I should start by saying that I'm absolutely in love with cinema, so I'm a little biased. But it is my genuine opinion that everyone would benefit from taking a film class. I don't mean to say that movies are the most important thing or should take priority over your own field of study, but that it can open people up to things they previously would not have any real perception of. But what exactly are the benefits of looking into film?
The Wonderful World of Film History
Movies are unarguably one of the most prominent entertainment industries of our time. What other field is able to create the staggering amounts of revenue that a good weekend at the box office does for studios? For this reason, it is important for anyone who wants a good understanding of today's media to be well-versed in cinema.
Of course, cinema has been growing and changing for decades, so there's a lot to uncover. For as much as everyone groans and complains when there's an old-timey movie on (or God forbid, a black and white film), there's a lot to be learned from movies of the past. But what makes them so important? Simple. Especially in the case of famous and well-renowned movies, there are plenty of callbacks and references to the greats of the past.
Take "The Godfather" for example. In the opening scene, Don Corleone is hearing out a man's plea for justice after the court systems fail to punish the young men who raped his daughter. He asks the Don to "take care" of them, implying some rather unsavory methods of punishment. As the head of the Corleone family listens to him, he pets a cat that is sitting in his lap. It's a sharp contrast to hear these men talk about assault and murder while one is engaged in such a peaceful action.
This has shown up in a number of places, too many to count even. But with that knowledge in mind, it's easy to recall cartoons and movies that had a villain with a cat sitting in their lap. This is because creators who felt inspired or moved by classic films often find themselves referencing the movies or paying homage to them. One of the most notable cases is Star Wars, a movie that has created it's own share of classic references, which is almost entirely based on the storylines of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.
Interpreting Modern Movies
Let's say that you're not really that interested in learning about movies of the past. Maybe they're too boring or too long; you'd rather just put on an action movie or a comedy. There's nothing wrong with that, everyone has different tastes in films. But if you're not dissecting the classics, what's the point?
Well, put it this way. In any movie, we're given a frame to look at the world of the film. That frame only goes so far; you can't see anything that's past the borders of the screen. This means that everything in the frame is what you're meant to see as an audience. Maybe something that should be on screen is just a little too far left to be seen or maybe the camera is focused on something that doesn't really seem important.
The most important thing to know about movies is that at its core, it is visual storytelling. You are being shown things that the director wants you to look at, things that help build the world of the film. After all, it's difficult to establish an entire world in the span of two hours and no one wants to be told everything through dialogue by the characters. If we're only listening to what's being said, what's the point of watching a film?
Simple things can be figured out just based on logic and observation in a movie. Let's say that there's a shot of the main character's desk. What's on it? A stack of papers? If they're strewn about the desk freely, we can tell that the character is either not very organized or is overworked. Maybe there's an apple on the desk. From there, it would be a fair assumption that the character is a teacher. Simple observations allow us to learn things that might not be picked up without watching carefully.
But What's The Point?
So you've made it this far in the article and you still don't really see a point to any of this. Movies are just movies, there's no need to think more deeply about them. That's a fair evaluation. After all, not everyone even enjoys movies. But by taking the time to learn a little bit more, you realize that there's more beneath the surface.
This isn't to say that you can't just have a good time watching a movie. Films are meant to be entertaining, so if you're worried that thinking about it too much will ruin your experience, let me say that it absolutely won't. What it does is make you realize when there's real effort and love put into a film. You see the difference between a movie that uses cheap jokes and special effects like "The Expendables" versus a tightly-choreographed martial arts masterpiece such as "The Raid: Redemption".
Ultimately, whatever you enjoy watching isn't a bad choice. But there truly is nothing like realizing that there's so much more to film than what gets released at your local theater.