Film and text are very different mediums. It is thus only natural that my annotation practices should vary for the two mediums.
I use a fairly straight forward and traditional approach when annotating a text. I like to work independently; I need to thoroughly ground myself in a text until I am secure enough to share my ideas and collaborate with peers. I begin with a quick, surface-reading of the text. My goal at this point is to identify the image or plot that is given precedence in the text, paying little attention to details or nuances that are not highlighted through repetition or overt development. When reading 1.5 of Romeo and Juliet for example, I immediately noticed the repetition of religious imagery as well as the portrayal of Lord Capulet as a jovial and welcoming host. This is followed by several readings each of which has a different purpose. I like to look for figurative language, distribution of lines, distinction in character voices, meter as well as things I don’t understand. A lot of these things are then noted on the actual text, however, I do keep a notebook close by to capture ideas that might strain the margins of the book.
After several readings, I am left with the framework of a critical essay. I consider my annotations completed when I can adequately explain the reasoning behind all of the major motifs and symbols and pass judgement on the deliberacy of the diction. I also look to explain the seemingly insignificant events and objects in a text; the mention of food in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House or the dog in Lolita. I do my best to give at least two possible explanations for every object, character or event that at first appeared insignificant or redundant to me. An author I particularly enjoy annotating is Alice Munro; her works are always full of precise diction and hidden symbols and thus feed into my love of analysis.
I consider my note-taking unsuccessful when I have not developed an appreciation for the text. After coming close to fully understanding a text, I know that I will inevitably appreciate it. This is not to say that I will always like it, but I will come to the belief that it has intrinsic worth. When I do not hold this belief it is because I believe that the piece in question is superficial and I have thus missed the intention or unintentional depth of the piece and I must go back and ask myself to explain the presence of each element that is present in the piece.
I unconsciously make a dangerous assumption when annotating a text. I assume any social commentary present in the text is omnipresent, that the text is not commenting on the society out of which it was borne but on society in perpetuity. Although this is a shortcoming on my part, context and content are equally relevant in almost all academic settings, it speaks to the bias towards text that has been ingrained in me by the modern education system. I inherently assume that a book or play was meant for an audience that would span time while film is a lesser medium whose products are not meant to and don’t have the ability to transcend time. It is easy for me to imagine my descendants reading the Harry Potter series, even if they do so on e-readers, but it becomes much harder for me to imagine my great-great-great grandchildren watching High School Musical.
My style of annotation is very different when I watch a film. I rely a lot more on collaboration and concrete details and less on intuitive understandings about the hidden meanings of a text.
The worlds created through text are limited; each detail is accounted for and as a reader I have unlimited access to those details allowing me to visit them at will. The worlds created through film are more complex; hidden meanings and details can be present in every frame and I may not notice them even after multiple viewings of the same scene. Similarly, the cultural context and allusions of most texts are acquired knowledge; despite having no association to the Christian faith, I can easily identify and explain biblical references in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The background required for modern film, however, is quite different; odes to classic cinema and references to pop culture are quite common in Hollywood films. As an ethnic woman, who grew up on Bollywood films, and in a constant state of confusion with celebrity gossip and current trends, I rely on my peers to notice things that I don’t.
By engaging in the Google doc created for this class I can thus analyze details that are brought to my attention and gain insight into details and social cues that would otherwise be lost to me. I therefore do not need to watch any given scene multiple time; once or twice is usually enough for a detailed analysis. Interacting and debating with my peers is also a means of staying engaged while watching a film, a particularly passive activity.
I consider myself to have successfully annotated a film when I have stayed engaged with my peers through the Google doc. If I have actively searched for and explored links relating to the backgrounds of principal actors, writers and directors then I know that I have adequate social context for the film. If I have picked up on and recorded what most people are noticing (costumes, make up, etc.) then I know what is done either exceptionally well or poorly as well as what is outdated. It is impossible for anyone to capture or understand all of the details and nuances presented in a ninety- minute film, but these strategies ensure that I have covered my bases.
When I annotate a film, as opposed to when I annotate a text, I often place greater emphasis on the execution of a film rather than the message it ultimately delivers to its audience. This comes back to the idea of film being a primarily visual medium as well as the fact that in a text, it is easier to pinpoint the message to one author. In film, however, different messages can come from actors, costume designers, directors and writers. It is thus more difficult to analyze and interpret the central message of a film and easier to look at the messages that individual elements deliver.
Overall, I conduct a deeper analysis when I annotate a text than when I annotate a film.