Formalist Film Theory (how we can use this in future filmmaking)

(Photos sourced from google)

Formalist film first came about in the 1920s, this is when formalist filmmakers were trying to legitimate themselves as artists. Thomson Jones describes formalist film as an appreciation of aesthetic objects and one that needs structural analysis. In the beginning Russian formalist were trying to convert their theories from literary art to film. While they were doing this, they influenced soviet montage filmmakers such as Eisenstein. As formalist theory in film progressed in the 1980s concepts of Russian formalist films were taken to create Neo-formalism.

Key characteristics of formalism is the theoretical and critical emphasis on form. The distinction between form and content is that content is the works subject matter whereas form is what we use and how we present the subject matter. For example, formalists are aware that mise-en-scene, sound, camera, framing, editing and optical effects can be used to create a great work of art. However, these technical features have to be used for a certain purpose. Neo and Russian formalists believed the work of art as a set of devices, they then use these devices to craft a film.

When you look into these theories closely, you can start to understand how and why formalist filmmakers crafted their films, and what theories we can take onto our filmmaking. I really like that these filmmakers really focused on the content of their film and analysed the best ways they could present the story and its background. This is a great way to tell a specific story as you can use certain devices to emphasis important information in the best way possible, instead of going through and using all the technical features you can, but not highlighting anything particular in your film.

Examples of how formalism can be used in my future filmmaking could be to;

  • Use the camera to emphasise the subject’s mood e.g. moving the camera to create high energy
    • Use more POV shots so that the camera becomes the character, we can then focus on the characters subjective experience therefore giving the audience a better understanding of the story and situation
    • Make the sets and background stand out, emphasizing the importance of where the character is
    • The lighting can be used to create visual metaphors
    lighting metaphor

    All these devices are used to emphasize what the character is doing, seeing and feeling and not used just for the sake of doing so. This will then give the viewer a more authentic feel of the character and their story.




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