Understanding Realism and Formalism in Film

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Anthony Nelson
Cinema Appreciation THE2071
June 15, 2009

According to Louis Gianneti in his text Understanding Movies- Eleventh Edition, realism and formalism are general terms. These terms can be applied to portions of or scenes in a movie. They can show the tendency of the movie to lean toward one style over the other, but rarely can be applied to an entire movie. Both realism and formalism use reality as a foundation, but differ in how the reality is emphasized or shaped. The style of realism typically captures events as they happen, similar to how a person would view the events in real life. The portrayal should be depicted with a minimum of distortion. Realism attempts to preserve the idea that the world of film is unaltered, as if viewing the world through a window. A documentary film is an example of extreme realism. The style of formalism shows scenes as they can be imagined. They’re deliberately stylized and / or distorted using methods such as slow motion or adding colors into scenes. For example, in Shcindler’s List, a scene is shot in black and white except for a little girls red jacket. The viewer is forced to watch this little girl because we assume that she is important since she is the only color in a washed out scene. Formalism depicts scenes in a way that a person can not see with the eye in real life. Avant garde films are an example of extreme formalism. In the movie The Matrix, color, shots, and angles are used to illustrate the idea of formalism. Throughout the movie, color is used to add depth and help establish the mood in the scene. In all of the scenes inside the matrix a lens filter is used to cast the scene in a green tint reminiscent of the green numbers of the matrix code. In all of the scenes in the real world there is an overwhelming bluish tint. The color blue depicts the feeling of a cold and depressing world, since in this real world the humans destroyed the skies. In the scene where...
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