Film appreciation course – part 2

Today I was back at the “Guardian” offices for the film appreciation course run by the critic Danny Leigh.

Before the day’s programme began proper, we were shown the famous Odessa steps sequence from “Battleship Potemkin” which was copied in the much more recent film “The Untouchables” [my review here].

Section 1 on Opening Sequences was taken by Danny. He explained that such sequences are designed to draw in the viewer and set the tone for the film. Everything in a movie  – visuals, dialogue, sound, colour, clothing … – is deliberate but perhaps especially so in the initial scenes. He showed five film clips including the start of the Brazilian work “City Of God” [my review here].

Section 2 on Cinematography was presented by Leslie Helperin of “Variety”. She defined cinematography as “everything that is going on with the camera” and one of the course participants offered the definition of “painting with light”. She showed five clips including the terribly slow and opaque opening sequence from “Melancholia”.

Section 3 on Mise En Scene was also covered by Leslie. The term – which comes from  the theatre – means literally ‘place in scene’ and the Wikipedia page defines it as “everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement – composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting”. She showed eight film clips including the Halloween sequence from “ET” when the flying bicycle crosses in front of the moon.

Section 4 on Scripwriting saw the return of Danny. He suggested that, more than the other roles in the moviemaking business, scriptwriting can be taught and that there are standard rules or conventions. However, the script is the formula for a film while the film itself needs structure and putting the page on the screen often necessitates all sorts of changes to make it work. We all agreed that we rarely go to see a movie because of the scriptwriter but that a recent exception might be Aaron Sorkin who wrote “The Social; Network” [my review here]. Danny showed eight clips including one from a film all about scriptwriting: “Adaptation” [my review here].

The course closed with a showing of “Sunset Boulevard” but I skipped this. It had been a long (but very enjoyable) weekend, I have seen it before, and I find it dark and cynical.

The weekend had covered all the key elements involved in deconstructing films and we had see a total of 60 film clips. All the three presenters were experts and all the students cinephiles, so it was a splendid couple of days. I now have even more ideas for works to rent from Lovefilm.


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