Understanding Movies / Edition 6

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Designed to help movie watchers analyze films with precision and technical sophistication, this book focuses on formalism—how the forms of the film (e.g., camera work, editing, photography, etc.) create meaning. It sheds light on how television and movies communicate, and the complex network of language systems they use. Chapter topics cover recent developments from all aspects of cinema, contemporary films, personalities in the field, photography, movement, editing, sound, acting, drama, story writing, and theory. For movie critics and fans alike.

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Editorial Reviews

A popular, unpretentious, thoroughly illustrated (b&w) college-level textbook on how movies communicate, organized around the realism- formalism dichotomy. This edition (sixth was 1993) is updated to reflect recent developments in the field, and adds many new photos and captions, most from recently released movies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780139537950
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
  • Publication date: 12/1/1992
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 6
  • Pages: 496

Meet the Author

Louis Giannetti is a Professor Emeritus of English and Film at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He has taught courses in film, literature, writing, drama, and humanities. He has published many articles, both popular and scholarly, on political subjects, literature, and drama. In addition to being a professional film critic for several years, he has, written about movies for such scholarly journals as Literature/Film Quarterly, The Western Humanities Review, and Film Criticism. Professor Giannetti is also the author of a book on cinema theory. GODARD AND OTHERS: ESSAYS ON FILM FORM, published in both Britain and the United States. Professor Giannetti's other books include MASTERS OF THE AMERICAN CINEMA (Prentice Hall, 1981), a survey of American fiction films from the perspective of eighteen key figures. FLASHBACK: A BRIEF HISTORY OF FILM, FOURTH EDITION (Prentice Hall, 2001), written with Scott Eyman, is a history organized by decade, outlining the major events, trends, and important filmmakers and their work, with emphasis on the American cinema. Both books are copiously illustrated. UNDERSTANDING MOVIES has been a best-selling text in all its previous editions, widely used in the United States and in such countries as Australia, Britain, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand. South Africa, and Japan. It has been translated into Chinese, Korean, and Hebrew. Professor Giannetti is the father of two daughters, Christina and Francesca. He lives in Shaker Heights, where lie spends an inordinate amount of time tending his Japanese-style garden.

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Table of Contents

1 Photography 1
2 Mise en Scene 37
3 Movement 79
4 Editing 117
5 Sound 185
6 Acting 221
7 Drama 266
8 Story 303
9 Literature 341
10 Ideology 373
11 Theory 413
12 Synthesis: Citizen Kane 445
Glossary 481
Index 491
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The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Cineliteracy is long overdue in American education, and not just at the college level. According to The Television and Video Almanac, the average American family watches about seven hours of television per day. That's a lot of time watching moving images. Yet, for the most part, we watch them uncritically, passively, allowing them to wash over us, rarely analyzing how they work on us, how they can shape our values. The following chapters may be of use in understanding how television and movies communicate, and the complex network of language systems they use. My purpose is not to teach viewers how to respond to moving images, but to suggest some of the reasons people respond as they do.

In this ninth edition, I have retained the same principle of organization as the earlier editions, structuring the chapters around the realism-formalism dichotomy. Each chapter isolates the various language systems and spectrum of techniques used by filmmakers in conveying meaning. Naturally, the chapters don't pretend to be exhaustive: They're essentially starting points. They progress from the most narrow and specific aspects of cinema (photography and movement) to the most abstract and comprehensive (ideology and theory). The chapters are not tightly interdependent: They can be read out of sequence. Inevitably, such a looseness of organization involves a certain amount of overlapping, but I have tried to keep this to a minimum. Technical terms are boldfaced the first time they appear in each chapter, whichmeans that they are defined in the Glossary.

Each chapter has been updated to reflect recent developments in the field. I have also included many new photos and captions, most of them from recently released movies.

The final chapter, "Synthesis: Citizen Kane," is a recapitulation of the main ideas of the previous chapters, applied to a single movie. The chapter can also serve as a rough model for a term paper. VCR and DVD have allowed film analysis to be much more systematic, because a movie in cassette or disk form can be repeated many times. In my own courses, I require my students to select a scene—preferably under three minutes—and analyze all its components according to the chapters of this book. Of course, a term paper is not likely to be as detailed as the Citizen Kane analysis, but the same methodology can be applied. If the chapters are read in a different sequence, the term paper can be organized in a corresponding manner. For example, many people would prefer to begin an analysis with story or theme, and then proceed to matters of style and technique. Citizen Kane is an ideal choice because it includes virtually every technique the medium is capable of, in addition to being one of the most critically admired films in history and a popular favorite among students.

A word about the photos in this book. Most of the illustrations are publicity photos, taken with a 35-mm still camera. They are not frame enlargements from the movie itself, for such enlargements reproduce poorly. They are generally too harshly contrasting and lacking in detail compared to the moving image on a large screen. When exactitude was necessary, as in the series from The Seven Samurai (9-14) or the edited sequence from Potemkin (4-18), I included actual blowups from the movies themselves. Most of the time, however, I preferred to use publicity photos because of their superior technical resolution.


I would like to thank the following friends and organizations for their help, advice, and criticism: Mary Araneo, Scott Eyman, Jon Forman, Dave Wittkowsky, the staff of The Observer, the Case Western Reserve University Film Society, and my students at C.W.R.U. I'm grateful to Ingmar Bergman, who was kind enough to allow me to use the frame enlargements from Persona; and Akira Kurosawa, who graciously consented to my using enlargements from The Seven Samurai.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance in allowing me to use materials under their copyright: Andrew Sarris, for permission to quote from "The Fall and Rise of the Film Director," in Interviews with Film Directors (New York: Avon Books, 1967); Kurosawa Productions, Toho International Co., Ltd., and Audio Brandon Films for permission to use the frame enlargements from The Seven Samurai; from North by Northwest, The MGM Library of Film Scripts, written by Earnest Lehman (Copyright © 1959 by Loews Incorporated. Reprinted by permission of the Viking Press, Inc.); Albert J. LaValley, Focus on Hitchcock (© 1972. Reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey); Albert Maysles, in Documentary Explorations, edited by G. Roy Levin (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971); Vladimir Nilsen, The Cinema as a Graphic Art (New York: Hill and Wang, a Division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Maya Deren, "Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality," in The Visual Arts Today, edited by Gyorgy Kepes (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 1960); Marcel Carne, from The French Cinema, by Roy Armes (San Diego, Cal.: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1966); Richard Dyer MacCann, "Introduction," Film: A Montage of Theories (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.), copyright © 1966 by Richard Dyer MacCann, reprinted with permission; V. I. Pudovkin, Film Technique (London: Vision, 1954); André Bazin, What Is Cinema? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967); Michelangelo Antonioni, "Two Statements," in Film Makers on Film Making, edited by Harry M. Geduld (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1969); Alexandre Astruc, from The New Wave, edited by Peter Graham (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968, and New York: Doubleday & Co.); Akira Kurosawa, from The Movies As Medium, edited by Lewis Jacobs (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970) ; Pauline Kael, I Lost It at the Movies (New York: Bantam Books, 1966).

Cleveland, Ohio

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