Tyler Vendetti
September 28, 2013 9:00 am

Out of the 5 classes I am taking this semester, 4 of them are related to film or media, meaning I spend the majority of my college life watching old Westerns or technofuturist sci-fi thrillers and wondering where my social life went or if I ever had one at all. This is all a new experience for me (the “analyzing movies” part, not the “watching films for hours on end” part). I recently declared my second film major last spring, not realizing that a cineliterate vocabulary was a prerequisite for the majority of my classes. Don’t know what cineliterate means? Neither did I. If you’ve ever wondered what makes the bond between film majors so strong, its their ability to discuss films that you thought you knew so well with a set of words that only they understand. It’s the equivalent of learning to speak Pig Latin with your best friend so that you can discuss people when they’re around without them noticing.

I’m not usually one to expose secrets but it seems entirely unfair that film buffs get to discuss the intricacies of popular movies right in front of us regular people. So, using my knowledge of cinema that I’ve gained from one-month of Film Studies classes, here is a short list of terms that you can use to help decipher the conversations currently going on in a movie critic’s mind at this very moment:

Mise-en-scène (n.): the composition of a scene or shot

Understanding this term is critical because not only is it a film buff’s favorite term but it’s also French and enhance your intelligence to everyone around you. Mise-en-scene, put simply, is everything that happens in front of the camera. Put complexly, mise-en-sceme is the arrangement of people and objects within the frame, the movement of the characters and items in that shot, and the design of the set itself.

Exhibit A: The Searchers (1956) starring John Wayne

The director didn’t just put the camera inside the building here because he ran out of room. The framing of John Wayne here was done very specifically, to not only create a dividing line between the interior world and the exterior world but specifically to show that he’s stuck as an outcast. WELCOME TO FILM CLASS.

Auteur (n.): a filmmaker that functions as the author of a movie due to his/her specific artistic style

If you’ve ever heard of a film being referred to as Hitchcockian or Spielberg-esque, it’s because they resemble the style of such directors, one that is so distinct, it gets its own adjective. Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg are both auteurs, meaning they’ve imbued their directorial style with a recognizable artistic flair. Auteurs make movies that reflect a piece of themselves, thus making them more of an author than a director.

Diegesis (n.): the world of the film’s story

Put in another way, diegesis is what both the characters in a film and the audience experience. If the protagonist starts playing an oboe, that’s a diegetic sound because they can hear what they’re playing and so can viewers, unless the oboe-player is Beethoven after he’d gone deaf, in which case, this example is about to become very, very complicated. Non-diegetic sound would be the haunting music that plays in Jaws (1975) every time the shark is near. Assuming the shark does not, in fact, hear that noise (I’m sure that would get very obnoxious for him), that is a non-diegetic sound because it’s meant to set the scene’s tone for the audience. Cloud Atlas (2012) has a number of diegetic worlds: worlds that all exist in a certain place and time, and are experienced by the characters. (If you end up understanding this one, you might as well crown yourself a movie director and collect your millions of dollars now.)

Dolly: (n./v.) A wheeled apparatus used to transport a movie or television camera about a set; to move the wheeled apparatus on which a movie or television camera is mounted toward or away from the scene of action

If you’re ever on a film set and you hear someone to “dolly left or right” or “bring the dolly over,” they’re not talking about a physical doll that the director carries around to comfort him/her while shooting. A dolly is essentially a fancy rolling cart that lets you move the camera around without having to hoist it onto your shoulder. If you dolly out and zoom in, you get the famous Jaws effect:

Cineliterate (adj.): familiar with films or cinema

If you didn’t read the entirety of this article because you were stuck on the word cineliterate at the beginning, never fear. Cineliterate, as you might have guessed, is a fancier way of saying “you watch a lot of movies.” Cineliterate film students have seen all the classics and can point out Hitchcockian effects like it’s their job. Who knows? Someday, it might be. And if you’re reading this now, it means you read the majority of this list and you’re on your way to becoming cineliterate and understanding your film buff friends.

Image via Shutterstock

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