How to read a film

I spent this cold Saturday in London attending a course at the City Literary Institute. It was called “How to read a film”and delivered by Nick Scudamore.

He introduced us to the term “mise-en-scene” which essential,y is everything the director chooses to put in the scene or shot on the day of shooting as contrasted with the script, casting or music. He highlighted seven particular elements and showed us film clips – which we then discussed – introducing these elements collectively and then one by one as follows:

  • Introduction: “Imitation Of Life” (1959)
  • Lighting: “The Godfather” (1972)
  • Colour: “Mean Streets” (1971)
  • Costume: “Rebel Without A Cause” (1955)
  • Props: “Home From The Hill” (1960)
  • Setting: “Underground” (1928)
  • Actor position & gesture: “To Have And To Have Not” (1944)
  • Framing of image & camera movement: “The Lusty Men” (1952)

Having set the scene (sorry about the pun) with examination of a series of mainstream movies, the lecturer then invited us to look for all these elements in a series of clips from a number of non-mainstream films: “L’Atalante” (France 1934), “Early Summer” (Japan 1951), “Le Mepris” (France/Italy 1963), “One + One” (France 1968), “Annie Hall” (USA 1977), and “Chocolat” (France 1988).

I have only seen one of the films featured in the course: “The Godfather”. So, as well as learning about cinematic concepts, I was introduced to some new movies.

Normally, when one sees a film, one is simply carried along from scene to scene and shot to shot with no time or opportunity to think about the scene or analyse it, so it was good to be able to deconstruct and dissect movie scenes in a structured manner and I really enjoyed the course.


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