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Writing About Film –

The Analytical Essay

Unit 3 Personal Study Essay

 To help you with your Unit 3 Essay we will

look at what an analytical essay is and ways
in which to approach writing it.

 Try to watch ‘actively’ and concentrate on all the

elements of the film you wish to write about. Watch it
more than once and write notes.
 Your analysis will discuss the various parts of a film,
how they work together and how they can be seen
as a part of the particular movement you have
chosen to write about. On a deeper level your essay
should also have a central argument that your
chosen films will illustrate.

 The essay will include detailed descriptions of the

key films you have chosen. It will also feature your
personal opinion, which defends your view or
argument regarding the way in which the film is
representative of the movement and of the
Director/artists work.
 Your essay should also be argumentative. The aim
of the essay is to allow you to develop your own
ideas about your chosen subject. You will back your
argument up with examples from the film or
supporting quotes.
How do you come up with an
argument for your essay?
 Develop a thesis that your essay will explain and
 Start by asking yourself questions.
 What do you find intriguing or disturbing about your
 What makes the films noteworthy?
 Do they illustrate some aspect of filmmaking with
special clarity?
 Do the films have an unusual effect on the viewer?
Thesis – A proposition
maintained by argument.
 Your answer to such questions will furnish the thesis
of your analysis. The thesis, in any piece of writing,
is the central claim your argument advances.
 Typically, your thesis will be a claim about the film’s
functions, its effects, or its meanings (or some
mixture of all three).
 Your thesis will need some support, some reasons
to believe it.
 Ask yourself, “What would back up my thesis?” and
draw up a list of points. Conceptual points, will in
turn need backup-typically, evidence and examples.

 You can sum up the structure of an

argumentative essay in the acronym
TREE: Thesis supported by Reasons that
rest upon Evidence and Examples.
2. Draw up a segmentation of
your film or art movement
 When analyzing a film it is useful to break
the film down into scenes and also
understand how those scenes work
 The best way to do this is to create a

 Look at the example below of a segmentation

of Leger’s Ballet mecanique.
 Most of the films you will be analysing like
Ballet mecanique cannot be segmented by
tracing arguments or dividing into scenes of
narrative action. You will need to look for
changes in abstract qualities being used at
different points in the film.
Ballet mecanique
FIGURE OF Charlie Chaplin introducing the film’s title (The
word “Charlot” in this introduction is Chaplin’s character’s
name in France.)
 The introduction of the film’s rhythmic elements
 A treatment of similar elements with views taken through
 Rhythmic movements
 A comparison of people and machines
 Rhythmic movements of intertitles and pictures
 More rhythmic movements, mostly of circular objects
 Quick dance of objects
 A return to Charlot and the opening elements
Ballet mecanique (“Mechanical
Ballet”) Dir Fernand Leger
 Now watch the film
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SgsqmQJAq0
Expanding the segments

 Breaking the film into segments gives you a

convenient overview and it will suggest to you
examples and ideas that you can use to
develop or support your argument.
 Now that you have your segmentation, you
can expand on each segment and see how
the parts are connected.
 On the next slide and on your sheets is an
expanded version of one of the segments.
Ballet mecanique - Segment 1:
 Segment 1 begins uncharacteristically with footage of a woman swinging in a
garden. The title of the film focuses attention on the rhythmical swinging and the
puppet like or mechanical gestures of the women who repeatedly lifts her eyes
and head, then lowers them, a fixed smile on her face. This is followed by a
rapid succession of images of a hat, bottles, an abstract white triangle along with
other objects. Next a women’s mouth appears alternatively smiling and then not
smiling. The image of the hat returns, followed by the smiling mouth, some
spinning gears, before a shiny ball circles close to the camera. Next we see the
woman in the swing and the camera moves back and forth with her, however the
image is flipped upside down. The segment ends with the shiny ball, now
swinging back and forth directly toward the camera, and we are invited to
compare its movements with that of the women in the swing. Through these
relationships the film establishes the notion of the women also as an object of
kinetic movement. The smile of the one also does not represent emotion, but a
regularly changing shape. Primarily the first segment suggests one of the
characteristics of the film in its fascination with objects shapes, movement, the
rhythms of the objects’ movements and the changes from object to object.
What about Narrative film?
 If your film contains narrative, your
segmentation can help you answer questions
such as:
 How does each scene set up causes and
 At what point do we understand the
characters’ goals, and how do these goals
develop in the course of the action
 What principles of development connect one
scene to another?
Student Task
 Go online and find one of the films you have
decided to write about.
 Create a segmentation of the whole film
 Create a more detailed analysis of a segment you
wish to talk about.
 You can add your segmentation and notes to your
 As you have previously done you can illustrate
scenes further by using stills from key scenes.
Note outstanding instances
of film technique
 As you watch the film, you should note down brief descriptions
of various film techniques that are used. You will notice that the
director will use specific techniques which become his formal
style. You can then propose the function of these techniques in
your essay using examples from the film. Analysis of these
techniques should support your thesis.
 To begin with think of the techniques one by one (Editing,
lighting, framing, camera movement, sound, music, color
design etc).
 Try to think which techniques are most important to your
argument as you will not have space to talk about everything
(For example you might focus on editing if you were writing
about Russian cinema).
Organisation and Writing

 An essay normally has the following basic structure.

 Introduction: Background information or a vivid
example, leading up to:
 Statement of thesis
 Body: Reasons to believe the thesis
 Evidence and examples that support the thesis
 Conclusion: Restatement of thesis and discussion
of its broader implications.
Organising and writing
 The building block of any piece of writing is the
paragraph. The introduction is at least one
paragraph, the body will be several paragraphs, the
conclusion will be one or two.
 Normally the introduction will be more general
containing background information. You could be
more creative by starting your essay with a vivid
scene from one of your films or an interesting and
relevant quotation.
 The body of your essay consists of a series of
reasons to believe the thesis. You will back these
point up with evidence and examples.
Organising and writing
 For example you might suggest that Surrealism has
moved from a radical and revolutionary modernist
style to become a prominent and acceptable style in
commercials and narrative film. You could then
analyse and compare the formal techniques in a
work by Louis Bunuel and a perfume advert by
David Lynch.
 First however you would start with a paragraph of
historical background on the Surrealist movement.
 After comparing how the films are similar you should
then say how and why the modern film differs or
revises surrealist traditions.
Organising and writing
 By adding a brief synopsis of the film/s you are discussing at the
beginning of the paragraph, you can familiarize the reader with
the film (They may not have seen it!)
 How to end your essay?
 You should carefully restate your thesis (Remind the reader why
they are reading it).The ending is also an opportunity for you to
express yourself and be creative. You could use a quote or an
extract from the film to create an image of what you are trying to
 Remember there is no complete formula for writing essays. Read
and re-vise your work and practice your writing as often as you
Key questions for an
Analytical Essay
 Do you have a thesis? Is it clearly stated in the
 Do you have a series of reasons supporting the
thesis? Are these arranged in logical and
convincing order (with the strongest reason
coming last)?
 Are your supporting reasons backed up? Do
your segmentation and your stylistic analysis
provide specific evidence and examples for each
reason you offer?
 Does your concluding paragraph reiterate your
thesis and provide a vivid ending?