Films are the art form of the Twentieth century.
They take aspects from almost every other major art form and combine them
into one. They are a "spectacular wedding of the old mechanical technology
and the new electronic world"(McLuhan 284). To make a film director
needs to know how to frame a shot just like a still photographer needs to.
The soundtrack of a movie encompasses pop, rock, classical, instrumental
and every other genre of music. Set designing, staging, blocking, and of
course acting all play a large part in the production of a Film. But films
do not just correlate all these factors into one form, they take them to
the next level and add a new spin to each individual art. Framing a shot
with a still camera now has to lose its immobility and move with the action
in a film. The musical background reflects the emotional state of the characters
or action taking place on the screen. Set designing, staging blocking and
acting or all done in a real world environment rather than on a stage. Because
of all these different factors films are "a collective art form with
different individuals directing color, lighting, sound, acting, speaking"
Films are the first art form to offer "as product the most magical of consumer commodities, namely dreams"(McLuhan 291). Viewers step into a darkly lit theater almost as if they are stepping into their own subconscious. They stare in complete darkness at images projected onto a larger than life screen. The audience of a film are taken on a journey where they can lose themselves and their own problems in the characters on screen. The camera becomes the navigator and wherever it "turns to, the audience accepts, [they] are transported to another world"(McLuhan 286).
The irony of Films is that the line between a dreamy fantasy and life-like reality is very muddled. For a viewer in a movie theater "the larger screen puts the edges at the periphery of vision and the lack of distinct edges makes it easier for the viewer to become part of the scene, thus facilitating identification"(Greenfield 48). What are the effects of this identification? What if the viewer is a impressionable teenager that identifies with the gun-toting hero who makes killing look glamorous? To fully understand the effects of film one must understand the art, science and media of film.
Like learning to read a book or a sheet of music one must also learn how to "read" a film or become film literate. However, unlike a book or a sheet of music, film literacy is achieved without conscious effort if the viewer is exposed to film at an early age. Most people today, especially in America, are exposed to television and film at a very early age and are not illiterate to the film code. However it is a different story to an African audience of the 1960's who, when a character "[disappeared] off the side of the film, [they wanted] to know what happened to him"(McLuhan 285). An example of Film literacy is given in Mind and Media by Patricia Greenfield:
"If Image A and Image B alternate on the screen in progressively shorter and quicker fragments (a technique known as accelerated montage*), an experienced movie goer, one familiar with the code will get the message that A and B exist at the same time but in separate spaces, and that they are converging on each other either spatially or dramatically"(9-10)
*montage is the technique of editing
There are many other techniques that a viewer
must learn to decode. These elements that a viewer must learn are "visual,
generated by techniques such as cutting from one shot another, panning from
one side of a scene to another, zooming from long shot to close up, splitting
the screen. Others are auditory, such as faceless narrators or canned laughter"(Greenfield
10). All of these techniques have a direct correlation with reality, they
are "symbolic representations, that is, each technique stands for something
in the real world"(Greenfield 10). For example a cut from one shot
to another can represent a lapse in time or change in location. A more complicated
concept, that in addition can be used to increase the artistic value of
a film, is a shot that is used to create an emotion or idea. For instance
a shot with an off-centered angle can create a feeling of uneasiness in
the veiwer. A child's ability to understand these techniques depends on
the stage of development of the child. In a study of children, 80 percent
could correctly retell the action of a sequence without montage, but over
half could not do so after watching a different sequence with montage.(Greenfield
12). If children could not understand the most simplest of montage, then
a movie like Natural Born Killers with never-before-used montage that defies
space and time relationships is undecipherable to a young mind. But does
this increase or lessen the effects of the movie on the young viewer? These
techniques are obviously mastered by the time a child reaches adolescents.
All forms of media and especially film have become ingrained in todays society. Movies are so much a part of American culture that actors become gods for a secular society. Teenagers can readily quote from movies like a priest from the bible. But what are the lasting effects of films on teenagers? An example of the effects of film on racial attitudes was tested fifty years ago. A group of white children from small midwestern towns were shown The Birth of a Nation, a movie that shows blacks in a very bad light. The children's attitudes toward blacks dropped thirty five percent after watching the film. But would there be the same effects on older teenagers who are not as easily influenced? According to Patricia Greenfield:
"As children get older they adopt new
definitions of television [or film] reality:first they believe that anything
on television that could happen in the real world is real on television;
later they believe that what they see on television represents something
that probably happens in the real world. But despite these changes
in the meaning of reality, the belief that entertainment programming represents
social reality does not seem to change much with greater life experience
or exposure to television. The realistic style of much entertainment programming
seems to contribute to this effect"(53).
Yet, despite this, a difference in age does
"reflect the general finding that younger viewers are more open to
messages from the media[or film] than are older ones"(Greenfield 55).
One of the more popular aspects of film has been and still is violence. Violence since the dawn of civilization has appealed to man's tastes. Just as the "Roman had ...circus shows that featured lions and leopards eating the Christians...[Which] were extremely popular; now we have films"(internet). Do violent films perpetuate violence in society or cause a desensitization? Take the 1995 fire bombing of a New York City subway station. The attack which closely resembled a scene from Money Train was committed two weeks after the movie's release. Many politicians critized the movie industry telling them to take responsibility even though a couple weeks later police said there was no relationship between the movie and the incident. This incident is just one of the many violent crimes "inspired" by artistic or dramatic movies. In 1971 following the release of A Clockwork Orange, a group of teenagers in England simulated the rape scene by singing the song "Singing in the Rain" while brutally raping a young girl. Other films with related incidents are Taxi Driver which is tied to the assassination attempt of President Reagan, Natural Born Killers which apparently inspired a teenager to kill his stepmom and half sister, and The Program which depicted teenagers lying down drunk in traffic(Katz 90).
Although violent movies continue to be made today "the fact is that during that past couple of years...Violent crime has decreased not grown in America"(Katz 92). Within the white suburban middle class "violence remains relatively rare"(Katz 94). However among the underclass minorities violence has escalated (Katz 94). It is unlikely that violent movies have a stronger effect on a certain racial and social class. In fact, white middle class kids are "targeted by marketers of CDs" and movies(Katz 94). Underclass minorities can not afford to see movies as much as the middle class and thus can not be effected nearly as much as middle class suburbanites. Yet the underclass are the ones committing the violent crimes. Jon Katz, author of Virtuous reality believes that "blaming violence on media and [films] is easier and safer both for journalist and for opportunistic politicians. Blaming violence on violent movies could be seen as the same as arguments as "comics books threatened decency(in the forties), that rock and roll was dangerous(in the fifties), that video games turned kids violent (in the eighties)"(Katz 102).
Robert Coles a Harvard psychiatrist believes that young moviegoer who is exposed to the "'excesses of a Hollywood
genre'-- sentimentality, violence, the misrepresentation of history, racial stereotypes, pure simple-mindedness-- and
[can emerge] unscathed intellectually as well as morally"(Katz 106). Cole further this by saying "sometimes these images help the child to `sort matters out, stop and think about what is true and what is not'"(Katz 107). Like what the movie Scream says, "don't blame the movies, movies don't make killers, movies just make killers more creative."
courtesy of http://www.tardis.ed.ac.uk/~erich/clockwork.html