Three Faces of Film

Triangulating the Text of Film
Adapted by Mary Ellen Dakin from Reel Conversations: Reading Films with Young Adults by Alan B. Teasley and Ann Wilder

Begin the process of teaching students to read dramatic and documentary films critically by asking, "What are your ten favorite movies?" After students construct their Top Ten lists, display each question set, allowing time for discussion of the literary and theatrical elements of popular films:

1. Who are the characters?
2. What happens? Summarize the plot.
3. How "literary" is the dialogue?
4. What is the predominant tone of the dialogue?
5. What is the mood of the film?
6. What objects in the film function as symbols?
7. What is the film's purpose, beyond entertainment?
8. What issues and ideas seem important in the film? What are the themes of the film?

1. How do the actors interpret the characters they play? In a documentary, how do the subjects convey their character, attitude, and values?
2. How do the costumes or the clothing and make-up reinforce the acting?
3. Describe the main sets and the most interesting props.
4. Do lighting and color contribute to the film? How?
5. Do sound and / or silence contribute to the film? How?

Then, after students have analyzed the most familiar aspects of film, as the third question:

How are movies different from books and plays? 

After students offer their ideas, distribute the Three Faces of Film chart and discuss the cinematic terms. Encourage students to apply what they are learning to their Top Ten lists. Gradually introduce students to a Glossary of Film Terms such as the one published at this site. Distribute film viewing guides to assist students as they learn to read the three faces of film.