Sight & Sound Review

Your piece should consist of :

Synopsis  (200-250 words)

Review (750-1000 words)

Opening paragraph usually links an overall judgement of the film with some noteable feature of the film: perhaps a striking scene that stays in the mind or sums up the film’s theme or mood; something interesting about the making of the film; reference to other films by the same director or with the same star; and so on.

The remaining paragraphs review the film in detail, making reference to details of narrative, performance and often the technical aspects of film language. The review will show evidence of knowledge and research that goes beyond having just seen the film.

The concluding paragraph will offer an evaluation of the film, perhaps in terms of its artistic and commercial merit, usually offering both strengths and weakness, but usually with a clear view of the overall opinion of the reviewer.

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19 Responses to Sight & Sound Review

  1. Adam Stafford says:

    Okay, point taken that ‘Sight & Sound’ is fairly opinionated, so I don’t expect to be gaining £50 any time soon.

    However, the opinions do seem to be slipped (I feel) quite discreetly in-between all those reeling lists of fact. By challenging you though, and noticing this, at least some good has come from it, as I can now make my review more ‘realistic’.

    Whilst saying this, I am still quite sceptic in admitting defeat, as I feel that the writers from ‘Sight & Sound’ just seem to add odd adjectives hither-and-dither in order to flesh out their articles, and so the words they use do not come from their heart. Whereas my idea of a good review is based principally on the writers’ view of whatever they might be reviewing, hence the name re-VIEW. I will however confess that after reading more articles, they all seem like this, so maybe that is what is required to write a ‘typical’ film review.

    I will happily provide examples supporting my opinion if you should desire.

    Before I go (and completely off the subject), I shall be emailing you my long awaited ‘Original Writing’ in the forseeable future.


  2. Mr Heald says:

    I think you’re observing aspects of the S&S review style that are worth noting, but I disagree with your evaluation of them. I think this is perhaps due to a misunderstanding of the primary function of an S&S review. For an S&S reviewer to write ‘from the heart’ would be quite inappropriate. S&S is the magazine of the British Film Institute (BFI). As such it might be called a ‘journal of record’ as contrasted with most magazines you will be familiar with that are ephemera (you read them then throw them away). S&S publishes an index each year, and back-issues will be referred to by film students, critics, academics, and anyone with a serious interest in film. Therefore the reviews must have an objective element (relating key facts about the film, for example) as well as an evaluative element, which is inevitably a matter of opinion, but opinion informed by a wider knowledge of the context of the film’s production and reception.

    I’m not sure if your reference to adding “odd adjectives hither-and-dither” was a clever pun, or you weren’t aware that the expression is ‘hither-and-thither’. Either way, I think the reviwers are usually more careful about their choice of language than is implied by your suggestion that they are ‘fleshing out’ their articles. I would like to see examples of what you mean.

    It’s good to see some serious thought going into this Adam.

  3. Adam Stafford says:

    Well that last comment was rather patronising!
    Please do not be fooled, it was hardly serious thought; more a petty competition where the arguments from my part became desperate and so in turn, flimsy. I could argue my previous point further, but your harsh words made me re-think my opinion, and so I have come up with a more informed and hopefully accurate one.
    Previously, when I said that the adjectives were added ‘hither-and-thither’(or dither to be precise), well obvious the writer, as any writer does, took great care in the words they chose to use, but I have discovered why I might have initially thought this. The reason the opinions, in my view, seem ‘thrown in’, is because none of them have reasons supporting why the writer think this. It may be due to word limit why this happens, as they do not have enough word-allowance to explain their opinions. I do not know why, but I do know that this is howcome I felt that their opinions were not ‘from the heart’, as I felt they could not support them, and so in turn, they did not.
    To back-up my thoughts, Sight and Sound says:
    ‘It’s a small masterpiece of cinematic storytelling: as tear-like animated raindrops fall all around, a thunderclap erupts in the distance, acting as a literal burst of understanding and an imagined, mocking echo of Rocky’s impression of flight.’
    In this passage, the writer does not make clear why such things make it a cinematic storytelling? Also, cinematic storytelling does not have a set definition, so what is it in the writer’s opinion one?
    Additionally, it says:
    ‘employs animation techniques which are (ostensibly) as old-fashioned and hand-crafted as Toy Story’s CGI imagery is high-tech and virtual.’
    What makes animation techniques obsolete and what exactly are people ‘allegedly’ saying to suggest the animation is indeed obsolete?
    Finally, to address the ‘hither and thither’ situation, to be quite frank I do not think I have ever seen it written it down, and when the phrase is said, the‘d’ of ‘and’ masks the ‘th’ of ‘thither’, so this is why I believe I made this mistake. As to say it was not a clever pun, I am not sure I was actually using a pun at all, as I was simply suggesting the adjectives were thrown in here-and-there, or have I completely misunderstood the phrase?

  4. Mr Heald says:

    Patronising? Harsh words? Crumbs: I didn’t know I had it in me!

    Which comment was patronising? ‘It’s good to see some serious thought’? No: I absolutely meant it. I disagreed with aspects of your comments, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth making or that I regarded them as lacking seriousness.

    And, because you have shown yourself previously to be capable of incisive comment I genuinely thought that you might have put the ‘dither’ in ‘hither & thither’deliberately. But I was also aware as you very perceptively point out, the two sound similar so that as you say, you may have just misheard it, in which case my correction was intended to inform you of the fact in the spirit of education (it’s my job, after all) not to try and ‘score points’ against you. It’s often difficult to make ones tone clear online, so let me make it absolutely clear: I very much value and admire contributions like the one you made; when I challenge or correct comments it is intended in a positive spirit of getting students to develop and refine their thinking (and it forces me to do the same with mine); even the most tentative contributions, whether here or in class are valued by me greatly as they show engagement rather than just a desire to be ‘spoon-fed’.

    Thank you.

    Now: to get back to the matter at hand. I don’t see the problem with your first example. Cinematic storytelling surely means storytelling in cinematic form, and the writer goes on to support his point by reference to two specific examples of image and sound (which are the essence of cinema) followed by an interpretation of the meaning and significance of those elements, linking them (showing awareness of structure) to another aspect of the film (indicated by the word ‘echo’ ie. this bit (the rain & thunder)reminds him of, and therefore reinforces, that bit (Rocky’s impression of flight)).

    In your second example, where do you get the word ‘obsolete’ from? The reviewer does not use it in the passage you quote. Admittedly, ‘old-fashioned’ is often used pejoratively (negatively) but it need not imply obsolete, and indeed the term is balanced by ‘hand-crafted’ which usually implies carefully-made and long-lasting in a way that ‘high-tech and virtual’ do not: indeed the latter often implies ephemeral and ‘disposable’. Obviously I don’t have the rest of the review, and if the writer doesn’t make clear what the animation techniques are, then you do have a point that the asertion could have been further supported, but remember that the audience is primarily a knowledgeable one that will be aware of developments in animation techniques throughout cinematic history.

    Even though I’m not sure which film the writer is reviewing here, (Chicken Run?) in the couple of sentences you quote the writer has given a strong and clear sense of the film having a strong narrative, supported by carefully structured symbolic imagery, presented in a form that, while actually modern, has the appearance of a piece that has stood the test of time.

    Now that’s surely not bad going in two sentences, and if you could do something similar in a sustained piece, whether you like it or not, I’d be giving you an A*. Though there’s no problem with you doing it in your own style.

  5. Adam Stafford says:

    I am quite sure that most of your response went cleanly over my head, but I think I managed to de-code the majority of what you were saying.

    I say patronising, as you disagreed with my evaluation, and it seemed to me, that to strength your own view point, you criticised my own grammatical errors, as it showed I did not have the same extent of knowledge and so could not have possibly been a worthy challenger. To be honest, I am quite an accomplished ‘arguer’, and guilt-tripping is usually an easy way to falter your opponent.

    One last thing, what is the difference between obsolete and old-fashioned, I personally thought they were pretty much interchangeable.

  6. Mr Heald says:

    I wasn’t intending to write in code, and I’m pretty sure you’re capable of understanding everything I wrote. Don’t try and play the ‘dumb’ card now as your next argument tactic ;-P You’re too clever for that. If there’s anything you really don’t understand, though, just ask. I like that: it’s really satisfying as a teacher when someone gives enough of a damn about something to ask about it, and it’s a good way of learning stuff, too.

    No, I wasn’t criticising grammatical errors. Honest. Really I wasn’t. (But I reserve the right to do so: after all, examiners have to penalise them)

    Hmm, I think I missed the self-deprecating reference to ‘petty competition’ earlier. So do you mean that you were only pretending you thought I was being patronising to wrong-foot me? If so, well-done: it worked! If not then you’ve double-wrong-footed me and I accept defeat in the rhetorical element of the argument, but I still think the substance of it lies with me (Mr Heald ironically licks finger and scores up a virtual point).

    Something obsolete is likely to be old-fashioned (but needn’t be), but not all that is old-fashioned need be obsolete. If you have modern furniture, then move into an old-fashioned house, you may well decide not to take the furniture, in which case it will be obsolete. The very fact that you have moved into the old-fashioned house shows that it isn’t obsolete (as you are using it).

  7. roachy says:

    I beilieve that a good review would express an overview of what would appear to be susceptable in the opinion of the general reader field. This translates as that I would prefer for a reviewer to not give his or her own opinion but rather give a more falsified opinion based on what the general reading field of sight and sound would follow: If the reader is a common, moronic imbecile who for some reason gets a job at sight and sound I believe it would be a much improved read if he gave a view based on the opinion of the smarter, more intellectual people that read the publication in question iead of his own. That is why I do not like the reviews in certain magazines though I do like the ones in sight and sound because they all express a similar, more relevant view oppsed to the lower, iferior publications that are overopinionated by their writer.

  8. Adam Stafford says:

    Well I guess Luke will not be enjoying any of my own work.

    Furthermore, over-opinionated reviews are not necessarily written by ‘imbeciles’, as I think to use hyperbole effectively, can prove to be a very difficult task indeed.

  9. Jenny says:

    I agree with Adam. If the reviews published in Sight and Sound were only what the reading audience would like to read (or not), the review wouldn’t really be true because they would not highlight what the reviewer had actually seen and felt after seeing the film. Also, what if some of the readers were “common, moronic imbeciles”, then what they were reading would be what they would want to see. What would be the point of a biased review which would surely seem to commercialise the film rather than review it for what it actually is? I personally rather the reviews of a more opiniated nature because if you were that bothered about seeing a review that fits the audiences’ opinion, you would surely go and see the film anyway?! I find it interesting to consider other peoples opints of view and take them and the way they express themselves into account when writing my own reviews. Anyway, I waffle on…

  10. roachy says:

    I wasn’t implying that you have to be overopinionated to be a moron, or an imbecile. I was just trying to make the point but used an extreme comparrison. When I said about the reviewer expressing too much opinion I mean not basing any evidence on the facts, and expressing their opinion in a way that is more suitable to read for the Sight and Sound market.

  11. Adam Stafford says:

    I think I see what you are getting at; you are not meaning that the articles are ‘over-opinionated’ because the opinions used are severely exaggerated, but instead because they are used too often – I understood wrongly.


  12. samson says:

    heeellllppp! 😥

    sir this review has nerly killd me! lol
    im finding it hard to interlink (if thats the word :S) the media stuff (mise en sene ect.) into my review. And its only 260 words. I would be grateful of help concernin the structure of review here it is…

    The Devil Really Does Wear Prada.

    Jimmy Choo’s, designer shoes; Christian Dior, ‘Fifth ave’ store; The Devil wears Prada, new day Drama. This 21st century hand bag essential enlightens, and brightens, giving us an insight into the success and stress of wannabe Journalist Andrea Sachs. (Anne Hathaway) David Frankel brings to life the 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger, creating a designer portal into the world of fashion. With more than an hour and a half of cat walk fashion, The Devil wears Prada screams chic, style and sophistication.
    With a whisper for a roar, Global Globe winner Meryl Streep plays fiery and demanding Miranda Priestly, editor in chief of Fashion magazine Runway. After succeeding in her interview here, Andy has to learn to become as emotionless as a manikin to withstand the new pressures of working life in the Fashion Industry. Will Andy’s new lifestyle, one of which a million girls would kill for, be the key unlock her potential as a professional writer; or being surrounded by ‘Panic, Nausea stricken suicidal workers’ deprive her of her target and put her dreams in Jeopardy? The choice is to either adapt to her new high status life, or become last season’s accessory at the bottom of some high street bargain bin. ‘When your life goes up in smoke you know you’re in need of a promotion’
    Evil takes a new form in this addictive, glossy and glamorous film, with a dialogue as sharp as a razor blade this original and stimulating film should make you crease, cry and cringe. Inspiration on a hanger, Transformation with a tag, Comedy with receipt; the devil really does wear Prada.

  13. Jenny says:

    Sir, I’m also a little bit puzzled…

    Would the people who would be reading the review in Sight and Sound actually have seen my film before they read the reviw? This is becaise it would be difficult to refer to specific events in the film as they would not have seen it, and so wouldn’t have a clue what most of the review was on about. Also, I’ve been reading a lot of Sight and Sound articles online and they don’t really refer to mise en sene at all or many of the camera angles.

    Should I attempt to write my review assuming the readers will know exactly what I am on about, and just insert mise en sene etc into the review where I feel applicable?

    You see, I’ve got pages of notes about the film, but I don’t know if there is any point or not of using them if the “readers” have not seen the film (or don’t know specific points and characters) as such. This is because many of my points are to do with the very complex nature of Citizen Kane, and I am worried after reading bits of Samsons’ review that they reveal the whole plot instead of summerising why or why not someone should go and see the film…

    Is it OK if I attempt my review with an audience of omniscient readers and speak to you in tomorrows lesson about the problems I am facing?


  14. Mr Heald says:

    Re: Jenny’s question. The assumption must be that the review will work for someone who hasn’t seen the film, but the synopsis means that the outline of the whole plot and main characters have been made clear to the reader. Part of the skill of a good reviewer is in referring to details in a way that makes sense if you haven’t seen the film, but is potentially illuminating even if you have. An example from the review of ‘United 93’:

    ‘Significant portions of United 93 are set not on the flight but in the control rooms of the various air traffic-control centres around the east coast of America. Some bravura editing conveys the growing panic and incomprehension as planes disappear from radar screens and a murky voice, transmitted from the cockpit of one of the first two planes to be hijacked, says: “We have some planes.”‘

    Notice how a brief explanation of a significant aspect of how the story is conveyed is supported by a reference to a particular example of this, with a reference to a significant filmic technique (editing) and an interpretation of what it conveys (‘growing panic and incomprehension’)

    I hope that example also helps deal with Samson’s query about how to use film-language terminology. I’ve got to be honest here (and I’ve mentioned it before): in reality I’m asking you to do something a little artificial, because even a relatively specialised publication such as S&S typically doesn’t have very much specialised terminology in a review, but there is an assumption that readers will be familiar with the main concepts I’ve introduced you to, so that you will find them used occasionally. For the purpose of a piece of GCSE coursework, I’m looking for you to use a higher proportion of technical vocabulary than you will find in most S&S reviews – but not that much more. You need to make sure that any terminology you use is there to support the points you want to make in your review, rather than just to show you can spot the features.

    Also, remember that I said that you can choose a different context for your writing than S&S if you want, so long as it allows you to produce a sustained piece of writing that shows your media knowledge and has a clearly defined audience and purpose. So, it might make sense for someone like Jenny who has gone into a really detailed analysis of a classic film (HURRAY!) to choose a different context. For example you could envisage a series of screenings of classic films for a film club, or ‘arthouse’ cinema, each of which is accompanied by a set of ‘screening notes’ (in the film club’s programme, or produced by the cinema’s education officer) to inform the viewers of why the film has gained such a high reputation, and providing a commentary on significant aspects of the film to consider, often with questions to stimulate thinking and possibly discussion after the film.

    Samson: your review as it stands is excellent, as the typical kind of brief review that you find in a mainstream magazine. The problem we’ve got is that a review of that type doesn’t really allow you to hit the assessment criteria about ‘specialist terminology’ and ‘technical analysis’. Your work doesn’t need to be stuffed full of it, but you do need to be writing for an audience and context where some technical analysis would be appropriate (hence my showing you those different types of publications).

    Yep, it’s a challenging task you’re undertaking. But what would be the point if it weren’t?

  15. Adam Stafford says:

    I have a question(s) about my review, so below is the first paragraph:

    Over 2 million people on the earth practise Christianity, and Monty Python’s Life of Brian employs to insult them all. It takes piety, reverence and holiness, and total relinquishes them: yet it still remains to be one of the greatest films ever made, pursuing some of the timeless classics, such as Indiana Jones and Back to the Future, in a recent poll conducted by the Internet Movie Database. The multi-talented writers (and conjointly principal actors), of the Life of Brian, have taken all the ‘flamboyancy’ and ‘bombastic vitality’ of the half an hour Monty Python television series, and transformed it into a feature length film. It is set in 33 AD, and follows the life of a Jew, Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), member of an anti-Roman activists group, who is mistakenly branded as the Messiah; making it apparent why it could have possibly insulted the Christians alike, resulting it being deemed blasphemous and ultimately being banned in many countries, including the Republic of Ireland, Norway, Italy and Jersey for varying periods of prolonged time.

    I would just like to ask if I need to mention where I got the adjectives ‘bombastic vitality’ and ‘flamboyancy’ (as they are quoted from a BBC review of the TV series), or if it is okay just to leave them in quotation marks.

    As I am having to send the beginning of it anyway, I thought I might aswell ask if what I have sent hits the criteria.

  16. Mr Heald says:

    For coursework purposes, anything you use should be referenced in a bibliography; actual words quoted should indeed be in quotation marks.

    The general tenor of what you’ve written is fine, though there’s a little awkwardness of expression (’employs to insult them all’; ‘remains to be…’; ‘varying periods of prolonged time’)

  17. Emma-Louise says:

    Hey sir,

    Did u get my review?


  18. Mr Heald says:

    Yes, Emma, I got it thanks.

    I’m afraid that this blog, your work, my family, sleep, indeed anything that isn’t directly related to imminent coursework deadlines, is on hold at the moment.

  19. Emma-Louise says:

    That’s alright. I’m just pleased I finally got it in! The school email doesn’t always work for me. 😀

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