviation beyond that. (Don't say "mise" for mise-en-scene, for example.) After first mention of names (character or director/personnel), you should truncate the name a bit from there, but be sure to be consistent about your abbreviation. For example, Charles Foster Kane should be truncated to Kane, but don't call him Kane in one place, then Charles in another later. Keep it consistent. The last name is usually appropriate, so use Welles, not Orson. But in some cases the first name would be more correct (Charlie, for example, if it is important to refer to Kane when he is a child). Don't use the characters' initials to abbreviate in a formal paper, though. Shorter film titles like Citizen Kane should be spelled out in full; use your best judgment here. But you can abbreviate longer films titles after the first mention. You could just say Mood, for example, but only after your first full mention spelling out In the Mood for Love. Keep this consistent throughout the paper too.

*Definitions of Terms: defining ideology or sound bridge or anything else would take up space that you need for your analysis of the film. No terms should be defined in your paper; you should just use them fluently and confidently in the course of your analysis.

*Quotations: Beginning with an epigraph quote from the film works only if it illustrates your implicit meaning/thesis. If you can quote dialogue **briefly** from the film to argue your implicit meaning, that’s fine. Be careful not to quote too much or at length throughout the paper, though. Use quotes sparingly but effectively as evidence from the film to support your implicit meaning; this paper is too short for heavy quotation.

*Subheadings: there should be no sub-headings in your paper. While they can be useful in much longer papers, this paper is too short for them. Shift from one section to the next via smoothly written transitions, not subheadings.

*Bibliography: there need no bibliography for this paper, since you are consulting no other sources beyond your film.