It’s not film studies, it’s film appreciation.

Film techniques and skills get lost in the jargon that people see in the movies but cannot place their tongue on what they just saw. Terminology is what it is: a study of terms used in a particular field. With a greater grasp of the terms film professionals use, one can easily decode the subtler points of a movie and begin to appreciate a film maker’s work. Bernard Dick provides a concise text which gives film viewers an accessible source to understanding techniques used to convey its message to them. I have found some of those techniques in many of the films I have watched, but never noticed the first time around.

Subjective camera

Dick defines this shooting technique as the “shot [which] represents what the character sees.” (pg.56) In more practical terms, this is the character’s perspective being viewed by the camera onto the screen. This sometimes forces the viewer to think about what the character is thinking, adding suspense to a horror scene or focusing on a particular object the character will grab. It limits the knowledge a viewer receives to call attention to a more important detail. In action movies, that detail might be seemingly overwhelming odds against the hero. This is depicted in The Avengers trailer from 1:30 to 1:52.

The trailer builds up with several dramatic fight scenes and music, culminating to a solo flight by the iconic Iron Man. The viewer goes along with the ride to watch him shoot down endless numbers of aliens which are ultimately too much for him to handle. This helplessness only adds to the overlying theme of the movie, which is the urgency for the heroes to unite and defeat the alien army.

Associative montage

When several scenes are linked by a common object or series of objects, the collective portion of the film is called an associative montage. A viewer can observe this technique by spotting the item which appears frequently in a short period of time. An associative montage sets the theme more clearly by reshowing an important object and shouting, “I’m important!” to the viewer. When used effectively, it ties events together and sometimes compresses time in a seamless manner. Hayao Miyazaki uses this technique masterly by animating a paper airplane going through many periods of the main character’s life in The Wind Rises.

The main character, who folded the paper airplane at 0:30, is directly linked to the creation of the Mitsubishi Zero air fighter. The plane ties his encounter with his love interest, career, and subsequent involvement in the war. Miyazaki compresses several decades of his life through this technique, even leaving his characters seemingly ageless through the animation.

Form cut

As described by Dick, a form cut is “a cut from one object to another that is similarly shaped.” (pg. 70) This kind of cut uses objects with similar outlines to blend two scenes together, either to tie them together or to change settings more smoothly. Miyazaki uses this cut in conjunction with associative montage to connect the paper airplane in his personal life to the Zero airplane in his professional career.

The paper airplane models the shape of the Zero airplane, and the two exchange places in adjacent scenes.

The paper airplane models the shape of the Zero airplane, and the two exchange places in adjacent scenes.

In multiple parts of the trailer, the paper airplane and the Zero airplane exchange places, signalling a change in setting and mood. This is found most clearly from 2:40 to 3:30. While animation makes it easier to craft scenes that blend one object into another, this technique requires skill to incorporate it into the film for the viewer to associate the many scenes together. Great film makers use multiple techniques to convey their message, and knowledge of those skills allows us to appreciate their work.

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