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Film Studies – Spectator Text Relations

Assignment Brief:
1. Choose a film extract from a genre film and draw conclusions about moments when meanings are either generated by the films text or are brought from outside the film text by the spectator (this could be linked to such things as the male gaze, or to audience theory – the interpretive model or reception theory)

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:47:21

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:47:21

DVD – Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:47:21

This scene and others featuring Annette Bening would almost certainly satisfy the male gaze requirement for this film, her characters inclusion in this film appears to tick the box for this. The male audience would be expecting a love interest in this genre of film although this convention has been challenged in some recent Western genre films. The codes and conventions that the audience expects to see in a Western genre film have not been forgotten in this film and in fact feature heavily throughout this film.
There is a strong element of realism which was introduced by another recent Western film of the time “Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven” in which the protagonists are shown as ordinary men rather than the semi-invincible sharp shooters of previous Western films. The environment that is mise-en-scene is also kept to the basics and dirty as it would have been in the 1800’s but remaining true to the conventions expected in a Western genre film.
The audience expects to see certain conventions that are, the cowboys ride horses, wear hats, carry both hand guns and rifles these are all conventions that an audience expects to see when watching a Western genre film and all are included in this sequence and indeed through out this film. In one sequence the cowboys also appear to be able to shoot continuously without reloading, Costner firing continuously with his finger permanently depressed upon the trigger of his six guns as he draws his other hand back repeatedly against the guns hammer. This harks back to earlier Western films for example ‘The Saturday Morning Western’.
The bad guys are all wearing dark clothes and although they wear hats they are not the typical cowboy hat, this all guides the audience reception, in interpreting the films codes, by helping them to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, which again is another example of the use of conventions in a genre film. The costumes also seem to suggest that this is also about a battle between the old ways of Western life against the new. The bad guys seem to be wearing the clothes of a Banker, Tax Collector or Bureaucrat whilst the cowboys are in traditional costume. There’s also the suggestion that the bad guys are forcing out the good guys, at the same time destroying their way of life. This is another justification for the gunfight and also has the added effect of making it easier for the audience to chose who they will be supporting in the upcoming gunfight.
The director Kevin Costner had total control over the look and feel of this film in which he also starred, he made it look and feel like it was based on actual events and was in fact a historical representation of events that actually occurred in a small Western town rather than a work of pure fiction. The audience is left to make up their own minds as to which is true, a work of fiction or historical fact. It is this which the audience that is the spectator brings with them when watching this film.
2. Analyse the choices that filmmakers make in creating meaning in the chosen extract (editing: use of sound, music; lighting and cinematography; performance and choosing a specific take)

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:19

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:19

DVD – Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:19

In the ten minute sequence chosen most of which is set in the open street of a typical 1800’s Western town and so the entire sequence is shot using natural lighting, although this almost certainly would have been augmented by artificial lighting but essentially the main light sources are light from the sun and in interior scenes the light seems to come only through the windows. But in some of the scene the actors are positioned in front of the windows and so they would have been in silhouette, the sun in front of them and so there must have been some artificial lighting directed from the cameras viewpoint to counteract this.

The sound is represented very naturally keeping to the theme that this could be historical record of actual events rather than a purely fictional work. In the gunfight scene for example there are only the sounds of the protagonists as they conduct the gunfight; the sounds of the guns being fired and the sounds made by the horses tied up at the rails. Low level music is introduced at one point in this sequence to instil the scene with menace for the audience when one of the main protagonists confronts a young girl who has appeared in an opened door just as he falls to the floor heavily wounded, offering him the opportunity of an escape route. Music is used again to suggest menace when Annette Bening is taken hostage which reaches a climax when Costner shoots her kidnapper. But essentially the music throughout the entire sequence is limited to key point and is played at a low volume level so as not to intrude into the actual sounds made by the characters and other natural elements during the gunfight itself.

3. Using the same extract from a genre film evaluate how it sets up expectations in the audience (how the response is based upon the knowledge of genre conventions from previous experience) and how the extract uses either key formal (miss-en-scene, cinematography, lighting, editing) or narrative elements.

DVD – Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:00

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:00

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:00

In this scene, taken from the beginning of the sequence chosen from the film Open Range – DVD chapter 18 and 19, the audience expects to see a gun fight between the two opposing factions. With the two factions facing each other in the classic stand off position with guns ready, walking towards each other closing the distance between them in preparation to shoot. The audience is presented with all the right conventions, the expected miss-en-scene of the towns’ wooden structures with their elaborate fronts and the very basic structures behind. In this particular film it did look as if the towns’ construction had been conceived to be more like a film set rather than a true representation of a Western town as it looked very much as it had just been built. This could have been intentional though for if this was meant to be consumed by the audience as a historical representation of facts then the buildings had to have been recently built. This idea is further explored during the gunfight as the protagonists circle each other they walk past building material stacked ready for constructing new buildings and also in one shot there are incomplete buildings with just their frameworks completed, again instilling into the audience this is a frontier town just in the process of becoming established. Other typical and expected conventions for a Western genre film include a group of horses tied up outside the saloon, the water troughs and wide (wide enough for the cows to be herded through) muddy unpaved street.
From the viewpoint of the cinematographer we see the wide open landscapes that always feature in Western films, the open plains; the sparsely populated expanse, uninterrupted views of blue open skies, a line of trees with the mountains in the distance. All these elements have been mobilised and can be clearly be interpreted by the expectant audience, there are no ambiguous elements here; every thing in this scene is generated intrinsically by the film.
DVD – Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:30

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:30

DVD - Open Range: Chapter 18. time 01:38:30

The whole cinematography of the Western plains and the miss-en-scene of the imminent gunfight. All these elements of cinematography are encapsulated by this close up of Costner framed by all the elements of the Western scene as he prepares to engage the other faction in a gunfight.

The editing of this sequence plays a key role in setting the scene as the camera angle switches from a number of viewpoints centralised around the positions of the gunfighters as they face each other. The camera tracking the protagonists as they pursue each other around the town with the camera switching position between pursuer and the pursued.

From a narrative sense this is a Western genre film true to the expectations of the audience, for they expect to see a gunfight where the bad guys are both fought and beaten by the good guys who are outnumbered three to one. From this viewpoint the audience will not be disappointed, the good guys win the day and the bad guys are defeated.

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