Series: Beginnings
Author: Andrew Dix

Beginning film studies offers a critical introduction to this academic discipline for undergraduate (and other) readers coming to it for the first time. Written accessibly, it ranges across key topics, theories and approaches in film studies. For this new volume, the author has thoroughly updated the first edition, writing fresh case studies, tracking and evaluating recent developments in the study of film, and providing up-to-the-minute suggestions for further reading.

The book begins by considering film’s formal features (mise-en-scène, editing and sound) before moving outwards to discuss narrative, genre, authorship, the star, and film’s ideological engagement (its staging of class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity). Later chapters on film industries and on film consumption – where and how we watch movies (not least in the digital age) – reflect and assess the discipline’s recent geographical ‘turn’.

The book takes a global perspective, illustrating its arguments by reference to film cultures ranging from Hollywood to Bollywood, and from the French ‘New Wave’ to contemporary Hong Kong. Each chapter concludes with a case study, exploring such topics as sound in The Great Gatsby, narrative in Inception and ideology in Blue Is the Warmest Colour. The superhero movie is studied as a genre, and Jennifer Lawrence as a star. Beginning film studies is also interactive, with readers enabled throughout to reflect critically upon the field.

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Andrew Dix

This chapter is divided into three main sections. The first traces economically the emergence of film as a medium in the late nineteenth century, noting its entanglement with many other forms of visual culture (not least the magic lantern). It is also observed that film’s current status as an object of analysis is complicated by digital developments. The second section turns to the emergence of film studies itself, briefly plotting the discipline’s consolidation from patchy beginnings in the first half of the twentieth century. The third section outlines the intentions of this book, summarises its structure and contents, and considers a number of questions readers may have as they begin work in film studies (for example, regarding the specialist, sometimes demanding terminology of film studies or how an increasing engagement with this discipline may affect the immersive experience important to many spectators when watching movies).

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Mise-en-scène
Andrew Dix

This chapter aims to introduce readers to approaches and terms essential for the analysis of film’s visual components. It begins by discussion of the term ‘mise-en-scène’, defined as everything that the spectator sees on screen. The chapter then considers in turn each of the ‘pro-filmic’ elements of mise-en-scène: i.e. those things that contribute to a shot’s visual effects but exist prior to the camera’s intervention: setting, props, lighting, costume, and acting or performance. The section that follows itemises and evaluates the attributes of cinematography itself: i.e. shot distance; the height, angle and level of the camera; masking of the lens; the camera’s movement; and focus. A further section considers the history, aesthetics and politics of colour in film. Finally, a sequence from 12 Years a Slave (2013) is offered as a case study in the analysis of mise-en-scène.

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Theories and histories
Andrew Dix

This chapter seeks to demonstrate that the meaning of a shot does not inhere completely in itself but in its juxtaposition with those other shots that come before and after. Following introductory discussion of the importance of considering editing in any film analysis, the chapter turns to mainstream or continuity editing and outlines first the principles and practices of this mode of shot combination, and then several of the critiques it has attracted. The section that follows evaluates the rival editing practice of montage, with particular attention to the theory and practice of the revolutionary Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. There is then a section devoted to assessment of the aesthetics and politics of another non-mainstream practice, the jump cut (associated, for example, with the French ‘New Wave’ director Jean-Luc Godard). The chapter’s concluding case study – exploring the ideological effects of editing choices – is of three films that derive from very different historical moments and conditions but all take labour activism as their subject: Strike (1925), Matewan (1987) and Made in Dagenham (2010).

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Sound and music
Andrew Dix

This chapter is the third of three devoted to analysis of film’s stylistics, and seeks, in its attention to sound and music, to redress an ocular bias that is still apparent in some discussions of film. The first of four analytical sections identifies and evaluates the diverse soundtracks that accompanied purportedly ‘silent’ film. Next, discussion turns to the fraught debates occasioned by the coming of synchronised sound in the late 1920s. The following section sets out various vocabularies that have emerged for analysis of film sound, and assesses the advantages and deficiencies of each. The last of the substantive sections is devoted to film music, tracking some of its global and historical variations and evaluating attempts to conceptualise it that range from the psychoanalytic through the cognitivist to the Marxist. A concluding case study of The Great Gatsby (2013) explores the implications of the film’s experiments not only with music (both diegetic and non-diegetic) but with voiceover, dialogue and sound effects also.

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Andrew Dix

This chapter acknowledges the centrality of narrative to the aesthetics and economics of film industries globally. Thus, while an early part of this chapter considers non- or even anti-narrative strands of cinema (these ranging from the early ‘cinema of attractions’ to surrealist and other avant-garde experimentation), the majority of its space is dedicated to exploring and evaluating key aspects of cinematic storytelling. Successive sections consider analytical approaches to character (particularly formalist and cognitivist strategies), to cinematic staging of time, and to endings in cinema. The last of the substantive sections is devoted to ‘narrative and power’: who, exactly, narrates a film, and with what worldly consequences? To test the adequacy and usefulness of those approaches to narrative presented earlier in the chapter, the case study that follows is of the form taken by storytelling in Inception (2010).

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Andrew Dix

If genre is an analytical category or formal property shared with other art forms, it has long proved especially important to film. The first of four substantive sections here considers attempts to devise taxonomic and iconographic models of film genres, and assesses their explanatory force. A second section positions genres less as quasi-scientific categories than as provisional labels attached to groups of movies by diverse interest groups: it asks, therefore, who gets to enjoy definitional power in such situations. The section that follows is preoccupied by genres and history, exploring both the internal history and evolution of a genre and the complex ways in which that genre is related to broader historical shifts and tendencies. Subsequently, discussion takes place of the continuing analytical viability of the idea of genre (in the face of some critics’ claims that we live now in a period of filmmaking characterised not by strict generic demarcation but by generic assemblage or hybridity). The chapter’s case study, bringing together and testing these various conceptual strands, is of the superhero movie.

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Andrew Dix

This chapter tracks important shifts in thinking about the nature and locus of authorship in film. The first section is devoted to ‘auteur theory’, recounting its emergence during the French ‘New Wave’ and acknowledging its importance. The next section, however, identifies several major problems with auteurism, including its evaluative basis (rather than scientific rigour) and its romantic, individualistic account of creation that flies in the face both of film’s collaborative production and of post-structuralist pronouncements of ‘the death of the author’. Yet the section that follows rehabilitates the figure of the cinematic author (in strong if not overbearing form), recognising the different contributions to this end by analytical philosophy, feminism and legal studies. The chapter’s final substantive section considers ‘digital authors’ – both directors endowed with still greater powers by such phenomena as the DVD ‘Director’s Commentary’ and viewers able to unsettle films by various means that include discontinuous watching on DVD and the production of film-related fan fictions. Finally, these various models of film authorship are tested in a case study of the directorial work of Ang Lee

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Andrew Dix

While the emergence of stars postdates the emergence of film itself as a medium, they have long been central to its economic prospects and to the cultural and ideological work it does. Hence this chapter introduces and evaluates a number of critical approaches to stardom. It begins by acknowledging the star’s commercial dimension and goes on to explore the political economy of stardom. The two interrelated sections that follow consider star personas, assessing first their elasticity or otherwise, then their relationship to historical contexts (what does a given star’s rise or fall tell us about his or her culture?). Subsequent discussion draws upon psychoanalysis and gender studies in order to consider the complex dynamics that obtain between the star and the spectator. So as to decentralise the Hollywood version of stardom, comparisons follow first with stardom in other filmmaking cultures (including Bollywood), then in such fields as music and sport. The chapter’s concluding case study is of the stardom of Jennifer Lawrence.

in Beginning film studies (second edition)
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Andrew Dix

This chapter aims to introduce and evaluate a number of approaches to gendersexualityraceclass in film studies. It is crucial now for film studies to explore the multiple articulations of class with other ideological registers. As Chuck Kleinhans puts it: ‘Today Marxism seems most dynamic when it combines its analysis of class with an analysis of gender, race, national, postcolonial, and other issues raised by progressive social-political movements’ (1998: 111). The chapter concludes with a case study of Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013).

in Beginning film studies (second edition)