Film as Text by Garry Gillard

The notion of ‘film as text’ is a metaphor drawn from the idea of reading a book. It suggests that in many ways reading a book is like watching a film, and that we might take some of the things we know about the one and apply them to the other.

The storage means are different, of course. A book has words printed on paper (although it can also be read on a screen or read to you by a voice on a tape or disc). A film is stored on plastic film (or tape or disc) and is displayed on a screen. Various kinds of optical illusions have to occur for our eyes and brains to register what we see as continuous action like what we normally see around us: people talking, and so on. With a book, a different set of ‘imaginative illusions’ also allow us to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ in our minds the events described.

Our metaphor (film as text) means that in both cases, book and film, we can ‘read’ the story, both in the sense of taking it in as it goes along and in that of being able to hold ‘all’ of it in our minds, after taking it in, for evaluation, analysis and enjoyment…

The word ‘text’ comes from Latin and has to do with weaving. The idea is that there are several stories and ideas in a given book or film, usually associated with several people, and that these cross over each other and join to create something (in our minds) a bit like a weaving. The different strands seem to combine to make a ‘whole’ novel or movie, although we can still see and make out the different strands if we wish (without pulling the weaving apart)…

The first question also breaks simply into two more: the ‘story’ and the ‘about’. The first of these asks what kind of story this is, including what type or ‘genre’ of film this is, while the second asks what is the meaning, or theme, or ideology of the story….

The second question is about style, which may include cinematography, editing, sound, acting, costumes, and production design, also known as ‘mise-en-scene’: that is, everything ‘put into’ the scene. Most writers support their interpretation of the film by adducing examples from the style of the film, discussing ways in which the film-makers construct meaning out of its elements.

Rather than reading the book through, it is more likely that you will go to a film that interests you at the moment. I hope that in each case you will find a bright idea to assist with your own reading of the film, or a direction to take in further investigation, or perhaps confirmation of something you were already thinking yourself….

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