Thursday, October 23, 2014

How Close Reading Applies to Cinema

by Edoardo Tarkovsky

In talking about close reading, we have thoroughly talked about writing and “voice”, the unique style that a writer can have. A truly competent writer has a grasp on precision of language; he can manipulate words at his disposal to make a reader feel a certain way. This is the work of an artist. In class, we talked about how much a writer can convey to a reader simply through the length of his sentences. There is a certain flow that an effective writer can bring to a paragraph. Writing is like its own language that can be interpreted and analyzed in countless ways.

The same is true of film. We can apply close reading to movies as much as we can to writing. In class, we watched the iconic crop duster scene from Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest. We saw how much could be conveyed with just simply the length of each shot. In this scene, the cuts between the shots happen faster and faster as the climax approaches. As these cuts happen, the tension in the audience is built up; its effect is that it makes our hearts race increasingly as the speed of the cuts gets faster. This is just one example of close reading a scene in film.

The films of any great director are packed with different forms of cinematography and editing that conveys different feelings. Many times, the average audience overlooks these complexities in film. This is evident when I watch a film with a non-cinemaphile friend, and ask them what they liked or disliked about it. Usually, the answer is centered around the story and plot of the film we just watched, rather than what makes it viscerally or visually interesting. Usually, after a discussion of story and plot with this non-cinemaphile friend, I’ll ask them, “So what did you think about the film’s cinematography?” The answer I get is almost always, “Oh, I don’t pay attention to that.”

I think this is an interesting phenomenon. Many people who watch a film and enjoy it will not be able to explain what it is that made it effective as a film. This is the same thing as people who don’t have a taste for the use of language in writing. Close reading in these two forms of media, in this sense, is very similar.

This is what close reading is really all about. It is about analyzing texts and being a smart reader.  This exact same idea can be applied perfectly to cinema, just as much so as to reading. This is important because the authenticity of film as an art form has always been questioned; it is often thought of as a lesser form of art than other, more “sophisticated” mediums. A closer reading shows that film can be as sophisticated as English literature. The crop duster scene in North by Northwest is only a very small example of what film does with audiences.

I guess the goal with writing about close reading for me is to open up a world of reading to the uninitiated that they’ve never seen before. As one who highly values film and cinematography, I see the potential in close reading film. The general public can watch movies so much more differently than they do right now.


  1. You did a pretty good job on this.

  2. Edoardo- nice work. As a fellow lover of film, I definitely identify with your experience of others not appreciating the finer details of film generally and often outright dismissing movies that have value, even if the plot/characters/etc. are not engaging. Appreciating more about film makes film watching more enjoyable (not to mention worthwhile and enlightening). Keep watching and reading closely.

  3. Wow. I think I've found someone as obsessed with film as I am. Sweet post!