Realism, Classicism, and Formalism Defined

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Theory:  Ultimately, realism is NEVER about if the subject matter could actually happen - it's always about emulating (copying/reproducing) real life.  It reflects HOW we experience life.  Because of that, realist filmmakers try to avoid artifice at all areas of production.  Examples are outlined below:

•   Place value on photographic qualities of the work - still wants quality
•   Attempts to capture the spontaneity of events - unplanned plot like real life
•   Appears to mirror reality as how we observe life (few edits, close-ups...)
   Avoids extremes of technical manipulation
Uses available lighting, hand-held cameras, long shots, and lengthy takes
 Frequently makes use of location shooting
Favors deep-focus photography to allow composition in depth
 often uses widescreen aspect ratio
 prefers pans, crane shots, and tilts rather than cutting to individual shots
Rack Focus transitions
Uses Sequence Shot
•   The implied author is virtually invisible
•   Events tend to “speak for themselves”
•   The story unfolds naturally, usually in chronological order
•   The plots are often loose, “slice of life” structures,

  •  no clear beginning, middle, or end, 
  • often without a clearly discernible central conflict/antagonist
•   Are generally told in an anti-sentimental style
•   Structures are often borrowed from cycles of nature—may be circular, cyclical, or episodic

•   Attempts to preserve the continuity of real time and space
•   Frequently uses long shots
•   Commonly uses lengthy takes
•   Few edits used


Theory:  Ultimately, classicism is how most American films can be defined.  Classic films focus on quality and neatness.  The quality can be seen in the production values(set/costume design, acting, cinematography, editing...) and the neatness is revealed in the classic plot structure (good guy vs. bad guy, boring parts edited out, plot developments either push towards conflict resolution or character development, and there is a clear resolution of the conflict). Examples are outlined below:

•   Avoids extremes: Realism and Formalism but is willing to use elements of both
•   Tends to be strong on story, star and production value
•   Shows a high level of technical accomplishment
•   Use close-ups to appeal to audience emotions
•   Mix longmedium, and close-up shots for dramatic effect
•   Eyeline match and Matching Action
•   Shot/ Reverse Angle shot
•   Master shot
•   The 180o rule
•   Establishing shot
•   Re-establishing shot
Set & Costume Design
•   Is a set of conventions, considered the “norm” particularly in American cinema
•   Is a narrative structure based on the dramatic conflict between protagonist and antagonist
•   Builds intensity to a dramatic conflict in which one force must “win” and one must “lose” the climax
•   Ends with a clear sense of closure, resolution
•   Viewer’s can usually detect a shaping hand in the story’s events, that of a discreet storyteller
•   Boring gaps in the narrative are edited out
•   The story has a central conflict
•   The storyline drives the events toward resolution of that central conflict and/or character development

Classical Cutting
•   Aims to provide smooth transitions between shots
•   Eliminates or condenses unnecessary time and space
 Employs the conventions of classical editing
–Linear timeline, “invisible” transitions, cutting to continuity, etc.


Theory: Where classicism focuses on plot and character development and realism focuses on emulating how we experience life, ultimately, formalism is about ideas. Formalist filmmakers believe in the aesthetic manipulation of the mise en scène, the frame, camera angles, editing, and so on to create an aesthetic work, an artificial world that is believable through the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief usually to make some sort of statement about life.  Many elements are manipulated to create figurative language in film (symbolism, metaphor...).  Examples include:

•     Expresses a director’s subjective experience or world view
•     Intentionally stylizes and distorts reality
•     Concerned with spiritual or psychological ideas
•   images should be thematically or metaphorically relevant in the attempt to create deeper meaning
•      Contains a high degree of technical manipulation
·       Emphasizes form over content
•   “Authors” tend to be overtly manipulative
•   May be restructured to heighten or maximize a thematic idea
•   Are frequently told from a subjective perspective (first person or limited point-of-view)
•   stories should explore ideas, meaning there should be a theme present

•   Events are often scrambled, in non-linear order
•   Metaphor often used either in contrasting visuals or audio
•   May use unreliable point of view
•   Transitions between shots may be sharp, jolting, even violent