My students were asked to comment on which of the areas of film language they found most attuned to and which they found most difficult to get to grips with, many remarked on how difficult it seems that lighting is to read, others editing.. The truth is that even your teachers will also have difficulty with some texts. Textual analysis requires closely focused attention, and one has to be in the right frame of mind to do it.
While it is difficult to isolate one coding system, for me sound design can be a real blind spot, perhaps this due to my own visual training. I also feel that there’s a specialist vocabulary for the discussion of scores which I just don’t possess, I usually only shift my focus to sound once I’ve found something interesting to say about the visuals.
That ‘s my story and I’m sticking with it, it’s served me well enough so far.
Sometimes it can come easily as in my analysis from Skyfall but this engaged my other passion, painting (I also taught history of art). Sometimes it is just a slog and one has too keep a clear mind, try to read films as you would a painting, say to yourself; someone made this, trying to say something, who were they making it for and how did they use the elements available to them to make their message as clear (or as murky) as possible.
The point is I think we all find our particular set of codings which pique our interest, but in making our arguments we should expand on these to include the more unfamiliar/uncomfortable material as the force of our ideas begin to form and make sense in term of an argument and if it has validity the areas we feel less at home with should make equal sense to those we are.
As far as lighting and editing go the technical stuff of goes, keeping a clear head will permit you to use what you’ve learned, for example in lighting , it can be described in three ways (direction, strength, clour), and can be subject to the conventions of the three point system. This blog entry of mine, might be quite helpful in thinking about how lighting can express ideas about, situation and characterisation more eloquently than dialogue (unfortunately you’ll may find that the source for the video no longer works)
Some of my students said that they found editing one of the most difficult aspects of film language to get to grips with. In editing, you should try to describe shot to shot relationships; in terms of graphical elements, framing, shot composition etc., and the direction of movement of characters and/or camera and finally, shot duration.
Oh, I was going to tell you, wait, I was going to tell you about (spot the quotation?) The most eloquent of cuts. This links to the exact moment from Nosferatu (at 32minutes, 45 seconds), where this short sequence of shots illustrates how editing can be far more eloquent than dialogue in expressing emotions and narrative ideas.
I’ll explain: The count withdraws from the first attack on Hutter this is intercut with a scene where Mina awakens from a deep sleep and calls out to Hutter facing screen left, the vampire withdraws from his intended victim and turns to face screen right as if distracted by something, the shot then cuts to Mina’s beseeching gestures (hundreds of miles away)
This has hugely powerful narrative force, in that it is Mina’s love which has saved Hutter this time, but also anticipates Nosferatu’s desire for Mina’s innocence, which is ultimately his undoing.