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Film StudiesReview - Film Studies
An Introduction
by Ed Sikov
Columbia University Press, 2009
Review by Mark Welch, Ph.D.
Nov 9th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 45)

There are many ways to enjoy films and increasingly there is interest in how they are made, and how understanding that can add to the appreciation of film making as both a technical and artistic endeavor. Ed Sikov has written an excellent short beginners’ guide to just that. and one that will have equal appeal to students and the general public.

He takes for granted that people are familiar with the experience of watching, and perhaps discussing films, but assumes little else. He approaches his subject in something of a manualized way, but conveys both the skill of technical production and the talent of imaginative representation. It will appeal to those who want to learn how to it themselves, and those who would like to know how it is done.

The style is very clear and straightforward. There are definitions and a glossary, and technical terms are given background and context. There are diagrams which illustrate aspects such as camera movement or shot selection, and there are study questions and guides that can help the more formal student. Sikov is a Professor .Film Studies and this shows.

The book begins with a chapter defining and analyzing mise-en-scene, and subsequent chapters deal with technical aspects such as camera movement, cinematography, editing, sound, narrative and screenplays. The final sections deal with film criticism and debate including topics such as auteur theory, film persona, acting and special effects.

One of the enjoyable aspects of the book is its humor. Often this amounts to tongue-in-cheek references to film history and character, such as the good writing-bad writing exercise involving the putative student critic Phyllis Dietrichson (the classic femme fatale from Double Indemnity) and others, and if the reader doesn’t get the joke it doesn’t really matter.

Although it would seem that Sikov has a great affection for the films of the 1940s and 1950s (and indeed he has written elsewhere about Billy Wilder, Bette Davis and Sunset Boulevard in particular) the book feels very up to date. He talks as easily and knowledgably about CGI and recent blockbusters such as The Lord of Rings or The Pirates of the Caribbean as Eisenstein and montage and makes it all relevant.

Sikov has great gifts in communicating some of the hidden aspects of film making without destroying the illusion -- and it is perhaps the illusion that we all love in the end. He has produced one of the most comprehensive and accessible texts of its type and it is likely to become a staple for introductory film studies curricula. It will also give lasting pleasure to those who would like to become more familiar with terminology and technique (he does tell us what a gaffer does and what a best boy is if anyone had ever wondered). Although it seems a relatively slim volume it does not really omit any major areas and will lead to further in-depth study if the reader wishes. It can confidently be recommended as one of the best contributions to this kind of literature in recent years.

 

© 2010 Mark Welch

 

Mark Welch, PhD, British Columbia. 


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