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30º A change in camera angle at the minimum of 30º is usual for each new shot at the same scene, thus ensuring the cut will edit smoothly. That is, there will not be a jump cut.
180º rule, the            The 180º rule involves an imaginary line along the action of the scene, between actors involved in a conversation or the direction of a chase. The ‘rule’ dictates that this line should be clearly established and that the consecutive shots should not be taken from opposite sides of the line.
35mm film  The measurement of film in millimetres (16mm, 35mm, 70mm) describes the length of the individual film negative frames which are exposed in order to capture an image; the larger the negative, the higher the resolution of the projected image. Larger format film such as 70mm, while superior in quality, is cumbersome to use and comparatively expensive to work with. There are also fewer cinemas able to screen formats other than the now standard 35mm print.


actualities   The French term given to the short non-fictional films made in the early period (1895–1906 or so). These films often consisted simply of people going about their everyday business, or of particular events (sporting contests, visiting dignataries).
alternative Alternative cinema is defined with reference to dominant: it is an alternative (both economically and formally) to the dominant form. In any study concerning an ‘alternative’ cinema, the films would not only have to be examined in their own right, but also compared to contemporary dominant Hollywood cinema. A number of questions might have to be posed when analysing these alternative films: In what ways is this group of films different to the dominant cinema of the time? What are the possible reasons for the difference: cultural? economic? social? political? Could this ‘alternative’ way of making films, given the right conditions, have itself turned into the dominant cinema? The Soviet cinema of the 1920s, when compared to the Hollywood cinema of the same era, certainly may be regarded as alternative. In other words, alternative cinema offered a style of filmmaking that was radically different to the mass of films that was being produced in America.
animated documentary        In recent years, there has been an exponential rise in the production of animated documentary. This has essentially been characterised by the fusion of documentary tropes – non-fiction subject matter, participant interviews and analysis, use of statistical and archival evidence – and animation, resulting in a reclamation of what might be termed ‘naive histories’ in the spirit of offering alternative perspectives on the dominant grand narratives of contemporary social, cultural and national existence.
animation   The creation of artificial movement through a variety of techniques. Usually recorded one frame at a time, animation replicates naturalistic movement and creates the illusion of life in objects and images.
anthropomorphism                The tendency in animation to endow creatures with human attributes, abilities and qualities. This can redefine or merely draw attention to characteristics which are taken for granted in live-action representations of human beings.
aperture      The opening within a lens controlling the amount of light that passes through the lens to the film; the smaller the aperture, the less light will hit the film.
archetypes Embodiments of a range of ideas and identities; ideal example of a role, person or certain personal traits.
art cinema  A term usually applied to films where the director has clearly exercised a high degree of control over the filmmaking process and thus the films may be viewed as a form of personal expression. This kind of filmmaking became common in Europe (hence the term ‘European art cinema’), especially from the 1950s onwards, due to the funding structures and nature of the European film industries, which allowed directors greater artistic freedom than was to be found within the US system. In terms of style and content, art cinema is usually characterised by the way it differs from its commercial counterpart, Hollywood cinema: for instance, a drifting, episodic and open-ended narrative versus the tight cause-and-effect narrative of American cinema with its characteristic closure.
art-house    A crude shorthand way of referring to films in which artistic ambition and intellectual challenge are more important than the simple motive to provide entertainment. ‘Great’ art-house directors such as Bergman and Godard are unquestionably considered to be auteurs.
artisanal mode of production            A way of making films outside of an established ‘industrial’ means of production by using small budgets and minimal production teams. The term emphasises a more craft-like and personal process, hence allowing greater control of the filmmaking process.
associative mode    Approach to documentary which attempts to use footage in such a way as to provide the maximum degree of symbolic or metaphorical meaning on top of the literal information available in the image.
audience     Collectives of people responding to a film.
auteur          A French term that originated in the pages of the film journal Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s to refer to directors who infuse their films with their distinctive personal vision through the salient manipulation of film technique. Auteurs, seen as genuine artists, were contrasted with metteurs-en-scène who were held to be technically competent directors who merely executed the processes of filmmaking without consistently stamping their ‘personality’ on the material from one film to the next. To study film as if it were the creative expression of a single individual, usually held to be the director, is often called auteurism.
auteurism   A critical approach to the study of film which identifies the director as responsible for whatever the viewer finds of thematic, stylistic or structural interest in a single film or across a body of work by one director.
avant-garde               Essentially non-narrative in structure and often intellectual in content, working in opposition to mainstream cinema. Literally the ‘advanced guard’ of experimental filmmakers who reject the dominant forms of mainstream cinema in favour of innovation and experiment in filmmaking, often producing non-narrative, non-illusionistic, sometimes abstract films. Avant-garde film is often self-conscious and frequently makes use of devices such as cuts to the camera crew, talking to the camera and scratching on film.


binary analysis          An approach which derives from cultural anthropology and particularly the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. The study of binary opposites is a useful means of identifying structures at work in, for instance, the genre of a film.
biopic           A film which dramatises the biography of a real or imaginary person. It is usually characterised by a linear narrative. Examples of musical biopics range from The Glenn Miller Story (Anthony Mann, 1954) to The Doors (Oliver Stone, 1991).
blackface     Use of burnt cork or greasepaint to paint the face literally black. Originated in nineteenth-century minstrel theatre; used by both white and black performers.
blaxploitation           Movie studios' exploitation of what they believed were black urban audiences' tastes in film; beginning with Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song; concerned the years 1970 to 1974 in the USA; usually black-cast action films.
blue screen                A process that involves the subject being filmed in front of a blue screen. Optical manipulation of this footage creates imagery of the actor against a black background. In addition, the actor's silhouette is set against a clear background. Using these two elements as mattes it is possible to place the action into any scene required.
Bollywood  Bombay, the film capital of India.
bricolage     The putting together of features from different genres and styles, self-consciously and usually playfully. This is one of the principal characteristics of postmodernism.
butch            Description of behaviour patterns – such as aggression and sexual dominance – traditionally associated with masculinity.


camp             A critical attitude which involves looking at texts less as reflections of reality and more as constructed sets of words, images and sounds at a distance from reality. The attitude often involves irony or detachment when considering this distance.
caméra-stylo             A term coined by French writer Alexandre Astruc meaning ‘camerapen’ and used to condense his argument for a ‘personal’ and self-expressive form of cinema.
canted framing         A framing where the camera is not level, causing the mise-en-scène to appear slanted within the frame.
carnivalesque           A term which refers to an atmosphere or attitude, found at carnivals and similar events, characterised by laughter, excess and vulgarity. Seen as a lower class resistance to the refined tastes of the dominant (upper and middle) classes.
CGI An acronym for ‘computer-generated imagery’, meaning the use of digital software to create, change or enhance aspects of mise-en-scène.
character/personality animation      Many cartoons and more sophisticated adult animated films, for example, Japanese anime, are still dominated by ‘character’ or ‘personality’ animation, which prioritises exaggerated and sometimes caricatured expressions of human traits in order to direct attention to the detail of gesture and the range of human emotion and experience. This kind of animation is related to identifiable aspects of the real world and does not readily correspond with more abstract uses of the animated medium.
cinema apparatus    The power of cinema as a system of communication, controlling and holding the spectator in place.
cinematograph         Early term for cinema. Initially it referred to the camera/projector, but soon came to be used to refer to the practice and exhibition space.
cinema novo              ‘New cinema’. A movement of filmmakers that came to prominence in Brazil in the 1960s, the leading figure of which was Glauber Rocha. Influenced by the New Wave in France and the intellectual examples of Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara, ‘cinema novo’ called for filmmaking that emphasised ‘the aesthetics of hunger’ directed against a cinema of imperialism.
cinéma vérité            A French term, literally meaning ‘cinema truth’. Cinéma vérité emerged out of the filmmaking practices of Jean Rouch in France. Based on Vertov’s approach, it acknowledged the impact of the filmmaking process upon the recording of ‘actuality’, and more readily recognised the subjectivity of the filmmaker in securing filmic evidence of what took place. Rouch essentially suggests that the documentary form must be defined through the integrity and purpose of its author. The value and purpose of ‘actuality’ footage in regard to its delineation of documentary ‘truth’ is therefore in direct relationship to the intention of those who produce it. The term is sometimes confused with a US kind of filmmaking which is actually closer to direct cinema. The confusion stems from the common ‘immediacy ‘that the films have – filming people with handheld cameras and portable sound-recording equipment – but cinéma vérité properly has a foundation of interaction between filmmaker and filmed, rather than the detachment seen in direct cinema films. Nevertheless, it is common to see a range of different films referred to as ‘cinéma vérité (or sometimes just ‘vérité’), and it is important to distinguish between them.
cinephilia    The notion of cinephilia refers to an intense love of, even obsession with, cinema. It implies both a way of watching and a way of speaking about film beyond the standard relationship between cinema and its spectator. Cinephiles are people who, in Andrew Sarris’ phrase, ‘love cinema beyond all reason’, and who engage with film in highly specific ways.
classical Hollywood cinema                A particular narrative form which was exemplified by the films at the height of the studio system (1930–49). Although most Hollywood films still contain elements of classical narrative form, such as a central protagonist and a clear cause–effect relationship, film narratives, particularly since the success of movies such as Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994), now play with plot and character with much greater flexibility.
close-up      Normally defined as a shot of the head from the neck up.
CNC               Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie, the chief body of the French state that oversees policy affecting filmmaking, including the subsidies accorded to cinema.
cognitivist processing            The process by which ideas that might be considered dangerous or anti-hegemonic are pulled in or incorporated into structures of order.
condensation            The compression of a set of narrative or aesthetic agendas within a minimal structural framework. Essentially, achieving the maximum amount of suggested information and implication from the minimum amount of imagery used.
consent decree        A court order made with the consent of both parties – the defendant and the plaintiff – which puts to rest the lawsuit brought against the former by the latter.
constructed                The quality of an idea being neither natural nor inevitable; having been assembled or otherwise created to appear natural or inevitable, often in the interest of a specific ideology.
conventions               Conventions are established procedures within a particular form which are identifiable by both the producer and the reader. The implication of the idea of conventions is that a form does not naturally mean anything, but it is an agreement between producer and user.
crane shot   A camera movement in which the camera moves above the ground in any direction (for which it is mounted on the arm of a special ‘camera crane’).
cross-cutting              Editing that alternates shots occurring in different story locations to imply that the events shown are occurring simultaneously.
cultural capital          First originating in the work of Pierre Bourdieu to describe the unequal distribution of cultural competencies and values principally across different social classes, the term has since been appropriated more generally to refer to the specific competencies and ‘knowledges’ of various social groupings, as well as the ‘symbolic power’ attained precisely from ‘affiliation’ to that group.
cultural studies        The cultural studies approach has gained academic respectability, partly due to the pioneering work of theorists such as Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall. Popular culture is now seen as a complex and worthy area of study, as being revealing about our society. Cultural studies has been influenced by Marxist theory, especially the theories of Antonio Gramsci, who used the term hegemony to describe the consensus that keeps the status quo in existence in society; capitalism keeps control by agreement of the people, yet there are still struggles for power which allow for change and adjustment in society. Cultural studies has, in more recent years, been a major influence on film studies, particularly in the study of popular film.
cut  The joining of two strips of film in the editing room, and the resulting immediate change from one image to another on-screen.


deconstruction         All media ‘texts’ are constructed. To understand all the components within each construction it is necessary to deconstruct the text and analyse all its elements. For example, the cartoon is made up of a number of specific aspects which define it as a unique cinematic practice, i.e. its frame-by-frame construction, its modes of representation and so on.
découpage A term that means the ‘shot breakdown’ of a scene.
depth cues These are provided by the arrangement of setting, lighting and props within the frame, which determines the degree to which the space depicted in the cinematic image appears to recede backwards and to take on three-dimensionality. Converging lines, size diminution, and the suggestion of different ‘planes’ in the fore-, middle- and background of the shot all accentuate the sense that there is a lot of space between the camera and the farthest visible object in the frame.
developmental animation  If orthodox animation emerges from Disney’s 2D cel-animated tradition, developmental animation operates as the range of responses and oppositions to it. This might include the more overtly ‘cartoonal’ work by Warner Bros and MGM, or the range of approaches and styles from stop-motion animation, to clay animation, to cut-out animation and so on, which may still possess ‘mimetic’ references, but are nevertheless seeking to be more non-linear and non-objective in their approaches.
dialectical   A difficult term to define, as it has many different meanings. The Collins English Dictionary (2nd edn, 1986), for example, defines it as a ‘disputation or debate, esp. intended to resolve differences between two views rather than to establish one of them as true’. The crucial factor to grasp in the context of Eisenstein’s thinking, however, is the notion of change and the creation of a new order. Eisenstein would have defined dialectic with reference to Marxist philosophy, which believed that society was contradictory and in need of change.
diaspora      The movement of people of African descent to other parts of the world; participants in the diaspora are diasporans. Struggle and resistance and the impulse to freedom inform the African diasporan memory, religion and culture (Benhill 2010).
diegesis       The fictional world in which we presume the story takes place.
diegetic       The elements of a film that originate from directly within the film’s narrative. For example, a popular song that is being played on the soundtrack would be diegetic if it were clear that it was coming from a source within the world of the film such as a car radio. See also non-diegetic.
dilution and amplication      The simultaneous capacity for animation, by virtue of its intrinsic artifice, to be viewed either as a language which dilutes its outcomes and effects, rendering them ‘innocent’ and ‘dismissable’, or as a language which inherently amplifies its literal, aesthetic and ideological perspectives, rendering them sometimes unacceptably challenging in their representational aspects.
direct cinema            American documentarists of the 1960s and 1970s believed that the advent of light, portable, technically sophisticated camera equipment enabled a breakthrough in the ways that documentary filmmaking could reveal personal and social ‘truth’. The fact that the documentarist could literally film anywhere under any conditions meant that a greater intimacy could be achieved with the subject, heightening the sense that ‘reality’ was being directly observed, and that the viewer was party to the seemingly unmediated immediacy of the experience. Less controlled, unscripted, apparently spontaneous, the look and feel of ‘direct cinema’ arguably demonstrated a less deliberately authored approach.
discourse systems   A discourse is a mode of speech which has evolved to express the shared human activities of a community of people. Film studies has, like other academic disciplines, developed its own language – its own discourse system – to make possible the identification and ‘mapping’ of that area of human activity and experience with which it is concerned.
Disney dust                The term given to the glitter and sparkle that usually accompanies any form of magic or unearthly effect such as the glowing dust trail left by the flying Tinkerbell in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) and again in Hook (1991).
dissolve       Transition between shots with the first shot fading out to be simultaneously replaced by the second shot fading in. Often used to indicate an ellipse.
distribution                Division of the film industry concentrating on the marketing of film, connecting the producer with the exhibitor by leasing films from the former and renting them to the latter.
documentary             A non-fiction text using ‘actuality’ footage, which may include the live recording of events and relevant research material (i.e. interviews, statistics). This kind of text is usually informed by a particular point of view, and seeks to address a particular social issue which is related to and potentially affects the audience.
Dogme 95    The name given to a collective of Danish filmmakers united around the figures of directors Lars Von Trier, Thomas Winterberg and Kristian Levering. Dogme 95 was the name of a manifesto that committed filmmakers to observing a cinematic ‘vow of chastity’ involving an ultra-realist approach to filmmaking using only digital video cameras.
dominant    Refers to both economic strength and also to the dominant form or convention: dominant cinema in film studies is assumed to be Hollywood.
drama–documentary             Any format which attempts to re-create historical or typical events using performers, whether actors or not.
dystopia      A world of the future where everything has gone wrong.



eclecticism An aesthetic style in which a new composition is composed wholly or in part from elements selected from a range of previous styles, forms, texts, genres, drawn from different periods and from both high and popular culture. This is one of the principal strategies of postmodern art. See also intertextuality, palimpsest, recombinacy, self-reflexivity.
economic presentation        All the components are designed to help us read the narrative. An examination of the first few minutes of almost any mainstream fictional film will reveal a considerable amount of information about characters, their social situation and their motivation.
editing         Sometimes also referred to as ‘montage’ (from the French ‘monter’, meaning ‘to assemble’), this refers to the joining together of different pieces of film stock in post-production.
ellipse          A gap in the continuity of time and space of the narrative – usually indicated in editing by means of a dissolve or wipe.
emblematic               A typical representation, in this case symbolic of England.
essentialism              A term describing the idea of a single, firmly fixed identity as regards gender, sexuality and other social elements. The opposite attitude is often described as social constructionism, implying that such identities are a product of one’s society, attitudes and upbringing, and can vary or be changed.
establishing shot     A shot using distant framing, allowing the viewer to see the spatial relations between characters and the set.
ethics            Concerning morality, or codes of conduct. There is a strong ethical discourse running through the history of documentary, and debates to be had about the ethical dimension of things like reconstruction, filming people without their consent, informing the viewer of the extent of filmmaker intervention, and so on.
exclusive run             Where a film is screened in only one movie theatre.
exhibition   Division of the film industry concentrating on the public screening of film.
experimental animation      Experimental animation is the avant-garde of the animation field, seeking to innovate with new styles and techniques, and often in purely abstract terms of expression. It should be stressed though that all forms of animation have ‘experimental’ aspects, and this both makes the form ‘modern’ and ‘popular’.
exposition  The use of voiceover or direct-to-camera address by a figure who is essentially directing the viewer in the reception of information and argument.
extreme close-up    A framing in which the object shown takes up virtually the whole screen (as in a shot of a body part, such as a leg or an eye).
extreme long shot  A framing in which the object shown (typically a human body shown from head to toe) fills a small fraction of the screen.
extra-textual             In a broad sense, designates the ‘outside’ of the film/text, the range of cultural texts which relate in some way to the film/text; in a narrower sense refers to the non-filmic intertexts which in varying degrees relate to the film/text (such as marketing and promotional materials, film reviews, and so on).
eye-line match         The ‘eye-line’ match is another convention of Hollywood editing that encourages identification with the protagonist(s), as the shots from their eye-line suggest a sense of realism.


fade               An editing technique in which one of the juxtaposed images is a black screen. With a ‘fade-out’ the image slowly darkens; with a ‘fade-in’ the image slowly emerges out of darkness.
fade and mixes         Where one image fades from view to be replaced by a separate image. When this is done with two images simultaneously the effect is known as a ‘mix’ or a dissolve.
faster speed film speed/speed of film stock              Sensitivity of the photographic emulsion of the film to light; a higher speed of film will require less light (i.e. a smaller aperture may be used) in order to produce a properly exposed image; faster speed film stock tends to provide greater contrast in tone than a slower film stock.
feminism    This is based on the belief that we live in a society where women are still unequal to men; that women have lower status than men and have less power, particularly economic power. Feminists argue that the media reinforces the status quo by representing a narrow range of images of women; for instance, woman as carer, as passive object, as an object of desire. Many feminists now argue that the range of representations for both male and female is limited and slow to change. In recent years feminism has become fragmented and it is difficult to argue that feminism is a complete area of study; but the relationship between gender and power relations in society may be seen as central to feminist thinking. For an interesting discussion on this area see Liesbet Van Zoonen (1994)
femme         Description of behaviour patterns – such as gentleness, sexual passivity, concern with dress and appearance – traditionally associated with femininity.
femme fatale            A term which originated in critical discourses on film noir; it refers to dangerous, seductive female characters who are normally literally ‘fatal’, in that they cause the death of the hero.
fetishism     Freudian theorists argue that fetishism is linked to the castration complex and is a form of male denial of the threat and fear of castration by the female. The female is made less threatening, more reassuring, by substituting her lack of a phallus with a fetish object such as high heels, long hair or turning her into a fetish object by exaggerating or fragmenting parts of the body such as lips or breasts.
film noir      A term developed by French film critics in the postwar period to describe a number of films produced in the 1940s. It has subsequently become a marketing device used to describe films with some of the lighting and narrative conventions of the period.
first-run       Important cinemas would show films immediately upon their theatrical release (or their ‘first-run’). Smaller, local cinemas would show films on subsequent runs, hence the terms second-run, third-run and so on.
fly-on-the-wall         A term associated with a style of documentary filmmaking which attempts to present events as though the presence of the camera and film crew had not influenced them in any way.
focal length                This refers to the ability of a lens to bend the incoming light on to the film plane; a shorter focal length will provide a wider angle of view (which dictates what appears within the frame); a longer focal length will provide a narrower field of view but greater magnification of what is shown; for any given set of conditions a shorter focal length will provide a larger depth of field.
foley stage Named after the sound editor Jack Foley, the foley stage is a sound-recording room equipped with a screen and the necessary items for the creation of sound effects.
formation   Each of us comes to a film with our own personal ‘formation’ – the result of all our life experiences. These will predispose us to certain interpretations of character, certain attitudes towards moral and political issues and certain emotional responses to events.
framing        The choices made about what to include within the frame and what to exclude.
free publicity            Free coverage of subjects that the media feel are newsworthy.


gay A description of strong, positive sexual love and attraction between members of the same sex, used by extension to describe cultural products, such as film and video, concerned with similar themes. Mainly referring to males, it can also be used for any person.
gender         A name for the social and cultural construction of a person’s sex and sexuality. Gender, sex and sexuality can overlap but are by no means an exact match. It is this ‘mismatch’ which has generated a fascinating body of film production and criticism.


hegemony  A set of ideas, attitudes or practices becomes so dominant that we forget they are rooted in choice and the exercise of power. They appear to be ‘common sense’ because they are so ingrained, and any alternative seems ‘odd’ or potentially threatening by comparison. Hegemony is the ideological made invisible. In relation to the development of cinema, it can be seen how Hollywood developed hegemonic status and power. The Hollywood form of genre-based narrative realist film is considered a ‘common-sense’ use of the medium. Other forms of cinema, by comparison, are more or less ‘odd’. In looking at the early history of cinema we can begin to understand how and why Hollywood assumed this position.
heterosexual             A word used to name and describe a person whose main sexual feelings are for people of the opposite sex.
high-angle shot        A framing where the camera looks down from above on to the objects or scene filmed.
high-key lighting     This term refers to a lighting design (normally using a three-point system) where there is little contrast between the light and shadowed areas of the frame.
historiography          The study of how history is written – or constructed. This has become acutely important as we become more aware of how narratives are the result of processes of selection and construction. Film history, like other kinds of history, needs to be reflected upon, not just in relation to its content, but also in relation to the processes by which it has been written.
Hollywood cinema In classical Hollywood cinema, the editing is designed to be ‘invisible’. It is intended to allow the audience closer views and to see the point of view of different characters. The editing is used essentially to clarify what is taking place in the narrative. This type of editing had become dominant in Hollywood filmmaking by approximately 1920.
hommage   The French word for an act of paying homage, sincere respect.
homoerotic                A description of a text – prose, poem, film, painting, photograph – conveying an enjoyable sense of same-sex attraction.
homophobia              Irrational prejudice and hatred against a person because of their homosexuality.
homosexual               A word used to name and describe a person whose main sexual feelings are for people of the same sex. Mainly, but not exclusively, used in reference to males.
hypermediated culture        This describes the current state of post-media-saturated culture in which forms of work, leisure and entertainment, as well as many of the taken-for-granted activities that structure daily life, are predicted on, and determined by, the all-pervasive presence of highly integrated media forms and technologies. The notion of hypermediation, therefore, refers to the way that our experience of the world is channelled through an endless network of media texts.


iconic            The iconic is defined by the dominant signs that signify a particular person or object – Chaplin, for example, would be defined by a bowler hat, a moustache, a cane and some old boots; Hitler would be defined by a short, parted hairstyle and a small ‘postage stamp’ moustache.
iconoclasts Filmmakers and documentarists committed to challenging the received construction and meanings of images, partially through the critique of those images, and mainly through the reconfiguration of imagery in a subjective style.
iconography               The visual codes of setting, props and clothing which enable us to recognise a film as belonging to a certain genre or type. It shares similarities with mise-en-scène.
identification            The process of identification allows us to place ourselves in the position of particular characters, either throughout or at specific moments in a movie. The devices involved include subjectivity of viewpoint (we see the world through their eyes, a shared knowledge, we know what and only what they know), and a sharing in their moral world, largely through narrative construction.
ideological effects  Effects of political significance, manipulating the spectator into an acceptance of specific ways of thinking about and relating to the world.
ideological function               Ideology is the system of ideas, values and beliefs held by individuals or groups within society. Ideological function refers to the way in which ideology is disseminated through films or other cultural forms. Audiences may of course refuse to accept the dominant ideological meaning in a film.
ideology      Although a complex issue, ideology may be seen as the dominant set of ideas and values which inform any one society or culture, but which are imbued in its social behaviour and representative texts at a level that is not necessarily obvious or conscious. There are two key definitions of this term, one provided by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Karl Marx, the other by the twentieth-century French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, drawing on Marx’s original ideas. For Marx, ideology was the dominant set of beliefs and values existent within society, which sustained power relations. For Althusser, ideology consisted of the representations and images which reflect society’s view of ‘reality’. Ideology thus refers to ‘the myths that a society lives by’. An ideological stance is normally politicised and historically determined.
illustrative mode     An approach to documentary which attempts to illustrate directly what the commentary/voiceover is saying.
impact editing          Editing that produces violent contrast between images, most often by switching between close- and long-shot scales.
impresario  Organiser of public entertainments; a manager of, especially, an operatic or concert company.
incoherent cinema Influenced by the ‘Incoherents’, artists working between 1883 and 1891, a movement principally led by Cohl. This kind of animation was often surreal, anarchistic and playful, relating seemingly unrelated forms and events in an often irrational and spontaneous fashion. Lines tumble into shapes and figures in temporary scenarios before evolving into other images.
independent             This is a highly problematic term meaning different things in different situations. In the contemporary film industry it implies a production realised outside one of the Majors. It may be usefully divided into two areas. First, independent mainstream production, which aims to compete with the big studios but without any large financial backing, and thus finds it difficult to survive. Palace Films was one such casualty; the success of The Crying Game came too late to save its demise. Second, the term is used to describe filmmaking outside the mainstream sector, for instance, film workshops, avant-garde film, feminist film. The boundaries between these two areas are not always clear and may overlap.
inexportable             Critical term used to denote films of modest budget and ambition, only intended for distribution to their home markets. Adapted from Jean-Pierre Jeanncolas’ use of the term with regard to certain French comedies.
Institutional Mode of Representation/IMR The IMR is a broad categorisation of systems of film form and narrative characterising mainstream cinema from around 1915 onwards. It was perceived as replacing the Primitive Mode of Representation (a set of conventions used in early cinema between 1895 and 1905) as a gradual process in the first twenty years of cinema.
intentional fallacy   A phrase coined by Monroe Beardsley to describe the difference between a text’s meaning(s) and what its author intended. As such, criticism dependent on, or directed towards, uncovering the intentions of the author/artist falls foul of ‘intentional fallacy’ insofar as the meaning of a text is not fixed within it, but created in the historically situated act of reading.
intermedia The relations that exist between cinema, the film industry and other media at the levels of both capitalist business practices and textual forms.
internet       A system of interlinking computers in a worldwide network (www/world-wide web). Since the internet was privatised in April 1995 the rise in monthly traffic on the net has been such that it represents a hundredfold increase in less than three years.
interpellation           The process whereby the spectator of a film is drawn inside the psychic and physical life of the fictional world depicted by the film.
intertextuality          This term, strongly linked with postmodernism, designates, in its narrow sense, the ways in which a film either explicitly or implicitly refers to other films (through allusion, imitation, parody or pastiche, for example), or in its broader sense, the various relationships one (film) text may have with other texts.
iris-in/iris-out           Editing techniques in which the transition from one image to another is marked by the closing and reopening of an ‘iris’ or circular hole in the centre of the frame.


jump-cut     An explicit and self-conscious editing decision to demonstrate a ‘jump’ in time, and to disrupt normal models of continuity editing.
juxtaposition             In film studies, this usually refers to two different shots that have been joined together to make a contrast.


Kinematoscope        Edison's first movie camera was relatively sophisticated and employed a series of sequential photographs mounted on a wheel and rotated.


lesbian         A word used to name and describe a woman whose main sexual feelings are for other women. Coined as a medical term in the late nineteenth century, the word has been invested post-Stonewall with new ideas of openness and liberation. It may also be used to describe cultural products, such as film and video, dealing with lesbian themes.
LGBT              A set of initials standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. A term now increasingly used by a large number of organisations and bodies in the English-speaking world. It is favoured because of the wide spectrum of sexualities covered, and because certain negative connotations of ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ are avoided.
liberal humanist      A political perspective in which emphasis is placed upon an openness of democratic discourse and a multiplicity of perspectives which directly relate to the actual experiences of people and the fundamental principles relating to what it is to be ‘human’.
‘look’, the   Also, gaze. The ‘look’ and the ‘gaze’ developed as central concepts in relation to the control of the spectator. Cinematic looking has also been associated with theories of desire and pleasure, theories often founded in psychoanalysis.
long shot     A framing in which the object shown (typically a human body shown from head to toe) fills around three-quarters of the height of the screen.
low-angle shot         A framing where the camera looks up from below at the objects or scene filmed.
low-key image          Light from a single source producing light and shade.
low-key lighting       This term refers to a lighting design where there is a stark contrast between the light and shadowed areas of the frame. Frequently it is produced using only one light source.


magic lantern            A projection system comprising a light source and a lens used to project an image. Usually oil-lamp-fired, though many were later converted to electricity. Earliest known use was by Athanasius Kircher, recorded in a work published in 1646.
mainstream               Feature-length narrative films created for entertainment and profit. Mainstream is usually associated with Hollywood cinema, regardless of where the film is made.
Marxist theory          Argues that those who have the means of production have control in a capitalist society. The dominant class have control of the means of production and have an interest in perpetuating the dominant ideology. More recently, exponents of Althusserian Marxism, particularly post-1968, have argued that mainstream narrative cinema reinforces the capitalist system and that a revolutionary cinema is needed to challenge the dominant ideology.
masala movie            Spicy Indian movie overloaded with emotion.
match on action       A cut which joins two spaces together by virtue of the fact that an action shown in the first shot is then completed in the second.
match-move              Shots that have separate elements within them that need to be accurately matched, frame by frame. Usually involves live-action elements being coupled to animation or effects elements.
mattes          Opaque images that mask-out certain areas of the film negative. Subsequent passes through the camera allow the initial matted-out space to be exposed with another image.
matte shot  A type of shot in which aspects of mise-en-scène are photographed separately and then combined into one image in post-production. Opaque images mask out certain areas of the film negative, and subsequent passes through the camera allow the initially matted-out space to be exposed with another image. Nowadays, matting is often achieved using ‘blue screen’, a process where action is filmed in front of a blue screen; this footage is then used to create an image of the performers in front of a dark background, and a silhouette of the performer against a clear background, which is used to ‘cut out’ space for the performer in the scene on to which the action is to be matted.
mediation   A key concept in film and media theory, it implies that there are always structures, whether human or technological, between an object and the viewer, involving inevitably a partial and selective view.
medium long shot   Also known as the ‘plan Américain’ because of its frequency in classical Hollywood, this is a framing in which the human body is shown from mid-calf or knees upwards.
medium shot             A framing in which the human body is shown from the waist upwards.
merchandising          Where manufacturers pay a film company to use a film title or image on their products.
metamorphosis        The ability of a figure, object, shape or form to relinquish its seemingly fixed properties and mutate into an alternative model. This transformation is literally enacted within the animated film, and acts as a model by which the process of change becomes part of the narrative of the film. A form starts as one thing and ends up as something different.
metanarrative           Refers to an overarching account of some area of human experience – that attempts to make complete sense of that area. Meta-theory is, similarly, an overarching, all-embracing system for explaining some area of human experience. In film studies there has been a move away from metanarratives in historical studies and away from meta-theory in theoretical studies.
mise-en-scène         Refers to both what is filmed (setting, props, costumes, etc.) and to how it is filmed (cinematographic properties of the shot, such as depth of field, focus, lighting, and camera movement). In an attempt to counter the imprecision of the term, this latter aspect is sometimes called mise-en-shot. Mise-en-scène is one way of producing meaning in films which can be both straightforward and extremely complex, depending upon the intentions and skill of the director (the metteur-en-scène: see auteur).
Modernism                This refers to a dramatically experimental trend within the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, music and film) which grew up at the start of the twentieth century, encompassing a wide array of movements (Expressionism, Vorticism, Symbolism, Imagism, Surrealism) along with the innovations of individual artists not directly affiliated with a particular movement. Modernism involved a rejection of nineteenth-century styles, traditions and ideas, and a self-conscious (or ‘self-reflexive’) approach to aesthetic forms, in which artistic expression was itself explored, questioned and reinvented.
modernist   A term used to describe early twentieth-century developments in art, literature, music, film and theatre which rejected realism as the dominant tradition in the arts. Modernist art is characterised by experiment and innovation, and modernist artists, because of their avant-garde practices, inevitably constitute a cultural élite.
modernist device    Any device which undercuts the invisible telling of the story. A modernist device draws attention to itself and makes us aware of the construction of the narrative. It would be unclear in this instance whether the device is a consciously modernist one or a primitive one which unconsciously draws attention to itself.
montage      From the French word meaning ‘to edit’, montage means the assembling of pieces of footage to form a whole. In film studies it usually refers to the style of fast editing adopted by the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s.
movement image    A term coined by Gilles Deleuze to refer to a cinema in which the image is at the service of the narrative, and in which the audience experience is of the ‘movement’ of the film towards the closure of narrative resolution.
‘movie brat’ generation       A term that refers to the generation of American filmmakers who, after the decline of the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s, began to make films independently and were heavily influenced by the French New Wave and European art cinema of the 1960s. Such directors include Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
multiple exposures                A number of exposures being made on a single frame of film. This usually entails the film being rewound in the camera for subsequent passes and further exposures. Multiple exposures are normally made with the assistance of mattes.
multiple run              Where a film is shown simultaneously at a number of screens.
music hall   Place for singing and dancing, variety and other entertainments.
myth             A key term within media and cultural studies, a myth is something which is not true but which is repeated so frequently that it becomes part of the ‘reality’ of the people who share it. In some instances it can become part of a culture’s ‘common sense’. Myth is a means by which the ideology of a culture takes form.


narrative     The idea that films have a primary function of telling a story.
narrative economy The efficiency with which a film tells its story. Classical Hollywood films have often been described as having a high degree of narrative economy, with few scenes or shots which do not contribute in some way to the telling of the story. Some genres, such as musicals or epics, where spectacle is an important element of the film’s pleasures, may be said to have a lesser degree of narrative economy.
national cinema       A term commonly used to describe the filmic output of a particular country and to distinguish it from Hollywood filmmaking. It has also developed as an approach within film studies to explore how films are shaped by nationally prevailing socio-political and economic conditions. This approach to the study of cinema leads to an understanding of film as expressing or articulating a sense of national identity. However, defining a national cinema and adopting this approach can be problematic. For instance, rapidly changing national geographies, the increasing trend for pan-European funding for film projects and European co-productions make it increasingly difficult to clearly delineate a single country of origin.
negotiated reading A negotiated reading of a media text is one that involves a certain give-and-take between our own views and experiences and those presented in the film text by its creator.
neo-colonialism       The domination by a powerful, usually Western nation of another nation that is politically independent, but has a weak economy greatly dependent on trade with the powerful nation.
newsreels   Films consisting of six or seven short topical news stories released to cinemas twice a week and shown as part of the full supporting programme. Newsreels were produced from the 1910s to the early 1970s by which time they had largely been overtaken by television news. They were also shown in specialist news cinemas, often located in or near big railway stations.
noise             In the film industry, ‘noise’ refers to any barrier to successful communication.
non-diegetic              Refers to any element that remains outside the world of the film, such as voiceovers, credits and mood-setting music, that does not originate from the world of the film.
NRA (National Recovery Administration) programme            Government programme of the 1930s designed to rescue the US economy from the Great Depression (commonly known as the ‘New Deal’).


obscene       A work, or part thereof, may be found ‘obscene’ if it has a tendency to deprave and corrupt (i.e. make morally bad) a significant proportion of those people likely to see it.
oligopoly     A state of limited competition between a small group of producers or sellers.
oppositional reading             A reading of a media text which rejects the intentions of the creator of the text. It is most often associated with dis- or unpleasure. See also preferred reading and negotiated reading.
orthodox animation               Orthodox animation emerges from Disney’s cel-animated tradition of work, augmented in the contemporary era by 2D and 3D computer-generated applications. This kind of animation has a correspondence to a mimetic model of work – the use of configuration, classical narrative models, consistent aesthetic conditions – and echoes live-action practices, and ‘real-world’ conventions, while embracing the more ‘fantastic’ possibilities of the open language of animation.
overheard exchange              The recording of seemingly spontaneous dialogue between two or more participants engaged in conversation/observation.
overlapping editing                Editing where shots repeat part or all of the action shown in the previous shot.


paid advertising       Promotion on TV, radio, billboards, printed media and the internet.
palimpsest Defined literally, a palimpsest is a manuscript written over a previous text that has been entirely or partially erased. In a figurative sense, however, the term is often used to describe a film or text with multiple levels of meaning created through dense layers of intertextuality. In this way, the term has become associated with postmodern aesthetics.
pan/whip-pan           A ‘pan’ is a camera movement in which the camera itself remains in the same place but swivels round horizontally; a ‘whip-pan’ is a very fast pan.
participant observation        A social science methodology where the researchers immerse themselves in the social context/group they are going to be studying, often for years at a time. In documentary terms, such an approach arguably leads to more ‘natural’ responses, as the subjects have become used to the filmmakers and cameras.
pastiche       From the Italian verb ‘to paste’, this refers to a patchwork of references from, or imitations of, other works of art.
patent pool                An association of companies, operating collectively in the marketplace by pooling the patents held by each individual company.
patriarchal society  A society in which men have power and control. Women are generally disadvantaged and have lower status. It could be argued that we no longer live in a patriarchal society, but in a society in which men and women have equal opportunities. For instance, in the US, Sherry Lansing is head of Paramount Pictures and in the UK a number of women now have key roles in the media, particularly the BBC, where there are now women heads of channel programming. But many feminists would still argue that we have a long way to go in terms of politics, philosophy and economics before we live in a society in which men and women can be considered equal.
performative             A person or object’s capacity to produce an effect beyond the literal or stated intent or meaning.
performativity          A concept derived from cultural studies whereby social groups develop self-awareness through shared actions that develop tastes, habits and attitudes in common. When applied to gender, you may wish to consider the popular conflation of masculinity and football, or femininity and shopping.
persistence of vision             The phenomenon of persistence of vision is due to the momentary retention of an image on the eye’s retina. This retention was found to be approximately one-tenth of a second by Chevalier d’Arcy in 1765 when he successfully carried out one of the first systematic scientific studies and presented his findings to the French Académie des Sciences.
Phenakistoscope     Invented by the Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1832, this is an optical device consisting of a disk with slots cut into its edge. When rotated, images on one side can be viewed with the aid of a mirror. The resulting stroboscopic images give the illusion of movement.
pink triangle              A symbol originally worn by homosexual prisoners in Nazi concentration camps which was later taken up by lesbian and gay people as a reminder of past oppression and an icon of liberation.
pitch              The height or depth of a musical sound as it is determined by its frequency relative to other notes.
pixillation   The frame-by-frame recording of deliberately staged live-action movement to create the illusion of movement impossible to achieve by naturalistic means, i.e. figures spinning in mid-air or skating across grass. This can also be achieved by particular ways of editing material.
play-back    Pre-recording of songs using good singers but with non-singing actors lip-synchronising on screen.
pluralistic multiple Refers in this instance to the fragmentation of society into different ethnic, social and cultural groups.
poetics of presence                This may be used to describe moments of stillness in a film, such as a close-up of a face or a landscape shot. A complex range of ideas and emotions are contained within images that are not driven, as they are so often, by movement and action. We may become more aware of time, the relationship between past time and present time, and so more aware of the historical moment of the image. Whole films may be developed on the basis of creating this complex sense of ‘presence’. (Compare Deleuze’s opposition between the movement image and the time image.)
politique des auteurs            A term evolved from the Cahiers du cinéma approach to the study of French and Hollywood cinema in the 1950s, which attempted to identify directors who brought something personal to their films. It is used to describe particular bodies of filmmaking which are deemed to be characterised by the distinctive styles and visions of their directors. See also auteurism.
polysemic   Having many meanings; a polysemic text is likely to be less stable, more hotly contested by different sections of an audience.
postfeminism           The notion of postfeminism is a contested term used by different people in different ways to mean different things. It is used here to indicate a version of the popularised, and to some extent individualised, feminism that is different from (mainly in the sense that it comes after) the highly politicised feminism of the 1970s.
postmodern               Used by critics in a number of different ways, it can refer to the contemporary historical moment (the period after modernity); an artistic or aesthetic style which privileges surface appearances over ‘deep meaning’ or ‘truth’. It is characterised by strategies of irony, intertextuality, pastiche, bricolage, eclecticism, self-reflexivity, and a theoretical position which adopts a sceptical attitude towards totalising notions of truth, reality, and progress. Postmodernism argues that theories such as psychoanalysis and Marxism are no longer viable because they attempt to give an all-encompassing view or understanding of society and culture. Postmodernism emphasises the fragmentation of viewpoints within our culture and the notion that there is no one philosophical truth.
post-structuralism  The critical movement away from an emphasis on the film text and the ‘machinery’ of cinema to an emphasis on the spectator’s decoding of the text in order to create meaning. This represents a rejection of some aspects of the deterministic Marxist/Freudian theories at the heart of structuralism while still recognising that the spectator is himself or herself ‘determined’ by a range of factors (compare with structuralism).
post-synchronised  Referring to the process of adding and modifying some or all of a film’s sound in a studio after the film has been shot and synchronising these sounds to the image track (also known as ‘post-synching’).
Praxinoscope            Invented by the Frenchman Emile Raynaud in 1878, this device was a more advanced and sophisticated version of the Zoetrope. Utilising mirrors and its own discrete light source, this was the forerunner of Raynaud’s spectacular and charming, though ultimately short-lived, Theatre Optique.
preferred reading   A preferred reading of a media text is one in which the spectator takes the intended meaning, finding it relatively easy to align with the messages and attitudes of those who have created the text. See also oppositional reading and negotiated reading.
proactive observationalism                Documentary filmmaking in which specific choices are made about what material is to be recorded in relation to the previous observation of the camera operator/director.
production Division of the film industry concentrating on the making of film.
propaganda                The systematic construction of a text in which the ideological principles of a political stance are promoted, endorsed and made attractive to the viewer in order to influence the viewer’s beliefs and preferences. Such a text may often include critical and exploitative ideas and imagery about oppositional stances. ‘Point of view’ in these texts is wholly informed by political bias and a specificity of intention to persuade the viewer of the intrinsic ‘rightness’ of the authorial position.
proto-animation      Early live-action cinema demonstrated certain techniques which preceded their conscious use as a method in creating animation. This is largely with regard to stop-motion, mixed media and the use of dissolves to create the illusion of metamorphosis in early trick films.
psychoanalytic theory           Based on the theories of Freud and, more recently, Lacan. Feminists argue that aspects of psychoanalysis are questionable because they are based on patriarchal assumptions that woman is inferior to man. Freud found female sexuality difficult and disturbing. Lacan argues that the mother is seen as lacking by the child because she has no phallus. Uncertainty about the role of the female in psychoanalytic theory has been picked up on by a number of feminists such as Mulvey, De Lauretis and Modleski, who question the inevitability of Freud and Lacan’s theories which emphasise the importance of the phallus, penis envy and patriarchal supremacy.


queer            Originally a negative term for (mainly male) homosexuals, this word has recently been reappropriated by critics, artists and audiences to describe a challenging range of critical work and cultural production among lesbians and gays, with an emphasis on diversity of race, nationality and cultural experience. The term is deliberately used to embrace a wider range of sexualities: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and issues.


race films    Black-cast movies that were made for segregated African American audiences before 1950, most often by an African American director. In early twentieth-century parlance, the ‘race’ in terms like race film, race music or race woman indicates pride and affirmation. For example, a race woman is a woman who is proud of her race and does good works on behalf of African Americans.
racist iconography   Images that accompany racist rhetoric or racist contexts.
reactive observationalism   Documentary filmmaking in which the material recorded is filmed as spontaneously as possible subject to the immediacy of observation by the camera operator/director.
reading a film            Although films are viewed and heard, the concept of ‘reading’ a film implies an active process of making sense of what we are experiencing.
realism/reality         The concept of the ‘real’ is problematic in cinema, and is generally used in two different ways. First, the extent to which a film attempts to mimic reality so that a fictional film can appear indistinguishable from documentary. Second, the film can establish its own world and can, by consistently using the same conventions, establish the credibility of this world. In this later sense a sciencefiction film such as RoboCop can be as realistic as a film set in a contemporary and recognisable world, such as Sleepless in Seattle. With regard to animation, the animated form in itself most readily accommodates ‘the fantastic’, but Disney preferred to create a hyperrealism which located his characters in plausibly ‘real’ worlds which also included fantasy elements in the narrative.
reality TV    A relatively recent development in television, and a form of highly structured programme using observational material of ordinary people. The programmes have a ‘documentary’ basis in the sense that they use acuality footage, but they are often shaped to fit specific formats (neighbours from hell, the rise of a successful business, a game show involving weekly tasks). In this respect, reality TV is a good example of how documentary can be taken and recontextualised by contemporary television to suit its schedules.
reappropriation       The process whereby a previously oppressed group takes a negative term and turns it around to invest it with new meanings of power and liberation. Examples include ‘black’, ‘virago’ and ‘queer’.
recombinacy              The aesthetic process of combining of elements drawn from a range of genres, styles, forms and periods in a new text/film. This is one of the principal aesthetic strategies of postmodern art. See also intertextuality, palimpsest, self-reflexivity.
reduced animation Animation may be literally the movement of one line which, in operating through time and space, may take on characteristics which an audience may perceive as expressive and symbolic. This form of minimalism constitutes reduced animation, which takes as its premise ‘less is more’. Literally an eye movement or the shift of a body posture becomes enough to connote a particular feeling or meaning. This enables the films to work in a mode which has an intensity of suggestion.
reflexive/performative documentary            Documentary which is much more subjective and self-reflexive in its construction, foregrounding the arbitrariness and relativity of ‘objectivity’, ‘reality’ and ‘truth’.
representation         The media re-presents information to its audience, who are encouraged by the mainstream media to see its output as a ‘window on the world’, as reflecting reality. Yet the process of representing information is highly complex and highly selective. Many feminists argue that the way notions of gender are represented by the media perpetuates and reinforces the values of a patriarchal society; for instance, men tend to take on strong, active roles, while women are shown as passive and relying on their attractiveness. There are exceptions to such narrow stereotyping: the ‘strong’ woman shown by Ripley in the Alien series and the two heroines in Thelma and Louise could be seen as positive, although rather more cynically they could be seen merely as ‘role-reversal’ films and thus as having purely novelty value. Representations often make use of stereotypes because they are a shorthand, quick and easy way of using information. It could be argued that the media production process encourages the use of stereotypes due to the pressure of time and budget. Many feminists point out that because so few women hold key positions in the media hierarchies, representations of women are bound to be from a male perspective.
rhetorical    Designed to persuade. Rhetorical strategies in documentary are those that relate to the film or programme’s argument. This could be explicit (e.g. a voiceover or presenter actually stating what the argued points are), or it could be less immediately obvious (e.g. a filmmaker might cut from an image of a political leader to a library shot of a firing squad; this could be seen as an argument against the politician.
ripple-dissolve         A dissolve is an editing technique using superimposition, which produces a gradual transition between one image and the next, during which the two shots for a time occupy the frame simultaneously, appearing merged together; a ripple-dissolve emphasises this transition through the introduction of ripples, or waves, within the image.
Russian cinema        The body of films made in Tsarist Russia between 1907 and 1919.
Russian formalism  A literary theory which developed in Russia in the early 1920s, which sought to establish a scientific basis for the study of literature and literary effects.


saturation run           Where a film is shown simultaneously at an enormous number of screens (usually a minimum of 1,000 in the US–Canadian market), accompanied by heavy media promotion.
schema        A concept used in studies of the human thinking process. When we are confronted by a new experience, we look for familiar patterns that allow us to orient ourselves and make sense of what is in front of us.
scopophilia                Freudian term meaning the ‘pleasure in looking’, introduced to film analysis by Laura Mulvey, who pointed out that women are usually depicted in a passive role and are looked at, while men take on an active role, they look.
self-reflexivity         Used to describe films or texts which selfconsciously acknowledge or reflect upon their own status as fictional artefacts and/or the processes involved in their creation. This is one of the principal aesthetic strategies of postmodern art. See also intertextuality, palimpsest, recombinacy.
semiotics    The use of semiotics in film analysis has developed out of the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, who argued that the meanings of words are not natural but are learned and socially constructed. Therefore, the meaning of a word, or in the case of film an image or sound, may be complex and layered.
sensory motor mechanism  Refers to the mental processing of audio-visual information in ways that allow us to ‘place’ and ‘manage’ the film experience. There is an implication that the automatic nature of this processing is part of the relatively passive pleasure of mainstream commercial cinema. Other kinds of cinema may disrupt the sensory motor mechanism.
sex A word used to denote and describe a person’s physical type according to his or her genital make-up. In academic discourse, this is primarily a scientific term.
sexuality     A name for the sexual feelings and behaviour of a person. When applied to groups of people (e.g. heterosexuals), ideas of social attitude and organisation are implied.
shot-reverse shot    Editing technique whereby conversations are filmed by cutting alternately between the faces of the interlocutors who are facing each other.
shot/take    One uninterrupted (uncut) image onscreen whether it is shot with a mobile or a stationary camera. During shooting, a ‘take’ refers to a single, uninterrupted recording of the camera before the director calls ‘cut’.
shot scale    This refers to the range of shots which suggest the apparent distance of an object from the camera; it is conventionally defined according to the framing of the human form.
social realism            A form of realism which tries to capture in a ‘truthful’ way the lives of industrial working-class communities. Also known as ‘working-class realism’ and often used in relation to the ‘new wave’ films of late 1950s–early 1960s British cinema.
sophisticated hyperconsciousness  A term used by Jim Collins to describe the extreme ‘knowingness’ and high degree of media literacy evinced by both contemporary cinema and its audience.
sound-bridge            An audio connection between scenes, where sound from one scene continues into the beginning of the scene which follows, or where sound belonging to the opening of a scene begins during the close of the scene which precedes it.
Soviet cinema           Films made in the Soviet Union between October 1920 and 1991.
spectator     The individual responding to a film, as distinct from the collective response of an audience. Spectator study concentrates on the consumption of films that are ‘popular’ and are geared towards providing typical forms of cinematic pleasure – spectacle, emotion, plot, resolution – with conventional narrative and generic forms.
squash and stretch  Many cartoon characters are constructed in a way that resembles a set of malleable and attached circles which may be elongated or compressed to achieve an effect of dynamic movement. When animators ‘squash and stretch’ these circles they effectively create the physical space of the character and a particular design structure within the overall pattern of the film. Interestingly, early Disney shorts had characters based on ‘ropes’ rather than circles and this significantly changes the look of the films.
star system The industrial apparatus which enables the building up of stars and their centrality to the advertising and promotion of films. This includes star contracts, ancillary advertising deals, fan magazines and so forth.
steadicam   A technical development from the late 1970s that permits the use of a camera held by hand which walks with the action, but with the steadiness of a camera moving on rails.
stereotype Limiting perceptions about a group of people to just one aspect of them which is exaggerated.
stereotyping              A quick and easy way of labelling or categorising the world around us and making it understandable. Stereotypes are learned but are by no means fixed, yet are often resistant to change. They tend to restrict our understanding of the world and perpetuate beliefs that are often untrue or narrow. For instance, the concept that only thin women are attractive is a stereotype promoted by much of the media in the late twentieth century (though there are some exceptions, for example, comediennes Dawn French and Roseanne); in other eras the opposite has been true. Stereotyping is not always negative, but tends to be very much concerned with preserving and perpetuating power relations in society. It is in the interests of those in power to continue to stereotype those with lower status in a negative light, thus preserving the status quo.
stop motion               An animation technique whereby a 3D model is filmed a single frame at a time, the model being moved by the animator between exposures.
straight-on shot       A framing where the camera is at the same level as the objects or scene filmed.
structuralism             Founded on the belief that the study of society could be scientifically based and that there are structures in society that follow certain patterns or rules. Initially, most interest was centred on the use of language; Saussure, the founder of linguistics, argued that language was essential in communicating the ideology, the beliefs, of a culture.Structuralists have applied these theories to film, which uses both visual and verbal communication, and pointed out that the text conveys an illusion of reality, so conveying the ideology of a society even more effectively.
studio system           Usually seen to have developed circa 1920 and lasting until circa 1950, the studio system indicates the period of Hollywood history in which the major studios controlled all aspects of the production, distribution and exhibition of their products.
substitution technique         An early trick film technique used by George Méliès. It involved one object being filmed, the camera being stopped during filming and the object being replaced by a second object before filming recommenced. This was the basis of his famous vanishing-lady effect, used in many of his films.
superimposition      The process by which more than one image is exposed on the same frames of the film stock.
surplus of meaning Meaning in excess of what is required to fulfil the functional requirements of the narrative; a ‘surplus’ will include ambiguity, complexity rather than clarity and simplicity.
suspending disbelief             This refers to the ability a person has when engaging with a constructed object – film, play, novel – to repress his or her knowledge that the object is in fact just a ‘construct’, and respond to it as though it is real.
symbolism  The means by which a filmmaker can assign additional meanings to objects/characters in a film. For example, in Dovzhenko’s Earth and Eisenstein’s Old and New, the tractor is a symbol of progress.
symmetry   Direct balance of imagery in the composition of the frame using parallel or mirrored forms.
synecdoche                The idea that a ‘part’ of a person, an object, a machine, may be used to represent the ‘whole’, and work as an emotive or suggestive shorthand for the viewer, who invests the ‘part’ with symbolic associations.
synergy strategy      Combined or related action by a group of individuals or corporations towards a common goal, the combined effect of which exceeds the sum of the individual efforts.
synthespians             A recently coined term which describes ‘virtual’ or non-human actors. The term relates to digitally scanned or motion-captured versions of ‘real’ actors, as well as entirely computer-generated characters.


taxonomy   The practice of classification. In this sense, the practice of classifying films into groups based on similarities of form and/or content.
testimony   The recording of solicited observation, opinion or information by witnesses, experts or other relevant participants in relation to the documentary subject; the primary purpose of the interview.
THX                A designation of sound reproduction quality in cinemas. The standards established necessitate the installation and maintenance of sound equipment to the specifications and according to the guidelines laid down by Lucasfilm Ltd.
tie-ins           Mutually beneficial promotional liaisons between films and other consumer products and/or personalities.
tilt  A camera movement in which the camera remains in one place but swivels up or down.
timbre          The tonal quality of a musical sound; timbre is what makes a saxophone sound different from a clarinet, for example.
time image A development from the movement image. It suggests a cinema in which the narrative priorities of mainstream commercial cinema are replaced by ones which are more reflective. In particular, our understanding and experience of time becomes central.
topicals        The name given to non-fictional ‘news’ items in the early period of documentary. A royal visit, the opening of a factory, a sports event – anything that could be of interest to a local audience – could be labelled a ‘topical’. As documentary developed as a form, topicals were subsumed into newsreels and other forms of film reporting.
track/tracking shot/dolly shot           A camera movement in which the camera moves horizontally by travelling along the ground (originally on ‘tracks’ on which a wheeled support – or ‘dolly’ – for the camera could be mounted).
Tradition of Quality                A frequently derogatory term used by the critics on Cahiers du cinéma and referring to postwar, pre-New Wave French cinema characterised by its reliance on screenwriters and adaptations from literary classics.
trick film      The generic term for the development of cinematic special effects using such techniques as mattes, multiple exposures, proto-animation and substitution techniques. Generally attributed to the pioneering French filmmaker George Méliès.
trust              A group of companies operating together to control the market for a commodity. This is illegal practice in the US.
two-shot     A medium-scale shot including two characters normally taken from the waist up. A variant is the cut between the two characters assuming the same eyelevel, body position and exchange.


uses and gratifications          A specific approach to the study of audiences. It considers how individuals and groups may consume a film or some other media product to satisfy their particular needs.


vertical integration Where a company is organised so that it oversees a product from the planning/development stage, through production, through market distribution, through to the end-user – the retail consumer. In the case of the film industry, this translates to a company controlling production, distribution and exhibition of its films.
voyeurism  The sexual pleasure gained from looking at others.


wipe              Transition between shots where a vertical line sweeps across the screen taking us from one scene to the next.
wire frame Three-dimensional shapes, with neither surface colour nor texture, illustrated through a pattern of interconnecting lines, literally a framework of ‘wires’ on a two-dimensional surface – the computer screen.
wire removal             The process of digitally removing any unwanted elements within a shot, such as a support for an animated object, puppet or prop. Used in the flying motorbike shot in Terminator 2.


There are no glossary terms for this letter


There are no glossary terms for this letter


Zoetrope     The foreurnner of the Praxinoscope, this consists of a drum with vertical slots cut into the top edge. As the drum is rotated, the images on the inner surfaces, when viewed through the slots, achieve the same illusion of movement as with the Phenakistoscope.
zoom             A technique whereby the image appears to advance towards or recedes away from the viewer.