Books (or documentaries) to teach me to watch films intelligently?
January 18, 2014 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn how to watch movies with more of a critical eye. I want to know what to pay attention to - technically, narratively, and so on -- and how to judge these things, so I can better appreciate what's going on. I'm looking for books or maybe documentaries that will help me do this.

I've started reading How to Read a Film by James Monaco, and it's good but long. I don't mind reading a long book if it's useful. Does anyone know anything about this book?

I'm also intrigued by Film Studies: An Introduction by Ed Sikov but I don't know anything about it.

Someone in another thread recommended the documentary Visions of Light, about cinematography.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?
posted by Tin Man to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Neither a book nor a documentary, but I suggest you try listening to commentary tracks on DVDs.

Start with Citizen Kane and put on the Roger Ebert commentary track. It's basically a 2-hour introductory course in film making.

Look to films you enjoy first, then "important" films, then on down the line, etc. In general, director commentaries are a good source of info. Also in general, director commentaries featuring actors alongside the director are not a good source of info and tend towards back-patting. Commentaries with the DP or cinematographer or other major crew can go either way, but tend to land on the more technical/interesting side. Sometimes they're just "Oh ______[actor]____ they're so awesome!!!1" like the actor commentaries.
posted by carsonb at 2:29 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Came to say the same thing as carsonb. Criterion Collection movies and other classics seem to have the best commentaries. The are also sometimes mini documentary bonus features.
posted by Comet Bug at 2:32 PM on January 18, 2014

The directors commentaries by Sam Mendes on Road to Perdition and American Beauty are great for the craft of film-making. I'd also recommend 'The Cutting Edge' to learn about the art of editing.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:39 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Or check out some film & tv blogs. I'm a big fan of Sheila O'Malley. She's recently started recapping Supernatural but I also love her posts on Rocky.
posted by Fence at 2:41 PM on January 18, 2014

Here are a few collections of video essays and more that might be of interest:
Film Studies for Free
Film Studies in Motion – A Web Series in 7 Episodes
IndieWire's Motion Studies: Essential Video Essays
and a question I asked, Film Studies Lessons in 10 Minutes or Less
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:41 PM on January 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. These are good, but I'd really like an all-in-one resource -- something I can read or watch linearly, from start to finish. A "course in a box" (or book), as it were.
posted by Tin Man at 3:24 PM on January 18, 2014

Best answer: Of the small portion of books I've kept from my time as an English major, one of my favorites is A Short Guide to Writing About Film by Timothy Corrigan. It's a 180-page introduction to watching, thinking about, and talking about film critically. I think it's a great place to start, since it's written in a sort tutorial format (you can definitely read it right through). It's very short, but it has plenty of citations to point you to more of the stuff you find interesting or valuable.

It's priced for the (exploitative) textbook market, so you can get a previous edition for a price that approaches free.
posted by ddbeck at 3:32 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wesleyan University offered a free MOOC last year at called The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color. These courses are often repeated. You might register and add to your 'watch list' (blue button to the right.)

Judging by the syllabus it looks like it would be a very efficient way to learn about cinematic narrative techniques, and film history to boot.
posted by bertran at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Annenberg Learner Course - American Cinema - is a video series that discusses the history of Hollywood/film in America.
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:04 PM on January 18, 2014

Best answer: The recent documentary series THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY by critic Mark Cousins is a great place to hone your critical eye, and includes films from all over the world from the inception of the artform to the present day.

It's available on Netflix Instant.
posted by theartandsound at 11:31 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: > I've started reading How to Read a Film by James Monaco, and it's good but long. I don't mind reading a long book if it's useful. Does anyone know anything about this book?

I own it and have found it very helpful. Also, I second the recommendation for the Cousins series; my wife and I loved it and gave the DVD set to my cinephile brother for Christmas, and he's loving it too.
posted by languagehat at 6:47 AM on January 19, 2014

Keep an eye on your local independent cinema, they sometimes do great courses. I was due to study film studies.. but couldn't in the end. I asked the interviewer if studying film would "ruin" it for me as I I'm very analytic (so would just over think loads and enjoy it less) but he said it would only make it much better if I am made that way. Did a great course at the local cinema and can categorically say this was totally correct. Learned loads in a short time.
posted by tanktop at 7:19 AM on January 19, 2014

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