Noise in La La Land

Your assignment is to write a 4-5-page analysis of one stylistic element used in the film(s) you are analyzing. Your analysis should show how a particular stylistic technique is organized into a pattern that contributes to the overall effect of the film(s). List your stylistic element as part of your title, e.g., “Tracking Shots in The Film Title.”


You will:

Isolate a significant stylistic element
Identify a pattern in the element’s use
Propose a function/effect of the pattern
Argue for your claim about the pattern’s effect


Isolate a stylistic element you think is noteworthy. Several viewings of the film will be required. To generate ideas, think about all of the devices we have studied thus far in the course:


staging, setting, color, lighting; rhythmic cutting, long takes, shot scale, camera angle, camera height, camera level, mobile framing/camera movement, onscreen and offscreen space, depth of field, lens length, speed of motion; editing transitions, editing conventions, and editing relations (the 180º line, shot/reverse-shot, match on action, eyeline match, point of view shot, graphic match, ellipsis, overlapping editing, crosscutting, etc.); sound (music, dialogue, sound effects, silence, non-diegetic vs. diegetic, onscreen vs. offscreen, external vs. internal, etc.).


If nothing immediately stands out, watch the film again and again each time focusing on just one of these elements.


NB! Do not write your paper on costume, props or make-up as these usually produce only very obvious observations about the film.


Identify a pattern in the use of this stylistic element across the film. This will require multiple viewings of the film. It will be made easier by a detailed segmentation. To be significant, the pattern has to have more than two instances. Make a list of all the instances and link this list to your segmentation. Note how the pattern you identify develops, intensifies, or gets interrupted as the film progresses, with significant ramifications for the film’s story or audience experience. Think about repetition and variation.


Then propose a function/an effect for the stylistic pattern you have isolated. How does the stylistic pattern guide you through the film as you watch? What work is it doing in the film moment by moment? Some possibilities:


Does it serve to emphasize or dramatize something that is not immediately obvious? Does it manipulate our thoughts and feelings? Does it create suspense or surprise? Does it support some line in the overall story development? Does it build the character? Does it create a certain world? Does it help to set mood or tone? Does it provide visual pleasure?


Remember that the stylistic element you have identified may serve multiple functions, and that the one function you propose has to be consistent throughout: if the function of the element changes partway through your pattern, something is wrong with your argument.


The argument of your paper should use evidence from the film and precise and causal claims about this evidence in order to convincingly show that the element you have identified is patterned and plays a role in the telling of the film’s story and/or in how we engage with it.


NOTE: Your goal is not to “solve” the film, or explain the ultimate meaning of the film. Your goal is to examine the work being done by the pattern that governs your chosen element of style. Consider this passage from Film Art:


Meaning is only one type of effect, and there is no reason to expect that every stylistic feature will yield thematic significance. One part of a director’s job is to direct our attention, and so style will often function simply perceptually – to get us to notice things: to emphasize one thing over another; to clarify, intensify, or complicate our understanding of the action. (p. 310)


Before you begin, it may be helpful to take a moment and read Film Art pages 307-310, “Analyzing Style.”



1) Segment the film (break it down into scenes).


2) Write down every instance when your element occurs in correspondence with your segments. This is your pattern.


3) See if there is any development or progression among these instances. (There should be!) This is how your pattern is structured.


4) Think about why this element appears in these instances but not in others. How does this element guide you through this story moment by moment? This is your function.


5) See if you have discovered something new about this film by going through these steps. How does style help tell this story? Does it tell a slightly different story than you saw on the first viewing? Has it been suggesting something that only becomes clear at the end all along? This is the result of your analysis.


6) As you write, remember that specific stylistic devices enter into dynamic relationships with one another as part of a film’s overall formal system. For any stylistic element you choose to focus on you will almost certainly need to discuss the way it engages with other stylistic elements in order to capture how it is used in a patterned way and how it serves a specific function. A graphic match, for instance, is an editing device, but you need to describe mise-en-scene (and screen space/composition) to show how it is used.


Keep an eye out for counterexamples, instances where the stylistic element you focus on is used but doesn’t seem to fit the pattern or serve the function you propose. How do you account for these counterexamples? Revise the thesis and nuance your claims to account for instances that may contradict your broader claim. Every instance has to fit the function. Counterexamples can be very useful for revising, clarifying, and refining your argument.

A warning regarding symbolic/symptomatic interpretations and simple correlations: Avoid simply claiming a function without providing evidence and careful causal argumentation. You need to show a direct causal link between style and function. Show how a meaning or an impression is carefully built over the course of the film and explain why an audience member would associate a specific stylistic device with a particular understanding or feeling.


Remember, this paper is not about interpretation of the film’s meaning but about closely analyzing how narration uses style to structure our experience of the film moment by moment. The question you should ask while working with your stylistic element is not what this element means, but why is this element used in this scene and not in the next scene.


In addition to Film Art pgs. 307–310 (“Analyzing Style” in Chapter 8), mentioned above, it may be helpful to reread pp. 62–70 (“Principles of Film Form” in Chapter 2), and to consult “Writing a Critical Analysis of a Film” posted in the Assignments module on Canvas. Examples of segmentations can be found on pp. 68–69 (for The Wizard of Oz) and 101-102 (for Citizen Kane).



Cite your sources. You are not required to do any research for this paper. However, if you read reviews of the film or listen to the audio commentary and end up using some ideas from these sources, you must cite them in a footnote or endnote. If you use ideas other than your own without citing the source, you open yourself up to charges of plagiarism.


Do not collaborate with anyone. The sanction for academic misconduct is immediate removal of the student from the course and a grade of “F” for the course.



Your paper should be typed and double-spaced, with standard one-inch margins in Times New Roman 12-point black font and pages numbered.



It is expected that your analysis paper will consist of a compelling and careful argument in support of your thesis. To that end, the grading criteria are as follows:


Stylistic element: your paper isolates a stylistic element in the film that forms an important pattern. Your discussion concerns the film’s style and not its plot/narrative.


Pattern: your paper shows how this stylistic pattern is deployed and develops in the film.


Function: your paper contains clear and compelling explanation of the function/effect of the patterned use of style while avoiding simplistic interpretations and correlations (i.e., “high angle means power”).


Description and Writing: descriptions of style are detailed and precise; correct

terminology is used. Your paper avoids poor grammar and syntax, typographical errors, and excessive plot summary. Your argument is well organized, clear, causal, and persuasive. Your paper has a title (which mentions your element), an introductory paragraph, several supporting points, and a strong conclusion.


If your paper fully satisfies only one of the following criteria, you are likely to receive a D.

If your paper fully satisfies two of the following criteria, you are likely to receive a C.

If your paper fully satisfies three of the following criteria, you are likely to receive a B.

If your paper fully satisfies all four of the following criteria, you are likely to receive an A.

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