Write a short essay (approximately 750 words) on one of the following topics:
1. Pépé le Moko is set in the Algerian capital city of Algiers when Algeria was a French colony. The film represents both the European quarter of this city (in this film, dominated by the French and French colonial police and French tourists) as well as the "native quarter," the Casbah. While some of the film was shot on location, the Casbah scenes were filmed in an elaborately reconstructed "Casbah" set. The scenes that take place in the European quarter include the opening sequence in the police station, the scenes at the hotel that depict Gaby and her friends, and the scenes in which Pépé escapes from the Casbah in order to follow Gaby to the port. How does director Julien Duvivier differently represent the European quarter and the Casbah? How does the mise-en-scène and image composition differ in the scenes that take place in each space? How do the different ways of filming these spaces relate to the film’s overall themes of entrapment, paralysis, and nostalgia?
2. In one scene in The Raven the ambiguous character Dr. Vorzet opines that things are never "just black and white." How do the film’s lighting style (a poetic realist lighting style characterized by stark contrasts and shadows), mise-en-scène, and shot composition (especially the use of long shots versus close-ups as well as the "canted" or tilted frame) serve to support Dr. Vorzet’s theory? How do these formal elements relate to the film’s various characters? How do they guide the viewer toward trusting or mistrusting particular characters?
In answering either question, try to relate your analysis back to the historical situation of France as it is summarized in this lesson. Do you see ways that your film comments upon this situation either on the level of the plot or on the formal level?
Note: When writing about film sequences, you must refer to the Sequence Analysis Worksheet.
Sequence Analysis Worksheet
This worksheet should be used for all progress evaluations that require film analyses. Refer to it as often as you like. For more detailed explanations and definitions for terms used here, see Corrigan, Chapter 3, pp. 36–81. Also see the Lesson 1 commentary on the aesthetics of cinema.
Choose a sequence that lasts about two to four minutes. A sequence is a series of shots somehow logically connected in terms of
their common locale or setting; and/or
their relation to one dramatic moment in the plot (i.e., a "scene"); and/or
their common function in terms of furthering plot development or creating "atmosphere"; and/or
their relation to some common theme or issue.
Once you have selected your sequence, watch it several times to note details of interest in the main areas of cinematic style (points 1–4, below). As you watch and rewatch the sequence, take notes and expand them with each additional viewing.
Mise-en-scène—the composition and content of the frame in terms of background scenery, actors, costumes, props, movement of people and objects in the frame, and lighting (Corrigan, 48–57).
Cinematography—film stock (color, black/white, or tinting); lenses and changes in focus (deep focus, shallow); camera angles (high/low/straight-on); camera movement (panning, tracking, zooms); framing; shot duration; distance of camera to objects (close-ups, medium, and long shots; Corrigan, 57–64).
Editing—shot transitions, logic of shot-to-shot relations; continuity editing (establishing and reestablishing shots, shot/reverse shots, eyeline matches, reaction shots, flashbacks and flashforwards, ellipsis); abstract editing (graphic matches, rhythmic editing, jump cuts); intellectual and psychological montage (Corrigan, 65–72).
Sound—music, speech, noise (music, dialogue, sound effects); diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound (including voiceovers); synchronous vs. asynchronous sound; onscreen vs. offscreen sound; use of silence (Corrigan, 72–76).
Use your raw findings to discuss the sequence and its relation to the film as a whole. Analyze the stylistic details (mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, sound, etc.); that is, don’t just describe them but try to determine their function in the sequence. Why might these stylistic choices have been made? What do they seem to mean for the sequence and the film? You should use the new terminology you have learned (some of which is listed above) to describe techniques used in the sequence. To do this, you will need to make connections between the technical and stylistic details you have isolated and (1) narrative elements ("story": plot and character development) and (2) thematic content ("message" with regard to political, social, religious issues, etc.) in the sequence.
How do these elements work together? How does this interaction within the sequence relate to the film as a whole? Do stylistic, narrative, and/or thematic elements in the sequence reinforce or contrast with the style, narrative, and thematic content of the film as a whole?
Common Sequence Analysis Problems
Here are three common problems students have writing a sequence analysis:
Students stick too closely to the narrative, merely retelling the events within the sequence without enough analysis of what’s going on—and why. Remember, you are analyzing and writing for readers who have seen the film—you do not need to retell what happened.
Students discuss the sequence with no overall argument about its significance within the film.
Students attempt to describe as many stylistic elements as possible, instead of picking out a small number of those that have the most impact or significance and analyzing them to interpret the sequence and its relation to the film as a whole.
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