Formalism and Ideological Fil Theory

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The Formalist Film Theory

The formalist film theory emphasizes that film is an art and not a reproduction of reality. Unlike realist theorists, formalist film theorists believe that the art of cinema production is possible mainly because it depicts everyday life but does not form part of daily life (Valentine, 1998). Formalist theory focuses on the formal and technical elements of a film such as the lighting, sound, color use, shot composition, design, and editing. The theory is significant because it is applied in contemporary film production today.

The Synthesis of Elements

The theory is concerned with the synthesis of various elements of film production alongside the emotional and intellectual effects on the consumers (Valentine, 1998). For instance, a standard Hollywood production with continuity in editing creates a more warming impact than a jump cut which might be very volatile and not easy to comprehend. Besides, several elements such as editing, shot composition, and music are crucial in movie production. For example, the shoot-out that terminates Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western "Dollars" trilogy series is a significant illustration of how editing, shot composition, and editing combine to produce a thrilling effect (Valentine, 1998). The shot selection ranges from a broad spectrum to very close and tense shots. The length of the shots diminishes as the musical rhythm builds towards the end of the movie. A combination of these elements creates tension which could not have been achieved if the shots were to be considered individually.

The Unique Nature of Formalism

Formalism is a unique theory which embraces both ideological and auteurist divisions of criticism. Both ideological and auteurist theorists critique the style created by formalism. Although ideologues focus on the social and economic pressure to create style and auteurs emphasis on material, formalism is primarily concerned with how the use of style communicates ideas, emotions, and themes (Eagle, 1981). For instance, in the series "Designated Survivor" season one episode one, the use of video editing, different shot composition, and lighting when the United States Capitol Building is attacked, leading to the death of all except Congressman Peter MacLeish and Thomas Kirkman, creates a nostalgic environment alongside the theme of terrorism and heroism. The combination of such elements communicates style and ideas effectively as employed in this political drama series.

Ideological Formalism

Ideological approach concentrates on a broad movement and its significance in the world of a filmmaker and how his/her thoughts, decisions, and style manifest in the material. The classical Hollywood cinema uses a distinct style known as the institutional mode of representation involving massive coverage, three-point lighting, continuity editing, and music is designed to create a pleasant experience (Erikson, 2013). As such, the primary purpose for the use of such combinations is to attract as many ticket buyers as possible as well as make more money, which is consistent with ideologists' perception of socio-economic pressure to create style (Erikson, 2013). The Film noir created by Nino Frank is characterized by darker images, lower production values, location shooting, under lighting, and nihilism. The use of these styles creates a pessimistic society resulting from the devastating war experiences, hence creating disillusionment. Therefore, based on the Film noir and Designated Survivor, it is evident that the use of ideological formalism is not only affected by the individuals responsible but also the social, political, and economic pressure which the movie maker may be cognizant of or not. Conclusively, the use of formalism creates the distinction between several cinema production units across the globe.


Eagle, H. (1981). Russian Formalist film theory. Michigan: Michigan Slavic Publications.

Erikson, E. (2013). Formalist and Relationalist Theory in Social Network Analysis. Sociological Theory, 31(3), pp.219-242.

Valentine, J. (1998). A Formalist Theory of Art. Southwest Philosophy Review, 14(2), pp.139-150.

September 25, 2023




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Film Analysis

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