Writing About Form

I’ve just read probably one of my favourite reviewers ever (and author of one of the best books to have graced my measly life) Matt Zoller Setiz’s piece about writing about form when it comes to film and TV criticism — how it has become a sort of literary review in an audio visual world. I completely agree with what he said, and it kind of scared me because I’ve noticed I’ve been ignoring important shots, non-diegetic music, dress codes and mies-en-scene and not expanding on it enough because I, stupidly, thought people didn’t want to read about that stuff since most reviews of films I read never talk about this.

Well, TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ because I am going to take Seitz’s words and use my five years’ (and hopefully soon to be more) experience of being a film and media student in film analysis to learn to expand my reviews and make them feel more substantial, because, honestly, I do feel like a lot of my reviews (particularly Les Diaboliques) are quite superficial in the sense that they only focus on characters and plot.

Here is an extract from the piece that’ll hopefully make whatever person’s reading this (probably future me) (hi) want to read it because it is an important message.

We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don’t know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story’s attitude toward those characters. That’s a problem.

We have critics and viewers who can agree that a particular episode of a particular show ended in a “shocking” or “unsettling” way, but they don’t think about the role that, say, a jaggedly timed cut to black or atonal music cue might have played in provoking that reaction. That’s a problem.

We have critics who will praise a particular pop song as being the “perfect” accompaniment to a particular montage in a Scorsese movie or an episode of “Mad Men,” but then skip merrily along after that, never elucidating why the song was perfect: because of the tempo? The lyrics? The instrumentation? The way the strings complemented the swooping camera?

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