Deconstructing Feature Film

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					Deconstructing Strictly Ballroom
                 Teacher Notes Strand

           A critical study of feature film
              written by Tony Hughes
             Published by Textstudy™ Educational Software

  Supporting Viewing Curriculum Framework Outcomes
        About the program
This CD-ROM program uses the Australian feature film
text Strictly Ballroom to exemplify the ways in which a
text confirms or challenges the attitudes and values of
its audience. Questions and film storyboards within the
program will help students to discover how the
construction of a text encourages particular responses in
its viewers.
         Using the program in the classroom
The program has five components:
•   An integrated program which includes all materials : teacher notes,
    display notes for classroom use, student questions and a set of
    storyboards from Strictly Ballroom. Teachers are advised to view the
    integrated program first to familiarise themselves with the structure of
    the content.
•   Teacher notes
•   Display notes for classroom use
•   Student questions
•   A set of storyboards from Strictly Ballroom
Teachers may select any section for classroom use, move between
sections for specific classroom activities or teach directly from the
integrated program.
   Addressing Curriculum Framework Outcome Statements
Deconstructing Strictly Ballroom is designed to support the teaching
of viewing as described in viewing outcome statements within
Australian curriculum frameworks.

Key questions within the Student Question Strand of the CD are
therefore designed for teachers to test students‟ level of understanding
from their viewing of Strictly Ballroom.
     Addressing Curriculum Framework Outcome Statements

1 Questions vary in level of difficulty and allow teachers to reflect on
  the students ability to:
   – explain reasons for various interpretations of Strictly Ballroom.
   – support their understanding of ideas and issues through their knowledge of
     narrative structures.
   – discuss the film‟s context and genre type.
   – consider the way in which codes and conventions contribute to Strictly Ballroom
     being viewed in particular ways.
   – consider features of the film to highlight similarities and differences with other
     texts viewed or read (through an appreciation of intrinsic, archetypal, social and
     cultural features).
Addressing Curriculum Framework Outcome Statements

     2 Questions vary in level of difficulty and allow teachers to
       reflect on the students ability to:
        – consider the interrelationships between texts, contexts, viewers
          and producers.
        – comment on the way in which point of view is constructed in
          Strictly Ballroom.
        – analyse the social and cultural attitudes and values projected and
          reflected in Strictly Ballroom.
        – consider how viewers are positioned to respond to the film.
        – adopt viewing strategies that facilitate detailed critical evaluation
          of visual texts.
Teacher Notes 1 :   Viewing films as cultural artifacts

 Viewing activities encourage students to view
 films as cultural artifacts. Students will consider
 the society that produced the film text as well as
 the audiences that have viewed the film and
 generated its popularity. This CD presents a
 framework of general questions linked to film
 storyboards that can be discussed in a whole class
 or group context. The questions address three
 approaches to the analysis of narrative structure.
Teacher Notes 2 :   Studying narrative plot structure

A central focus of this program is a study of the
narrative plot structure. We can begin this study
by considering the narrative that is internal and
intrinsic to the film (story, plot and structure).
Consider how the storyline of Strictly Ballroom
makes meaning in our world.

It is useful to begin by discussing a plot outline of
the film (see Display Notes 7 for the text).
Teacher Notes 3 :   Discussing the opening storyboard of the film

 Alongside our discussion of the plot outline we
 can also consider the way in which the opening
 sequence of the film adopts the style of a
 documentary. Consider how the opening
 sequence works to parody the documentary genre.
 View the opening sequence as an example of
 burlesque. Consider the way in which filmic
 techniques are applied to make the viewer aware
 that ideas are being mocked.
 At this point view Storyboard 1
Teacher Notes 4 :   Juxtaposing the plot outline and the opening storyboard

  As soon as we juxtapose the film plot description
  with the opening storyboard of Strictly Ballroom
  we provide ourselves with a rich resource of
  intertextual meaning – a resource that will allow
  us begin to question how we make meaning in this
  Australian film text. This works on the assumption
  that the way a text is constructed is influenced by
  other texts in the same genre and shared by
  cultural understandings.
    Teacher Notes 5 : Cultural understanding in Strictly Ballroom

What cultural understanding can we draw from the opening
segment of the film? How is it possible to predict that the
film will present a burlesque representation of ballroom
dancing and satirise the form of documentary? What
elements of fairy tale structure can we predict from the style
and form of the opening of the film? How it is possible to
form such rich readings from such limited information?
These are questions we need to ask our students through a
framework that will allow them to articulate how meanings
are constructed in the texts we read or view.
    Teacher Notes 6 :   Reading generic structure

We can also consider how the generic structure of the
documentary style narration of Mrs. Hastings affects the
meaning. The use of a narrator at the beginning of a film is
a recurrent pattern in film making and occurs because of
audience preference and the success of particular patterns
of story telling. These patterns also reflect an audience’s
cultural background. Other Australian feature films have
for example adopted a documentary style narration or
included an outsider or family member who supports the
telling of the story. An example of this is the narration of
Dale Kerrigan in The Castle.
Teacher Notes 7 :   Other approaches to the study of narrative structure

  How can we help our students to articulate their
  understanding of film texts? One way is to consider two
  further approaches to narrative structure : to view the texts
  as archetypal narratives (identifying recurrent patterns of
  story telling and film making that are adopted in these
  films) and to consider the texts as            cultural and
  ideological narratives (identifying particular beliefs,
  values and assumptions that we as viewers adopt to make
  sense of our social world).
  Teacher Notes 8 :   Archetypal narratives

Archetypal Narratives are recurrent
patterns in story telling and film making

A list of recurrent patterns in Strictly Ballroom are
provided on Display Notes 11 and 12
   Teacher Notes 9 : Discussing storyboard 2 - Challenge of an individual to authority

Scott’s desire to express his individuality through the context of
his dancing is greeted by a range of different reactions. His
actions are in direct opposition to the authoritarian constraints
imposed by the dancing authorities. A range of reactions are
reflected in this section of montage. We see the anger of Barry
Fife at the audacity of a young dancer to challenge his authority.
In contrast the audience and children are viewed enjoying the
performance. Scott’s father records the event on his Super 8
movie camera whilst Scott’s mother appears distraught at Scott’s
defiance of authority and his expression of individuality.
   Teacher Notes 10 : Discussing storyboard 3 - Fairytale narrative 1 -
                         the insignificant other

Fran is constructed in sharp contrast to the colourful and
glamorous characters portrayed in the film to this point. Her drab
clothing, lack of make up and the wearing of spectacles reflect
Fran‟s lack of status in this context and her inability to attract
attention. The second frame emphasises that she is viewed as
insignificant by the rest of the dancers. Both Liz and Scott knock
Fran over as if she is invisible. Consider the representation of the
„insignificant other‟ in this scene. Consider also the intertextual
nature of this representation in other fairy-tale narratives such as
  Teacher Notes 11 : Discussing storyboard 4 - Humour and symbolic
                           reflections through dance

Note the way in which Les has been created into a caricature to
exaggerate the comic effect of his actions. Consider the use of
costume and hair colour and style. Most significant in this scene is
the burlesque style in which Les councils Scott while they Tango
together. The absurd nature of their dialogue and actions,
juxtaposed in this montage with their dancing of the Tango create
humour in this section of montage. The Tango is a dance that
traditionally represents lust and smoldering passion.
 Teacher Notes12 : Discussing storyboard 5 - Humour through dramatic cliche

The humour in this scene works through the timing of
dialogue and the symbolic visual flashback sequence. The
ridiculous nature of Liz‟s comments are juxtaposed with the
vehicle roll-over shots. This is immediately followed by the
entry of Ken Railings who informs Liz that Pam Short has
broken both her legs and he wants to dance with her. The
humour is developed further through the comments of Kylie
who says “that was unexpected.” The irony of the comment is
obvious to the viewer through the cliched sequence of
      Teacher Notes 13 : Discussing storyboard 6 - The unlikely hero

The first section of this montage places Scott alone. It begins with
Scott in the spotlight (literally through use of lighting). He stands
with his back to the camera. This shot positions the viewer to view
Scott in isolation as he contemplates his future. The skill of his
dancing movements are reinforced by the reflective image and the
borrowed ceiling light. The second storyboard shows Fran
observing Scott through the ajar door. Note that we are
positioned to see the size of Fran‟s spectacles in this frame. Fran is
the unlikely hero. This view is created using symbolic codes. The
spotlight is positioned over Fran‟s head to create a halo effect,
subtly positioning the viewer to see Fran emerge as the unlikely
hero in this narrative.
Teacher Notes 14 : Discussing storyboard 7 - The stereotypical sleaze (1)

  Ken Railings is represented as the stereotypical sleaze. His
  facial expression, colour of hair, dialogue and the setting are all
  elements that add to this construction. The second frame
  positions the viewer to see Ken as using women as sex objects
  (although little sympathy is drawn for Liz who is represented as
  shallow and superficial). Look carefully at the way in which the
  setting is constructed through a study of mis-en-scene in the
  final frame. The viewer is positioned to see the setting from
  outside the boundary fence. This scene therefore exposes his
  lack of moral awareness as Liz and Ken share a spa together in
  full view of the public.
   Teacher Notes 15 : Discussing storyboard 8 - Fairytale narrative 2 -
                          the emerging swan

The sequence symbolically reveals a stage of transition for Fran.
Her clothing has already led to a change in image for Fran and the
removal of her spectacles provide us with a significant symbolic
change (as her character works within the fairytale construction of
„The Ugly Duckling‟ turning into the beautiful swan). Note the
positioning of Fran and Scott on the rooftop. A study of mis-en-
scene in frames 2 and 3 reveal the symbolic imagery reflected in
the passionate reds of the Coca-Cola neon sign in the second frame
and the glowing sunset in frame 3.
   Teacher Notes 16 : Discussing storyboard 9:Cause and effect using
                     written & technical codes (1)

Study the section of montage in which we are introduced to
the headline of the newspaper through the use of written and
technical codes. Consider the special effects of the spinning
newspaper on the viewer. How are we positioned to see the
juxtaposition of the final frame of close-up of the newspaper
headline with the following frame (a close up of Shirley
Hastings with a surprised expression on her face)?
    Teacher Notes17 :Discussing storyboard 10 :Romantic images

Study the mis-en-scene of frames 1 and 2. The first frame is a
mid-shot of Scott and Fran. The viewer is positioned to see
the characters through the curtain (a point of view shared with
other main characters in this scene). The second frame
elongates the images, creating an extended silhouette that is in
the public view. The romantic nature of these images is
reinforced by colour and lighting and the subtle filtering of
the image through the curtain.
   Teacher Notes 18 : Discussing storyboard 11:The wicked „sisters‟

The representation of Liz and Vanessa in this scene can be
compared to Cinderella‟s wicked sisters. Discuss how it is
possible to read this scene intertextually. Discuss the way
camera angles position the viewer to see the women as
powerful and domineering. Consider also the way in which
lighting, make-up, costume and dialogue position the viewer
to respond to characters.
  Teacher Notes 19 : Discussing storyboard 12: Cause and effect using written and
                                  technical codes

This is the second section of montage in the film in which a
rotating newspaper sequence is used. In this storyboard
however the viewer is positioned to see the words that are
spoken by Barry Fife appear to quite literally roll out of his
mouth and appear as a newspaper headline. This symbolic
technique reinforces the power of Barry Fife as federation
president. The storyboard can be compared to Storyboard 9 in
which Shirley Hastings is the receiver of the news. In this
case the montage is used to reinforce that Barry is the maker
of the news.
         Teacher Notes 20 : Discussing storyboard 13: Flashback sequence

Barry is recalling his version of events to Scott. The flashback
sequence is used to support a character‟s point of view.
Symbolic linking devises are used to denote the change of time
period. The extreme close-up of the photograph in frame 1
positions the viewer to see Doug‟s hand holding the photograph
frame. The second frame has the effect of bringing the photograph
to life. The exaggerated caricatures in frames 3 and 4 are created
using make-up, colour and bright light. Note the way in which the
voice-over and music contribute to the meaning of this montage
  Teacher Notes 21 : Discussing storyboard 14: Stereotypical sleaze 2 : the
                              predatory male

Compare this storyboard with storyboard 7 (Ken and Liz in the
spa). Discuss the sexual connotations of the stereotypical sleaze. In
both cases we see older males constructed as promiscuous. A
common characteristic of their portrayal is their use of status and
positions of power to achieve sexual favours from younger women.
In the first two frames we see Barry Fife confiding in his regular
partner Charm. Note the stereotypical nature of her portrayal (dyed
blonde hair and large breasts). In the second set of frames we see
Barry with his latest „victim‟ (a young woman who is prepared to
put up with his behaviour to achieve dancing success).
    Teacher Notes 22 : Discussing storyboard 15: The happy ending

The first montage of mid-shots represents positive closure of the
plot in a number of ways. Reconciliation between Doug and
Shirley is finally made possible after a life of hidden secrets. Pride
in the achievements of Scott and Fran is reflected in the reactions
of both Doug and Shirley and Rico and Yaya. Positive closure is
emphasised in the traditional embrace of lovers in the third frame.
Note the symbolic nature of the bright filtered lighting which
creates a romantic and passionate image. The final frame uses the
symbolism of the closing curtain juxtaposed with the dance floor to
remind viewers of the theatrical and staged nature of this narrative.
Teacher Notes 23 : Discussing storyboard 16 - The family secret

  In this section of montage we see Doug viewing old
  Super 8 home movie footage of dancing. These selected
  frames are juxtaposed in the film with Shirley repeatedly
  calling out Doug’s name. At the end of the montage
  Shirley bursts into tears as she reflects on her son’s
  predicament. The linking of Scott’s actions and the
  sequence of Doug viewing the home movie footage
  positions the viewer to see the possibility of a ‘family
  secret’ without revealing the full nature of it’s
  significance at this point in the film.
Teacher Notes 24 : Discussing storyboard 17 - Following in father‟s

Consider the symbolic representation of the circular
clothes-line in this scene. The domestic nature of the
clothes-line contrasts with the colourful neon Coca-Cola
sign. Discuss the symbolic nature of both of these objects
(the domestic nature of the clothes-line and the bright
lights of the neon advertising sign). The images of Scott
and his father dancing around the clothes-line are
juxtaposed within this section of montage. Although the
images do not directly follow each other in the film, they
reflect the similar ideals of father and son. Doug‟s dancing
in the second frame also adds humour to the scene.
      Teacher Notes 25 :Discussing Storyboard 18 - Representation of fathers(1)

Rico is represented as a father to be feared in this
storyboard. His physical appearance, abrupt dialogue and
domineering attitude positions the viewer to see Rico as a
traditional Spanish father with strict expectations of his
daughter. Consider the way in which the subtitles, lighting
and setting also contribute to this construction, initially
creating a negative impression of Rico.
          Teacher Notes 26 : Discussing storyboard 19 -
                Representation of grandmothers

Consider the construction of the grandmother (Yaya) in this
scene. We initially view the scene as an outsider (we see Yaya
looking out of the window in this night shot). Note the use of
symbolism (the use of light and the crucifix on the wall). These
elements provide a glow behind Yaya‟s head. In frames 2 and 3,
Fran is able to confide in Yaya. The use of subtitles reinforce
the view that the family continues to uphold their Spanish
lifestyle and values in Australia. The final frame is a close-up of
Fran who is gently warned by Yaya that her father will be home
soon. Note the action of Yaya which reinforces traditional
gender roles in the family.
Teacher Notes 27 : Discussing storyboard 20 - Representation of fathers (2)

The viewer is positioned to see Fran in close-up on the left
half of frame 1 and Rico in mid-shot on the right half of
the frame. Rico is holding down a branch which makes
him appear to be spying on his daughter. The second frame
reinforces his domineering protection of his daughter as he
pushes Scott away. The use of subtitles reinforces Rico‟s
view that Scott is an unsuitable partner for his daughter
(possibly because he is not part of the Spanish cultural
          Teacher Notes 28 : Discussing storyboard 21 - Parents in conflict

The mid-shot of Shirley and her family (excluding Scott) reveal
Shirley‟s emotional stress as her dream for her son‟s success
appears to be shattered. Rather than gain comfort in each other, the
viewer is positioned to see the relationship between Shirley and
Doug to be dysfunctional. Doug shows no emotion in this situation
of conflict. In the second frame we see him spray mouth freshener
into his mouth in response to Shirley‟s emotional breakdown.
Teacher Notes 29: Discussing storyboard 22 - Representation of the official

The glitter and glamour of the competition is reflected
through written codes (the banner advertising „A Night of a
Thousand Stars State Championship‟). This theme is
further developed with the entrance of Tina Sparkle. Note
how humour is created through the naming of characters.
Costume and body language also contribute to the
construction of caricatures, adding to the gaudiness and
superficiality of the representation. The juxtaposition of
the competition dancers and the scheming officials
reinforces the burlesque representation of the ballroom
dancing competition.
  Teacher Notes 30 :Discussing storyboard 23 - The perfect partner (1)

If we juxtapose frame 1 and 2 we see two very different
portrayals of women. Tina Sparkle (as her name suggests)
reflects the stereotypical representation of beauty
associated with ballroom dancing performers. Her
costume, her physical looks and her actions reinforce this
image. In contrast Fran reflects the honest, pure and natural
looks of „the girl next door.‟ The close-up of Fran uses
gentle lighting to profile Fran‟s natural complexion (she
wears little make-up in contrast to Tina).
    Teacher Notes 31 : Discussing storyboard 24 - Spanish cultural entertainment

This montage supports the scenes of traditional Spanish dancing at Fran‟s
house where a group of Spanish-Australian friends have come together to
celebrate a traditional Spanish fiesta. This semi-outdoor setting transforms
a rather plain suburban setting in the daytime to a vibrant social meeting
place at night. The high-angled mid-shot in frame 1 focuses on a group of
Spanish-Australian men drinking and talking together and they watch the
dancing. The second frame is a close-up shot of a jug, glasses and a
hand. The frame reinforces the shared social interaction between these
Spanish-Australian men. Note that the drink is not beer (unlike common
representations of Australian men). This therefore reinforces the ethnicity
of the group.
Teacher Notes 32 : Discussing storyboard 25 - Romance in an industrial setting

  The first frame positions Scott and Fran in mid-shot behind a
  wire fence. Consider the symbolic nature of the fencing. The
  close-up in frame 2 positions Scott and Fran in symmetrical
  profile. The passion and romance is highlighted by the close
  proximity of faces and the light which highlights the facial
  profiles. The second frame is a wide long-shot of Scott and Fran
  at dusk. This shot positions Scott and Fran in an industrial
  setting. Note the use of lighting and filters to create a surreal
  atmosphere in the frame. The industrial setting where Scott
  appears to find true love is a complete contrast to the bright,
  colourful and glamorous world of ballroom dancing.
Teacher Notes 33 : Discussing storyboard 26 - The perfect partner (2)

This storyboard begins with a stereotypical view of the „perfect
couple.‟ Scott and Liz have looks, talent and charisma. In
contrast the shots of Scott and Fran position the viewer to see
the superficiality of Scott and Liz‟s construction of perfection.
The first frame is juxtaposed with a long-shot of Fran and
Natalie dancing in isolation. Note the contrast in lighting and
costume in the two frames. The close-up shots in frame 3 and 4
show Scott and Fran with fixed stares on each other. Note the
way in which the spotlights reinforce the impact of the stares by
directing the viewer‟s eyes through the dissolve of each frame.
Teacher Notes 34 : Discussing storyboard 27 - The assertive father

The shocked look on Scott‟s face in Frame 1 emphasises Doug‟s
assertive behaviour (a quality that has not been part of his
character construction to date). Doug gains inner strength,
reclaiming and redefining his own beliefs and values through his
overwhelming desire to ensure that his son does not make the
same mistakes as he made as a young dancer. Once Doug has
revealed the „truth‟ of the past to his son he has the strength to
confront Shirley. Note the way in which facial expressions and
costumes contribute to Doug‟s assertiveness (he is wearing a
formal black jacket and tie as he becomes assertive). This
character construction contrasts with the rather pitiful yet
humorous caricature of Doug for most of the film.
 Teacher Notes 35 : Discussing storyboard 28 - Defying institutional power (1)

When institutional power is challenged, the caricature of
Barry Fife reinforces his angst by distorting his facial
features. This is achieved by using a low-angle close-up
which emphasises his angry expression and icy glare. In
frames 2 and 3 we see the power and grace of Scott. Fran and
Scott‟s challenge to authority is symbolically reflected in their
performance of the Paso Doble.
 Teacher Notes 36 : Discussing storyboard 29 - Defying institutional power (2)

In the film we have witnessed not only the transformation of
Fran from „ugly duckling‟ to „beautiful swan‟ but also the
transformation of Doug from a reserved and subservient
character into a strong-willed and confident father. The
extreme close-up in frame 1 reinforces Doug‟s new found
strength. The mid-shot in frame 2 positions Doug in the
centre of the frame. He stands alone in support of his beliefs
and in full public view. His actions become instrumental in
swaying public opinion in favour of change. The montage
continues with a focus on family members. Fran‟s father and
her grandmother join with Doug in support of Scott and Fran.
      Teacher Notes 37 : Discussing storyboard 30 - A new future

The closure of the film suggests a traditional happy ending (see
Storyboard 15). We witness the final demise of control systems
that were inflexible, had old-fashioned conceptions and were run
by uncompromising bureaucrats. The first frame in the montage is
a close-up shot of Doug, focusing on the intense emotion of the
moment (as his dreams reach fruition through the dancing of his
son). The second frame focuses on the demise of Barry Fife. He is
comforted by Charm (perhaps offering hope that he may become a
reformed character). The second frame uses a mid-shot to capture
both the sophisticated movements of the dance and the romantic
stare of the lovers. The final closure suggests not only a new era in
ballroom dancing has begun but also (as the music suggests) that „love
is in the air‟ for Scott and Fran.

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