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The importance of Form: introduction to film studies

Form and Content

In What is Film Studies?, I stated that films have form, and distinguished between content (the subject of a film) and form (how the content is expressed). A useful way to clarify the distinction is to consider the difference between a film in which a robbery is taking place and surveillance footage of an actual robbery. When people (shop owners, police, reality TV fans, etc.) watch surveillance footage, what they are interested in is the content – the actual robbery. Obviously the surveillance camera will have been placed in a prime position in order to see what takes place – it would be foolish, for example, to point it towards a wall or to place it at such a low angle as to only capture people’s legs – however, once these limited choices are made, the camera is, so to speak, left to its own devices. As such, when we look at the footage of a crime, what we see is a shot from a single perspective, played out in real time. The footage will have been successful if it allows us to identify the robbers, unsuccessful if it does not. While we may feel some excitement when watching such footage, this will come from the knowledge that we are watching a real crime take place, rather than from the use of any formal technique.