Film and Video Technologies ...
I found the tables in Chapter 3 of Dr. Beach's book Teaching Media Literacy . Com to be very clear and helpful, and they provided an excellent starting place for me as I pondered how to teach film technique information to my juniors and seniors. I recall taking a screen writing course a few years ago and thinking how "out of my element" I was! My viewing skills grew a great deal in that course, but it wasn't really until this semester that I began to look at the practical aspects of trying to give the students terms and techniques which they could utilize for interpreting scenes. I found the material easy to grasp, at least easy to begin to grasp. As I practiced analyzing the scenes I looked at for this course, I was pleased to see how much analysis could be done on simple, short segments of film.
Of course, I had to linger a little over my dismay as I experienced the feeling that I had not been taught very much in my methods classes about how to teach students to "view." By this I mean, I do not remember looking at literature - and then at film - and seeing "acts." From an artistic point of view, I may have sub-consciously appreciated what a director did, but until studying the terms and examining angles and various types of shots, I do not think I could have described the emotional "manipulation" being used.
Instead of analyzing a commercial shot-by-shot, I decided to take a look at some of the video versions of the British Literature I regularly teach. This decision proved to be very practical, eye-opening, and affirming. In doing so, I learned a few things about my non-video classroom. First, it's useful to teach film terminology and technique by starting with movies of some of the works of literature we study. There can be good carry-over when moving on to look at and assess commercials, documentaries, sit coms, news reports, or when creating vlogs. Second, rather than ignoring video versions of the classic works of literature, i.e., "the book is better than the movie mentality," embracing some well-done film versions of literature is motivational to the students and will allow me the opportunity to teach some skills (ask some good questions) about the director's interpretations, additions, omissions, and so on. Finally, (and this list is by no means complete,) Table 3.3 (Beach 31) is a very good carry-over to the work I do with students after taking them to view live theatre at the Guthrie or Rarig - a good transitional point to help them "link" discussion of theatre to discussion of movies.
My immediate and practical use of the information regarding teaching film techniques is exciting. Students like to create films; our school has limited curriculum that offers the opportunity; I have some activities in-the-making which will improve both my students viewing and producing skills!
As I stated earlier, I analyzed some movie scenes instead of using a commercial. I looked at scenes from Mel Gibson's Hamlet, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and Harry Hunt's Lord of the Flies.
In all cases, the very detectable effect of camera angles was easy to grasp, full of impact, and quite astounding to me. Until now, I did not teach or have the terms for teaching these effects. The exercise was very useful, and I am going to share just a few comments about the Gibson film here.
One of the questions about Hamlet which the seniors find intriguing is the question of how much Queen Gertrude actually knew regarding Claudius' treachery. Gibson's Hamlet begins, as no print version of the play which I know of does - namely, with the burial service for Hamlet, Sr.
Long shot of the casket of Hamlet, Sr. - the casket is bathed in light, but the foreground is very dark.
Close-up of Gertrude's grief-stricken face.
Close-up of the face of the dead Hamlet, Sr., dressed in his armor, lying in the casket.
Low-angle shot of the new king (and murdered) Claudius looking down on the mourners. He is the newly "powerful" one.
Close-up of the fist of Hamlet, Jr., grabbing a handful of dirt resolutely and turning to slowly drop the dirt upon the armor of his dead father in the casket. The background blurs, and only the hand and the dirt are in focus.
High-angle close-up shot of Hamlet, Jr., looking up, cautiously.
Low-angle close-up shot of Claudius looking down.
Another long shot follows, with the foreground dark and the lighted casket being covered in the distance while the sound crying is heard.
Low-angle shot of Claudius raising high a sword in the light is seen.
A close-up of the queen's face follows.
Another low-angle close-up of Claudius follows.
The camera returns to Gertrude's tear-streaked face. She shrinks away, looking fearful.
One close-up of Hamlet's hooded head is seen, his eyes shift from side-to-side, as if he is looking from Claudius to his mother.
As simple as my observations might seem, I found both this opening scene and the early scene of Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies to have some very easy to spot and analyze shots. While I have a great deal to learn, these activities helped me see that I could easily teach these terms and encourage the students to bring their viewing observations to the table.
It is clear that the power-struggle between Claudius and Hamlet, Jr. - and even between Gertrude and Claudius - is being set up in the opening scene of the movie. As I mentioned earlier, the students are good at combing the text for proof that Gertrude was innocent (or not innocent) of knowledge of Claudius' treachery in the murder of Hamlet, Sr. Gibson's decision to create a burial scene and bring the principal characters into the catacombs to bury Hamlet, Sr. at the beginning of the play is an excellent jumping-off point for our viewing discussion. Why does the director choose to put that scene into the movie? In the literature version, we open with the Danish guards keeping watch outside Elsinore Castle on a cold night. The implications made by Gibson in his choice of opening scene and camera angles makes for a lively, engaging way to begin comparing text and movie while learning film techniques.
Feeling green, but also feeling encouraged that I can begin to teach the tools, (while learning from and with my students,) I am glad to have encountered Chapter 3. The activities offered in the on-line companion to our textbook were also helpful. Since my students enjoy picking up a video camera, I feel I now have some tools to help them plan meaning through their choice of shots, create move powerful shots, and learn to understand the tools movie-makers use their audience members. I have a list of videos to study and prepare for a viewing unit.