Lesson 4 Reading Assignment
The Moving Image


How to Read a Film

Chapter 3, The Language of Film: Signs and Syntax

(Chapter 3 is the heart of How to Read a Film, and the densest chapter of the book. We’re going to draw on it twice―once here in Lesson 4 where we get the overview of the dialectic of film, and then again in more detail in Lesson 6.

For this lesson, please concentrate on the following sections:

You can read through the other sections quickly to get the continuity. We’ll cover them more thoroughly in Lesson 6.)

Time Estimate

1 1/2 hours


Please post your responses to the following questions on the class message board.

  1. If there is such a thing as "persistence of vision," could there be a parallel phenomenon—"persistence of hearing"? (Think about very low tones in music.)
  2. On the stage, we have the proscenium arch to define the frame, but not all theatre is presented this way. Theatre that is done in the round, or on thrust stages without prosceniums, goes back to the Greeks and was especially popular in the 20th century. We clearly don’t have the same freedom in film: you can’t avoid the frame. Or can you? Do you think there is some way the technology can get rid of the prison of the frame?
  3. If you reduce the length of each shot in a montage to 1/24th of a second, what is the effect you get? What do you think that film would look like when projected? Have you ever seen a movie that featured an effect like this?