Gianetti's classic textbook has been around for a long time, and gone through several printings and new editions. There's a reason for that: it is one of the best introductions to the analysis and appreciation of film that is around. This is the book I was assigned when I took my first film class ("Film as Humanities") in college, and it opened up my eyes to a whole range of elements that contribute to the making of film meaning. Now, a few editions later, I am still assigning the book for my introduction to film studies classes.
What makes it so useful is that Gianetti focuses a chapter each on all of the different components that contribute to the significance of the final film product. He has a chapter on photography -- that introduces vocabulary for describing the images of film, the lighting, the framing, and the way in which the arrangement of elements on screen can direct the eye of the viewer. He has other chapters on movement, composition, editing, acting, story, drama, sound, and ideology, among others.
A refreshing feature of the book, especially for an introductory level text, is that it does not make a sharp distinction between "art" films and "entertainment" flicks -- all of the elements he discusses apply to any films, and he illustrates them with copious examples from both the history of cinema and also from popular and accessible films of the last decade and even last year. At the same time, he is not timid about making judgments about films -- and giving his readers several tools for making critical judgments about what makes some films better than others.
A guiding theme of the book, that lends continuity to each of the chapters and to the book as a whole, is Gianetti's emphasis on a distinction between the "realist" and the "classicist" and the "formalist" tendencies in film. In his chapter on story, among other helpful analyses of narrative styles and the formation and development of genres of film storytelling, he also explains what one would expect from a realist approach to storytelling versus a classicist (i.e. mainstream Hollywood) style versus a formalist approach. He similarly discusses realist and formalist approaches to editing and composition and acting and sound. This basic distinction turns out to be the key to understanding a wide range of differences between approaches to film.
While he doesn't go into film theory directly, he points out where some of the critical ideas he raises have provoked controversy among film theorists, and he is able to capture clearly the key ideas that are debated by film theorists without in any way bogging the text down in jargon. He maintains througout an emphasis on what might be called first-level film analysis -- before we can apply theory to films, before we can reflect on the nature of film, or on the deeper meanings of films, we really do need to learn how to get clear about what is on the surface: what is happening on the screen and in the sound and in the story, and why. While there are other good introductory film books out there that focus on different aspects of film (like Bordwell's Film Art), I really can't imagine a better guide than Gianetti's to getting clear about what is there on the surface. Highly recommended for those interested in the nature of film.
A readable and clear introduction to the various elements that make up movies. Well worth reading for those new to film studies, or who just want to be able to say more about movies than whether they liked them and what they were about.
"Giannetti's book is invaluable for anyone who wants a deeper appreciation of the movies. Drawing on a lifetime of wisdom, he explains clearly and passionately how the movies work, and why. I have used earlier editions of this classic work for years, recommend it constantly and welcome this latest edition." Roger Ebert, Ebert & Roeper
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.