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Analyzing Technology in Filmmaking Past and Present

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Consider ways to analyze how technology influences style and genre in filmmaking, and if digital photography is a stylistic influence in popular film and TV.

Content analysis is a primary method of investigation in film and television studies. The skills developed in the process of making analyses are very useful to a career in screen production. Genre analysis may be made through a variety of “lenses,” depending on what the proposed outcome of the study may be. One such “lens” is that of technology.

Genre Analysis Through Filmmaking Technology

Technologies of filming include lighting, perspective, and camera type (3D, 35mm or digital photography). SFX, the application of computers in editing and post production, and the dependence on CGI in image creation also deserve consideration as possible important factors in influencing screen genres. How has technology influenced the visual facets of the story? How does this relate to the themes of the story?

Genre is about similarity and unity rather than difference and diversity, so analyses of codes and aesthetics are only part of how genre can be understood. Content needs to be understood not only descriptively, but through particular cultural perspectives as well. This approach to analysis moves beyond simply mining the text for meaning or author intent, and is concerned with relationships between form and context.

  • Make a visual analysis – scrutinize how the images convey meaning.
  • Make an auditory assessment – consider how the soundtrack conveys the story and affects viewers’ emotions.
  • It should also analyze what is said between characters – what discourses, discussions and preoccupations are present in the story that relates to real life.

Knowing about how a film was made, technically, is a limited approach to analyzing for the genre, especially when trying to understand why a genre or a film (perhaps with low production values) remains relevant over a long period of time. That’s why approaches to genre also include analyzing not only the text you are interested in, but that text’s relationship to other texts.

Filmmaking Technology Influence on Style – Film Noir

The 1940s thriller subgenre known as “film noir” was technologically determined, being constrained by low budgets and scant resources, but its stylistics were also determined by censorship. Its original generic codes were identified retrospectively, by intellectual film critics.

Film noir stylistic features and iconography have provided creative materials for subsequent filmmakers to apply in a range of bestsellers from Chinatown (1974) through Blade Runner (1982) and Pulp Fiction (1994) to long-running television series such as C.S.I. Discourse. Analysis reveals that it is also culturally specific. These are urban narratives with an overall mood of pessimism. Discourse analyses of specific examples would discover:

  • preoccupation with gender relations
  • concern around inequality in class relations
  • discussion of a relationship between social position and moral responsibility

Technology as a Theme in Special Effects Movies

A comparison of visual effects in Metropolis (1927), Forbidden Planet (1956), The Terminator (1984), The Matrix (1999) and Avatar (2009) will demonstrate historical links in content combined with technical innovation. The latter two exemplify how new digital camera technology converged with computer innovation to significantly change screen storytelling. Writing before that time, Ryan and Kellner identify the central concern of such movies as technophobia, yet technological innovation itself is used to promote the movies. Likewise, Ryan and Kellner call these stories “fantasy” whereas “science fiction” may seem more generically appropriate. Certainly, as generic narratives, several are closely related to the central premise of H.G. Wells’ archetypal novel, The Time Machine (1895).

A simplistic comparison of those five movies is in danger of being merely descriptive:

  • All these movies are celebrated for their innovative special effects.
  • Three feature iconic robots.
  • Three feature underground cities.
  • Three feature machines doing battle, two machines turned against humans, while the last features machines blasting against nature.

These facts tell little about meanings that these films express, whereas discourse analysis allows more insight. All these movies discuss the relationship between human and machine, and express and discuss cultural fears about which could or should be dominant. By displacing the protagonists into other worlds in other times, they pose questions and criticisms that give voice to certain contemporary anxieties about what it means to be human.

Digital Photography as Stylistic Influence

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Questions can be asked about how the application of innovative technologies in contemporary cinema and television is currently affecting the development of genres and their audiences. For instance, the influx of digital photography, and the growing tendency to market movies on their unique technology, such as 3D digital experience as opposed to the HD digital television experience, may seem to skew the filmmaking industry in favor of particular genres, such as action adventure.