Understanding Movies / Edition 13

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A readable, accessible introduction to film

Understanding Movies provides valuable insight into how movies communicate and convey meaning to their audiences through a unique network of language systems and techniques. In a readable, accessible, and sometimes humorous manner, Understanding Movies engages students in the fascinating language of film and helps further their appreciation and understanding of why and how movie watchers respond as they do to different films.

Organized around elements of film, the thirteenth edition of this market leading text provides students with a new way of looking at films that are familiar to them through contemporary coverage and a visually engaging presentation.

Learning Goals

Upon completing this book, readers will be able to:

  • Understand film as an industry
  • Discuss the impact of technology on the film industry
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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: 9780205856169
  • Publisher: Pearson
  • Publication date: 7/10/2013
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 13
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 65,391
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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 Unites States. 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, Sixth Edition (Allyn & Bacon, 2010), 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 bestselling 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.

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Table of Contents

In this Section:

1) Brief Table of Contents

2) Full Table of Contents

1) Brief Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Photography

Chapter 2: Mise en Scene
Chapter 3:
Chapter 4: Editing
Chapter 5: Sound
Chapter 6:
Chapter 7:
Chapter 8:
Chapter 9: Writing
Chapter 10:
Chapter 11:
Chapter 12: Synthesis

2) Full Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Photography
Realism and Formalism
The Shots
The Angles
Light and Dark
Lenses, Filters, and Stocks
The Digital Revolution
The Cinematographer
Further Reading

Chapter 2: Mise en Scene
The Frame
Composition and Design
Territorial Space
Proxemic Patterns
Open and Closed Forms
Further Reading

Chapter 3: Movement
The Moving Camera
Mechanical Distortions of Movement
Further Reading

Chapter 4: Editing
D. W. Griffith and Classical Cutting
Soviet Montage and the Formalist Tradition
André Bazin and the Tradition of Realism
Further Reading

Chapter 5: Sound
Historical Background
Sound Effects
Spoken Language
Further Reading

Chapter 6: Acting
Stage and Screen Acting
The American Star System
Styles of Acting
Further Reading

Chapter 7: Dramatization
Time, Space, and Language
The Director
Settings and Décor
Costumes and Makeup
Further Reading

Chapter 8: Story
The Spectator
The Classical Paradigm
Realistic Narratives
Formalistic Narratives
Nonfictional Narratives
Genre and Myth
Further Reading

Chapter 9: Writing
The Screenwriter
The Screenplay
North by Northwest: the Screenplay
Figurative Comparisons
Point of View
Literary Adaptations
Further Reading

Chapter 10: Ideology
The Left-Center-Right Model
Culture, Religion, and Ethnicity
Queer Cinema
Further Reading

Chapter 11: Critique
Theories of Realism
Formalist Film Theories
The Auteur Theory
Eclectic and Synthesizing Approaches
Structuralism and Semiology
Further Reading

Chapter 12: Synthesis
Mise En Scène
Further Reading

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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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