How To Read A Movie? I Thought You Were Just Supposed To Watch Them!

“Everything worth noticing on the screen will eventually be seen by somebody.” – Roger Ebert

When watching a movie, no matter what movie and whether it is Oscar-worthy or not, it will contain the elements that are discussed in Roger Ebert’s article “How to read a movie.” With that being said, whether you can point them out and understand their significance will be important when trying to grasp the meaning of a scene. One key point the Ebert made that stuck out to me was that there are no concrete rules that a filmmaker has to follow when creating a movie, and “To “violate” them can be as meaningful as to “follow” them” (Ebert). Additionally, I think that that idea is good to follow when creating films because when people try to stick very closely to the way things are supposed to be done, the film can lose its originality and emotion.

Throughout Ebert’s article, he focuses a lot on the “positive” and “negative” positions of a character in a film. He puts those words in quotations because they are not absolutes, but in filmmaking, the person located on the left will be seen as more “negative,” whereas the person on the right will be looked in a more dominant light, ergo “positive.” Additionally, Ebert mentions that even in other films from different cultures that read right to left, this same technique of “positive” and “negative” positioning occurs. It was interesting to me how the positioning of a character can elicit different emotions and convey to the audience what the character might be thinking without words being spoken. All in all, the main piece of advice that I took away from Ebert was to always follow through with your instincts, emotion, and to intertwine them into your strategy rather than following the rules.

Following Ebert’s article, I watched an interview with Alfred Hitchcock discussing how the assembly of a film can alter what the audience might think of a character. Hitchcock uses the example of a man who is smiling at a mother holding her child which would draw the audience to conclude that he is a kind and nurturing man. Although, when Hitchcock takes that same man who is expressing the same emotion that he did when looking at the woman with a child and inserts a girl wearing a bikini, the man is viewed as being perverted. With that being said, Hitchcock reveals that if we can read the movie well enough, then we can connect basic emotions between the two examples, and infer the same ideas of what type of character that man has. Also, the notion that a film can evoke feelings from the characters onto the audience is what makes a film so important, in the sense that it can convey a message without words.

Next, I looked at a video displaying Stanley Kubrick’s use of a One-Point Perspective in his films. I already had background knowledge of what one-point perspective was from an art history class I took in the fall and from watching many of Kubrick’s films. Although, one thing that I enjoyed about this video was that it overlapped the frame that is typically used to achieve this particular perspective. Another aspect of one-point perspective that I appreciate, and especially when it is used in Kubrick’s films, is that everything is symmetrically surrounding the focal point of where the audience is supposed to be looking by drawing them exactly where to look. Overall, I feel that this technique is useful in film because it manipulates the audience’s viewpoint and emphasizes the focal point of a scene.


Moving forward, I watched a video containing various examples of editing techniques such as jump cuts, form cuts, flash cuts, fast motion, and freezeframe. The ones that I enjoyed the most were flash cuts and freezeframe because they seemed to be the ones that I was more familiar with from seeing them in music videos and movies. Mainly I recognized freezeframes from the end of an 80’s movie, or if you remember “High School Musical” movie posters, and how they make you pause to take the moment in. Also, freezeframes can extend the emotion that is being transpired for a longer period time which allows the audience to think about its importance. On the other hand, I liked flash cuts as well because when used in a music video it can follow the beat of the song to change the frame which makes the video to be more dynamic. All in all, these techniques gave me a different perspective of how videos can be edited in different ways that deliver the message or emotion the audience is supposed to be experiencing.

Overall, I enjoyed learning how to read a film and different editing techniques that now will allow me to have a new understanding of the way certain scenes are shot, and more importantly…why.

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