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Assignment 3


Your job in this assignment is to analyze a feature film both in terms of its story as well as its form (similar to the way you may have analyzed poems, short stories, plays or novels in a literature class). That is, you should be able to offer the reader a thesis-based argument about what you see emerging as a major issue in the film, typically with reference to specific scenes. Advancing such an argument about film also requires of you to pay attention to the way the film itself is put together, the way it is made up from a series of technical elements such as camera work, editing, the montage of scenes, the musical score/soundtrack, and lighting, to name just a few.

Often we get so wrapped up in the illusory power of film or it's entertainment quality that we tend to be oblivious to the very machinery producing what we are watching. And while we are typically able to recall what a film is "about" and what "messages" it may be trying to send, it is hard to be aware of these more "invisible" elements of filmmaking---visible as they always are. In this assignment, your job is to be attentive to both: what does the film, in your view, want to show, and how does it do the showing?

Advance Preparation

  • To prepare yourself for both our collective and individual screenings, you may find it useful to work through (which is to say, not just "read") several detailed reviews of the film of your choice, and consult some other film-specific resources: this way, you can familiarize yourself with the film and get your bearings even before watching it (see FilmPal for access to such sources). Some sites even offer important snippets of dialogue, which might save you from having to write them down yourself as you are watching the film. As well, you may learn interesting and relevant ideas about a director's style and intentions, the actors themselves, as well as the film's very production history. More immediately important, having advance knowledge about the film's major themes frees your attention so that you can be more, well, "attentive" to the more invisible technical elements of the actual film as you watch it (perhaps even repeatedly).

Note Taking

  • Make sure that you take good notes during the screening. You may find it useful to divide your note-taking sheets by separating (at least for the moment) the "themes/scenes" (2/3) from the "technical elements" (1/3) of the film. In your actual film paper, you will, of course, be asked to combine these categories, but for the time being, keeping track of these different dimensions of the film might be a good idea. Since film moves rather quickly, and since frames tend to be surcharged with the information below our threshold of immediate perception, it is almost impossible to catch and write down everything you notice. For that reason, I would recommend that you spend some time immediately after watching the film filling in the blanks you may have left. Your recall is best then---though naturally not approaching the "total recall" of certain combat cyborgs! Of course, watching a film more than once can also be tremendously useful; I would, in fact, highly recommend it, just as I would recommend pausing the film, if you can, to complete your notes before moving on. You might be surprised what you spot during a second, third, or fourth go-around!
  • As you transition from your notes to the analytical film paper, you may want to start by reviewing the reviews you have studied, understanding that your own analysis should go beyond mere summary (important as that is to orient the ignorant reader) and your likes and dislikes about the film. In particular, you should be able to
    • connect the themes you see surfacing in the film to specific scenes and furthermore
    • connect these themes to the camera work, the editing, scenic arrangement and the soundtrack of the film, among others. Eventually, you need to develop a thesis about the film and combine its themes with the way they are presented (that is, translated filmically). We have done and will continue to do that in our class discussions, and your job is to do the same. As you are drafting your essay, you should integrate the print-based scholarly research (not only online film reviews and criticism) you have done for your film to support and complicate your position. Conceivably, you could also argue against the ideas presented in the scholarly essays you have located. Please feel free to look at (quasi)professional film essays or posted student essays as possible models for your own essays in progress, but remember that a film review does not always advance a thesis the way this assignment asks you to do.

Additional Pointers

  • If the film follows a certain formula or cliché (from rags to riches, the ugly duckling) or fits into a certain genre (romantic comedy, thriller, film noir), how does it conform and complicate these patterns? After all, no film wants to just redo, in the same way, what has already been done.
  • If appropriate, refer to the director's or the actors' other work and discuss similarities in style and content.
  • If your film is a so-called "adaptation" from a novel or play, ask how the director has made that transition into the new medium (Sense and Sensibility, October Sky, Romeo and Juliet, etc.)? Is the film a "faithful" rendition of the literary model? Does it take "liberties"? Is it a virtually new story altogether, with the literary model serving only as a general background? What are the challenges and possibilities of translating a novel into a film?
  • How does the camera work, the editing, and the soundtrack enhance the issues in the film---usually in specific scenes---and how does the title relate to the film itself?

Length and Due Dates

  • ca. 6-8 typed double-spaced pages, plus a list of Works Cited (MLA format). Please print front and back to save paper if you can
  • Mon 30 March, discussion of in-class screening; research and screen your own films over the next week
  • Mon 5 April, first screening report due
  • Fri 9 April, second screening report due. Make sure you build upon either one of your screening reports for your essay = one of the two films you are screening for a report should be extended into your research essay
  • Mon 12 April, First draft (plus extra copy), including notes on the film. I will not collect your first draft on that day but please have it available for improvement during our revision workshop. If possible, we will also have individual student conferences after our class
  • Wed 14 April, No class in lieu of conferences 12:00-2:30.
  • Fri 16 April, In class: Second draft, notes on the film, and previous draft(s)

Please Note

  • As with your earlier essays, make sure that you staple your materials for this assignment before you come to class so that your final draft is on top and clearly recognizable.

Sincere Tips

  • While it is tempting and convenient to watch a film you have already seen, perhaps more than once, challenge yourself to select a film that is outside your, let me call it, "radar screen" (or perhaps even "comfort zone"). Open your intellectual aperture by choosing a flick you might, under different circumstances, "flick off"! While films considered "difficult" might, indeed, ask more of you as a viewer, they may also be (though not always) more substantive. In other words, their form and content may provide you with more suggestive material for rich analyses.
  • Use the Editing Checklist in the Toolbox to fine tune the basics of your paper and use the resources of Film Pal to recap some of the film-related issues we have talked about and to clarify your terms, if necessary. However -- just to reiterate-- please be aware that the scholarly research for your paper should contain library/print-based sources and exceed online source material.
  • Do not (try to) print out your paper—either at home or at school—on the morning your paper is due, and please (as usual) use any no-class days wisely by refining your research and your writing, as well as by visiting the Writing Center.
  • Remember that you need time to produce a quality paper. Think of writing as a process: idea-gathering, freewriting, drafting, resting, revising, revising, revising, editing. Leave enough time to take advantage of this process.

Purpose and Goals

  • Become a more cognizant and discriminating viewer of films (enhance your "visual literacy," in the current high-brow parlance)
  • Begin thinking about the differences between print/books and film
  • Develop some basic vocabulary with regard to film analysis
  • Translate your observations/notes about film into a more formal and coherent essay
  • Integrate film-based research into your essay
  • Enhance your enjoyment of the film in the future!


  • Your grasp of a film's major themes and the way these themes are related to the film's technical/formal qualities
  • Your ability to move from your notes and observations to the essay
  • Your skill in combining your own thinking with film-based research
  • Proper mechanics and punctuation

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mwutz@weber.eduPhone  801-626-7011
Skype  michaelwutz007

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Michael Wutz, Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor
Editor, Weber - The Contemporary West
Department of English, 1404 University Circle
Weber State University
Ogden, UT 84404-1404 USA