How to Watch Movies
Intelligently and Critically
(in two parts)
on Film Viewing - Part One: Watching a film's moving image,
other than just for pure entertainment's sake, is usually enhanced
by viewing it with an informed awareness of how a film works,
and with some understanding, skill and background training in
the elements of the craft of film-making. Each film viewer or
movie-goer should strive to be a 'critic' (in the best and most
general sense of the word) and be receptive to the full experience.
Viewing a film critically and attentively means
to realize cinema with greater thought and awareness, and to
elevate one's celluloid experience. It also means possessing
an informed knowledge of the film's complex and dense 'language,'
its conventions, codes, symbols, cinematic attributes, and other
This short list is provided for the average movie-goer to stimulate thought about film, and help the viewer to become cinematically-literate. It gives helpful hints on the art of reading, analyzing, watching, critically viewing, and deconstructing a film (to take apart the film's components and interpret how it was all intentionally assembled together). Anyone can learn the language, techniques, and structure of cinema of both the past and present. The Internet Movie DataBase (www.imdb.com) is always a useful resource for factual information about films. See also this site's Film Search page for other helpful film resources. Here are some simple suggestions, as a first step, for viewing a film intelligently:
an Appropriate Film to View:
Usually, watch a film that is worth your while. If you are in a film studies class, you will probably be studying some of the classics of cinema, rather than watching the latest popcorn film, action film or blockbuster.
This exhaustive list of various steps is not intended for fluffy, entertaining films that are to be watched for pure enjoyment's sake. However, make sure to choose a film from any of the wide selection of genre films available so that you can experience the entire spectrum of different types of films.
Know the studio responsible for the film. Was it made by a major studio, a minor studio, or an independent?
Why was the film made?
Was there any controversy surrounding the film's rating?
How does the film fit (or not fit) into its conventional, recognizable classifications?
Type of Film:
Are there other versions of the film's story or tale?
Evaluate Production Values:
Up Awards and Honors:
a Second Viewing: [Note: Not all films deserve such
Watch a deserving film more than once, and preferably with others so that the experience may be discussed afterwards.
During the first viewing:
The second time around:
on Dialogue Subtitles:
[Note: Oftentimes, the subtitles are abbreviated or modified and do not match the actual spoken words.]
Title and Credits:
[Note: Up until the 1950s, films had a very set format for the credits: (1) credits at the start, (2) a "The End" title card following the film, and (3) a cast list with character names. Recently, most films immediately begin with a plot sequence, with 'opening' credits ("main title") super-imposed over them after a few minutes, and extensive rolling 'full credits' ("end title"), usually white text on a black background, after the film concludes.]
Carefully to the Soundtrack: