Tag Archives: films

Ebert’s Glossary of Movie Terms

If there’s one person I can think of who is qualified to produce a movie glossary, it has to be Roger Ebert. And you know what? He did, it was published, and I had no idea until just now.

Inspiring frequent light giggles and the occasional guffaw, Ebert’s glossary appears to have originated as an article/chapter in Roger Ebert’s Video Companion (that link leads to a probably-not-kosher mirror of the full section). An expanded version was later published as the standalone volume Ebert’s ‘Bigger’ Little Movie Glossary, with the wondrously descriptive subtitle of “a greatly expanded and much improved compendium of movie clichés, stereotypes, obligatory scenes, hackneyed formulas, shopworn conventions, and outdated archetypes” (and that link goes to the fairly extensive Google Books preview… for those of you who don’t want to buy it for the Kindle).

Five random terms that made me chuckle:

  • Dirt Equals Virtue: In technology movies, a small, dingy, cluttered little lab and eccentric personnel equal high principles; large, well-lighted facilities mask sinister motives.
  • First Law of Funny Names: No names are funny unless used by W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx. Funny names, in general, are a sign of desperation at the screenplay level. See “Dr. Hfuhruhurr” in The Man with Two Brains.
  • Obligatory M & M Shot: Every movie that features a scene in an Arab or Islamic country will begin the scene with a shot of a mosque tower (minaret), or the sound of the muezzin, or both.
  • Principle of Selective Lethality: The lethality of a weapon varies, depending on the situation. A single arrow will drop a stampeding bison in its tracks, but it takes five or six to kill an important character. A single bullet will always kill an extra on the spot, but it takes dozens to bring down the hero.
  • Unmotivated Close-up: A character is given a close-up in a scene where there seems to be no reason for it. This is an infallible tip-off that this character is more significant than at first appears, and is most likely the killer. See the lingering close-up of the undercover KGB agent near the beginning of The Hunt for Red October.

Cosmic View to The Know Universe

In 1957, the Dutch educator Kees Boeke wrote Cosmic View, a essay exploring “many levels of size and structure, from the astronomically vast to the atomically tiny”.

Boeke’s essay went on to inspire the 1968 animated short, Cosmic Zoom.

Cosmic View and Zoom then inspired the more famous Charles and Ray Eames documentary, Powers of Ten, created in 1977 (previously).

Unknown to me until recently was the 1996 Oscar-nominated documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman, that was inspired by all of the above: Cosmic Voyage.

Similarly, NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 20th 2010 was also inspired by all of these. This was not a picture, but the American Museum of Natural History’s documentary, The Known Universe.

All of these are inspiring, breathtaking videos that are short enough for any schedule:

Writing to Subvert Audience Expectations

Suggesting that “Audiences always think they know how a story will go”, Roz Morris of Nail Your Novel dissects Kathryn Bigelow‘s award-winning The Hurt Locker (spoilers galore) to see why a film that “[sets] up several conventional situations – and uses our expectations to pull us up short” made such an impact with audiences.

Readers always try to second-guess where a story is going. They can’t help it. Subverting the audience’s expectations is not new. The Hurt Locker twists them overtly and violently to tell us the world of war is nothing like the one we know. Neither are the people anything like the people we know. It is storytelling that is fully in control of its audience.

via The Browser

How an Entertainment Medium Succeeds

While looking at how piracy and online content has changed ‘traditional media’ (and is continuing to do so), Barrett Garese succinctly points out his vision for the direction online content needs to go to really differentiate itself and, thus, succeed (or any entertainment medium, in fact).

Each medium has unique advantages and disadvantages, and the creator must craft an experience that accentuates the advantages and mitigates the disadvantages of the medium in which it lives.

The most important question for the future of all online content is this: “What are those unique elements which allow content created primarily for online consumption to stand apart from its more ‘traditional’ or ‘mainstream’ rivals?” Film can tell an epic story over a period of 1.5-3 hours on a scale that’s unmatched in other media. Television can tell a story over a period of dozens or hundreds of hours with an intricacy and character development that’s as of yet untouched in other media. What is the “online experience” that makes telling a story in this medium so different the experience in any other?

For online content to further expand, we must experiment to find and exploit those unique elements that enable the experience itself to stand as the draw. So long as we’re content to mimic other media, it will never grow into a viable “mainstream” entertainment medium. If all you’re doing is creating “TV-lite” or “Film-lite” in an attempt to mimic the experience, then there are already better competitors out there – they’re called “Film” and “TV,” and most people are already familiar.