« Films Without Families | Main | Macky's Back »



Great questions, Thom. When I use the term to describe a film, it's usually a lazy shorthand for "particularly benefiting from a projection on a large movie theatre screen," lumping just about any of the reasons I might think of for such a judgment together. The opposite of a cinematic film, in my mind, is any film that can be fully digested and appreciated without paying close attention to the quality of image on-screen. Silent films of course qualify; in fact I'm not sure I factor in a film's soundtrack at all when thinking of a film as cinematic or not. If anything it can be a negative (For example, I'd call excessive use of voice-over to convey information to be an "uncinematic" device.)

Rick Olson

Great post ... when I think of something as cinematic, I think first of all of images, of it showing rather than telling. But, does this make "My Dinner With Andre," for example, not cinematic?

Some novels are called cinematic, and this seems to be shorthand for "easily translated to cinema," as in vivid, well-described imagery, three-act structure, etc. We've all seen flicks that are just translations of a written source (the first couple of "Harry Potters" come to mind), and we say "oy vey, this isn't very cinematic," but why?


I think of the overall visual world, primarily, but also aural (though Brian has a point, that it can distract).

Many silent film fans will tell you that silent films are not really silent. Most utilize music and sometimes sound effects. They often lose some interest when the sound is removed.

Is story necessary? When I think of pure cinema, story becomes less important, and it becomes more a succession of images. The same can be said for very literary prose as well; the language itself takes primacy. But in both cases, stories make for a more engaging experience over a long stretch. It guides us along and gives us conflict and struggle, which we desire to resolve.

I recall that Sontag said that film was a partly literary medium.


Sorry for taking so long to get back into the discussion. I'll be away from a computer for most of the next couple of weeks (on vacation in the mountains).

Thanks for the input and comments everyone. The various points of view here reflect the ambiguity of the term and its varied usage: for Brian it refers to the quality of a projected image on a screen, AR might use it to describe both the visual image and any accompanying sounds, Rick, meanwhile, reminds us that "cinematic" is also used to describe things with no visual images or sounds at all, such as books.

However, everyone here (me too) seems to immediately think of cinematic as something primarily visual with sound at least as an option. I like how Rick narrows the definition to "showing rather than telling." But, AR asks a good question about story. What if nothing occurs in what is being shown? For instance, I wonder would something like twenty minutes of unchanging footage of a rock projected in high quality on a large screen with some excellent background music qualify as cinematic?


I usually think of cinematic as a way of describing the look of television. We often think of the television look as the traditional sitcom three camera set-up. Cinematic, at least for me, is a visual breaking of these generic boundaries. The first current television show that pops into my head as cinematic is Mad Men. It uses framings that we would more associate with film than television, and I think that makes it more inherently cinematic. For me, it's about the location of people and objects within the frame. But that also relegates cinematic to a very specific kind of film. My definition takes away from DIY styles as exemplified in the films of John Cassavetes or the French New Wave. It's a tough thing to narrow down.


To me, "cinematic" conjures up the sum of all stereotypes of film. Maybe as a definition: "a flamboyant and melodramatic way of selling a story or situation."


Thanks Dan and Shahn. Your ideas work together for me because they both seem to argue that "cinematic" refers to a familiar look or style of moviemaking--the classic Hollywood look perhaps--that can be recognized in other mediums. Sort of like saying "I don't know what 'cinematic' means exactly but I know it when I see it?"


My definition of "cinematic" is you, Thom! You are cinematic! :)


[blushing beet red] Aw c'mon Jen...just when I think it's safe to assume a definable reality you show up and blow my mind with zen. And, might I add, you are cinematic as well :]

The comments to this entry are closed.

Written by

Blog powered by Typepad