Christmas Break did not mean no work. It meant work with leisure as an add on. Pick a book related to films or photography. Read it. Review it. Submit it to Jeroo Mulla once the break ends.

05th January 2021

Having grown up in an atmosphere surrounded by films and books, it came no surprise I came to love and admire the arts. As much as I can remember, I have always had a movie that I want to watch. But when I started college, at Social Media Communications, Sophia College, Mumbai, I was only a film enthusiast. Someone who enjoyed watching films a lot. I did not care much or held knowledge of what really went behind making each film. With each class on film, there is something incredibly intricate that I have learned about filmmaking.

So, when it came to picking books for an end of the semester book report, I looked into the massive library my grandfather possesses for something interesting. He offered me a vast number of books, but ‘Introduction to Film by Thomas and Vivian Sobchack’ stood out to me. For someone only starting to learn about film, I decided it would be a good read. It turned out to be a wonderful read.

The book is written very precisely, filled with exhaustive examples for each term. It is divided into four comprehensive parts,

  1. The Cinematic Form
  2. Cinematic Content: The Fiction Film
  3. Cinematic Content: The Non-Fiction Film
  4. A Guide to Film Analysis and Criticism

Published in 1980, the book explains to its readers in a very systematic and uncomplicated manner the history of filmmaking, and then easily transitions into the deeper end of movie making on film. But it does so without confusing the reader about where it's headed with its massive content. It is a book for someone who has never read a single word of filmmaking and it is also a good revision for someone who would like to go back to the start of their film education.

The first section is purely about how filmmaking developed from the 1920s, in the USA, and other European countries, like Russia and Germany. While reading about the history, there is one paragraph that I read that really struck a chord with me. A sentence talking about the reason why films or movies are called, movies.

“In the beginning was the picture, not the word. Man’s eyes saw before he could name the objects he beheld. He drew before he could write, and his first written language in most cultures was composed of pictures—Egyptian hieroglyphs, American Indian pictographs, Chinese ideograms—all visual patterns in space. In the beginning of cinema, too, the picture came first. One of the cinema’s various names is ‘motion pictures’ or ‘movies’—pictures that move. Before the turn of the century, when inventors all over the world were trying desperately to perfect a device to make pictures that moved, that pictured the vitality dynamism of everyday life in the real world, they were striving not for the word but for the word.”

It was and still is all about the perceived image. What the humans see, what the audience wishes to see. And thus, the name, movies, pictures that move, such a common terminology suddenly seemed too peculiar to me, with its etymology laid out bare in the book.

Moving further into the book, the authors lay out in great detail each and every thing that one must know before venturing into filmmaking, starting right from the camera, to the different styles of editing, then delving into the way sound is used in cinema.

Each section of the book starts with a brief history about it. For example, the fiction films’ and the non-fiction films’ parts both begin with an overview of the development of the respective sections. It proves to be helpful for the reader to connect the dots with the workings of the sections with that brief history in place.

The third section which talked about non-fiction films had an especially important text talking about motion pictures with propaganda in them,

“Clearly, the methods used by both Riefenstahl and Capra are similar: there are few differences, if any, between the techniques of “good” and “evil” propaganda films. Techniques are themselves neither good nor evil. It is the cause which they wish to persuade us to which is open to moral judgement.”

This text indicates that the technique of filmmaking for propaganda, with great editing and sound effects does not make a difference, unless and until the matter which needs to be propagated is inherently something that will cause harm or bring good to the society collectively. The power of persuasion does lie with the film, but it is the cause that is being filmed that persuades in the end.

Lastly, for me, personally, it is the section of editing, and the fourth section of film analysis and criticism which stood out and resonated the most. Editing is an art which not everyone can achieve. Reading this book made me realise, it is essentially one of the tools that can make or break the movie, and captivate or bore your audience. I likened editing to practicing magic. Something that charms and scares you with its power.

As a student of film, analysis, criticism and writing papers on film is a vital part of learning. The way these three aspects are laid out in the book is refreshing and interesting to read.

All in all, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone in love with films, to read it once for the love of films, and the second time, to know films.