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This paper is an analysis of a single shot. You can choose a shot (one that we didn’t discuss in depth in class) from Sherlock Jr., The Wizard of Oz, Stranger than Fiction, or Singin’ in the Rain. Remember that you’re only analyzing one shot (which will have an edit—a cut, a fade, a wipe, etc. on either side of it).
The goal of this analysis is to explain how everything in the shot comes together to accomplish the director’s purpose for that shot. Assume that everything in the shot–the lighting, the costumes, the set, etc.–is there for a reason. The following instructions will give you suggestions for things to consider as you analyze the shot. They do not constitute an outline for the paper (that is, you shouldn’t necessarily discuss these items in the order in which they appear below). Make your argument in the clearest, most persuasive way that you can.
It’s a good idea to begin by determining what the function of the shot is. How does it help to move the action of the scene or the film along? How is it related to the rest of the film, for example, is it an echo of any other shot or does it pick up on themes or visual motifs that are being used in other parts of the film? How is it related to the shots that precede and follow it?
Technical aspects of the shot to consider include: what kind of shot is it (close-up, establishing shot, etc.)—note: you should definitely say what sort of shot it is early in your paper; duration of the shot; how the shot functions as a visual composition (is it balanced or unbalanced, is the field shallow or deep, etc.); camera angle, set-up, and movement; point of view from which it’s shot; special effects used; lighting; sound (intra- or extra-diegetic); the action that takes place in the shot and scene; dialogue; any other elements of mise-en-scène including setting, set decoration, costumes, make-up, etc.; is anything going on off-screen?
Use these details in your analysis to explain how they all come together to accomplish the purpose of the shot. It’s not enough to just catalogue them. Remember to mention the film’s title, release date, director’s name, and the name of the actors in the shot fairly early on in your analysis. Use the present tense for describing action in the shot (e.g., “When Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks into Rick’s American Cafe that night, she finds Sam (Dooley Wilson) at the piano…”). You’ll also need a “Works Cited” (even if it’s just for the film you’re discussing).
The paper should be approximately 2-3 double-spaced pages. It’s due on Monday, November 30.
Be sure to look at the Shot Analysis Rubric I’ll be using to grade the assignment, and also at the annotated Sample Shot Analysis to see how one student did it. (Both are under the ANGEL Lessons tab.)
1. Have a clear and interesting thesis that explains the purpose of the shot and proposes an argument about it (e.g., relating to key themes, ideas, or elements in the film)?
2. Identify the type of shot (e.g., close-up, tracking, establishing, etc.), the surrounding edits (e.g., cut, dissolve), and its position in the film (e.g., 1:30:15 – 1:30:18)?
3. Contextualize the shot in relation to the plot and to other relevant shots/scenes in the film?
4. Contain a technical description and analysis of significant elements of the shot’s visual composition, such as framing, balance, depth of field, use of color/b&w, and graphic patterning; camera angle, pov (objective/subjective, etc.), setup, focus, and movement; film speed; and spatial arrangement of characters (blocking) and props?
5. Provide a precise description and analysis of significant elements of the mise-en-scène, such as lighting, sound, special effects, setting and sets, props, action and acting, dialogue, costumes and makeup, etc.?
6. Exhibit the qualities of good argumentation and writing: presentation of strong supporting evidence for thesis/argument; thoughtful, logical organization (including effective hook, introduction, conclusion, and transitions); engaging and graceful style; correct grammar and punctuation; and proper citation of any sources used (including the film itself)?
7. Observe the conventions of writing about film: meaningful paper title; early mention of film’s title, date, and director; mention of actors’ names; and use of present tense?
example of what i want
“From Among the Dead”:
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Vertigo (1958) is a mystery and a romance, but above all, it’s a ghost story with multiple hauntings. (The film’s original working title, “From Among the Dead,” makes it sound more like a horror movie than the final title.) Madeline Elster (Kim Novak) is haunted and possessed by her tragic ancestor, Carlotta. Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who has been hired to follow Madeline by her worried husband, is obsessed and haunted by her, even before he watches her plummet to her death from the tower. After Madeline dies, he is unable to forget her. When he meets Judy Barton (also Kim Novak), he becomes obsessed with the idea of making her over into Madeline. Judy is in love with Scottie, and so she agrees, but she’s not happy about it. This make-over is completed in a climactic shot, which I’ll call “Madeline’s Return” (1:55:37-1:55:40), in which Hitchcock makes use of all the resources of mise-en-scène to convince the audience to share Scottie’s view that he has brought Madeline back to life.
In a series of scenes that precede “Madeline’s Return,” we see Judy undergo the process of being transformed into the image of Madeline. Scottie buys her the same clothes that Madeline wore (though she protests that she prefers different ones); her hair is bleached platinum-blonde; and her make-up and nail polish are done just as Madeline’s were. Scottie waits for the transformation to be completed back at her hotel room, but when she arrives, he’s disappointed. She’s almost “right,” but unlike Madeline, who wore her hair up in a French twist, Judy’s is down, loose around her shoulders. “It should be back from your face and pinned to the back,” he says. “I told them that. I told you that.” Scottie sends her into the bathroom to put it up and as she does, he anxiously waits for her outside.
As Bernard Herrmann’s eerie music (the same music that accompanies earlier scenes in which Madeline visits Carlotta’s portrait and grave) rises to a crescendo, we hear the faint click of the bathroom door opening and watch Scottie slowly turn to see Madeline (not Judy) come through the bathroom doorway. We’ve been waiting with Scottie, and as the music rises, so does our anticipation. The camera zooms in on him, going from a medium shot to a close-up of his face, with its expression of utter fascination. Then, in a powerful, three-second full shot, the transformation is complete, and Judy returns as “Madeline.”
Like a painting suddenly come to life, the figure of “Madeline” is framed by the bathroom doorway. To the right, we see her shadow at the edge of the doorframe, a faint “double” that disappears and then reappears in subsequent shots, sliding across the bed and moving away from her as she walks into the room, as if emphasizing and then banishing Madeline’s doubleness. In this shot, our view of her is slightly obscured by a greenish fog that surrounds her like the fogs that swirl around graveyards in old horror movies. The music, already at its crescendo, makes a dramatic, sweeping flourish as she takes a step forward.
The frame is divided into three parts. In the center, “Madeline” silently pauses in the doorway before taking one step toward Scottie (and us). The camera doesn’t move: like Scottie, it’s frozen in fascination. From eye-level, we see “Madeline’s” full figure, so that we (and Scottie, since we’re sharing his point of view now) can inspect her head-to-toe transformation, as if we (like Scottie) were standing in the room with her. Now everything’s right—the clothes, make-up and hair—and she’s perfect. She’s exactly what Scottie wants her to be, his “dream doll.” It’s important that the fog, which fades as she walks toward the camera in subsequent shots, is greenish, because that’s the color that has always been associated with Madeline throughout the film (her green car, her green satin ballgown, etc.). The grave (if this were really a horror film, that bathroom door would be a coffin lid, opening) she’s returning from is Madeline’s. To the left of the doorway in which she’s standing, there’s a kind of “dead space,” taken up with the dim outlines of the wall and front door in deep shadow. It’s not clear why this space is here, though it does allow Hitchcock to move the rectangular image of Madeline closer to the center of the frame, where it can more easily capture our attention. Perhaps this virtually empty space is meant to make us a little bit uneasy. Will Scottie move in to fill it? Or is there room for another ghost?
The lighting is most intense in the center section of the frame: it’s Madeline’s figure and the right side of the bed next to her that are most illuminated, so they’re both important. The right-hand side of the frame is entirely taken up by the bed, with its white bedspread and greenish headboard. There’s also a painting hanging over the bed. All three—the bed and the headboard and the painting—have a bouquet of pink and red and white flowers on them, just like the bouquet of flowers Carlotta carries in her portrait and the one Madeline bought for herself before she jumped into San Francisco Bay. The flowers suggest Carlotta and her haunting of Madeline that leads Madeline to try to kill herself, just as Carlotta did. So, there is more than one ghost in this room. The bed takes up more than a third of the space in the shot because there’s lots of sexual tension here. Scottie and Judy haven’t slept together yet, but once she’s “Madeline,” Scottie will presumably be able to recover his virility (which has been the source of all sorts of earlier jokes, particularly in the much-earlier bra-design scene in Madge’s apartment) and make love to her. He’s already been possessed by her, and he’s taken “possession” of her in return through his gaze. Now he might as well do it for real. In this short but stunning shot, we and Scottie see that he has, at least for a brief time until he learns the truth, succeeded in making Madeline return from among the dead.
Vertigo. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Paramount Pictures, 1958.