Film

Movies have had more time to develop than comic books.  Therefore have a longer tradition of storytelling.  Comics couldn't climb to the possible literature status until the 1980s with Watchmen, Sandman, Maus, and a few others.  Film had masterpieces in its ranks by 1925, just 22 years after the first narrative film.  The films Nosferatu, Metropolis, City Lights and Battleship Potempkin had all been released by 1925.

Movies communicate in several different languages, the most of any storytelling medium.  
"Movies synthesize many language systems simultaneously, bombarding the spectator with literally hundreds of symbolic ideas at the same time" (Giannetti 494).

Let's go back to Mise en Scene.  The technique uses staging and placement, framing and character proxemics to communicate various things.  Everything on the screen means something.  Not just what the screen shows, but everything in the frame; that includes what the viewer knows about everything in the frame.  The framing shows the relationship between the characters.  By manipulation of composition, a film can communicate mood, feeling, attitude or commentary.  Orson Welles was a master of placement and no better examples of Mise en Scene in film exist than in his Citizen Kane.  This shot to the left is similar to the shot from Rising Stars.  Kane stands over his mistress, Susan Alexander, drenching her in his shadow. It is a steep downward angle that accentuates her submissive position.



















In the screenshot to the right, follow the characters' eye lines and see that they lead to the focal points of the image, the paper, which contains the fate of young Charles Foster Kane.  As they decide the boy's fate, Charles plays outside, but is located between those responsible for his future.  The actors are motionless, but the boy is moving, drawing attention to himself.  He is located at the center of the scene and is the heart of the adults' discussion.  Also, the stark white paper, which contains the boy's fate, is aesthetically similar to the rectangular window encompassing Charles amidst bright snow.  These parallels suggest a relationship between the two (Ebert).

Film is one of the two media that use motion in the narration.  It is usually coherent--unless the director is Ridley Scott, then the camera work is an incomprehensible mess.  Prose cannot show motion, obviously.  Action scenes in novels require explanation to avoid confusing the reader, sometimes the amount borders on absurdity.  Comic books must exaggerate still images to suggest motion.  In reference to motion in comic books, Denny O'Neil has this to say,
"One of the most obvious beginners' mistakes is also one of the most common, that of asking the artist to draw two or more actions in a single panel.  Since that's impossible, it's not a good idea to ask your penciller to to do it.  [By] using speed lines and multi-image shots you can suggest movement and multiple actions but these devices are somewhat awkward, perhaps best used sparingly" (14).
Comic books are representations of action and motion.  That is why the artist chooses extreme angles in order to place emphasis on the motion.  Action moving from right to left in a comic works against how our American brains operate (left to right).  Comic book panels and pages must flow left to right, top to bottom; movies have no such limitation, though it can be taken advantage of.  Pirates of the Caribbean Actor Geoffrey Rush constantly moves to the left of the screen when competing for space with Keira Knightly because that is the dominant position on the screen.  He felt that no one would pay attention to him otherwise (Davenport).

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Two types of motion exist in film, "camera movement" and "on screen movement."  The camera (point of view) is moving and being directed for the viewer, changing focus or manipulating the angle while viewing.  A camera movement can change who is on the left of the screen by circling the actors, thus implying a switch in power without requiring the characters to move as they would have to on stage.  The camera can slowly lower its angle to imply whatever is happening on screen is growing in importance.   Characters can move from submissive positions to those of authority by changing the angle of the camera.  It can zoom in so far that a character appears entrapped by the frame of the movie.  In the 2002 film, The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack's hopes of marrying Gwendolen are dashed by her mother, Lady Bracknell. (left, begin at 5min 30secs).  As they argue and Jack's hopes grow slimmer, the camera pulls away from Lady Bracknell.  When the shot changes to Jack, the camera likewise pulls away, creating the impression of distance growing between them, though neither actor moves.  This technique exists  only in film (or simulated film, such as machinima).  A comic book can attempt it, but it comes across as choppy or inferior to other techniques.  Nothing even compares in prose.

Movies us photography to communicate messages subliminally.  Each shot can be observed and felt because of its different aspects.  These include the camera's positional relationship to the subject matter: medium shots, wide shots, close-ups, crane shots, steep-angle shots, and long shots; it can focus on one thing, which makes the subject matter more apparent, or it can keep everything in focus (deep focus).  The shot to the right from Days of Heaven uses only natural light during dusk to accentuate the serenity.  In fact, all exterior shots in the film were shot without filters and during either dawn or dusk, what filmmakers call the "magic hour."

Editing in film functions in a way that is similar to other storytelling media, cutting out unnecessary information, but it also juxtaposes shots with creative transitions that imply a relationship between the shots.  Comic books have something similar between panels and from the bottom of one page to the top of another.

Sound is a very important advantage for film.  Music heightens suspense or charges emotions.  Sound can startle a viewer, raise his curiosity, draw him into the reality of the scene.  The score can change tempo to accompany the scene and parallel the visual.  Eighty percent of Star Wars' running length has music accompaniment.  Music an wash over montages.  In Dick Tracy, Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) has just learned of Tracy being framed for murder.  Tracy is taken off the force and placed in a jail cell.  Madonna sings "Back in Business" while footage of Big Boy's lackeys commit robber and extortion.  Tracy's desk is empty and Big Boy rakes stacks of money toward him.  Big Boy goes from broke to rich in just a couple of minutes.

Acting may be film's greatest asset.  No other medium from storytelling has the potential for such a connection to a character.  Of course, bad acting can mar a good film.  In The Godfather: Part III Sophia Coppola was so terrible that the movie was unwatchable while she was on onscreen.  On the other hand, an actor can have a profound effect on audience sympathy.  See Sean Penn in Mystic River and Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York.  Both are disreputable characters that the actors play so effectively that the audience feels bad for them and even kind of likes them.


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