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Film Studies: Paper Options


In this unit we have learned that film is a medium capable of organizing sounds and images to produce narrative (story-telling), expository (explanatory or demonstrative), or poetic (artistic) effects. And we have identified the anecdote as a simple narrative form, useful in helping us analyze longer and more complex stories. Any classic narrative--told, written, or filmed--may be understood either as an anecdote writ large or as a long chain of actions or embedded anecdotes. Finally, we have learned that narratives function as arguments. Each part of an anecdote or a classic narrative contributes to this potential rhetorical effect.

1. Abstract -- Sets up expectations
2. Orientation -- Evokes stereotypes
3. Complicating Action -- Establishes or posits cause
4. Evaluation -- Plot forces reader to imagine alternative story
5. Result or Resolution -- Suggests an effect
6. Coda -- Closes off further discussion

Narratives serve social functions. Stories have a purpose. They help enculturate us. And movies--as commodities functioning within a system of exchange--well, they grant us pleasure by representing and defining--by reinforcing or opposing--the underlying assumptions of our cul- ture.

Assignment Options

Work with a film of your choice (but with one that you feel merits our attention). Employ the essays provided in our textbook as models for your own work. Write for a general audience not enrolled in a film course. (Length, 4-6 pp.)

1. Compose an essay in which you describe--show your reader--how a popular film creates the effect of an explanation or argument by manipulating the basic parts of an anecdote/narrative. Suggest that the argument advanced by this film does much to account for the film's popularity.

2. Identify the type of narration employed in a film of your choice. Is it restricted or unrestricted? Is our knowledge of the film's characters objective or does it have a subjective dimension? Next, and in some detail, explain how the range and depth of this film--how hierarchy of knowledge--controls our response to (our attitudes toward) the film's protagonist.

3. After describing the difference between plot and story, explain how the plot of a particular mystery or detective film (or an exemplary scene from a mystery or detective film) cues viewers to create and to compare what are, in fact, multiple stories. Suggest how the "correct" story--the answer to the enigma that drives the story forward--reinforces (or less likely, opposes) underlying cultural assumptions.


In every one of these options you are asked to show how the "message" of a film is rhetorically produced by the formal structure of the film. Ultimately, you want to demonstrate that meaning is actually a result, an effect, of the selection and arrangement of narrative materials. Concentrate on what and how the film argues, not on what you think or feel certain the director wanted to argue.

Remember to focus your discussion and be concrete. You should concentrate on specific scenes and specific techniques (narrative manipulations) in the film you are describing. This will enable you to write the required number of pages. Do not attempt to talk about everything we've covered in this unit.

In film, as with any sort of text, meaning doesn't arise "naturally"; it is made -- manufactured by culture.