When producing a film, there are two techniques that can be applied. The first being realism, where the importance of the story overshadows the art of production. Second being Formalism, where an emphasis is placed on the production of the film, often resulting in enhances visuals and sounds effects. Although production has advanced since the first motion pictures in the 1890s, the key components of a good film hold steady. Formalism and Realism are accomplished in all great movies. Formalism is the theory that focuses on the elements of a film, which include set design, sound, lighting and filming.
These elements are emphasized or dramatized to give special importance to a certain idea or scene. The set design in Tim Burton’s 1990 Edward Scissorhands epitomizes formalism. An areal view is shown of the colorful neighborhood. The houses are either a bright white, blue, pink, yellow or green and the laws are uniform and vibrant. Burton went to the lengths of making the cars in the neighborhood as bright as the houses. In the article Bewitched, the film Day of Wrath is a classical film that expresses formalism.
A specific scene is described, “long travelling shots across the faces of the bowed and attentive ryth-century inquisitors attired in their black robes and white ruffs signal the profound visual affinity this movie bears to the universe of Dutch and Danish painting” (Fanu). The filming of this scene draws attention to the significant pieces which give of the feeling of a Dutch and Danish painting. The bowing of the heads allow the individuality of the characters to be taken away and the long traveling shots help the viewer notice the contrast between the dark attire and white ruffles.
Sound has the ability to enhance all aspects of a film. It is regularly used in horror movies to add suspense at the climax of scene, or throughout the scene to build anxiety. In the 2009 My Bloody Valentine, sound effects are used when Harry Warden, the murderer who came back to life, is seen. While in Michael Myers, the acclaimed jingle is used for an extended period of time and builds as he’s getting closer to his victims. Realism is a theory that emphasizes the story rather that the art of film.
Unlike formalism, realism does not use complex filming techniques, extravagant set designs, dramatic lighting or intense sound effects. Realism accomplishes 2 feats; presenting the story simply and making the reader feel as if it is believable. Rick Boeck describes realism as being, “marked by spontaneity, simplicity and directness; it favors content over style, and creates the illusion of representing reality”(Boeck). Boeck is expanding on the first of two goals realism accomplishes. Simplicity makes the content of the story clear, while being direct allows viewers to understand the underlying content without confusion.
The second goal of realism is clearly stated by professor Rodica Ieta, she states “like any theory, realism ultimately amounts to an interpretation of the world, aiming at a final product supposed to explain life as it is and in the making” (Ieta, 23). Ieta shows the importance of the films ability to relate to life. Often confused with being easy to shoot, realism is complex in itself. To capture viewer’s interest without special sound, camera techniques and scenery is a difficult task. She shed’s light on that by mentioning the final product, showing it is a process to reach. Both of these goals can clearly be seen in films.
Sex, Lies and Videotape has multiple scenes that take away audio and visual effects to focus on the story in its entirety. An example is John Mullany sits down to watch the video Graham Dalton made with his Ann. This point is extremely important in the movie and the simplicity and directness captures this. John is alone in a room that is not visually appealing. The only thing that stands out, outside of his reaction, is the video on the screen he is watching. Graham is questioning John’s wife. As time goes on the questions become sexual and viewers can sense a feeling of discomfort at this point.
That is not due to the visual or audio affects, but the actor’s ability to respond as if they were inexperienced and asked a sexual question. There are multiple aspects to a great film, seeing that they spread across a plethora of generations and genres, but they all share most commonalities. Great movies usually have a strong underlying issue. This is to give the story momentum and create a position. Although the underlying point is most prominent, these films will occasionally digress and allow space for the audience to take a breath. This is usually to tell a less important story or introduce themes.
Although concise, the beginnings of great movies allow the viewer to see crucial patterns and then explore them before the story unfolds. Great films cover a strong sense of morality. There is usually a character, whose actions upholds, or breaks that morality. This tends to set up an important conflict later in the story. That conflict more often than not is a moral argument. A goal is trying to be reached and morality is tested along the way. Outside of the quest for a goal, there are external forces than are introduced. This is seen through coincidences and unexpected plot turns.
These films force the audience to debate within themselves. An overarching question is asked about life and solutions are given. Whether these solutions are right or wrong is meaningless, what is important is that the audience is able to see themselves having to answer that question. Lastly, great films present the world in a way that is subjective. They do not specifically state any truths, or what is good and what is bad. Rather, they explore right from wrong, good from bad and allow the audience to answer themselves (Truby). Great films encompass both formalism and realism.
Although formalism enhances a story and is excellent for driving a point home, realism is the art of telling a good story and making it believable. Kamilla Elliott states, “formal theories from aesthetic formalism to poststructuralism fail to explicate what transfers in adaptation in any convincing or satisfactory way” (Elliot). She is referring to the idea, more that aesthetics are needed to create a good story. Elliot expresses that no form of formalism has the ability satisfy someone in its entirety. Rather, the story must be interesting as well. The ability to properly use both is what makes a film great.
The Godfather is one of the most acclaimed films in cinema history. Hence, it uses both formalism and realism to the highest degree possible of that era. Realism can be seen throughout the film, but is obvious intimate scenes where a major part of the story is being developed. An example is when Michael Corleone approaches Apollonia’s father to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. During the conversation the camera still. The only light seen is what is naturally provided by the sun and the scenery is normal for that area and time period. This allows the viewer to focus on the conversation and not be distracted by external factors.
Formalism has an important roll in The Godfather as well. When Jack Woltz declines Don Corleone’s offer to let Johnny play in a movie, Corleone sends a message to Woltz. He kills his prized six hundred thousand dollar horse and leaves his head in Woltz’s bed while he was sleeping. When Jack wakes up he sees the horse and screams. The camera shoots scenes further and further away, but the scream was still high pitch and heard clearly from afar. This was to show how angry Woltz is. In reality, no one can be heard that clearly and from that distance. Francis Ford Coppola made this decision to highlight the effect Don Corleone has on his peers.
Although formalism and realism are two contrasting theories, they both hold an importance in film. Realism is what makes the story seem real and places an emphasis on the content rather than the style. On the other hand, formalism has the ability to enhance important aspects by exaggerating a certain aspect of a film through the angles taken, or visual and audio affect. There are many elements that lead up to a great film and one of them is the ability to properly use realism and formalism. This is shown the IMDb’s greatest movie of all time, The Godfather.