Understanding Movies – Book Review


Understanding Movies (Prentice Hall, 1999) by Louis Giannetti reveals a gem of movie wisdom in every sentence to help film novices approach the movies with new vision. Understanding Movies’s chapters on photography, mise en scène, movement, editing, sound, acting, drama, story, writing, ideology, theory and a synthesis chapter pulling all these elements together to evaluate Citizen Kane show readers how to tease out new meanings in films using these details.

Examples of how directors marshal these elements to create unique and memorable stories abound in Understanding Movies. We learn, for example, in Giannetti’s pages that “movies take so long to complete, in part because of the enormous complexities involved in lighting each new shot.” (p.17) Faces lit from below appear sinister while those lit from above appear angelic. The popular genre of film noir “is a style defined primarily in terms of light – or the lack of it” (p.18) Giannetti shares with readers.

Giannetti writes that color tends to be a subconscious, culturally-bound element in film. The color white, for instance, is associated with death in many Asian cultures rather than with life. The color green as another example is sacred in Islam.

Mise en scène makes films resemble painting in its composition of patterns and shapes on a flat surface. Vertical lines whether of people or objects create static compositions whereas diagonal created by people or line create a dynamic image.

Giannetti’s Understanding Movies delivers information about film like the preceding examples in every sentence; he literally trains your eye to see in a new way. In fact, Giannetti’s Understanding Movies makes you feel like you are suddenly wearing 3-D glasses at a film that was originally shot in 3-D. Understanding Movies is a great go-to reference on the underpinnings of what makes film great that should be in every film buff’s home library.

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

This review was originally published on Ruth Paget’s blog Belle Vie Reviews and More at http://belleviereviews.blogspot.com