Write a 4-6 page essay on two of the following aspects of a film of your choice: composition,
lighting, camera angles and distances, costumes or sets, and symbolism. The chosen film should not be
one we viewed in class, and should be chosen with care (any Hitchcock film is a more potent source than
1) Use double spacing, 12 point Times New Roman font, and one inch margins on all four sides of the
paper. Do not justify the right margins. Each section of the paper should be a minimum of 2
completely filled pages in length, for a total of a minimum of 4 completely filled pages.
2) Use a cover page which features the title of your project (this will of course include the title of the
film you are using). Have the title be descriptive of the contents. For example: Composition and
Symbolism in Forrest Gump. Also include your name, and the class name, section number, and
3) Number the pages beginning with the first page of your essay and be sure to arrange them in the
correct order. Staple the pages together, and do not use any kind of folder. The title page does not
count as one of your pages.
4) Use standard white printer/copy paper. Uncorrected typing errors will be considered spelling errors.
This is NOT intended to be a research paper. No research is required. All ideas should be your
own original observations, ideas, and analysis. Before you begin, study pages 559-570 in the text. Choose
a scene or sequence in the film that provides you with ample material for you to write about. Select one of
the aspects listed above. How is the story being told visually with the use of the particular aspect? What
information is being provided? Why? Now repeat the process using a different aspect of mise en scene. You
may use the same scene or sequence for both sections of your paper.
In your first draft concentrate on making a few main points and sticking to your line of thought; be
sure to use many examples from the film to back up your points. Do not include a plot summary or
What is the theme of the film? How are the filmmakers using the aspects to communicate these ideas
and emotions? Think about our analysis of The Graduate, and how aspects of cinematography and mise en
scene showed us things under the surface.
People writing about films often err about details that they are “certain” they saw, heard, or
remember. Double check the details with repeated viewings and check your notes.
Do not use essays, ideas, quotes from the internet, commentary on DVDs, DVD liner notes, or
elsewhere (or pieces of them) and pass them off as your own. If you choose to use outside material, you must
give credit for any idea, phrase, or sentence taken from another source. Not to do so is plagiarism, which
will result in a failing grade for the essay. Any of these types of material should be cited in the same way
as a book or magazine article. If an author’s name is available, that would come first. Otherwise, the
organization that produced it is the author. Check any grammar book, manual of style, or MLA website for
examples of the MLA bibliography format. (Also, it would be necessary to use a footnote in the text of the
paper itself.) See “WORKS CITED” on page 4.
Essays will be graded on the basis of how well they meet the requirements of the assignment:
1. To develop several clear and persuasive major points with explanation/definition and specific examples
from the film, and
2. To write in such a way that the reader is not distracted from the main points. (For example, if the essay
has many imprecise or wrong words, and/or is too vague and generic, I would have to lower the grade).
Although I will not correct the essays in detail (I will not mark/correct all/any errors I see), I will read the
essays carefully and give high marks for insight, persuasiveness, clarity, conciseness, and originality.
The essay is due in class on the date listed in the syllabus. Plan ahead. No late essays will be accepted.
Art of Film and Video
More about the essay assignment
All items on the assignment handout are elements of the mise en scene (see Mise en Scene and
Cinematography chapters in our text.)
Composition is the arrangement of everything in the frame in any given shot. The image is composed or
arranged to convey meaning. This includes settings, objects and people, and positioning of objects and
people, balance, etc. This is the area where Film and Painting have MUCH in common. Think of how
space is used. How is the composition within shots in a scene or sequence used to provide information
(and tell the story in a certain way or style) to the audience? Every picture tells a story.
Camera angles and distances (from the lens) affect the way the audience sees the subjects. This
includes position of the camera, distance from the camera, and type of lens used. We can see people or
things as important or as insignificant, as isolated or as part of a community, as powerful or as powerless.
Lighting is a very potent source of information. There is much more to it than just time of day. For
example, lighting is used to suggest mystery and suspense, shame or depression (someone is sitting in
the dark,) etc. It creates texture and provides dimensionality. Notice how light is being used. Consider
intensity, direction, and quality. Consider the interplay of light and shadow.
Costumes reveal character. Even in modern day films, costumes are designed and created to suit the
style and tone of the story. What is worn and how it is worn tells us a lot. Who is this person? How do
they feel about themselves?
Sets create the environment for the story. Would Psycho be as scary if the house was a bright and
cheery well-kept ranch house with new vinyl siding and a brand new swing set in the yard? Sets are the
world where the story takes place. What world is being depicted? How does it impact the characters
and the tone/mood?
(You may choose either sets or costumes. Do not choose both.)
Symbolism refers to the use of symbols in the film. A symbol uses an object or action in a way that makes
it mean something more than its literal meaning. It occurs when some aspect of the story, like a person,
object, or location, actually represents something else. An everyday object or situation can be used
symbolically when the object or situation takes on a deeper meaning. A symbol contains several layers
of meaning, often concealed at first sight, and is representative of several other aspects/concepts/ traits
than those that are visible at first glance. Symbols are not supposed to be obvious. For example, telephone
poles that look like crosses are seen near the end of the film Cool Hand Luke. These have been interpreted
as symbolic of the crucifixion of Christ. They refer to and represent that thought or image. Such
suggestions may be almost imperceptible. A ladder might stand as a symbol of a connection between the
heaven and the earth. A broken mirror might symbolize separation. A spider in a web might symbolize
entrapment. An open doorway might symbolize freedom. A dripping faucet might symbolize that the time
of someone’s life is running out. In repeated viewings of the film you choose, do you see anything that
might be symbolic? If so, how is it symbolic and what does it contribute to the story? Do not choose to
write about obvious things like a wedding ring being symbolic of marriage or a flag being symbolic
of a country. You may write about the use of color as it pertains to its symbolic use. It is not enough to
tell me a particular color is used repeatedly; you must also tell me why. Do not choose to write about
symbolism unless you are certain you understand what it is and how it operates in films.
REMINDER: You must limit yourself to 2 of these aspects of mise en scene to examine and write
FINAL REMINDERS AND HINTS
Helpful Hints for Writing Papers
SOME THINGS TO AVOID
1. Do not recount the entire plot of a film. Writing about what
happens in film rather than what the film means or how its
effects are achieved is not criticism. Summarize the situation
in a sentence or two: “Shane is a western that concerns an exgunfighter who helps a family of sodbusters in a range war.”
Then, selectively use plot incidents to clarify, illustrate, and
solidify points within the body of the paper.
2. Do not write generally about an entire film. In a short paper
you cannot cover the acting, directing, editing, lighting, sound,
and so forth and say anything significant. Focus on a single
element and explore it as thoroughly as you can. It is better to
exhaust an idea than to flit from one idea to another.
3. Avoid words like “great,” “good,” “effective,” “emotional,”
“well-done,” and “interesting” as simple adjectives in phrases
like: “The use of location was very effective,” or “Light was
used in a very interesting way.” Statements like these strung
out on a page fill up the white space but do not say anything.
If these words are used at all, they must be immediately qualified by more specific information, and supported by concrete
details. In what way was the location used? And why was it
effective? How was light used? What did it have to do with the
story or characters that made it interesting?
4. Do not use examples from the films just to let the instructor
know you have seen the film or because you merely want to
pepper the paper with examples. Make sure the examples are
relevant to the point you are making. Once the example is located in context to the rest of the film (for example, the scene
when the gunfighter first comes to town), be as selective and
specific as possible with that material which relates to your
5. Do not leave gaps in your thought and in the logical development of your paper. Be sure that your argument moves coherently and with appropriate transitions from point A to
point B to point C. Do not move about from point A to point K
back to point B or omit the interim points. Do not expect the
reader to think the way you think or to fill in the gaps for you.
SOME THINGS TO DO
1. Do focus on a particular and relatively narrow topic suitable to
the length of your assigned paper. Have a thesis — a onesentence summation of what your paper is about — clearly in
mind before beginning to write. Make sure the paper has a
function: argue with a critical position, make a statement, and
2. Do use specific examples from the films to illustrate your
points. Be precise and accurate in describing your example.
General assertions such as “The acting was awful,” “The
cinematography was breathtaking,” or “The editing was
monotonous” have no validity without support by examples
from the film(s) under discussion.
3. Do take the writing of the paper seriously. Consider that most
instructors take time and effort to read and annotate your
work. Regard your own mind and time as too valuable to
waste simply filling up pages with bland material.
4. Do try to be imaginative in relation to your material. This does
not mean inventing material simply for originality’s sake, but it
does mean that your views, your intuition, your insights can
5. Do check your paper carefully for typographical errors, errors in
grammar, and the like before turning it in. Finish the paper in
advance if possible and put it aside. Proofread it a day later,
and you may well be able to spot any inconsistencies in logic
or any other problems not apparent in the heat of composition.
For some people, reading the paper aloud is a helpful way to
(This is not necessary unless you use or refer to outside sources in your paper.)
“Works Cited” is a list of works referred to in the piece of writing. Placed at
the end on a separate page, “Works Cited” is arranged alphabetically by
author; the author’s last name is given first. If a work is by more than one
author, it is alphabetized under the first author’s name; the last name is
given first, but the other authors’ names are given in normal order. Put a
period after the author’s name, a period after the title of a book, and at
the end of each entry. Page numbers are not given for books, though the
page numbers that an essay spans in a journal or a book are included.
Begin the entry flush with the left-hand margin and indent subsequent
lines if an entry is long. Single space each entry and double space
between entries. Here are some samples.
Butler, Ivan. The Horror Film. Cranbury, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1967.
Dillard, R. H. W. “Even a Man Who Is Pure at Heart.” In Man and the
Movies, Ed. W. R. Robinson. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University Press, 1967. 129-74.
Gifford, Denis. Movie Monsters. New York: Dutton 1969.
Kinder, Marsha, and Beverle Houston. “Rosemary’s Baby.” Sight and
Sound, 28 (Winter 1968-1969)-17-19. ”
Sypher, Wylie. “The Meanings of Comedy.” In Comedy. Ed. Sypher.
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956, 193-255.
Introduction to Cinema – Professor Wirth
A one-time opportunity for Extra Credit (worth 50 Points)
Due Monday 12/6/21
Choose one of the following films which can be found by following the links. I encourage you to view several before picking one to
use for your analysis. Pick the one that appeals to you the most. If a link doesn’t work, then try the next one.
Some of these videos have an advertisement before the film starts. It is not part of the film.
Knit Your Own Karma
My Friend Socrates
The Ten Steps
They’re Made Out of Meat
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tScAyNaRdQ video is clearer but credits are cut off
This Time Away
Briefly describe the way each of the following are used:
1. Composition (p.57, pp. 58-59, #13-18)
2. Costumes and Sets/Locations (pp.21-23, p. 56, p.58, #1-6)
3. Characterization/subjects (pp. 56-57, p.58, #7-12)
4. Color(s) and Lighting (Cinematography pp. 110-111, #1-4)
5. Camera placement, camera movement, and camera distance from subjects (p.111, #5-10)
6. Sound effects/Music/dialogue/silence/voice over narration (Sound pp. 190-191, #1-11)
How do these combine to affect the mood/tone and the telling of the story?
Create a typed double-spaced report (essay format) of a minimum of two complete pages. Use a title/cover page.
Use Times New Roman 12 point font and 1 inch margins.
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