4. A Critical Evaluation of Media

Part one: WRITING A CRITICAL ESSAY

When you write critical essays on literature ( prose (short stories and novels), plays and poetry), you take your evidence from the whole text not just the dialogue (talking). For example: in plays two levels of language are used:

1. The words spoken by the characters in the play

2. The stage directions.

In the play called ‘Paper Tigers’  by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore.         

Scene 1                                                                       

Inside the back room of the paper shop. Mr Ali is checking through some magazines and numbering them. He puts some of the magazines into the paper round shoulder bags. He hums to himself.

Gareth enters the room. He looks around nervously.

Gareth  Er…hello

 Mr Ali turns quickly and stares at Gareth.

Gareth  Er…there was no one in the shop, and I heard you hummin’ in here…

Mr Ali  I didn’t hear the bell.

Gareth  Perhaps it’s not working.

Mr Ali  (relaxing a little) Perhaps not. What can I do for you?

Gareth You are Mr Ali, aren’t you?

Mr Ali   I am. And you?

Gareth (confusedly) No, I’m not Mr Ali…oh I see! Sorry! I’m Gareth. Gareth Davies. I’ve come about the job. On the window outside. The paper round job

I have written the stage directions in pink and the dialogue in blue so you can clearly see them. You could use both the dialogue and the stage directions in your answer.

For example: In the stage directions, the playwrights (Barlow and Skidmore if you prefer), show how shy Gareth is about asking for a job when he ‘looks around nervously’ upon entering  the papershop. This is further expemplified when Mr Ali says ‘I am. And you?’ and Gareth ‘confusedly’ thinks Mr Ali is asking him if he too is Mr Ali. Both emphasise how anxious Gareth is about doing something he has not experienced before.

Part two: WRITING A CRITICAL ESSAY FOR FILM

For movies it is exactly the same. You have to use the whole of the text (and films are a text in the same way literature is). This means you have to write about cinematography (camera angles, shots and movement), mise-en-scene (see this post for a breakdown of the elements), sound (diegetic or non-diegetic) and symbolism amongst others.

Introduction:

Using your notes write an introduction in which you:

  • Mention the titledirector/writer, year of release, where it  was set.
  • Clarify what the genre is (dystopian)
  • Name and briefly describe the main protagonist in a single sentence.
  • Provide a plot summary (3-4 lines).
  • Refer to the question

Do not write openings such as ‘I am going to talk about…’

Always write in the third person in a CEL

EXAMPLE: ‘The director, Gary Ross, uses many film techniques to convey the themes of…’(only write the themes in the introduction that you are analysing in your essay). ‘The Hunger Games’ is an American science fiction film set in the futuristic, dystopian society of Panem.

Once you have completed your introduction you will move on to do at least five analysis paragraphs.

An example of a CEM introduction using the film ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ (1984)

Tip: It is better to write all numbers  in full such as District Twelve as it looks better in an essay.

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a British dystopian film released in 1984. It was written and directed by Michael Radford, based upon George Orwell’s novel of the same name. The film follows the life of Winston Smith in Oceania, a country run by a totalitarian government. In dystopian ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’, Winston Smith endures a squalid existence in the totalitarian superstate of Oceania under the constant surveillance of the Thought Police. The story takes place in London the capital city of the territory Airstrip One (formerly Britain). Winston works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history in accordance with the dictates of the party and its extreme figurehead Big Brother. Using key film techniques such as: cinematography, mise-en-scene and symbolism, this essay will explore the themes of surveillance, sexual repression and oppression.

Title, genre,year of releasewriter/director/adaptation, summary (including the information required to give a background to your essay 3-4 lines ONLY), refer to question and say what themes and techniques you are going to look at.

These are the SIX  things you HAVE to include in your introduction.

Analysis paragraphs:

You may have used the PEE structure before in your analysis of literature, however, I prefer to use PEAR which is an acronym for POINT, EVIDENCE, ANALYSIS and REFER BACK, because it includes a reminder that each paragraph must refer back to the original question. Your analysis in each paragraph has to be answering the same question all the way through. To ensure that the marker knows you are answering the question you have to mention the key words (or words that mean the same) of the question in the POINT and REFER BACK stages of your paragraph.

Below is an example of how to use the PEAR structure. Each element of the structure is colour coded to make it more distinguishable. To make it easier for you, I have included a template for you to structure your paragraph:

Template for critical essay using the PEAR structure

Template for critical essay analysis for multiple paragraphs. Once you have mastered the structure, you can use this template to structure all of the analysis paragraphs of your essay

PEAR

POINT

This is your topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. In the topic sentence you must introduce the main idea of the paragraph. For a critical essay that would be the point you are about to make to answer the question (each paragraph is about answering the same question). It must contain the technique you are looking at (for example  Aerial shot) and how this technique  (highlights their vulnerability) emphasises the theme (to emphasise the theme of oppression).

Example: In ‘The Hunger Games’ the director employs sound to convey (try to use different words for each topic sentence)  the theme of oppression to the audience. As the children walk  towards ‘The Reaping’, there is an ominous, non-diegetic, sound in the background that echoes the sound of a bell tolling. The sound of a bell tolling is symbolic of death and is often heard when someone has died. The director uses an aerial shot showing the children walking  to further convey the theme of oppression. An aerial shot makes the character look small therefore it makes them appear vulnerable. The ominous sound coupled with the aerial shot of the children, makes them appear like animals being herded which echoes the saying  ‘lambs to the slaughter’. This treatment of the children of District 12, where they are forced to attend The Reaping so that  two can be chosen for The Hunger Games, reinforces the theme of oppression as it highlights their  inhumane treatment by the Capitol. 

EVIDENCE

The evidence has to be taken directly from the text. It is not enough just to make a point, you have to prove it! For literature you would just take the words (either dialogue or discription) and put them inside quotation marks, like this: ‘I am. And you?’. You can also do this in film, however, it is not enough! For film you have to use film language (cinematography, mise-en-scene, sound, dialogue and symbolism). The examples I have given will show you how to do this.

ANALYSIS

You have to take that evidence one step further! You have to explain exactly what effect it is having.

What the connotations are  (this is a fancy word that means the emotional attachment of the word to you. For example:

Denotation is the definition of a word.  For example, a cat is a furry animal with four legs and a tail.
The connotation is what you think of when you hear that word.  For example, some people think of how cute cats are and their first cats, etc…some people hate cats, and that’s what they think of when they hear the word.  Here’s another example: thin and scrawny.  Which one has the more positive connotation?  Thin.  Scrawny sounds like a malnourished and ugly thing to be, but thin sounds attractive and positive.

Look at my analysis of ‘Happy Hunger Games’ (that Effie and President Snow use in the film – and Katniss and Gale make fun of)

‘Welcome, welcome, welcome…Happy Hunger Games!’ This echoes the saying ‘Happy Holidays’ (that Americans say a lot!). It is a complete clash of words (or oxymoron, if you want the correct term) as Happy mean to be joyful whilst the and the Hunger Games mean pain, death and suffering.

An oxymoron is when two words, that clash or contrast in meaning, are next to each other like black ice, red snow or cruel kindness.

REFER BACK

Once you have made your POINT , given EVIDENCE and shown what that means through your ANALYSIS of that evidence, you must  REFER BACK to the question. How else is the marker to know that you are answering the question and not just showing your knowledge of the text?

Example: This treatment of the children of District 12, where they are forced to attend The Reaping so that two can be chosen for The Hunger Games, reinforces the theme of oppression as it highlights their  inhumane treatment by the Capitol.

This is a word doc that gives further examples of topic sentences and different verbs that can be used. verb-for-topic-sentences

An example of the PEAR structure used to analyse ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’

Example paragraph 1

From this clip of the film

In Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the government, called The Party, uses propaganda to control the people and keep them oppressed. The Party pretends that Oceania is continually fighting a war to keep the people focused on whether they are winning or losing, rather than how terrible their living conditions are. The director highlights the use of propaganda by showing a telescreen broadcast where a close-up shot of a newsreader

(which could be considered an extreme close-up since the top and bottom of his head is cut off) talking about the atrocities of war ‘They have attacked an unarmed village with rocket bombs…and murdered defenseless, innocent…and peaceful citizens of Oceania.This is no longer war. This is cold-blooded murder. Until now, the war has been conducted with honour…and bravery…with the ideals of truth and justice,in the best traditions of mankind…until this moment. Brothers and sisters…’The use of the words ‘innocent’, ‘unarmed’,and ‘defenseless’ all have connotations of the upright, virtuous  people who are brutally murdered by a foreign enemy of Oceania. The Party uses this as a method of controlling the society and keeping them oppressed. They have to constantly worry about the external threat from a foreign nation which prevents them from thinking about how they are being treated as a society. It is The Party who are causing the bombings, which occur when the people need reminding that The Party looking after and protect them. Also, the mannerisms of the newsreader appear sinister, he is speaking in an indignant angry tone of voice, but the words ‘ideals of truth and justice’ clash with the way the people in Oceania are treated by The Party. There is no truth or justice in society since the Party decides everything and rewrites history. The newsreaders’ expression becomes even more sinister and angry as towards the end he begins to chant ‘Death! Death!’ which echoes what will happen to all those who disobey the authority of The Party and signifies the ultimate oppression suffered by the people.

Usually, you will have to include more than one piece of evidence that is related to the same point. I have shown here how you can do so.

Conclusion

Once you have completed your introduction and analysis paragraphs, it is important that you write a conclusion to your critical essay.

This is the final paragraph where you discuss how the director, Gary Ross, uses various film techniques to convey the themes in the film ‘The Hunger Games’ (list what techniques you have used in your essay overall. For example: sound, setting, camera angles/shots/movement, editing, colour etc).

The conclusion repeats some of the information from the introduction such as: the key words of the task, the director’s name, the title of the film and then go on to discuss how the film as a whole, conveys the themes you have discussed in your essay. You summarise your main arguments and say how they, as a whole, answer your question.

Dialogue

You can use dialogue from the film as evidence but it is important that you use other techniques as well.

This is a good website, which I think, has all the dialogue from the film 🙂

From the opening section of the film:

‘From the treaty of the treason: In penance for their uprising, each district shall offer up a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 at a public “Reaping.” These Tributes shall be delivered to the custody of the Capitol. And then transferred to a public arena where they will Fight to the Death until a lone victor remains. Henceforth and forevermore this pageant shall be known as The Hunger Games.’ ….

Please, either leave a comment, or see me at school if any of this is confusing.

3. Mise-en-scene

Mise-en-scene is the composition of what is seen on screen.  Everything a director lets us see on screen is important, it’s there for a reason.

When looking at mise-en-scene you must look at:

Setting
• props
• Costume
• positioning
•camera angles
• lighting
• facial expression
Extract from above link:

The two elements of film form essential to make this adaptation work are mise-en-scene (the overall look and feel of a film) that lives up to the exotic locations in the novel and a plot that is able to explain hundreds of pages of a narrative told from the first-person account of Katniss. “The Hunger Games” gets one of them right. The mise-en-scene more than lives up to expectations, utilizing color, set design and costumes to the fullest extent. Screenplay writers Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray did their best to fit everything from the novel into a little over two hours, but unless you’ve read the book you might find yourself a bit confused at times.

There are three main locations integral to the story — the coal mining district where Katniss resides; The Capitol, filled with the rich and powerful; and the arena that hosts the Hunger Games. District 12 is decorated in despair, dressed in flat shades of blue and gray. The Capitol is a sea of vibrant colors and exorbitant architecture. The wooded outdoor arena where the games are held are deep hues of green and brown. They clearly delineate the stark contrast between the haves of The Capitol and have-nots in the districts. Ross takes it a step further, using a somewhat distracting cinematography style in District 12 that features shaky handheld camera work and mostly short takes and quick cuts. I get that he was trying to build tension felt by the district residents, but I think it serves as more of a distraction.

How do the people from the districts look compared  to the people from the capitol?

             

COLOUR  is an important aspect of Mise-en-scene

film techniques lesson 3 This ppt is part of the lesson that we were going to do but technology failed and we looked at the mise-en-scene in ‘The Woman in Black’ instead.

Look at the difference of colour used in the movie Twilight. Yes I know most of you probably hate it but it does have a useful use of colour!How does colour help convey the different moods in the movie?

Red conveys a sense of danger

The yellow tones convey a sense of homely warmth.

    

The white gives an impression of purity and innocence.

  

The blue tone gives a sense of coldness to the scene.

  

Black gives an impression of evil.

If black suggest evil and white suggests innocence, what does this picture suggest?

2. Editing

Film Editing

Editing is one of the most important aspects of filming. Click on the link to understand why. Fast and slow editing . This clip also shows how a single shot, without any editing, can be very boring.

The film editor works with the raw footage  selecting shots and combining them into sequences to create a finished motion picture. Before digital cameras, this used to be done with film that had to be cut and then joined together. This meant that editing was both expensive, and time consuming. Digital cameras have not only brought about a reduction in cost, but allowed amateurs to produce film with little experience in the production industry.

THE ORIGINS OF MOVIE MAGIC

The very first films in the late 1800s, made by the Lumiere Bros. and Thomas Edison among others, were single-shot actualities: a train pulling into a station, people leaving a factory, ladies walking down the street. The camera was locked in place. It recorded, in its entirety, the “event” taking place. It was the magic of capturing movement that captivated audiences. Editing was originally called “cutting,” as it actually was the cutting together of two pieces of film. “Cutters” held the strips of film up to the light and cut them with scissors, cementing the two pieces together at the desired point.

It was no coincidence that several early filmmakers performed as magicians. The jump cut, a deliberate mismatching of two scenes, evolved into the first “special effect” of movies and was probably discovered by accident. Within the same scene, an actor could be made to “disappear” by stopping the camera, removing the actor, and resuming the scene without moving the camera. George Méliès, a Parisian magician, produced dozens of elaborate “trick” films using this effect as one of his primary marvels. Click here for more on this topic

THE JUMP CUT IN ‘THE HUNGER GAMES’

(Gif images click on them)

     

At the beginning of ‘The Hunger Games’ there is a sudden jump cut. Seneca Crane is being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman in the build up to the 75th Hunger Games. Caesar asks Seneca the question: ‘What defines your personal signature?

The scene suddenly cuts to Prim screaming in District 12 and then being comforted by her sister Katniss. What does this sudden jump cut do to the audience? And what is the director saying by using a jump cut in this way?

THE TERMINOLOGY (what things are called!)

Film editing terminolgy from this website

Some of the terminology that a film editor uses includes:
Close-up (CU): A shot showing a detail only (ex., face only or hands only).
Cross-cutting: Cutting back and forth between two or more events or actions that are taking place at the same time but in different places. Cross-cutting is used to build suspense or to show how different pieces of the action are related.
Cut: An abrupt transition from one shot to another.
Cutaways: A cut away from the primary subject to something the filmmaker has decided is equally or more relevant at that time. Often cutaways consist of shots showing the reaction of one character to another. This is often used to compress time in what appears to be a seamless manner.
Dissolve: An overlapping transition between scenes where one image fades out as another fades in. Editors often use this to indicate a change in time and/or location.
Establishing Shot: A shot, usually taken from a distance, which establishes for the viewer where the action is to occur and the spatial relationship of the characters and their setting.
Extreme Close-Up (ECU): A detail of a close-up (eyes or mouth only, etc.). Fade In: A shot that starts in darkness and gradually lightens to full exposure.
Fade Out: A shot that starts at full exposure and gradually fades to black.
Freeze-Frame: At a chosen point in a scene, a particular frame is printed repeatedly, given the effect of halting or “freezing” the action.
Jump Cut: A cut where two spliced shots do not match in terms of time or place. A jump cut gives the effect that the camera is literally jumping around.
Long Shot (LS): A shot taken at a considerable distance from the subject. A long shot of a person is one in which the entire body is in frame.
Medium Shot (MS): A shot framing a subject at a medium range, usually a shot from the waist up.
Reverse cutting: A technique alternating over-the-shoulder shots showing different characters speaking. This is generally used in conversation scenes.
Sequence Shot: An entire scene or sequence that is one continuous camera shot. There is no editing.

HOW MEANING IS CREATED

In the editing process, the editor does not usually attempt to create an exact record of what happened as viewed through the eyes of one character. Rather, the editor—in collaboration with the director and in keeping with the vision of the writer—must “translate” the events of each scene into the most effective images, placing each one in the order and length most appropriate to telling the story. Timing is indeed everything for the editor.

One approach to editing is continuity. Continuity editing generally presents the action in a logical, chronological sequence. Even though the time and space of a sequence may be manipulated, it has the appearance of “real” time to the viewer. A long shot of a person sitting down is “matched” to a close-up of the person sitting down into the frame. In essence, the editor is focusing in on the scene in much the same manner as the human eye—jumping from place to place, farther or closer. In actuality, the action appears more natural if two or three frames of film are deleted by the editor at the splice. Click here for more on this topic

1. Hello 4th years

This blog is to give you additional information to support your preparation for your critical essay on ‘The Hunger Games’. I will post the work we do in class as and when we do it.

We have already watched the movie in class but it is a good idea, if possible,  for you to get your own copy of the movie. Then you can use the techniques we learn in class to enhance your knowledge of the text. Get a closer look at the opening .This is a good website that has lots of information on the film.

Look at the Hob, District 12’s illegal market. In the film we see old radios and buttons. What would the people from the Capitol think about these objects? Look at the mise-en-scene:colour, setting, mannerism, props…how do they compare to the mise-en-scene in the Capitol?

What can we tell about the treatment of the people from District 12 by looking at the facial features, actions and mannerisms of people like this woman from the Hob?

What impression does this aerial shot convey?

What impression do we get from the people that live in The Seam, where Katniss lives? How are they treated differently to the people in The Capitol?

What does this symbolise?

Look at the scenery in The Seam. What impression does it give us?

What impression do we get from The Reaping? How does this compare to other historical figures such Hitler’s regime, the communist regime and other oppressive societies? Who do the Peace Keepers remind you of?