Yes, anyone- Lady Gaga, Obama, your great aunt Belinda, anyone can read masterfully into movies with just the right amount of techniques. Roger Ebert, a film critic, and professor shares his tips to the- well inexperienced on how to analyze the scene to a television show or movie in his article- “How to Read a Movie”. Being the said “inexperienced” viewer, I’ve never invested myself with taking a closer look at shots. But, more often than not, there’s a greater meaning to the story just by the placement of certain characters or objects.
The enlightening point about this article is Ebert’s main idea- anybody can pick apart a film’s meaning through the simple techniques they use. Not only did this make me feel better about my abilities but it opens the door for anyone to analyze films. Ebert says all the audience (or viewer) needs is some sort of visual strategy. Ebert elaborates by saying just like painting a picture, in reading a film, there’s also rules of thumb. By focusing on how the visual space and placement of characters or objects in a scene can tell the viewer the overall mood of the film.
Ebert gives more “rules of thumbs” when approaching a movie scene. Placement can tell a lot of about the situation and relationships between characters. Right is looked upon as a placement of the power, and seems to be more favorable as opposed to being on the left where the character is looked upon as weak and/or less so dynamic. The same concept goes for top and bottom, where the top is looked upon as more dominant than the bottom. But placement is not the only thing one can take note of. There’s much more to a scene telling a story like- camera angles, symmetry in the composition of the scene, zooms, and shots of a character POV can reveal a lot more about the story.
Ebert was kind enough to show a walkthrough example of his thought process when he reads a movie with Hitchcock’s- “Notorious” Ebert first explains the situation going on in the film. Then, he talks about the relative position of the Cary Grant’s character on the axis where he moved from the right to the left, showing a dynamic behavior shift where a character in power shifts to a more vulnerable manner. Ebert says to take note of all the things you notice whether it’s the color, lighting, even the spoken dialog can reveal things.
I also got a chance to look at about four videos which are consisting of the different techniques used by well-known directors such as Kubrick and Tarantino. The main takeaway I got from watching this video culmination was the camera work and angles can make the audience almost feel like they are following the character(s) or having a moment with them. As camera techniques are often brushed aside, they serve to show the dynamic to the character and give a sense of depth on a two-dimensional plane.