Studying Film with Different Film Theory Approaches - dummies

Studying Film with Different Film Theory Approaches

By James Cateridge

Part of Film Studies For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Film theory sometimes seems difficult and complicated, but fundamentally it’s a range of different tools that you can use to explain how film works. Following are a few of the most helpful theoretical methods used in film studies:

  • Auteur theory: The idea that the director is the single misunderstood artistic genius responsible for creating a movie, instead of the thousands of other people typically involved.

  • Cognitive theory: Using science such as neuroscience and psychology to help explain how audiences watch and understand films.

  • Deconstruction: Not simply dismantling films, but dismantling the ways you think about and interpret them.

  • Feminism: Study of film as an element of patriarchy, or structural male superiority over women. For example, the idea of the male gaze proposes that men control the ‘looks’ of cinema and women are present to be looked at.

  • Formalism: Focusing on the formal properties of film (such as editing or image composition) to understand how it’s different from other artistic media.

  • Ideological analysis: The notion that culture shapes how people think and behave. Ideological analysis seeks to expose the hidden politics of a film.

  • Post-colonialism: Analysing the impact or legacy of colonial power exerted over cultures or nations. In film studies, post-colonialism looks at films made by film-makers from countries colonised (or formerly colonised) by the West or at Western films that depict colonised nations.

  • Postmodernism: Period of critical theory claiming that the old big ideas have run out of juice, that high art and popular culture are now inseparable, and that images have become more real than reality.

  • Reception studies: Just asking film spectators what they’re thinking, rather than theorising about how they’re interacting with what they see on film.

  • Semiotics: The study of how film works like a language, using signs symbols and formal structures to convey meaning.

  • Structuralism: The idea that you can boil down popular cinema to key elements or structures. These function like modern-day mythology, or stories that people keep telling themselves to help them understand the world and to make themselves feel better.