How to Read a Film – Book Review

How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media and Multimedia (Oxford University Press, 2000) by James Monaco merits a purchase if only for the definitions he offers of what distinguishes movies, film, and cinema from one another.

Monaco forever defines movies, film, and cinema in the following way:

“French theorists are fond of making the differentiation between ‘film’ and ‘cinema.’ The ‘filmic’ is that aspect of the art that concerns its relationship with the world around it; the ‘cinematic’ deals strictly with the esthetics and internal structure of the art. In English, we have a third word for ‘film’ and ‘cinema’ – ‘movies’ – which provides a convenient label for the third facet of the phenomenon; its function as an economic commodity.” (p.228)

What is wonderful about How to Read a Film is that it offers so much more than these definitions for a movie lover.

Monaco’s book fills the need for visual literacy that Monaco writes is necessary due to the vast visual information that films convey to us without our “questioning how they tell us what they tell.” (p.17) This need for understanding visual images has become even more important as video games have incorporated video techniques to create ever more sophisticated interactive game playing experiences.

Monaco writes at length about film as an art that encompasses all arts, but it is his discussion of film’s one hundred years of history that ignites the reader’s intellect as he often discusses film movements director by director and film by film.

Film buffs who want to know more and those new to the field of film criticism will enjoy the insights offered by James Monaco’s How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media, and Multimedia.

(Podcasts of the Film Book Round up Featuring Foreign Cinema on the Culture with Ruth Paget program are available on iTunes and at Look for the Asnycnow Radio 3 channel.)

This review was originally posted on Ruth Paget’s blog Belle Vie Reviews and More at