Understanding Film Form - Part 1

Hello Everyone!

As you already know, this section will be completely different from the others, because I’ve been formally trained as a filmmaker, and I am actually a closet film theorist, critic, and analyst, because of the theory I’ve learned, and I’ve started to apply it to many films that I’ve watched over the years.

That’s why today I’m going to be talking about theory. I’ve touched on it in the past, especially when I’m talking about the industry, and what it takes to make a film. I’ve even uploaded posts that did talk about film history and film theory, but because I didn’t follow a proper format, and I wasn’t actually fully inclined to add references and talk academically about it, I’ve had to delete them. So, now, I’m going to be attempting it again today, and this time, I am inclined to look at the subject more academically.

Now, if you’re not interested in this kind of scholarly speech, then I suggest looking at my other sections, or better yet, you can take a look at some of my previous film posts that look at films in a more generic way, but if you’re here to learn about film theory, then follow me. We’ll be diving into a major lesson in what film is.

Film Form – It’s Not Just The Film

As I mentioned before, Film Form means the actual format of the film, whether it’s in a physical reel or a digital file, but that’s not the only thing that makes up a Film’s Form. In fact, Film Form is a lot more complicated than that. Before we dive into what makes up a Film’s Form, let’s look at what the definition of Film Form is.

Film Form is the construct of the film. It is the combination of narrative elements, audience responses and the conceptual meanings that audiences derive from the film itself. If one of these aspects is absent, then the film will have no substance, and cannot be defined as a film. Essentially, at its barest point, film is simply a pattern of light and darkness, which creates images that when put together look like they move. However, as mentioned before, film, as a medium of storytelling, is art, and just like every other art piece, it must have a narrative, emotional representations and responses and meaning, in order for it to be classified as art, otherwise, it’ll be another pattern of light and darkness on a screen.

Let’s put it this way, Film Form is like a car. It is one unit, but within that unit, there are many systems. If one of those systems breaks down, then the car, or the film, won’t work. It becomes defunct. That’s why it’s important to remember that Film Form doesn’t just mean the format of the film itself, but it also means everything that makes a film a story.

The Function Of Narratives

While I might have claimed before that plots are not all that important in films, the reverse can be said of narratives. Narrative doesn’t always mean plot, or storyline. Sometimes they can simply be a concept or a vague and abstract idea, but they are still narratives in their own way. For example, in experimental films, you’ll find disjointed and more often than not random clips edited together, but they are part of a larger narrative, meaning they’re exploring the arguments for both sides of a debate, and are usually used as talking points for those involved. Essentially, experimental films are abstract pieces that either express the filmmakers’ opinions, in which case the film will be leaning to one side of the argument, or a reflection of all the arguments put forward before, thus giving audiences the chance to form their own opinions from the information the film provides.

However, these films don’t always overtly express their subject and sometimes may be incomprehensible, but these films usually want their audiences to dictate what they see. For example, if you see an experimental film about the psychology of a mental breakdown, you’ll probably find clips of people screaming, crying, or if you’re looking at it more abstractly, clips of knives cutting into something, which can represent the development of suicidal thoughts, or an underwater shot looking up at the sun, like a drowning person, suggesting the helplessness a person may feel. Most experimental films are created by artists who want to open a dialogue and are created with their views of the world, rather than a simple record of previous arguments. So, most of the time, these films aren’t taken lightly and are highly appreciated, in both positive and negative ways, because they open up a new perspective.

Of course, there are some much lighter forms of experimental films, which you can find in many commercial aspects, like in advertisements, music videos, and stock footage. While these films aren’t exactly meaningful in the way artists use them, they still have narratives of their own. For example, advertisements may use experimental techniques to create a narrative for their products, such as their usefulness or novelty, such as in cosmetic adverts where fruits, water, and other natural products are filmed, to show how “organic” or “natural” a cream or lotion is. You’ll also find big close-ups of skin, faces, and limbs, with a hand running over it, or the cream applied to it, again to try and promote the product itself. Essentially, experimental films, although abstract, still has a narrative, sometimes ones that are obvious like in adverts and music videos, or ones that aren’t, like in arthouse films, or those shown in art galleries.

On the flip side, if we’re looking at conventional films, then narratives are very obvious since it’s within the plot of a film. For example, a typical romance narrative will revolve around the feelings between a couple, the difficulties they face, both together and against each other, or the triumphs against all odds to be together. Narratives come in many different “shapes and sizes”, for a lack of a better phrase for it, and for any film, its presence is essential. If it isn’t then the film itself is nothing but a string of random clips joined together. Narrative gives film substance and is the basis for the other aspects of the film.

Emotional Representation And Emotional Response

As with narrative, emotional representation and emotional responses are what gives film its form. What this means is that emotions play a big part in the way a film is perceived, and there is a difference between both emotional representation and emotional response.

Emotional representation means the emotions represented in the film, such as when a character is hit, their immediate reaction would be to cringe, falling to the ground, groaning in pain, or screaming. Another example would be tears on someone’s face, a frown and despondency when receiving bad news. These are all forms of emotional representation.

Emotional response, on the other hand, means the emotional response the audience has when watching the film. For example, when that character is hit and they exhibit pain, there are a few responses the audiences feel, such as gladness, if the character is a villain, and is getting the justice they deserve, or sympathy, if the character is a hero and is knocked down or their confidence is lost. Alternatively, audiences might laugh, if the character is part of a comedy act, in which case the act of getting hurt is a surprise to the audience. Emotional responses differ for every film and are dependent on both their genre and the content of the film’s narrative.

Of course, both emotional representation and emotional response must work together to define the film’s narrative and genre, after all an emotional representation is what triggers the emotional response. Not only that, emotional responses can define how an audiences perceive the film, as some films explore topics that are not usually spoken aloud in general society.

For example, a film about the mafia can be perceived as a dangerous exposition on the ways of the mafia, and audiences might be cautious about watching it, in case they may offend anyone involved in one in real life, or they may be seen as an influence for audience members to join one. Again, on the other hand, they may be a silly representation of the mafia, if the film is a comedy. Depending on the audience members, whatever the subject of the film and whatever the genre, emotional responses will differ because of their real-life experiences. So, when emotions are represented in the film, their emotional responses will be different.

Until Next Time

Ok, so there are a few aspects of film that we need to talk about, but we’ll save that for part 2. Why? Because both narrative and emotions are hefty aspects of Film Form. Don’t worry, we’ll cover them in more detail later, for now, this should be enough to get you by. So, for now, how about some homework?

Why not watch a few films over the next few weeks, and don’t just watch the standard feature films you find on Netflix or Prime Video, chance a glance at arthouse films, study the subjects they’re exposing, or watch a few documentaries. There are plenty of different genres, film techniques and film types that use narratives and emotions to dictate what a film’s form is. Next time, we’ll talk about meanings, patterns, conventions and experiences, and later we may even take a look at a few films to really delve into each aspect of Film Form.

Well, that’s it from me today, I’ll see you guys next time. For now, don’t forget to like, subscribe and follow for more updates and the latest posts here on Feather’s Charm and on my social media accounts. Oh, and share these posts with family and friends, those who you’d think might enjoy these topics and tips! I’ll see you later!

With love,