Film Studies

Uncovering the Real Picture

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The film The Panama Deception takes a critical view on the United State’s invasion of Panama.  Its purpose was to document what exactly happened in Panama during the 1989 invasion.  In addition to uncovering the real reasons for the invasion, The Panama Deception also takes a look at how the media portrayed the war and their bias towards favoring United States interests.  According to our textbook, Engaging Cinema, an effective documentary sets out to establish credibility, provide convincing arguments, and create a compelling experience.  The Panama Deception achieves this through cinematic techniques, eloquent narration, and engaging storyline.

The first principle in an effective documentary is credibility.  The Panama Deception tries to achieve credibility by taking a participatory approach to the issue.  Like Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, The Panama Deception consists of interviewees discussing the invasion while the narrator simply connects the stories together.  The interviewees consist of former members of the leadership of Panama and the United States as well as scholars.  In addition to displaying their official title on the screen, the narrator also speaks about the credibility of the interviewees.  This narrative technique provides even more credibility to the viewer because the narrator essentially tells them how experienced the interviewees are on the issue.  Although this narrative technique provides credibility, there are instances where it seems the credibility is lacking.  Most of the interviews in The Panama Deception are with individuals who oppose the invasion of Panama, with a limited number of interviews with those associated with the United States government.  Although it may have been difficult in finding credible sources from the government, the filmmakers lose a sense of objectivity by favoring one side of the controversy.  Nonetheless, utilizing a number of interviewees and narrating their credentials is an excellent way to achieve credibility.

A documentary must have convincing arguments for a viewer to continue watching the film. The Panama Deception does this in a variety of ways.   First, the narrator provides background information to the viewer through narration and pictures from the Panama Canal history.  Another way The Panama Deception provides convincing arguments is the way the story is told.  The filmmakers begin by showing a statement by the United States government and then prove the statement wrong by interviewing first-hand accounts and providing photographic evidence.  An example of this occurs when we see a Pentagon official state there were no mass graves created during the invasion.  Once we hear this, we instantly see video clips of mass graves as well as interviews from those who have seen these graves.  This editing technique creates convincing arguments to the viewer.  The last technique used to create convincing arguments is the fade-in and fade-out technique.  These are used to tell the viewer the end of one argument and the beginning of the other one.  Using this organization technique allows the film to be clear and allows the viewers to easily understand what is going on.

Lastly, a compelling storyline keeps the viewer interested in a documentary.  The Panama Deception does this primarily through juxtaposition.  The film begins with an interview of one of the victims where she is discussing the emotional implication of the invasion, and then swiftly cuts to an interview with an army official talking about the strategy and tactical approach to the invasion.  Juxtaposition is used throughout the film and the rapid change from one side to the other keeps the viewer attentive to the issue.  The following trailer of The Panama Deception provides examples of juxtaposition.  Another way the filmmakers of The Panama Deception create a compelling story is displaying photographs and videos of the destruction and death in Panama.  This once again creates a compelling form of presentation.

The creation and release of The Panama Deception created a lot of controversy.  Although many people agreed or disagreed with the content of the film, many critics praised the film techniques used in The Panama Deception.  In this review of The Panama Deception by the New York Times, Vincent Canby believes the films “images are moving in themselves and beautifully edited. It really doesn’t need a lot of Elizabeth Montgomery’s instructive narration, which constantly tells the audience what it’s supposed to think.”  This limited use of narration creates flow throughout the movie, which helps make it a convincing and compelling film.  Additionally, Vincent Canby also notices the juxtaposition usage in The Panama Deception by stating the director uses irony “by juxtaposing a Panamanian politician’s statements about peace and democracy with shots dramatizing the fearful toll war takes on civilians, most of them poor. It’s easily done but still effective.”  Overall, The Panama Deception incorporates numerous cinematic techniques to create an effective documentary.

Written by matthewpickle

February 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm

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Cheer Up Charlie…

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"I think it would be fun to run a newspaper"


Citizen Kane is a major film that revolutionized the film industry during the 1940s.  The film’s techniques and cinematography pioneered new advances in filmmaking still present in many of today’s films.  The film Citizen Kane follows the life of Charles Foster Kane, played by Orson Welles, as he faces both personal and professional challenges over the course of his life in his pursuit of lifelong happiness.  In addition to playing the role of Charles Kane, Welles also directed the film, where he implemented many key technical cinematic ideas including extra-dietetic sound, elegant use of lighting, and the deep focus camera technique.

As I began viewing Citizen Kane this evening I noticed the frequent use of extra-diegetic sound.  Many key scenes of Citizen Kane have accompanying background music to connect the viewer to the story emotionally.  In the scene where Charlie Kane leaves his family and is sent to Chicago under Mr. Thatcher’s supervision, the background music has a soft, sad tone.  When we see Charles Kane taking over The New York Inquirer, the background music is both loud and fast-paced, emphasizing happiness.  Lastly, near the end of the movie when the viewer is close to understanding the meaning behind “Rosebud,” the music is very suspenseful.  All of these examples illustrate the importance of extra-diegetic sound to the storyline.  The background music shapes the emotion the viewer should experience in each scene as he/she watches the film.  In some instances, the music begins before the scene occurs and is foreshadowing the subsequent event and preparing the viewer for the type of emotion to expect.

The lighting in Citizen Kane is another concept important to the Charles Kane storyline.  Orson Welles elegantly uses lighting in each scene by incorporating low-key lighting.  During the scenes where the newspaper associate, Mr. Thompson, is interviewing Kane’s colleagues, the lighting is focused primarily on the interviewee and not Mr. Thompson.  In fact, rarely do we see Mr. Thompson’s face clearly lit in the entire film.  I believe Orson Welles does this to emphasize the importance of the story the interviewees are telling and keep the viewers less focused on Mr. Thompson.  Orson Welles also using lighting to stress the theme of each scene.  The happy and cheerful scenes, such as Kane and Susan’s marriage, are brightly lit, while the scene where Kane is angry after writing a bad review of Susan is dimly lit.

One of the most important camera technique highlighted in Citizen Kane is the deep focus shot.  The scene where Charles Kane knocks on Susan’s bedroom door while she is sleeping is an example of a deep focus shot.  Another example is when Mr. Thompson interviews Mr. Bernstein.  We see Mr. Bernstein walk toward the background while the camera still focuses on the desk and Mr. Thompson sitting in the foreground.  The use of the deep focus technique and utilizing both the background and foreground of a scene creates a large, open frame setting.  This allows the viewer to feel like they are a part of the scene and keeps he/she engaged in the plot.  Orson Welles also uses tracking shots in scenes where he wants to create smoothness.  In the scene where Charles Kane’s parents are discussing his departure, the camera tracks the mother’s movement.  This is not only used to create smoothness, but also keep the viewer focused on the mother.

Nearly all review sites rank Citizen Kane as one of the greatest films of all time.  Although it is a dated film and feels somewhat slow in the middle of the story, I would agree with many of the review sites in saying Citizen Kane revolutionized the film industry.  According to a review in Time Magazine, “Citizen Kane is the most sensational product of the U. S. movie industry. It has found important new techniques in picture-making and storytelling.”  I agree with this statement and believe the way the Citizen Kane story was presented kept me engaged in the film.  Although the viewer knows Charles Kane dies, the mystery behind the “rosebud” keeps the suspense up.  The Time Magazine review also wrote: “So sharply does Citizen Kane veer from cinema cliché, it hardly seems like a movie.”  The cinematography and the various use of lighting, sound, and deep focus shots create a feeling that the viewer is actually in each scene sitting in a dark corner watching, making Citizen Kane an excellent film experience.

Written by matthewpickle

February 2, 2011 at 3:21 am

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North by Northwest Film Analysis

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North by Northwest is a suspenseful film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1959.  The film stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who finds himself mistaken as a United States spy and must outmaneuver both the police and criminals in attempt to uncover the hidden truth.  Overall, North by Northwest offers suspense in nearly every scene as we follow Roger Thornhill in his adventure.  Director Alfred Hitchcock captures the suspense perfectly, utilizing continuity editing techniques including establishing shots, reverse shots, and match editing, as well as discontinuity techniques.

Alfred Hitchcock includes a variety of continuity editing techniques in North by Northwest to create both smoothness and suspense.  The first of these concepts is the establishing shot.  Whenever a new scene occurs, Hitchcock utilizes an establishing shot to provide overview to a scene.  After Mr. Vandamm’s associates kidnap Roger Thornhill, there are numerous establishing shots providing an overview of the location Roger is being taken to, Townsend Mansion.  When the movie progresses and locations change, Hitchcock utilizes establishing shots at the United Nation’s complex, the Chicago bus stop, and Mount Rushmore.  These establishing shots allow audience members to understand what is going on and where the succeeding scene is occurring.  In a film where the location of key characters change frequently, it is important to incorporate establishing shots to ensure audience members know what is going on.  The second continuity editing technique used in North by Northwest is the reverse shot pattern.  When Roger Thornhill first encounters Phillip Vandamm, Alfred Hitchcock uses the reverse shot pattern throughout the conversation.  The reverse shot pattern allows the viewer to see the reaction of the character’s faces more closely, which adds suspense to the film.  If a master shot was used, the viewer would feel more distant from the story and the suspense would be lacking.  Lastly, the use of match editing creates a smoothness effect and can frequently be seen in North by Northwest.  This smoothness effect lets the scene cuts seem more natural which keeps the viewer engaged to the story.

Although numerous examples of continuity editing techniques are in North by Northwest, there are also a variety of discontinuity techniques.  Using discontinuity techniques can help depict a character as either the protagonist or the antagonist.  When Roger Thornhill first meets Eve Kendall, she is wearing a white dress with plenty of skin showing, depicting her as a “good” person who is helping Roger Thornhill escape from police.  While Eve Kendall is off-screen, the viewer learns that she is an agent for the evil Mr. Vandamm.  The next scene, we find Ms. Kendall wearing a thick, black coat, depicting her as a “bad” person.  Using this discontinuity technique emphasizes Eve’s transition from a helpful person to a secret agent, which helps the viewer follow the story and adds suspense.

Even though Hitchcock incorporates discontinuity techniques in North by Northwest, he has a certain way of incorporating smoothness to the discontinuity.  Rather than cutting from one scene to another, Hitchcock incorporates the fade-in and fade-out techniques often.  Even though one scene takes place in a New York City Hotel and the next occurs at the United Nations, the fade-in and fade-out technique creates a smoothness effect, which allows the story to unfold without interruption.

Overall, it seems North by Northwest received fairly high marks in numerous reviews.  The New York Times review calls North by Northwest a “colorful and exciting route for spies, counterspies and lovers.”  Part of this “colorful and exciting route” can be explained through the cross-cutting technique.  In nearly all of the suspenseful scenes, including the drunken car chase, the police chase in the train station, and the climatic Rushmore scene, the rapid scene change from Mr. Thornhill to those in pursuit creates a heightened level of suspense.  I also found the rapid pace of North by Northwest to be extremely engaging.  Nearly every scene, the viewer is learning more about the truth behind Roger Thornhill.  Each scene provides a small piece of evidence and the pace of the movie made me eager to learn about the next clue.  The New York Times agreed with this insight by writing “complications are introduced with about the same rapidity as the ever-changing scenery.”

North by Northwest is an engaging film that combines a wide range of genres ranging from suspense to humor.  The continuity techniques of establishing shots, reverse shots, and match editing allows the viewers to experience a suspenseful, yet smooth story.  The importance of each scene keeps the viewer engaged in all of the details.  The constant feeling of suspense, as well as using both continuity and discontinuity techniques made North by Northwest an extremely suspenseful and worthwhile experience.

Written by matthewpickle

January 27, 2011 at 3:24 am

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