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Thursday, December 29, 2011

‘Films rely on symbolic and technical codes to encourage the viewer to identify and accept particular representations of individuals or groups of people.’

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The way in which viewers are encouraged to perceive certain groups of people or individuals is predominantly influenced by the symbolic and technical codes used by the filmmakers. In the feature film Erin Brockovich viewers are positioned to identify with the major characters and accept the way in which they are represented. Erin Brockovich consists of a small variety of groups of people as well as the important characters that are portrayed as the individuals. Film producers rely heavily on the use of symbolic and technical codes to present the characters but the direction of viewers’ attitude towards these representations is also influenced by additional methods.


The feature film Erin Brockovich is a true story about a determined woman who tackles the corporate giant, Pacific Gas and Electric in a lawsuit regarding the deceit directed towards a small Californian town, Hinkley, as to the misleading statements regarding the condition of their water supply. With the assistance of Ed Masry’s legal expertise, Erin and Ed commit themselves to help these unfortunate people whose lives have been destroyed because of the diseases and various types of illnesses the contaminated water has forced upon them.


Symbolic techniques are used in the feature film Erin Brockovich to foster an influenced representation if individuals. This is intentional, as the viewer can accept and identify with these individuals. Erin Brockovichs’ storyline is categorized into the Archetypal narrative of the underdog against the more powerful foe. This is highlighted in a distinct and powerful scene when Peter Jensen, husband of Donna Jensen, is seen in absolute dismay and distress, crying, whilst throwing stones at the Hinkley Water Corporation that is seen in the distance. The viewer witnesses camera shots of his homestead with his lights on seen through the windows and then reverts to camera shots of the Hinkley plant itself. The predominant colour used in this scene is a blue-grey which is somewhat symbolic to the emotions Peter is feeling, further scooping the whole underdog notion. Through the throwing of stones at the Hinkley plant the powerful similarities seen between the ‘David and Goliath’ bible tale are clearly unmistakable. Through this specific scene the viewer can observe the severity of damage PG and E have caused individuals such as Peter Jensen, as he has just learnt that his wife has a malignant tumor in her breast. The movie producers purposely use the symbolic technique of colour to further heighten the emotions of the viewer and to make the viewer understand the situation as being somewhat similar to ‘David and Goliath’. The viewer feels a level of empathy and commiseration for Peter Jensen as PG and E have instigated horrible life-threatening damages to his family. The negative representation of PG and E is acquired as the viewers look on to the suffering they have caused and through this determine that PG and E are the antagonists in this situation. As the viewer values family and life, they cab accept and identify with Peter Jensen as an individual.


Feature film producers in Erin Brockovich employ symbolic codes to portray a certain representation of a group of people such as the plaintiffs. All plaintiffs differ as individuals but all withhold the link of exposure to hexavalent chromium during their time in Hinkley. All of the six hundred and fourteen plaintiffs are represented in Erin Brockovich to belong to the same socio-economic grouping. Obviously this is not the case for all of the plaintiffs but the minority whoa re seen, through their appearance; the viewer can assume that these people are not very well off. This is displayed through costume, as their clothing is middle class. Also through setting the viewer witnesses the conditions of their homesteads and how the town is constructed as a whole. The viewer sees the diversity of the plaintiffs through their dress in a series of scenes referred as jump cuts when Erin and Ed are driving around knocking door to door to obtain the extra one hundred and fifty signatures needed for the arbitration proposal. The viewer sees a diverse range of people, all having a different appearance seen through the symbolic code costume. This is done intentionally by feature filmmakers to put some emphasis on the assortment of people affected by PG and E. Another scene where the viewer sees the diversity of the plaintiffs is where Ed Masry is explaining the arbitration proposal to the town at a group meeting on a relatively humid night. This scene is seen from the perspective from Ed Masry as the viewer witnesses the audience he is addressing dressed at a middle class level trying to battle the humidity. Also through setting the viewer interprets that there is not a high demand for living in Hinkley because when the representative for PG and E offers $50,000 for the Jensen’s home he is cocky and cynical as he states that this is a above market value for an area such as this. The representative hints to the audience that Hinkley is not a very desirable place to live. All scenes where the viewer observes the plaintiffs determine on what level the viewer accepts and identifies with them therefore somewhat relating to them. The viewers of Erin Brockovich can relate to these plaintiffs and they accept the representation that they belong to the lower to middle class who are merely trying to sue PG and E in order for compensation to enable some future security through financial means. Through the symbolic code, costume, the viewer understands that PG and E are far superior to the plaintiffs in social-economic grouping. The viewer accepts this representation and can identify with the plaintiffs as some viewers may feel they are deserving of compensation and also some viewers may have similarities with them too such as appearance. The viewer is enabled to accept these people as a group due to the representation that they are normal everyday citizens whose lives have been crushed by another conflicting group, PG and E.


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Technical camera shot are employed in Erin Brockovich to portray an influenced representation of PG and E itself. With the further aid of audio codes, technical camera shots can be further emphasized and help the viewer in fully understanding what is carried out in a scene. When Erin is at home she receives a disturbing phone call from an anonymous man. This anonymous man is an unseen individual representing the PG and E group. The mystery caller states that Erin should be careful and should nor continue her investigations further and implies to her that if she continues he will use her children as a means to damage her. After the audio phone call that the viewer is fully able to hear, camera shots clearly show that Erin is now high-strung and edgy. Due to her nervousness she closes her blinds and checks her house for some further assurance on personal security and privacy. A long shot is used as well as a series of close ups of Erin’s face to show the audience that she is now rattled and worried. The viewer can identify with Erin’s natural maternal instinct to protect her children from harm. This unseen anonymous character is an individual represented as the PG and E group and therefore as a group they are reflected to be negative as they would intentionally harm children to hide the truth. The viewers of Erin Brockovich value family, so this further enables a level of identification and acceptance between them and Erin. The viewer interprets PG and E as dangerous and evil as childhood innocence and life is valued by the majority of society. The negative representation is clear as they are prepared to harm more people to cover up the truth regarding contaminated water. The viewer accepts this negative representation of PG and E because of the direction of Erin reacted to the hostile threat. Although due to Erin’s strong character she still continues her investigations to help the plaintiffs. Erin is seen as the movies protagonist and therefore the viewer sides with Erin.


Technical camera angles are use by feature filmmakers to show an influenced representation of Erin as an individual. In a scene when Erin arrives home late one night, she discovers Jeorge is ready to leave her as she has been neglecting him as a partner in their relationship. Jeorge is shown through camera manipulation to look upset as a long shot is used to symbolize his loneliness. Jeorge tells Erin she has to find a different job or a different guy. Erin replies “For the first time in my life, I got people respecting me. Please don’t ask me to give that up”(1)


Erin clearly does not wan to give up her job as she has worked very hard and the Hinkley community respects her. Erin is sick and tired of being pushed down by the constraints of a male-dominated society and she wants to be successful in life. By witnessing this camera angle of Jeorge and Erin’s personal reaction to it can help the viewer in successfully identifying and accepting Erin as an individual. Erin is seen as a heroine for not falling for Jeorge’s request and fighting for her independence, as she does not want to confirm with the conventions of males being dominant over women. The viewer accepts this positive representation of Erin because she gives so much to help people and she does not want to give that up even if it deters her away from her partner, Jeorge. The viewer accepts and identifies with Erin as well as the representation that she sacrifices a lot of time from her personal life to help the PG and E case run smoothly. The viewer can relate to Erin because of their similar ties with values and attitudes, as well as the manipulation of technical codes such as long shots and full shots to enable on the correct character representation to come across to the audience. Technical codes play an essential role in the acceptance and identification of Erin as an individual by the viewers.


Viewers throughout the feature film Erin Brockovich are somewhat influenced to perceive certain representations of individuals and groups of people through the aid of technical and symbolic codes. Viewers are purposely positioned by feature filmmakers to identify and accept all characters whether in a positive or negative light. Also all characters whether they belong to a group or seen as individuals are purposely constructed by film directors to achieve a certain response from the viewer. Film directors depend heavily on the use of symbolic and technical codes to further present these characters. Other codes such as audio codes play a role in the fine-tuning of a scene and the light in which an individual or a group is represented.





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