First Year Film – Term 1 Part 2

This is the second half of the first term of my Introduction to Film class.

You can jump to another section here: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

Week 8 – Continuity Editing

Films: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927); clips from The Maltese Falcon (1941)


Reading: BT p294-333, p415-18; Hayward terms – editing, continuity editing, cross-cutting, cut, eye-line matching, 180-degree rule, shot/reverse-angle shot, 30-degree rule

This week we started our look at editing, beginning with continuity editing which is the overwhelming standard in mainstream film. We began by defining the different types of shot transitions, or “edits”: cuts and cut-ins, fade outs/fade ins, dissolves, and wipes. We talked about the 4 basic areas of choice and control in editing, in other words, the reasons or motivations behind the decisions about where to place edits:

  1. Graphic
  2. Rhythmic
  3. Spatial
  4. Temporal relations

We then moved on to editing patterns, including crosscutting, elliptical editing, and the common kinds of shots which support continuity, such as establishing shots, re-establishing shots, and reaction shots. Taking a wider look at continuity techniques, we learned about the axis of action (or the 180-degree rule), and how shot/reverse shots adhere to this rule, the establishment of coherent space, screen direction, reframing (adjustments for character movements), single shots, two-shots, over-the-shoulder two shots, eye-line matches, point of view shots, and match-on-action edits. We also briefly went over other continuity techniques such as cheat cuts, temporal continuity, temporal ellipsis, and montage sequences.

The reading covered the different kinds edits and went into a lot of detail about graphic, rhythmic, spatial, and temporal relations between shots. There was also a close reading of the classical Hollywood film His Girl Friday and how continuity its editing creates a sense of pace and speed.

Week 9 – Discontinuity Editing

Films: A bout de soufflé (1960); clips from Battleship Potemkin (1925) (steps), The Untouchables (1987) (steps), Team America: World Police (2004)


Reading: BT p333-46, p428-33, p478-81, p486-9; Hayward terms – film noir, French New Wave, gangster films, jump cut, montage

We continued our look at editing this week by learning about alternatives to the continuity system and talked at length about the differences of affect between continuity and discontinuity editing. In the continuity system, editing aims to give a “natural” feeling diegesis (film world) and tries to be “invisible,” whereas discontinuity deliberately creates an “unnatural” feeling and attempts to dislocate our sense of space. Discontinuity editing intentional calls attention to itself with the aim of encouraging a certain activity on the part of the viewer to question those choices and analyse what the filmmaker is trying to say. We specifically learned about the discontinuity techniques of jump cuts and nondiegetic inserts. Finally, we were introduced to the French New Wave and Soviet Montage, both of which were film movements where discontinuity editing played a major role in their style and ideology.

The reading covered discontinuity techniques and examples and included a close reading of A bout de soufflé, and sections about Soviet Montage and the French New Wave movements. In class we screened the Odessa steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin – an example of Soviet Montage – and compared it with the train station step sequence in The Untouchables (which was directly referencing and, to an extent, recreating the Odessa step sequence). We also watched the montage song from Team America.

Week 10 – Sound

Films: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)


Readings: BT Chp 9, p123-6, p481-4; Hayward terms – asynchronization, musical, sound

For week 10 we dove into sound. We covered a lot this week and started with a brief overview of the history of sound in film. We talked about the definitions and differences between direct sound, postsynchronization, dubbing, and mixing. We moved onto the types of sound in film:

  1. Speech (dialogue)
  2. Music
  3. Noise/sound effects
  4. Silence

We learned about the spatial and temporal dimensions of sound as well. The spatial dimensions of sound are:

  1. Diegetic sound: sound from the narrative world of a film including “off screen” sound
  2. Onscreen diegetic sound: sound from a source in the onscreen diegesis
  3. Offscreen sound: sound from a source assumed in space of the scene but not visible onscreen
  4. External diegetic sound: sound represented as coming from a physical source within the story space that we assume characters can also hear
  5. Internal diegetic sound: sound from the mind of a character inside the narrative world that can’t be heard by other characters
  6. Sound perspective: sense of sound’s position in diegetic space indicated by volume, pitch, timbre, and sound reproduction
  7. Nondiegetic sound: sound that comes from outside the narrative world e.g. mood music, commentary in voiceover
  8. Voice-over: voice which comments upon the images on the screen – it can be diegetic or nondiegetic

The temporal dimensions of sound are:

  1. Synchronous sound: sound that’s matched with movement occurring in the image
  2. Asynchronous sound: sound that is not matched temporally with the movements in the image, as when dialogue is out of sync with lip movements – for a famous example try Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  3. Sound bridge: sound derived from one scene that briefly carries over to another scene

Finally, we talked about the functions of sound:

  1. Sensory impact
  2. Provides narrative information and explanation (dialogue, sound effects)
  3. Conventional associations of specific sounds (connotations)
  4. Sound/image relation:
    1. Sound can direct our attention within an image
    2. It can shape our interpretation of the image
    3. It can cue anticipation and expectations
    4. Fidelity – the extent to which sound is faithful to the real-world source with which we associate it

The reading covered the properties and functions of sound. We also read a short section about the history and conventions of the musical, and a section about how the initial introduction of sound affected production practices in Hollywood.

Week 11 – Film Style: Realism

Films: films of Auguste and Louis Lumière and Bicycle Thieves (1948); clips from Saving Private Ryan (1998)

lumiereposter    bicycleposter

Reading: BT p177, p464-74, p485-6; Hayward terms – Italian neo-realism, realism

We started our look at style this week by talking about realism. Film is both objective (as a mechanical recorder of events, faithful to the external world), and subjective (it is stylized, artificial, expressive of the imagination and can penetrate the private, mental world). Realism is a style which closely resembles what is real, is faithful in its representation of reality as we know it, but it does not replicate reality. Realism can be objective (towards the recognizable surface reality) and/or psychological (faithful to human behaviour). But it is no less artificial than something which appears to be more constructed. Later on in my film classes we made the differentiation that realism is an aesthetic style NOT an ideology in and of itself (I add all the emphases because at the time I was in film “gritty realism” was a term that got batted around to describe movies as if it made them somehow intrinsically more truthful than others, which it does not). We also spoke at length about the limits of realism:

  1. Realism is relative to culture, period, and differences among people
  2. Realism can relate to objective reality or to psychological reality
  3. Realist style is constructed out of manipulated formal elements of cinema: “realistic” films require the work of style just as much as “stylized” films
  4. Style requires a selected view of the world

We also talked briefly about the history and conventions of Italian Neo-Realism and watched The Bicycle Thieves as an example. We also watched several of the Lumière brothers’s films which were very early examples of film and are documentary-like, capturing for example, workers leaving a factory at the end of the day. We also looked at the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan as an example of realism (even though, obviously, it was HIGHLY stylized and staged – luckily for the actors), and talked about why realism was the chosen style within the context of the film.

Week 12 – Film Style: Formalism

Films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and The Night of the Hunter (1955)

caligariposter    hunterposter

Reading: BT p468-74; Hayward terms – German expressionism

We continued our look at style with formalism. Formalism describes films which deliberately stylize and distort, reform, and ultimately comment upon the real world. It’s important to realize that no film is an absolute example of realism or formalism, and all films range on a continuum between realism and formalism. Some examples of heavily formalized film types we discussed were: Surrealism, German Expressionism, Futurism in Italy, and Constructivism in the Soviet Union. We screened The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as the penultimate example of German Expressionism and briefly discussed the historical origins of the style. We also watched The Night of the Hunter which uses many formalist techniques to incite a sense of dread.

Whether realist or formalist, several questions to think about while watching a film in terms of its style are:

  1. How does the stylistic element function in the total film?
  2. How is it motivated?
  3. How does it vary and develop?
  4. How does the stylistic system relate to (interact with) the narrative system?

The reading this week covered German Expressionism and a short synopsis of the development of realist and formalist techniques in early Hollywood films.

Week 13 – Summing Up with Kane

Films: Citizen Kane (1941)


Reading: BT p394-401, review p91-102

Because you just can’t take a first year film course without running into Citizen Kane. The first term of the course was heavily weighted towards learning the technical elements of film and narrative structure, and in the second term we shifted into specific ways of grouping films for interpretation, for example, by genre, historically, by gender, nation, style or authorship, and were less “element”/technique focused. But, before that, we reviewed all of the technical and stylistic elements of film by watching and analysing Citizen Kane (which is routinely regarded as the best film ever made). For our discussion about realism and formalism, Citizen Kane stands as an example of both: its narrative structure is mental subjectivity objectively rendered.

In the reading was a short analysis of Citizen Kane, both of this narrative structure and the formal elements used in the film.

Well, that wraps up the first term of the course.

You can navigate to any other section of the series here: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

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About Sinéad Donohoe

A writer from London, Ontario. These are her adventures in writing, movie loving, and general mayhem.