THE MICRO ANALYSIS
How to write the Micro essay
Once you have completed all of your study and research into the micro elements, you will be at the stage when you can complete your micro essay. This should be between 1000 and 1500 words and should focus on a 3 – 5 minute sequence from a film of your own choice. You must, however agree the film with your Mike, Jane or Brian first.
You must choose to write about one or two of the micro features: cinematography. mise-en scene, sound, editing.
Your introduction should end by identifying which film and which sequence you are going to use in your analysis. You should ‘place’ the sequence in the film briefly and again briefly outline what happens in your sequence. Your introduction should show your reader that you understand the importance of micro elements in the creation of meaning and audience response. You should summarise the main types of meaning which can be generated by the micro elements you have chosen to study.
The main paragraphs within your essay should show a systematic and thorough evaluation of the impact/effect of your chosen micro elements on your film’s audience.
You could evaluate one micro element in the first few paragraphs and then move on to the next micro element, however, your essay will appear more fluid and fluent if you work systematically through your sequence in the order it runs, identifying and discussing micro elements as they ‘appear’.
Micro features are used interdependently by filmmakers and you will need to discuss how your chosen elements work together, as well as separately, to create meaning and response.
Don’t forget to back-up each of the points you make with a clear example from your film.
The exam board encourages you to use screen shots in your analysis. This is to avoid too much description and will allow you to focus on analysing the effects.
Your conclusion should summarise the meanings and responses you think your chosen micro elements have generated. You should also comment on whether or not you think the micro elements you have analysed have produced meaning and response effectively in your chosen sequence.
You should also feel free to include images – sketches of key frames or film stills if this helps with your analysis.
Once you have chosen your film sequence you should watch it several times making notes on your chosen aspect.
If you have not yet chosen which aspect of film language you are going to focus on then these screening will help you to do this.
Remember you should focus on a maximum of two aspects of film language.
The analysis must have detailed references to the text so you may find it easier to write your notes in three columns to help you do this:
|Costume is used to show details about how the characters are feeling||When Jeff enters the brightly lit bar, he is dressed in grey where all of the other characters are dressed in bright colours||This suggests he is alienated from those around him and gives the audience a sense of his depressed state of mind|
You should then start to group your ideas and see if you can come up with an overall reading of the clip:
After looking at the cinematography in the sequence from Jurassic Park it is obvious that the camerawork is used to make the audience feel the panic that the characters feel.
From this you should be able to formulate a question or hypothesis. Your response will focus on answering this question.
Your introduction should outline the film, the director and the sequence that you are to focus on. You may which to include a short (2-3 sentence) synopsis of the film (outline of the story).
The main body of the essay should be your analysis. There are two possible ways of approaching this:
Whichever you choose, you should stick to it throughout the analysis.
Exemplar Micro Essay
An analysis of mise-en-scene and cinematography within a 7 minute sequence from Stephen Daldry’s The Hours ( 2003 )
The choices made concerning mise-en-scene and cinematography within a film are an essential element within the generation of meaning for the film’s audience. A sense of historical time, mood, character state of mind and even place within the film’s narrative can all be indicated through cinematography and mise-en-scene. This essay will analyse how these micro elements generate meaning and create response in a 7 minute sequence from Stephen Daldry’s 2003 film The Hours. The focus sequence depicts the character Laura Brown’s near suicide.
The Hours is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, which itself uses Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel Mrs Dalloway to inform its narrative. Daldry’s film focuses on the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughn. Woolf is the writer of the novel, Laura Brown the reader and Clarissa Vaughn plays a late 20th century version of the character of Mrs Dalloway from Woolf’s novel. There are three distinct times represented within the film: the 1920s, 1950s and 1990s and the sequence on which this essay will focus depicts the first two.
The character of Laura Brown exists in post World War II America. The hardship of the war years had been replaced by a new affluence and sense of security for many Americans and Laura’s life, at least on the surface, is one free from want. Her family lives in a comfortable house, in a comfortable suburban neighbourhood. She has a devoted husband, one child and is pregnant with her second. Her days are spent looking after her son, but apart from this she seems to have few responsibilities. Underneath this happy surface, however, is Laura’s crushing sense of dissatisfaction with her life and it is her reading of Woolf’s novel which seems to confirm the pointlessness of the life she has.
The sequence begins with Laura taking her child to the baby-sitter. As she drives, the viewer is presented with images of the clean, ordered and comfortable neighbourhood in which she lives. There is, however, a silence between mother and son, which indicates both their anxieties. As Laura gets out of her car at the sitter’s house, she is seen in long shot. Her pregnancy is clear, as is her difficulty of movement because of it. The audience is made increasingly aware that the pregnancy is part of the entrapment which Laura feels. The next shot is a close up of Richard, Laura’s son, who remains still in the car, rather than getting out. His sense of panic at his mother’s departure is introduced, and confirmed when he says, “Mommy, I don’t want to do this.” The close-up shots of Laura and Richard’s strained faces add to the sense of tension within the relationship and the scene.
The surface elements of the film at this point contradict the emotional reality of the scene. Both Laura and Richard are dressed neatly, in clothes which confirm the decade as the 1950s. The settings in which we see them are uncluttered and clean, and yet both characters are experiencing life changing events. The mid-shot of Laura, walking away from leaving her son, allows the viewer to see the control and order of her clothes, but also the emotional turmoil of her facial expression and body language. Symbolically, she has turned her back on her family, yet this is not done out of callousness but desperation, as her tears confirm. The camera tracks back in front of the distraught Laura, establishing her distress at her planned abandonment and the fact that she is the viewer’s focus within the scene. As she reaches the car, we see Laura in mid-shot waving to her son. She has held back her tears before turning to wave to him, thus indicating the continued pent up emotion of her life. Richard’s face, also shot in mid-shot, is serious. The next series of cuts in this sequence present a series of mid-shots and close-ups of Laura and her son. She is now the central focus within her frame and is shown, not looking back, determined to carry out her plan. His mother’s determination is contrasted with the increasingly close-up shots of Richard, becoming more and more hysterical as his mother’s car pulls away. The next shot of Richard within this sequence is a long shot of him standing in the road, looking at the back of his mother’s car as it departs. He is small, vulnerable and alone within this frame and as the viewer realises later in the film, this theme, abandonment, is one of the key causes for the adult Richard’s tendency towards self-destruction.
The next series of shots within this sequence show Laura driving and Richard in the living room of his baby-sitter. The mise-en-scene of the sitter’s house indicates the 1950s setting of Laura’s narrative. The huge flowered wallpaper of the room combines with the Meccano set Richard is playing with to root the sequence in this period. Richard is seen building a house with his Meccano. The parallel shots are of Laura driving increasingly quickly towards her destination. As a long shot shows her swerving off the freeway, we see a medium shot of Richard destroying the house he has built; symbolically indicating the destructive impact that his mother’s actions are having on his sense of safety and security.
The sequence then moves to Laura’s destination. She has arrived at a hotel; the mise-en-scene of which is grand, yet anonymous. Laura is then shot in central frame, over the shoulder of a porter. As the porter moves out of shot, Laura is left, alone, in a large, stylish, but lifeless room. The colours within the room are muted creams and beiges. There is little natural light and the impression is of a room with shadows. The psychological situation of Laura is extremely apparent. An overhead shot is then used to show Laura lying on the bed. She looks swamped by the room. So far in the sequence, the viewer has feared that Laura will do something desperate, but has has no mise-en-scene related evidence. The next shot, possibly a point of view shot from Laura, shows her taking out a book and bottles of pills from her bag. The viewer’s fears are confirmed by the sight of these props and the next shot, a cut away to the birthday cake she has made for her husband and place on the kitchen table, suggests the life which she has chosen to leave.
The camera then pans around Laura lying on the bed, reading Mrs Dalloway. The viewer hears the voice of Virginia Woolf reading a line from the book – “Did it matter that she would cease to exist? “. As we hear this line, Laura pulls up her shirt to reveal her pregnant stomach, indicating to the viewer one of the sacrifices she will have to make in order to escape her unhappiness. The next cut is to Virginia Woolf and the camera continues to pan, but in the opposite direction. This cinematography links the two characters’ states of mind and quandaries. The mise-en-scene of Woolf’s clothes and room locate the time as the 1920s. Her stillness mirrors that of Laura Brown. The viewer then hears the thoughts of Woolf, as she states “It is possible to die” and the next shot shows the impact that this line has on Laura Brown. Laura’s face and body are partially in shadow. She is inert on the bed, seeming to give herself up to the prospect of death. As the scene cuts back to Woolf, the viewer hears her sister Vanessa Bell’s attempts to break her out of her reverie. It is not Bell’s question which brings Woolf back, however, but the entry of her daughter, Angelica, into her aunt’s frame. A two shot of Woolf with Angelica on her lap follows and although the child has perhaps introduced something positive into Woolf’s thoughts, her aunt’s expression is still quite disengaged. Neither Virginia Woolf nor Laura Brown can quite step outside of their own troubled thoughts, even when presented with a child.
Angelica asks her aunt “ What were you thinking about ?”, but the answer to this question is postponed as the scene cuts back to a point of view shot from Laura, as she looks at the bottles of pills on the bedside table. The viewer may, at this point, have been positioned as if they were Laura, yet the scene still generates a sense of powerlessness to stop events. There are very few point of view shots from Laura’s perspective, and it is as if the viewer were not being asked to enter into her mindset, but to solely observe the emotional turmoil which it causes. An overhead shot then places Laura centrally in the frame on the hotel bed. She is lying on a white bed cover and is shrouded in shadow. The connotations of death are clear at this point for the viewer. The sequence then enters a kind of dreamscape. Laura’s psychological state is mirrored by the presence of river water filling the hotel room. This mise-en-scene element clearly links Laura Brown and Virginia Woolf. Laura is engulfed by her unhappiness and metaphorically feels as if she is drowning. Virginia Woolf, as we have seen in the opening sequence to this film, did drown herself in a river in 1941. The water is shown covering Laura Brown and the audience fears that she has taken the pills and died in her sleep. However, the cut to Virginia Woolf and the close-up of her suddenly seeming to wake from her reverie, stops the viewer from having this fear confirmed. Woolf smiles and says to Angelica, “ I was going to kill my heroine, but I’ve changed my mind “ and the connections built between Woolf and Laura through the previous cinematography within this sequence, give the viewer hope for Laura. The cut back to Laura in mid shot, shows her waking suddenly and gasping for air, stating “ I can’t “. The camera then tracks slowly back from Laura as she begins to cry, hold her pregnant stomach and rock. The camera and the viewer may be able to leave Laura at this point, as she has not committed suicide, but her body language indicates that her unhappiness is still very real.
The cinematography and mise-en-scene used in this sequence have contributed to the viewer’s increased understanding of the character of Laura Brown. These micro elements have shown the dissatisfaction which can lie beneath the American Dream of the post war years. The differences in mise-en-scene between Laura Brown and Virginia Woolf’s scenes have distanced them in terms of chronological years, but the cinematography has clearly shown the connection between the two characters.
Word Count 1791 – oops! Too many!