Engl 230 Critical Analysis Essay (due in class or Friday December 4 by 4pm in my Brink 125 office or turn in to main office in Brink 200--late essays accepted no later than in class Thursday December 10): Your assignment is to write at minimum a 5-6 page (1,550-1650 word, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with one-inch margins) essay that presents an argument and analysis to explain how cinematic techniques work together to create meaning in a film—a film that you select from a list that I have compiled of 501 acclaimed films that vary by time period, culture, and genre.  See this highlighted weblink to the List Compilation of Top Films.

On the List Compilation of Top Films I have included some films in boldface that might be sound options for this assignment, but you may choose any film from the list, and I have noted as much as possible whether the film appears on the Sight & Sound list of all-time top films (with its ranking), or on other lists of top films (many of the films also are derived from the National Society of Film Critics's list of 100 Essential Films, as well as list of top ten films on the Criterion site, and whether the film is available streaming via your subscription to Hulu, or for those of you who have Netflix, whether it is on Netflix streaming, though I did not conduct a thorough search for whether films are on Netflix. The UI library also has a good number of these films in DVD-format, available for loan.

For example, here are some of the films on the list that you could consider, if you are seeking suggestions: ’71, 8 ½, Birdman, Blow-Up, Children of Men, Chinatown, City of God, Close-Up; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Deliverance, Do the Right Thing, Drive, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Ex Machina, Fresh, Her, Ida, Margaret, Mulholland Dr., Night of the Hunter, Pariah, Rachel Getting Married, Searching for Bobby Fischer, The Conformist, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Secret in Their Eyes; Two Days, One Night; Volver, Winter’s Bone.

This assignment is very much like the Sequence Analysis Essay and builds upon the “scaffolded” sequence of our film studies over the course of this semester.

For example, for this new assignment, please review and keep in view the following: in your prior sequence analysis essay, you analyzed a sequence of shots closely to explore and to explain how the mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing and sound design might be understood to work—to realize or produce—the significance of the film’s story and plot and thus arguably its primary aims, achievements, and effects. 

That is, the sequence analysis essay directed you to determine what argument or hypothesis you could make about the rhetorical aims of the sequence and the film—what the film as a work might be arguably seeking to achieve or do, including any problems that the film identifies and wants to address or resolve, or appeals that it seems to make its audience. Moreover, your essay aimed to understand how the sequence makes sense—how it has and creates meaning—because of its relation to other significant prior or subsequent parts of the film, as the film’s narrative story and plot unfold and perhaps arguably either cohere or work in contradiction. In other words, the sequence functions in its fullest significance and range of meaning(s) as it is understood to exist and as it is situated within the overall film and its contexts.

In this Critical Analysis Essay, you are to create an argument and conduct analysis that may include a focus on one or more shot sequences but which also moves beyond close analysis to understand the film’s overall narrative arc and its primary modes of representing and working through problems/questions—both cinematic as well as cultural/social problems and questions, and to consider to what degree the film seems to answer or resolve such questions.

Watch your selected film (repeatedly) and take notes. Pay attention to the primary issues/contradictions/conflicts explored in the film, its overall structure, and significant techniques used. Ask yourself the same kinds of questions that prompted and informed your Shot Analysis Chart and Sequence Analysis Essay, and review the guidelines for that assignment. For instance, does a particular color or lighting scheme dominate? If so, why? Is the narrative chronological or achronological? What effect does this arrangement have? Does the film engage with genre conventions? How and for what purpose? With whom do we identify? What effect does this have? What are the roles and relationships between characters who appear to be aligned with dominant cultural politics and ideologies, and as these characters are juxtaposed or connected to characters in subordinate or marginalized positions and identities? How are they shot and lit? What story and plot and action and performances are these characters embedded and embodied within? What patterns of familiar images and motifs help to structure the film?

Begin to formulate an argument. You might begin or in the course of exploring your essay develop a specific (hypo)thesis statement about how one or two particular cinematic techniques underscore one or more key issues/motifs (or problems/questions/conflicts) in the film. Or you might begin with the film’s story/narrative to see what you most want to focus upon in your interpretive argument, with analysis of cinematic techniques deployed to support and to illustrate your explanation and exploration. Your essay will most likely be strongest if you include some close cinematic analysis of one or more shot sequences, as you did in the prior sequence analysis essay. While some brief (plot) summary may be helpful, plan to avoid or minimize bare description so that you focus instead on writing an essay with well-developed and supported cinematic analysis and argument/interpretation.

If you select a film that we have studied in class, your analysis must go significantly beyond or take a different perspective on what we have studied already in class. Though you are not required to draw upon and incorporate criticism on the film that you are analyzing, if you happen to choose a film for which there is film analyses in our Bblearn materials/folders, feel invited to consider and to cite/quote such criticism to develop and to suppport your essay, and as points of reference and departure. And keep mind that for general as well as specific points about film studies, you may want to cite one or more passages in our primary text The Film Experience or other film studies/criticism excerpts (PDFs) from our course Bblearn folders--as mentioned above--to support and illustrate your analysis.

• Consider too the following advice excerpted from Timothy Corrigan’s A Short Guide to Writing about Film.

The critical essay usually falls between the theoretical essay and the movie review. The writer of this kind of essay presumes that his or her reader has seen or is at least familiar with the film under discussion, although that reader may not have thought extensively about it. This writer therefore might remind the reader of key themes and elements of the plot, but a lengthy retelling of the story of the film is neither needed nor acceptable. The focus of the essay is far more specific than that of a review, because the writer hopes to reveal subtleties or complexities that may have escaped viewers on the first or even the second viewing…

• As with the prior assignment, keep in mind (in view) your prior reading and the resources available via PDFs and video clips in the course website and Bblearn folders, including the many analyses of films. Also consult our primary text, Corrigan’s and White’s The Film Experience Chapter 12: Writing a  Film Essay, as well as the PDF excerpt from Gocsik et al Writing About Movies. As I mentioned in class, with students’ permission I also have placed examples of strong Shot Analysis Charts and Sequence Analysis Essays in the Bblearn folder for that prior assignment, for your review.

• You are invited to meet with me – Office hours: W 2:30pm-4:00 p.m. & by appt./Office: Brink 125