textual analysis film
…so you are reading the design in the sequence and trying to think about what is being implied or suggested.
Welcome to a new adventure in Film…Studies.
Textual analysis of film requires observing and questioning all the elements that create meaning within the piece, such as acting, directing, lighting, cinematography, mise en scene, etc. Besides noticing the individual elements that create a film’s meaning, textual analysis also involves understanding how the film fits into the larger context of its social, historical, cultural and political environment. So textual analysis also requires researching a film’s genre, audience as well as its historical, institutional, and socio-cultural significance. It’s only in combining both that we can create a thorough understanding of the film.
I. Genre and Audience-
To frame our understanding, we might look to works of established film criticism by the likes of David Bordwell (1985) and Steve Neale (1981), both of whom combined institutional and textual approaches to anatomise, though not without problems, the convention of art cinema, most commonly associated with European New Waves of the post-war period that self-consciously defined themselves against the Hollywood mainstream. ‘Specialised’ film obviously goes beyond ‘art cinema’, but this framework offers us a way of understanding how non-mainstream film texts historically operate. Thinking on the subject has been developed in recent years by scholars such as Rosalind Galt and Karl Schoonover (2010) but something of a common view on the art cinema tradition might be that its films generate meaning for their audiences through a fundamental ambiguity or open endedness, which in some way stimulates thought and feeling. My hunch is that conclusions such as this one will play out when we meet our groups. Audiences will be provoked into discussion and debate by the moments that invite contemplation and perhaps frustration; moments which are by definition more prevalent in the kinds of ‘specialised’ films that we are working with.
As a discipline, Film Studies has tended towards textual analysis as its central methodology. It’s hard to define, but in broad terms I would say it’s the practice of closely examining film texts with the aim of understanding how meaning is generated and communicated within them. These close readings are attentive to formal patterns, historical traditions and contexts, and the wider theoretical implications of aesthetics, and they should be underpinned by scholarly precision and rigour. One of the interesting things about our project is that we’re not really doing this kind of work, at least not in the pure sense that I’ve described here. In Beyond the Multiplex, the ‘so, what is it about the films?’ question will be answered by the audiences.
Date published November 8, 2019 by Jack Caulfield. Date updated: January 31, 2020
The term “text” is broader than it seems. A text can be a piece of writing, such as a book, an email, or a transcribed conversation. But in this context, a text can also be any object whose meaning and significance you want to interpret in depth: a film, an image, an artifact, even a place.
Below is a list of elements and questions to help you when analyzing films.
- Is there a narrator in the film? Who?
- Point of view means through whose eyes the story is being told.
- Through whose eyes does the story unfold?
- Is the story told in the first person “I” point of view?
- Is the story told through an off-screen narrator?