Formal Film Analysis: An Analytical Tool
Formal film analysis is more than ultimately deciding whether a film is “good” or “bad.” Formal film analysis involves, as Andre Bazin has explained it, assessing how a filmmaker expresses his or her message, rather than just listing what happens and how it ends. The process of analyzing films using formal film analysis allows people to experience the nuances of cinematic art, rather than just talk about what they like or how a film ends. Several examples of films, such as Juno, (500) Days of Summer, and Singing in the Rain can illustrate how it is useful to use formal film analysis, rather than a mainstream critical approach, to understand film as a form of art.
Formal film analysis allows the viewer to use aspects of form, such as framing, focalization, focus, and numerous other aspects to focus on the “how” rather than the “what.” Formal film analysis is a tool that allows analysts to use film’s unique features to assess a film’s message. It can change the scope of an analysis from simply saying what a film is about to a deeper and more nuanced analysis of style, influence, and authorial intent.
Among the tools of formal film analysis is the use of reference ,allusion and pastiche. While this is limited only to words when one analyzes literature, the use of this tool in formal film analysis is more complex and may incorporate performance, dialogue, or shot styles. For example, in (500) Days of Summer, the film’s use of a musical number after the characters sleep together shows that the film is more than a simple romantic comedy. It shows that it is aware of the genre conventions and is in some ways poking fun at them. The use of the song-and-dance number, seemingly unprovoked, in the middle of the film evokes older musicals (such as Singin’ in the Rain, to be discussed later) and a sensibility that shows the director, Marc Webb, was aware of the numerous bodies of films available on which to draw. It changes...