[Contents] [Index] [Home]

Final Exam: Examples

These titles refer to several exams given in past versions of Introduction to Cinema Studies. Instructions on taking these exams were identical:

This exam has ten questions. Write responses to four, and only four, of these questions. Focus your discussions (provide each answer with a clear thesis) and argue logically. Substantiate your assertions in coherent, well-developed paragraphs that employ vocabulary acquired in your studies. Concentrate on scenes from your chosen film as illustrations of, and evidence for, your assertions. Regard each of your answers as short versions of the analytical paper assigned this semester.

Beauty and the Beast


You must answer question one or two. If you want, answer both.

1. "In animation filming," write Bordwell and Thompson, "the camera stays in one position, but through the drawing of individual cels' frame by frame, the animator can create the effect of camera movement. Describe how animation in B&B is constrained by the Hollywood Formal Paradigm.

2. One pleasure available in watching an animated film arises when we notice its ability to provide us with images and, sometimes, sounds which cannot be achieved in live action. Describe some of the ways that B&B exploits the potential of animated film as a unique medium. Organize your answer to substantiate a thesis, one that forces our attention on that area of filmmaking technique--mise-en-scene, cinematographic properties, editing, sound--that B&B most fully exploits to artistic ends.


If you choose, answer one of the next two questions, but do not answer both.

3. B&B is an unrestricted narrative (which, of course, means that its story is controlled by an unseen, omniscient narrator). But as B&T write: "Narration is never completely unrestricted. There is always something we are not told, even if it is only how the film will end." In B&B, though, viewers even know the ending. It is forecast at the beginning of the story, and, besides, we're probably already familiar with the fairy tale. Why, then, do we watch this movie? How does both knowing and not knowing affect or structure our viewing experience?

4. This question, prompts you employ the concept of "depth" as a means of rethinking B&B. First, by what means--objective or subjective--are we as viewers granted access to the emotional/cognitive states of the film's characters? Second, how do you account for the film's reliance on this means of generating psychological information about its characters? In other words, what would become of B&B if director Gary Trousdale had decided to emphasize mental subjectivity?


Answer no more than two of the following three questions.

5. Using vocabulary you've learned in this course, explain the story-telling function of the magic mirror: the Beast's "only window to the outside world." Or here's a second option: explain why it is a formal (story-telling) necessity to "kill off" Gaston.

6. Using Labov's six parts of an anecdote, explain the function of the musical interludes found in B&B. Which part(s) do they most resemble? How are they used?

7. Pick a character in B&B and thoroughly explain how he, she, or it is given a personality. Keep in mind that fairy tales (myths) always evoke stereotypes and that film emphasizes particulars.


Everybody must tackle one, and only one, of these final questions. They center on the assumption that nobody enjoys film for purely formal reasons. Content always matters.

8. To what extent do you consider B&B a fantasy about gender roles? How does it define love, romance, and male/female roles? Do these definitions reinforce or resist assumptions generally held in our culture?

9. Basic arguments advanced by B&B are undercut by contradictions. Film theorists would say, "The film's practice contradicts its rhetoric." Why is it necessary for B&B to contradict itself? What do these contradictions tell us about the values and fantasies of our culture?

10. Write out a short, imagined conversation (a short play with dialogue) between Comolli and Narboni where they seek to employ their classification system as a means of discussing B&B. Make Comolli argue that the film belongs in Category A. He takes the movie "straight"; it's a lesson about not being deceived by appearances. Make Narboni argue that B&B belongs in Category E. He "reads" the film as self-referential. It's a fairy tale about fairy tales. Belle, Narboni quickly points out, is a fairy tale character who loves reading fairy tales. Explore the implications of both positions.


Back to List of Films

Seven


After enjoying a dinner cooked by Tracey Mills (Gwyneth Palthrow), David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) examine photos of slain attorney, Eli Gould. "Let's take a fresh look at this," says Somerfield. "Even though the corpse is there, look through it. Edit out the initial shock. The trick is to find one item--one detail--and focus on it, until it is an exhausted possibility." His comment, it seems to me, is instructive; it provides a means of opening up Seven. Use it to engage three of the following questions. One caution, though: Choose your questions wisely. Don't cover the same point or use the same illustration more than once.

1. How are mise-en-scene choices used to generate absolutely different personalities for Somerset and Mills? Create and, then, explain a chart that focuses on details that create contrast between them. Be as specific as possible.

2. Seven opens with a short scene of orientation. Then, comes its title sequence, which serves as an abstract of the narrative that follows. Describe the function of this abstract. What is said--what is accomplished by--its sound and images, by its style?

3. Alert viewers of Seven will assume that William Somerset will die. Why do we make this assumption? Use plot/story distinctions or Labov's concept of the evaluation to explain how the film "miscues" us (and how manipulates genre conventions).

4. Why do you suppose the range of Seven is so restricted? List your reasons, and provide copious commentary.

5. Why is John Doe's apartment (like the scenes of several crimes) so dark? Again, focus on this detail until it is "an exhausted possibility."

6. Roland Barthes once argued that narratives are less about rushing headlong to a conclusion than they are about strategies for delaying resolution. Seven, if we assume Barthes' perspective, is a series of elaborate evasive maneuvers (deferring the completion of John Doe's "work"). Describe one of these maneuvers, and tell why viewers are willing to put up with it.

7. With one, and only one, exception, Seven uses objective means to grant viewers access to the psychological states of its characters. Identify this exception (yet another detail). In your opinion, is it necessary? Thoroughly substantiate your assertion.

8. Despite its fondness for details--for particular items that create effects of realism--Seven is also surprisingly vague. In what city, for example, is the story set? And when do we find this out? How do you account for the vagueness of this film? How does a lack of detail shape our conception of the film's meaning?

9. How is John Doe made to seem omniscient?


Everybody must tackle this last question.

10. Imagine Seven as a staged dialogue, a kind of debate about the nature of the world. First, it's between Somerset and Mills, and it's about John Doe. Then, after Doe surrenders himself, the conversation comes to include him. So here's the question: What are the questions raised by the characters in this movie? Do you think that they articulate concerns of our culture?


Back to List of Films

Forrest Gump


You may (if you choose to) answer question one or two; do not, however, answer both.

1. Suppose someone said, "You wrote about Forrest Gump for the final exam in your film course! I saw that movie. It was entertaining--uplifting and all that, and yeah, I know it won a bunch of academy awards. But why would anyone want to pay it special attention?" How would you respond (and thus demonstrate the benefits of film studies)?

2. Using Forrest Gump as your sole example, describe both the Hollywood Formal Paradigm and the Hollywood Thematic Paradigm. Is Gump emblematic of both, or is it somehow unique?


You must answer question three or four, but, here again, don't answer both.

3. At first glance, Forrest Gump is a subjective film--rarely "objective." Virtually every scene is motivated by Forrest reflecting on his life. Thus, since the film is virtually a collage of chronologically ordered flashbacks, it's range must be restricted. What's wrong with this incredibly simplistic observation?

4. This question, prompts you employ the concept of "depth" as a means of opening up Forrest Gump. First, by what means--objective or subjective--are we as viewers granted access to the emotional/cognitive states of the film's characters? Second, how do you account for the film's reliance on this means of generating psychological information about its characters? In other words--and this is both big hint and the heart of this question--what would become of Forrest Gump if Robert Zemeckis had chosen to be really subjective?


Answer one (or, if you wrote on neither of the first two questions, answer two) of the following four questions.

5. Assume that your readers understand Labov's six parts of an anecdote, but also assume that they haven't actively employed his theories to theorize Forrest Gump. Alert them to the importance of evaluative devices in the film. Tell them how evaluation--which prompts viewers to imagine alternative stories--pushes forward this film's narrative.

6. There are many scenes in Forrest Gump where comedy is created or developed by controlling mise-en-scene. Describe one such scene. Tell how mise-en-scene sets us up for (perhaps cues us to expect) a particular gag. You might work off André Bazin's observation that slapstick comedy succeeded because "most of its gags derived from a comedy of space, from the relation of men to things and to the surrounding world."

7. One problem Robert Zemeckis faced in directing Forrest Gump was how to make this film a unified narrative, more than a series of gags and tableau--a picaresque story, a vehicle for Tom Hanks, a historical road movie. How--by what means--was this goal accomplished?

8. Why is it a formal (story-telling) necessity to "kill" many of the characters connected to Forrest?

9. Tom Hanks is, by consensus, a fine actor. To a great extent, he made Forrest Gump--created a personality for that character. But Gump's personality is also an effect of being foiled by other characters. Pick one of these foils and explain how he or she contributes to constructing the Gump character. Focus not only on the acting that created this screen persona, but also on other elements of mise-en-scene, cinematography, and editing associated with him or her.


Everybody must tackle this final question. It centers on the assumption that nobody enjoys films for purely formal reasons. Content always matters.

10. Write out a short, imagined conversation (a short play with dialogue) between Comolli and Narboni where they seek to employ their classification system as a means of discussing Forrest Gump. Make Comolli argue that the film belongs in Category A (he takes the movie "straight"); make Narboni argue that it belongs in Category E (he "reads" the film ironically as Paul Schrader does). In this dialogue, refer to specific myths (the stories that enable us to be us--to be Americans) that are served or questioned by the film's narrative.


Back to List of Films

The Fugitive


Answer either question one or two, but not both.

1. Suppose someone said, "You wrote about The Fugitive for your final exam! I saw that movie. It was fun, but why would anyone want to pay it any attention?" How would you respond? Is The Fugitive typical, important because it illustrates some norm? Or is it exceptional or unique, important because it distinguishes itself in some manner?

2. Using The Fugitive as your sole example, tell someone (an imaginary reader who hasn't taken a film course) how continuity editing (and specifically the shot/reverse-shot pattern) is central to advancing Hollywood-style narratives. Refer to specific shots in the film; discuss the art/film technique of "matching."


Answer either of the next two questions, but do not answer both.

3. The Fugitive is an unrestricted narrative (which, of course, means that its story is told by an unseen, omniscient narrator). But as B&T write: "Narration is never completely unrestricted. There is always something we are not told, even if it is only how the film will end." In The Fugitive, what don't we know? How does not knowing affect or structure the viewing experience, our ability to generate story from plot cues, our emotional response to characters?

4. This question, in two parts, prompts you employ the concept of "depth" as a means of opening up The Fugitive. First, by what means--objective or subjective--are we as viewers granted access to the psychological states of the film's characters? Second, what is the story-telling function of the flashbacks? In answering these questions, state your thesis, substantiate it with an example or two, and then press towards a generalization that tells readers how your observation or thesis is important to the film as a whole.


Answer one of the following five questions.

5. Assume that your readers understand Labov's six parts of an anecdote, but also assume that they haven't actively employed his theories to think about The Fugitive. First, tell them where the evaluation section of the film occurs--i.e., what scene. Second, tell them how evaluative moments push forward this film's narrative.

6. Roland Barthes once argued that narratives are less about rushing headlong to a conclusion than they are about strategies for delaying resolution. The Fugitive, if we assume Barthes' perspective, is a series of elaborate evasive maneuvers (deferring an inevitable conclusion). But it doesn't feel that way. Why not?

7. Dr. Richard Kimble doesn't do just one good deed. He does many. Why? Why is it a story-telling necessity to make the good doctor keep being good? Give several reasons and refer to a specific scene or two.

8. Deputy Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) is clearly the most interesting character in The Fugitive. Dr. Kimble (Harrison Ford) is, albeit on a rather sophisticated level, little more than a prop. His character is static (he's constantly alert, constantly in a state of terror). Describe your feelings towards Deputy Gerard, and tell how they are, in fact, effects of editing, mise-en-scene, and cinematographic choices.

9. Using both thematic and formal materials from The Fugitive, tell how you would demonstrate the concept of "motivation" to an audience of adults not well versed in film theory.


Everybody must tackle this last question. At its heart lies the assumption that nobody enjoys films for purely formal reasons. Content always matters.

10. Develop this thesis as a way to account for the popularity of The Fugitive: Should we want to discuss current vexed attitudes about the concept of "justice," we could find no better starting point than The Fugitive. It is truly a myth (an explaining story) for our times. It brilliantly represents widely held assumptions, not just about cops and courts, but about both social and natural order.