Becoming an Adultier Adult
How to read a movie
How to read a movie

How to read a movie

While reading “How to read a movie” by Roger Ebert, one of the first things that struck me was his comment about the concept that visual compositions have “intrinsic weighting.” He explains that what he means is that visual shots that stir emotion in cinema. It’s not something that is a law or rule for a director to follow, but more of something that will happen naturally for a talented director or cinematographer. I recently watched “Saving Private Ryan” with one of my sons, and the scene below stuck out to me. The scene depicts a lot of the causalities of the invasion, and at this point, my son pointed out the dead fish on the beach. I paused the movie so we could discuss the magnitude of what happened that day and how it impacted the entire world, and specifically our relatives whom served in the Army Air Corp during the invasion.

I liked his idea of using stop-action to study the shots in a film. I’ve taken a film class before, and I wished the professor had used this method. Maybe I would have gotten more out of the class. Or maybe we did did do this and I don’t remember. Either way, it sounds like a good idea, and I’m going to try it on some videos.

I was reading his comments about characters on the left of the screen versus the right of the screen and what it implies. Ebert says, “Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left.” I guess he could be right, but it’s all subjective. In fact, he even says these are tendencies within composition, not absolutes. As someone who knows much more about film than I do, I guess I will have to take his word on this.


  1. Evan Guard

    I love your analysis of the beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan”. For me the river of blood flowing into the ocean really emphasizes the amount of death that happened.

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  3. I thought Ebert’s technique of stopping a film and analyzing the individual frames was interesting as well. I also got a little caught up on the left=negative right=positive thing too, kind of reminded me of some of the things we read in the Vignelli Cannon about design. Overall I thought Ebert’s musings on how to read a movie were really interesting, and I like how you were able to apply this to a film you had watched with your son.

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