Reading the sports film
To raise the issue of how to ‘read film’, may appear to some superfluous. Film seems so accessible and immediate a form that the notion that people require guidance in understanding its message, or ‘language’, may appear both patronising and peculiar. Indeed, the seeming simplicity of film and its apparent lack of ambiguity when compared with other art forms have contributed considerably to its popularity. Allied to this has been the driving force within commercial film-making practice since its first appearance: greater verisimilitude, or the ability to represent the world as we know it as closely as possible to its actual appearance in reality. As James Monaco has noted, the placing of film among the recording arts reflects its ability to ‘provide a more direct path between subject and observer’ (2000, p. 27). However, film’s popularity is not just because of its ability to render reality as we know it; films have been carefully designed to evoke responses from viewers, a process that has developed substantially since the first moving picture images flickered across screens in the mid-1890s. These designs are dependant on decisions regarding the form and style of a particular film, decisions that encompass stylistic techniques crucial to the realisation of film including narrative, mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing and sound. Decisions on each of these techniques are themselves influenced by financial, social, cultural and sometimes political considerations. Furthermore, due to its powerful potential to affect viewers by dynamically engaging their expectations and emotions, film can itself have an impact in some or all of these areas. Indeed, given all of this, commercial cinema in general, and Hollywood cinema in particular, might be more correctly described in Rick Altman’s terms as ‘a deceptively obvious cinema’ (1999, p. 135).