Cinema Studies: Book Reviews Monaco, J. ) Book Review

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Cinema Studies: Book Reviews

Monaco, J. (2000). How to read a film, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press.

James Monaco's seminal cinema studies text, How to Read Film, is currently in its third edition. The 2000 release provides a perspective on the study and criticism of film that is broad, sweeping and rather lofty in its aim to draw connections between this medium and patterns or cycles in culture. The author is largely successful in this, though at times the text's discourse does stray to sociological tangents which tend to cause something of a mild irritation in the read driven exclusively for a more direct introduction to film. However, to demand this may be somewhat to overlook the purpose of the Monaco text, which is to offer a wide angle lens (pun intended) through which to consider the value possible in 'reading film.' It seems that Monaco's purpose, suggestible in his lengthy meditation on classical epistemology as per the traditions of the Greeks and Romans, is to provide something of a similarly academic framework for film as those which existed for understanding categories such as literature and still visual expression.

When one wades through these arguments, it is rewarding to find a clear recognition of the aspects of media which have been altered across recent decades. Ultimately, his refined attention technological and cultural changes impacting film in this space of time justifies the publication of this update.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Book Review on Cinema Studies: Book Reviews Monaco, J. (2000). Assignment

Indeed, much to this point, Monaco notes that certain presumptions which helped to drive the original version of his text were by this juncture disproved by the flux of politics, culture and social orientation, helping to provide foundation for the text's grand and ambitious effort at defining culture according to a discussion on film. Speaking on his first edition of the text, Monaco recalls that at that juncture, "it seemed safe to assume that as abstraction and reductionism faded away, the political dimension of art -- its social nature -- would increase in importance." (Monaco, 4) He concedes however, as somewhat of a lead-in to our understanding of how film and culture -- indeed how media and culture -- and deeply interwoven. Of his prior assumption, Monaco concedes that the modern era and the new millennium have delivered on quite a contrary promise. He notes that "instead, most of the arts, film chief among them, have settled down into a period of commercial calm. There is an evident increase in the political and social quotient of most contemporary arts: you can see it in the increasing prevalence of television docudramas and reality-based programming." (Monaco, 4)

Again, one of the more useful aspects of the Monaco text, which is based on a work originally published in 1977, is its updated understanding of the subjects which it sets out to explore. A corollary to the cultural and economic conditions which the author acknowledges above, the pressing matter of recognizing the changes to the film media created by its integration with new technologies forces a careful reconsideration of the way that we understand and address film, its meaning and its context. As Monaco suggests, given the increased relevance of such communicational contexts as wireless telecomm devices and mobile internet access to the way that we engage our films, "from now on... broadcast and wired transmission must be considered as part of the same industry. The competition between the two technologies will provide much business-page drama in the early years of the twenty-first century." (Monaco, 78) in many regards, this is already proving to be the case, with movie theatres often facing stiff competition in the face of portable handheld devices and material pirated from internet digital file trading forums.

Speaking in terms that are fully separate from the economic implications of this circumstance, we can identify a core challenge to the way that film has historically been created, received and understood. For the parties involved on all sides, it has been traditional to understand film-watching as an event in which the senses are fully occupied and engaged. The theatrical context and its implied level of demanded personal attentiveness suggests a way of reading film that is at once enveloping and transporting to the viewer.

The far more temporal nature which has been foisted upon the experience of film-watching which Monaco describes here above can tend, without offering value judgments as to the likely diminished quality of an experience such as this, can have the impact of making a film seem or feel less weighty, important or enveloping. The concept of viewing a film on a handheld media device, for example, reduced the screen and the viewing experience in such a way that the film must inherently be seen as just that. it's capacity to draw the viewer into a world where borders between screen and theatre fade to peripheral obscurity is deeply challenged by the rendering of film as a small object within a totally visible viewing context. To state it plainly, Monaco acknowledges that such changes have had a direct impact on the way that films are now made, with commercial interests and adaptability to changing media dominating a discourse which Monaco once predicted would become only increasingly more insightful and remarkable in its capacity to transport.

Today, the text finds, we must read films in less grandiose a fashion, with those expectations reserved not jut for cinema but more exclusively for the experience of cinema in the traditional sense. Short of that, the escapism and fantasy available to us in cinema are increasingly rarified. Perhaps, to this extent, the greatest value in Monaco's work is its presentation of a disciplines framework through which to seek out these experiences.

Review: Braudy, L. & Cohen, M. (2004). Film Theory and Criticism, 6th ed. Oxford University Press.

The Braudy & Cohen text, Film Theory and Criticism, is consistent with the tradition of text in the cinematic discipline. A distinctly scholastic reflection on the historical dialogue of the 'language of film,' this is a standard and effective primer on the evolution of technical approaches, theoretical understanding and artistic pursuit across the first decade of film's evolution. There is a distinctive value in the text for its ethno-inclusiveness, providing an introductory discussion which brings American, Russian and European filmmakers together into an exploration of film not just as an internal cultural device but as a universal means of documenting moments and sentiments in human history. In this regard, Braudy & Cohen enter the undertaking of this text with a traditional intent and an otherwise markedly grand theoretical approach.

That stated, Film Theory tends toward that dangerous ground often tread by cinematic discourse, which in its exhaustive theoretical remarks and its posing of critics and theorists against one another, becomes dry and tedious even as it approaches a rich and nuanced subject. The opening dialogue finds the authors remarking on the question of film as a 'language.' Through its history, they note, film has been regarded as something of an anomaly in terms of its expressive meaning. As they observe, "because films embody, communicate, enforce, and suggest meanings, film theorists often suggested that film constitutes a language, a 'visual Esperanto.' They have spoken of film's grammar, its vocabulary, and even of its jargon." (Braudy & Cohen, 1) We take this to mean that film's meaning is couched in certain conceits of the form which have been altered over time through the change and/or refinement in technology as well as through varying shifts in the theoretical outlook and cultural zeitgeist within which a school of filmdom may have persisted.

And certainly, in its consideration of the relationship between 'words' and 'shots,' the text does provide a useful formula for examining the building blocks which create this unique expressive language.

Moreover, by placing into conversation with one another such historically important figures in the technique and criticism of film such as Griffith, Eisenstein, Goddard and Metz, Braudy & Cohen ultimately succeed in establishing the sequence by which these building blocks could ultimately justify the acceptance of film as its own unique linguistic form. Usefully described in one part of this discussion as a coded way of providing meaning, the language of film is revealed in this provided history as deceptively accessible. The process and degree of thought which are dedicated to conveying an automatic message depend heavily on an understanding of how viewers perceive and accept aspects of the world created both within a film and within the context of its viewing. In bringing about consideration of this point, the Braudy & Cohen text can serve to be remarkably insightful.

That stated, the approach to this conclusion is a meandering and lengthy one, driven by a set of complimentary but sometimes overly-indulgent pieces by noted critics of film. Indeed, some of the tangents upon which we are taken by this collection are quite worthwhile. Among them, the whole segment entitled 'Film and Reality' is perhaps most fascinating, providing a unified exploration of the application of this language to something notably abstract. Such chapters… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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