English & EAL

Invictus film technique analysis – How can I write about it?

Caleb Mynard

September 1, 2018

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How can we write about a film in a way that shows our knowledge of its complexity in the way it conveys ideas through visuals and sound? 

While this blog post focuses on the construction of Invictus, the concepts around analysing film and writing about it apply to all other Year 11 and 12 multimodal texts.

 What contrasts Invictus from Ransom, is, of course, that we can see Clint Eastwood’s depictions of post-Apartheid South Africa through his visualisations of, for instance, characters emotions and behaviours, by the formation of cinematic techniques. We can see the divided community in which the narrative is set; involving the rift between Afrikaners and black South Africans.  The added challenge of writing about a multimodal text such as Invictus, is that its composition through these film techniques should be integrated as textual evidence in a cohesive and effective way. 

Some key study design points:

“The features of written, spoken and multimodal texts used by authors to convey ideas, issues and themes.”
 “The ways in which different texts provide different perspectives on ideas, issues and themes and how comparing them can offer an enriched understanding of the ideas, issues and themes.”
 “Use textual evidence appropriately to support comparative analysis.”

A good way to approach analysis of textual evidence is through looking at quotes.  However, to further show our understanding of the text is perhaps to discuss the context of these quotes; examining what the director is showing us along with this dialogue.  What are the expressions portrayed by the characters? What does the framing reveal to us about the characters, symbols or the setting? What is Eastwood wanting us to understand about the narrative through the combination of these techniques? By asking these questions we can try to grasp what the intentions of the director are.

Some key film techniques to think about may be camera framings/angles, acting, lighting, editing, mise en scène, symbols, etc. (see terminology at the end of this blog)

Analysing a frame

A useful idea might be to go through the film multiple times, pause at certain moments and note what you can both see and hear.  Turn on the subtitles to help decipher the dialogue – note these quotes down.  It may also be worthwhile to read through the actual script to Invictus; from this we can learn of the intentions of Eastwood from a different perspective – in what he wanted to show his audience in each scene. For example:

INT. SPRINGBOK DRESSING ROOM - DAY             
The sound of cleats approaching on concrete. Exhausted footsteps. The DRESSING ROOM ATTENDANT PUTS CASES OF BEER (cans) on a side table, rips them open, backs away --
 -- as the Springboks enter silently, faces miserable, shoulders slumped. They've lost another game.

What is the setting? What can we see happening in this setting? Who is there? What are the behaviours and expressions of the characters? What does the type of camerawork tell us? What does the lighting and colour tell us? These might be some questions to consider.

MANDELA ENTERS LOFTUS VERSFELD STADIUM AS NEW PRESIDENT

In this scene, Eastwood utilises wide, high angle framing to represent the enormity of the stadium; filled with Afrikaners who, predominantly, detest the new President. Still, even as the framing is constantly filled with these Springboks sports fans, the director shows us the smiling, confident Mandela, who warmly waves to his new ‘partners in democracy’ without fear or distaste.  We can see this as the camera draws in on Mandela’s facial expressions.  Moreover, the courage of Mandela is exhibited as he exits the stadium and a sports fan hurls a drink at him.  Even despite that he ‘sees everything’, Mandela continues to wave and smile at the crowd. 

 

MANDELA ENTERS ELLIS PARK STADIUM FOR WORLD CUP FINAL

On the other hand, this scene, whilst it continues to demonstrate the steadfast, affable nature of Mandela, shows the unification of South Africa.  Through Mandela’s support of the Springboks by wearing the green and gold, we can understand that the Springboks have subsided from once being a ‘prominent symbol of the apartheid era’.  By contrast to his first appearance, Mandela is now upheld as a leader to all; there is no jeering or booing, but lively backing of both the Boks and The President.  Mandela has fundamentally transformed the team who once brought ‘shame upon our nation’ into something to be proud of and excited for.

The camera pans around the stadium depicting cheering and applauding fans, who are even carrying the new South African flag.  Even more interestingly, the black South Africans who widely scorned the Springboks, are now watching the rugby final in support of their team; their country.

‍JASON AND HIS TEAM MEET THE NEW BODYGUARDS

Eastwood utilises tight, close-up framing in this scene as to allude to the confrontation between black and white South Africans.  By this, the director draws us in to the agitated, bemused expressions on Jason and Linga, who immediately clash with the new SAS bodyguards they must partner with.  Jason stresses the personal bond between his team and the President – ‘[Madiba] that’s what we call him’.  This immediately shows the distaste that the black South Africans have towards their ‘enemies’, the Afrikaners.

Madiba implores that ‘reconciliation starts here’ and ‘forgiveness starts here’; Mandela assembles this new team of bodyguards because they are his representatives and ambassadors.  He wants the ‘rainbow nation’ to start here.

Writing an analysis

Once we understand what’s happening in some important scenes, we can think about how this understanding can be implemented into pieces of writing.

Consider the quotes: ‘Pienaar’s team’, ‘shame upon our nation’, ‘somebody gets the axe’ and ‘tails between their legs’.  This is what TV host, Boland Botha, and the rugby president, say after the Boks perform poorly in their rugby match.  Accompanying this scene are close-ups of Francois Pienaar, who is made to be the blame for the momentous loss. 

We could approach an analysis of this by embedding quotes amongst a discussion of the cinematic techniques; explaining what we learn about the character of Pienaar through these.  By including both quotes and some context in the cinematic construction, it displays a clear knowledge and understanding. 

For instance, we could write:

“Eastwood demonstrates Pienaar as a prominent leader in the Springbok team.  He is made out to be responsible for ‘[his] team’s’ dismal performance.  Tight, close-up framing shows the audience a defeated Pienaar, a captain and leader who has brought ‘shame upon’ the South African nation, and as the rugby president suggests, deserves to ‘get the axe’.  The harsh, low-key lighting of the frame draws in on the raked and bruised Pienaar, who is isolated as the key to the Boks having ‘their tails between their legs’ throughout the game.”

Have a go at analysing the film and finding a way to balance embedded quotes with examples of the director’s techniques.

All in all, while it is not crucial to talk about specific production techniques as such, it can help give you an edge in demonstrating that you know the ins and outs of the text.  It helps show your comprehension of the context, themes and ideas presented, which is key to exemplifying a capacity to perceive authorial intent.  

Some useful terminology

Camera shots/techniques:

  • Shots: extreme long shot/long shot, medium shot, close-up shot/extreme close-up
  • Establishing shots: first shot of a new scene, shows the audience where the scene is taking place.
  • Depth of field: distance between closest and furthest objects giving a focused image. 

Camera angles:

  • Bird’s-eye view, low angle, eye-level, high angle
  • Skewed angle: camera set on an angle (horizon line is not parallel with the bottom of the frame)

Camera movements: 

  • Zooming, panning/tilting, tracking, hand-held

Mise en Scene: the arrangement of a frame; the artistic look of a shot in its elements of lighting, colour, camera techniques, sets, costumes, etc.

Lighting: high-key (bright, low shadow and contrast) or low-key (under-lit, strong contrast between light and dark)

Point-of-view: the perspective from which the text is portrayed; the audience are driven to identify with characters portrayed.

Opening/resolution: how a narrative is introduced in setting up characters, settings, etc., how these develop and resolve at the end of a text.

Motif: a distinguishable feature which portrays a theme and idea about a character, setting, etc.

For a detailed list of film techniques, learn more here.

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